THREE GENERATIONS OF ABOLO

After three generations, abolo will no longer be baked from scratch in the Malm compound at Abokobi and the cavernous interior of the grand clay oven has gone cold.

This weekend we laid to rest the last abolo maestro- the matriarch, Auntie Dzama; she was 80.

For the last twenty five years, she has single handedly kept the tradition going.

It was gut wrenching to hear from her younger brother, Uncle Odoi,  that none of his nieces- or nephews, or any of his own children had studied the ancient art of making and baking abolo.

Time was when we put in our order and Auntie Dzama made sure that baskets of the firm, tasty, golden brown cakes that sat in banana leaves with sporadic dark surface crusts were delivered to Tema.

The abolo cakes were always neatly arranged in a colorful woven basket and covered with the obligatory absolutely clean and starched white cloth with lace borders.

I still remember the smiles on the faces of Mama and Papa when Uncle Odoi delivered the much awaited consignment by mid-morning.

The cakes were straight out of the clay oven and still quite warm in spite of the 40km  journey from Abokobi to Tema.

Everyone immediately had a slice……perfect bliss.

The connoisseurs had their slice with a cup of tea. Mensah Kpolukpolu had his thick slice with jam and relished it.

Small parcels consisting of two or three cakes each were then made out for other friends and family. The stuff was so good, it had to be shared.

Mr. Philip Odoi, aka Uncle Odoi.
Mr. Philip Odoi, aka Uncle Odoi.

The face of a dear friend and retired Army General always lit up when his parcel was handed over; then he immediately waxed nostalgic about his kiddy days in Osu and the abolo sessions.

How shall I tell all of them that the maestro is no more and that sadly we have come to the end of an era?

The baked abolo recipe that included plantain, sweet potato and corn dough has been lost; we need to search for and retrieve it; a substitute will not do.

The creamy white steamed abolo does not come close. Sadly, only pictures of this variant are available on the Internet….tut, tut.

No wonder another uncle based in the US confessed that he does not remember the last time he ate “real abolo”.

Uncle Odoi recalls that the clay oven in the house is the smallest of the four ovens in Abokobi. All the other three are situated at another place – the house of a professional bread baker.

Those other three are huge ovens- much bigger than the smaller family sized oven in the Malm house.

The Malm oven was used to bake regular pastry cakes, tarts and buns for domestic consumption……and of course abolo….and ablongo (a delicious and nutritious plantain cake).

There is no one in that house who does not have a sweet tooth!

The Malm oven, Uncle Odoi recalls, was built by his Grandfather just over 60 years ago for use by his Grandmother – Maa Afua , who was originally from Manyhera behind Pokuase.

She had four lovely daughters and one of them- Maa Mary (Uncle Odoi’s mother) learnt how to make abolo and carried on the tradition after the passing of Maa Afua.

The maestro then picked up the ancient skill from her mother, Maa Mary, and carried on as the third generation, but alas…….

How many of these traditional culinary skills have been lost and replaced by fried rice; cheap, decade old, tasteless, black Brazilian chicken; and mayonnaise laden, E. Coli strewn salad?

Traditional clay oven
Traditional clay oven

Even the skill required to build the traditional clay oven has been lost.
Great Grandpa  Malm made his own clay bricks which he used for the oven’s foundation; and he used wet crushed laterite from a termite hill mound as the mortar.

He fashioned the uppermost conical shape of the oven by using a raffia basket of appropriate size that he placed upside down.

It had four crossed wooden poles to hold it in place as he worked the clay over the basket template while smoothing out the whole structure with the crushed termite hill laterite mortar.

Several days later when the oven was dry, the basket frame was removed and the oven was heat tested by lighting a huge wood fire within.

Any small cracks that appeared were filled in again with the laterite.

If there were too my cracks, the whole structure was razed to the ground and rebuilt.

Great Grandpa Malm was a trained surveyor and mason; Uncle Odoi still has some of his tools including  an antique four foot long level.

But no one in the village or beyond has his indigenous sustainable clay oven building skill.

What has been lost must be found.

There is so much to be done and so little time.

Fare thee well, my dear Auntie Dzama.

By Nii B. Andrews

(31/07/2017)

4 thoughts on “THREE GENERATIONS OF ABOLO”

  1. This is a very insightful article. Please share more of such stories. Thank you Art Capital Ghana.

  2. Thanks for a brilliant article. Its really sad that we are losing a lot of stuff which have defined us as a people, over the years. Also consider some of our festivals which are gradually dying off due to economic and other pressures. How many Ga people for example still prepare kpokpoi to share during Homowo?How many Kwawus still go regularly to the mountains at Easter?? How many times has the Aboakyir festival at winneba failed to capture a live deer? We need to take urgent steps to reinstate some of our culinary delicacies like the Abolo you mentioned to their authentic origins rather than the apologetic alternatives we see around us today.Authentic Fanti kenkey falls into this category of fast disappearing delicacies. Like u said we need to act quickly as time is not on our side. Each of us has an obligation in this regard and it’s only articles like yours which will remind us of our obligations.

    1. Hi Schweppes. Thank you for positive feedback. We really appreciate it.

  3. Sad,sad state of indigenous affairs!

    This article, although masterfully and artfully written about Abolo, appears to carefully blare a clarion call to Ghanaians on a bigger problem that we have; we are slowly dying.

    The art and activities that have made us and become a tapestry of who we are, over the centuries have been neglected.

    And who is to blame?

    Sure we can point to the fast/flash encroachment of western lifestyles, via social media and technology.

    That will be all too easy.

    Our fares, have been replaced with fast food options, when it was the norm to visit a relative/friend without an appointment and sit for hours at a time talking or sometimes just being in each other’s space and spirits while we wait for food to be prepared. 

    So here we are with the continued growth of fast food, has now come, the departure of our “soul food” and all that surrounds it, which counts for a lot.

    Festivals, community and social eating, organic home cooked food and healthy lives and not to mention the arrival and ongoing burgeoning of waistlines, obesity!

    The abolo article as it is told paints a very beautiful picture as if on a medium for all to see and understand. 

    There is something dying, and I am not talking about natural aging and death but the death of a culture.

    The Abolo story is endemic of a bigger problem, the disappearance of a way of life, while I am sure we might not be able to save the inevitable, but we need to prolong the eventuality and perhaps into perpetuity.

    Well at least try anyway.

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