The Sun News

Keeper of Yesterday

By MUSA JIBRIL

Cape Coast is a contrast to other Ghanaian cities in one respect. It is a place a stranger easily makes friends. I walked through the town’s length and breadth as a stranger, never speaking the local language, and I was never for a moment lost or lonely. I made friends, old and young.

Cape Coast is also a city of drama. I had journeyed there every Tuesday of a month in 2014 to cover the 17-year-old Omanhen stool tussle that was coming to a climax at the time. It was my first time sitting through court proceedings. I had researched my story of Ghana’s teenage pregnancy social problem with Cape Coast as my case study. I had done the tourist stuff on its famous castle. I reported the city’s feud between market women, queen mothers and the female Metropolitan Chief over the reconstruction of the Kotokuraba market that became the subject of partisan politics. It was there I met Edith De Vos, a German who became Ghanaian, and ran a Baobab Home that was vegans’ paradise. De Vos had also lived in Lagos before. In Cape Coast, I met people and made more friends than in Accra where I was a resident.

Augustus Addison was the last person I met. I had arrived one scorching afternoon chasing a story lead when James Biney, the city’s newspaper distributor, told me someone wanted to meet me. I had gone to see him at Addison Square, a 73-year-old who claimed he didn’t drink, he neither smoked nor womanised, but loved Muhammad Alli so much he transformed his home to Addison Square Garden in honour of Madison Square Garden where the Fight of the Century between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971 was staged.

Addison, proprietor of Addison Square Garden stood tall, patrician in outlook, a Kofi Annan lookalike. Born on August 18, 1942, he hardly looked his age. You could easily mistake his 73 years for 60. He turned out a quintessential Fante–charming and witty.

He was a collector of sorts, an obvious fact, once you step into his abode. The walls of his living room were covered with photos that made the room appear like an amateur photographer’s laboratory. The photos were many and miscellaneous––from personal snapshots to family portraits to Masai women standing bare-chested. Look hard at it, the combination of old and recent photos, and you could see a kaleidoscope of passage-of-time stories.

For Addison, photography was just a hobby. He never had any professional training. “I am just interested in beautiful sceneries,” he explained affirming that photos are therapeutic for him. “All these boxes are full of photos,” he pointed at a stack, “I go through them to relive my past.”

He pointed at an old picture. “This was 1971. At the time, we didn’t have colour photography around here. I took the picture and sent the film to New York for colour printing.”

He pointed at another photo: “That is my wife who is a teacher in Nigeria since 1981.”

Every member of his family––wives, children, and grandchildren––were featured in the photo pin-ups on the wall.

A house of Museum

He strolled into the adjoining room and he ushered me into
a world where the old art of collecting was alive. Inside a small cosy room, antiquity breathes. The room was stuffy with nostalgia, it whispered: Old is gold.

Indeed, he has a cache of impressive curios. A flat box contained coins from all over the world. From Japan, Denmark, Nigeria, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Canada and Britain, everywhere.

“Those days when I was writing to pen pals all over the world, my interest was in collecting coins, postcards, stamps and foreign oddities,” he explained. “When I wrote my pen pals, I asked them to send me coins from their countries. In return, I sent them Ghanaian coins.”

His stamps are a vintage collection, which includes a rare stamp depicting the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury together with Ghana’s 1981 President Hila Limann.

His eclectic collections included archeological antiques such as old beads and ancient lamps––“This pot was bought for me by my mother in 1944 when I was a small boy,” ––rocks and pebbles from the sea, old bricks, branded and baked, used by colonialists, broken cannonball and crockery excavated from the ground where he built his house.

Old publications were not left out of his museum. Original first edition prints of Kwame Nkrumah’s writings. Old editions of National Geographic. Early atlases and geographic texts. Old newspapers over 70 years old––such as The Gold Coast Leader of Saturday, February 6, 1904, Gold Coast Observer of October 25, 1946, and the West African Monitor dated Friday, August 27, 1948.

Other objects of interest include exotic Korean objet d’art, old pens of the 1950s and impressionistic paintings imported from Hong Kong, batches of cassettes of recorded sermons of famous preachers of the 1980s.

On two occasions, I was his guest for two days and I made the most of the time poring over rare publications, magazines and newspapers alike. I especially gorged on his collection of Drum magazines.  On my last visit,

I went over the coins and counted over 100 countries.

His museum was not totally given to mundane collections. Among the ancient and ageless collection, there was God in a corner, where he had his altar and a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary. There he prayed.

Addison, a great storyteller, regaled me with interesting tales, from the legend of  Cabo Corso (the original Portuguese name of Cape Coast) to Ghanaian intrigues of the Rawlings Years, including his famous coup and the killings of the judges and generals.

On my last night as his guest, he showed me a rare picture. A black and white 5” x 7” showing young Lt. Colonels Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon shaking hands while Ghana’s Lt. Gen J. A. Ankrah stand aside smiling, all of them dressed in military uniform. The date was January 5, 1967. The Aburi Accord.

“A Ghanaian broadcaster who was there took the photos and gave me this copy,” he told me.

On this last day, he told me his mother was a Warri princess. He brought out photos of a woman dressed in a way that embodied Nigeria’s Delta region. His father, a UAC employee was posted to Nigeria in the 1930s and met a young Warri girl who loved him and followed him to Accra. Addison kept the photos in good condition. He hoped to, one day, trace his root.

The last time I saw him in May 2015, Addison gave me a piece of advice. Whatever is popular in your time, collect and keep. If God spares your life to old age, those collections will be worth a fortune.

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