Gershon Richard Kwasi Norgbey, the celebrated educationist was born at Ziavi Dzogbe in the then German Togoland on the 15th of July, 1917. During the 1960s and 1970s, he championed the cause of education in the Volta Region and in Ghana as a whole. This to a very large extent resulted in a boom of educational development in the Volta Region during those early years after Ghana’s independence.
The sixth of ten (10) children born to Togbe Norgbey Nani of the royal clan of Tsadaviefe, Ziavi and Sarah Abra Anku of Anaviefe also in Ziavi, he was named Kwasi for being born on a Sunday. He was christened and baptised Gershon to follow the tradition of Hebro-Germanic names his father gave the older boys; Gotthold and Erasmus. Gershon himself added Richard when he had Eucharistic Confirmation in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in his youth. Though Gershon Norgbey kept his two European names, he departed from this tradition by giving all his children only indigenous EWE names . Gershon Norgbey spent his early childhood, like most children of his generation, with his parents in Ziavi.
His father Norgbey Nani was a well travelled man and had farms in the Ahamansu forest regions of the Trans-Volta Togoland, a part of which is now the Volta Region of Ghana. He was an enlightened man and though he did not have formal education, he spoke some little German and played the accordion with which he entertained his family and friends in the evening after farm work.
His mother Anku-Bra, as she was popularly known in Ziavi, was a tall beautiful woman with a lot of vim and vigour. She was the only wife of Norgbey Nani and all his ten children were born by her. She helped her husband on his farms but her main preoccupation was to take care of the house and children. Five of the children who survived to adulthood were male: Gotthold, Erasmus, Gershon Richard, Emmanuel Krakani and Philemon Atta-Kuma. All these men were highly talented and carved niches for themselves quite early in life. Gotthold was a traditionalist and a musician composer. Erasmus was a community developer, tailor and award winning farmer. Gershon Richard was a distinguished educator. Krakani was a powerful preacher, healer, farmer and carpenter. Philemon Atta-Kuma had a remarkable career as a Health Superintendent and fathered many. Tasii (Aunt) Akua or Reuben-nor was the eldest of all Mama Anku-Bra’s children. Amelia also known as Yao-nor was a bright, intelligent and active woman; she was an affluent trader. She was a cementing element in a family of energetic and strong willed men. Victoria was cool and exuded love and peace.
Mama Anku-bra’s compound was usually filled in the evening with immediate and extended family, for her cooking pots always held more than enough for her husband and children. Even after the children got married and left her care, she still cooked and shared the food with her grandchildren. The tradition of all the male in this family eating from the same bowl was so entrenched that a clich developed around it: -No one invites you to your own meal-. In those days, there were no schools in Ziavi and because Gershon’s father wanted him to go to school, he had to send him away to Ho to live with members of extended family and friends. There are no records as to when he started school but Gershon Norgbey did not start school early. He was however very bright and had to skip some classes to find academic work challenging and interesting enough. He spent only four years instead of six in the primary school. Now young Gershon did not have everything when he went to school. He told a story of how he was given an old pair of German khaki shorts by his father. The shorts obviously were too big for him and were designed to be worn with braces. He did not have braces and neither could he afford a belt so he cut a piece of twine in the forest and with it he fastened his pair of big khaki shorts in place. Before long it became fashion and all the boys in the school were wearing pieces of dried forest twines for belts. He exhibited strong leadership qualities even from this tender age. Gershon Norgbey completed Senior School in Ho in the early to mid 1930s.
Having completed Senior School, GRK, as he was popularly known in educational circles, was recruited to teach in the colonial school system as a pupil teacher. He immediately found his calling as an educator. He took the Teacher Training College examinations and entered the Presbyterian Training College, Akropong, where he completed the Certificate of Teacher Training (Certificate -B-) and later in 1957, the Certificate -A- training. He talked about this institution very fondly for years; about the proverbial Presbyterian discipline, which he fully imbibed and exhibited for all the years he lived.
Gershon Richard Norgbey returned from Akropong to continue his teaching career as a fully trained teacher in 1957. Through his career, he taught in many different towns and villages including Abutia, Akuse, Krobo Odumase, Avenui, Takla and had several tours of duty in his hometown Ziavi Dzogbe.
In the early sixties, when Kwame Nkrumah started a fee-free compulsory education system in Ghana, all local authorities were instructed to open new schools, hire teachers, and expand educational opportunities at the local level. The position of Education Secretary was therefore created in the Ho District . Senior Head Teachers were invited to compete, through examination, for the post with a mandate to open new schools in the district, hire and train teachers, place and pay staff, create and administer a system of Local Authority (LA) schools in the district. Gershon Richard Norgbey succeeded in a fierce competition for the position and became the first and the only Education Secretary for Local Authority Schools in the Ho District.
Gershon Richard Norgbey or Master Efu , as he was called in Ziavi, became a pivotal figure in the expansion of educational opportunities in the central Volta Region in the 1960s. In his official short chassis Land Rover station wagon, which was painted light brown as if to hide the dust it would pick up on the unpaved roads and tracks, he criss-crossed a virtually unopened region with a single purpose – developing education. He opened many schools in the Ho District, hired both trained and pupil teachers and ensured proper administration of these local authority schools. He also managed a system of Supply Teachers who were mostly secondary or sixth form students on holidays. These supply teachers were posted for a few days to weeks to replace substantive teachers in Primary and Middle Schools, who might be on sick leave or on permitted absence for some other reasons. With his qualification, experience, personality and drive, he could have successfully vied for ministerial positions which existed for hard working and competent Ghanaians and even sometimes for the veranda-boys in those times. At the worst, he could have jostled for the position of an executive court clown sitting aimlessly in court trying to catch the attention of TV cameramen anytime the cameras rolled by if he were a fly catcher. He chose instead to work in education where he was most effective and did not discriminate the rural from the urban.
He spoke of times when he had to abandon his Station Wagon and walked several kilometres of foot tracks to either talk to chiefs to release land for school projects or to inspect schools being built. His appearance or mention inspired hope and order among teachers, parents and pupils alike. His name assumed legendary proportions in the central districts of the Volta Region and beyond. Though the main thrust of his duties was on developing elementary or basic education, his contribution to secondary education was also immense. As Education Secretary, he served on the Boards of Governors of Mawuli School, Ho; OLA Secondary School, Ho; Amedzofe Teacher Training College and the now defunct Ho Teacher Training College. The Kpedze and Awudome Secondary Schools were second cycle schools Mr Norgbey helped in establishing in addition to the numerous Primary and Middle schools he opened.
While already seen as the role model in the Ziavi community and as an educator, it was during this period in his life that he exerted the most influence and assisted in very significant ways in promoting the importance of education in Ziavi. He hired innumerable and capable middle school leavers as pupil teachers and encouraged them to train as professional teachers. Together with his elder brother Erasmus Norgbey, they knocked at the doors of parents of bright pupils who had passed the common entrance and teacher training college examinations, and convinced them to send their children to secondary schools and colleges; sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances. The educational revolution in Ziavi was born. There are very few educated individuals in Ziavi who grew up in the 1950’s through the 1970’s whose lives were not touched in one way or the other by Gershon Norgbey’s work.
Gershon Norgbey did not only try to help others educate their children. He taught by example. With the help of his wives, he educated his own children to the extent he was capable. Today, of his thirteen (13) children (one who unfortunately passed on), at least seven (7) have University degrees with two holding PhD’s. The others have college diplomas sometimes to the highest level. Four are teachers of assistant director’s rank. There is an environmental scientist, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, a pharmacist, a financial economist, a police chief inspector, a cooperative marketer, an educational technologist, and two have returned to Universities to pursue advanced degrees both in Ghana and abroad.
Eight (8) of his grandchildren by the year 2008 have acquired degrees in various disciplines and are pursuing careers in varied fields; seven (7) others are in universities in Ghana and abroad working towards degrees in the arts, sciences and business and these numbers keep growing from year to year. This is a true evidence of the lasting legacy of his educational influence.
There is no gainsaying the educational achievement of GR’s children. Many people might not immediately reckon the cost of educating this large family. It was enormous. The incidence of the financial cost of this whole praiseworthy educational endeavour however fell in most part on the mothers of these children, especially those who could not enter secondary school before his demise. Five of GR’s children were still in the first cycle (basic) schools when he died. The psychological drive for attaining educational heights which flowed down from him to his family was however not in short supply, even after his death and this spurred his children on.
Gershon Richard also personally mentored a number of individuals from the Ziavi community and beyond; with some rising to international acclaim. One such person was his nephew, the late civil engineering guru and academic, Professor Jonas Kwaku Dake.
GR Norgbey married Madam Christine Kwampa quite early in life and she bore him a number of children, four of whom survived to adulthood. In 1945, when on duty tour at Takla, GR met Madam Eugenia Mana from the Adzoe/Quarcoo family and married her. Six of the children he had with her grew to adulthood. While on duty in the 1950’s in Avenui in the Awudome Traditional Area, GR met Madam Adolphine Adae and started another family which has produced three generations of policewomen. In 1961 while on inspection of some schools in the Abutia area, he met an Anlo lady from Atiavi in the Keta District called Mary Wemasenu who was teaching in one of the Abutia villages called Keseflui. Mary became his youngest wife and bore him two sons. Truly the two youngest of GR’s children were born in 1968 – Eric Agbemafa and Margaret Apefa.
Many people did not understand why GR Norgbey decided to have many wives and also that many children. It was not quite unusual for a learned man of his stature to have more than one wife in Ghana even today. Others thought it was prestigious for him to do so considering his enormous resource mobilisation capabilities. Apart from being a good teacher, he was also a good farmer. It was said jokingly that protgs who clamoured to work on his farm often got lost within the boundaries of his vast farms and man hours were rather spent to look for them.
Some pundits said that having a large family was engrained in GR’s psyche right from childhood and was not a product of recklessness. He was born into a large family which reaped more benefits of its large size than the disadvantages of it. Times though have since changed. The average number of offspring per GR’s children, as at the end of 2008, stood at a modest 2.77.
On a serious note, GRK’s polygamous lifestyle affected his relationship with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ziavi. GR Norgbey was an eloquent lay preacher whose sermons were directed more at tackling social ills which plagued the Ziavi community and the politics of division which crept into the local church in those days. Delivering his fiery sermons, he stepped on toes, sometimes of bigwigs in the church. A group in the leadership of the local church conspired to keep him quiet by alluding to his multiple marriages and drew more venom from him. Although they did not attempt to excommunicate him, they tried to debar him from his pastime – mounting the pulpit to preach. GRK was a staunch believer in fairness, discipline of the mind, soul and body, and of freedom of expression and of association. He was dynamic; he was passionate about exploring opportunities and breaking new grounds. What he could not accept on any account was condoning hypocrisy and lies. He therefore moved to the Methodist Church which at that time put a lot of premium on his services as a teacher with remarkable qualities, and was more liberal with new members’ marital practices. Mr G R Norgbey therefore served his classroom teaching and head teacher years mostly in the Methodist Schools of Akuse, Avenui and Krobo Odumase.
Despite these limitations in his relationship with the church at home, he continued to be a role model, an opinion leader and a force majeure in the development efforts in his home town Ziavi – an effort to which the Evangelical Presbyterian Church was and continue to be a major partner. In December 2007, these efforts were given the due recognition and Mr Gershon Richard Kwasi Norgbey was posthumously honoured during the Centenary Celebrations of the Establishment of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ziavi.
Gershon Richard Norgbey was very much involved in community development activities in the Ziavi Township. His elder brother Erasmus Norgbey was the Chairman of the Ziavi Town Development Committee (a committee of which Gershon Norgbey was also a member) when the Golden Jubilee of the Ziavi EP Church was celebrated. Rare for a Ghanaian rural setting and the highly networked streets seen in Ziavi today, were constructed during those celebrations in or about the year 1957. After his brother’s death in 1968, Gershon Richard Norgbey assumed an even more prominent role as educator extra-ordinaire, counsellor and community developer.
Gershon Richard lived a very rich social life. He danced to the Ziavi Yingor (the traditional popular band in the borborbor genre) music with zest and also did the classical dances very beautifully. His presence at traditional festivals, christening ceremonies, wedding and funeral celebrations was greeted with rippling excitement. With all his achievements, he was very approachable. He had a circle of friends but a discourse of his social life will not be complete without the mention of two of his cousins and very great friends: Mr Alexander Asimadu (Uncle Sande) and Mr Francis Debrah (Uncle Prempeh). These were fine gentlemen of their time who also worked in education.
The Norgbey family is a huge family numerically. It is rare for members of this family to drop the Norgbey for another surname. It is a uniquely established name in the Volta Region and beyond. It took the able leadership of GR Norgbey to pool the energies of this family together and create a brand of surname that is carried with pride in Ghana and overseas. Little variations in spelling may occur – Norgbe, Noagbe – you are sure dealing with the same name.
Adza(father)- NYE, the single identifiable ancestor of the Awatrofe-NYE/Norgbey clan was also the royal landlord of Ziavi Dzogbe. It is a blessing to be born into a family endowed with resources and titles. With this endowment comes a big responsibility of maintaining the size and quality of the resources therein. With increasing population came pressure on natural resources and with it also came intruders, encroachers and usurpers. The blurring of strict family lines through intermarriages and squatting in Ziavi made it very difficult for land owners to defend their property. Awatrofe-Nye/Norgbey lands were no exception. Pieces of Awatrofe-Nye land were stolen with impunity and with them royal and functional titles. It took the instrumental intervention and leadership of GR Norgbey to retrieve some of this ancestral heritage. In these endeavours he invested huge amounts of money and time. His formula for success in these matters however was teamwork. -You must be ready to serve if you want to lead’, he often quipped. To get back stolen lands and titles, he sometimes had to go to court. His legal team comprised of Togbe Albert Norgbey and Togbe Kodzo Akorli Norgbey all of blessed memory. His most important ally however, was the truth. Descendants of Asiam of Anaviefe Ziavi and Ngornee of Gboxome Ziavi remained his witnesses and always attested that only three ancestors owned land in Ziavi, Awatrofe-NYE and his two cousins Asiam and Ngornee. GRK’s landmark dawn family meetings with other family elders ensured that information was updated in all households in the family on regular bases and that only verified and certified information was disseminated.
In earlier years, Gershon and his brother Erasmus Norgbey, who were actively involved in district politics, were also staunch members of Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP). GRK and Erasmus were among the vanguards who fought for the unification of the Trans-Volta Togoland with the Gold Coast and supported the push for an early independence for Ghana.
It was told that on 5th March 1957, the eve of Independence of Ghana, members of the Freedom Party or -Ablode- (the fashion opposed to the unification) started pelting the Norgbey family house with stones, and were threatening to attack GRK, his brother Erasmus and other CPP activists holed up in the house. There were no telephone connections to Ziavi then and mobile phone technology was yet to be developed. In a brilliant security move, a note was sent to the police chief in Ho some four kilometres away through a courier who left the house carrying a bucket – ostensibly to the river (Atakpla) for water. In 20 minutes the town was filled with riot police and the siege ended abruptly as it started.
Fifty years on, all the opponents to the CPP and their children and many children and grandchildren of Gershon, Erasmus and other staunch CPP members find themselves in the National Democratic Congress (NDC), all united against the National Patriotic Party (NPP) which is in the minority in this town. The CPP is almost non-existent here. Selasi Gakplanya Norgbey, a bastion of the revived CPP in the Ho Central Constituency, passed on a few years ago and may his soul rest in perfect peace. The political landscape has changed completely. The Norgbey house is still a political hotbed but on the side of the NDC which has virtually usurped the fortunes of the CPP. The Norgbey family however lives up to its democratic ideals -one of which is freedom of association. There are a few NPP members amongst its fold today.
Following the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP in February 1966 and the resulting changes in local government administration, the local educational authorities were abolished. Gershon Norgbey returned home, and headed the Ziavi L A Middle School once again and for the last time. In 1969 he became a Principal Teacher and was posted to Damongo in the Northern Region as an Inspector of Schools. He impacted tremendously on the educational developments in that part of the country.
His posting to the Northern Region in 1969 coincided with the inception of political activity in the country after a three year ban by the then ruling National Liberation Council. As a political strategist, GR’s posting to the North deprived him of the opportunity to contribute effectively at home to the efforts of the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL) which was a reorganisation of members of the proscribed CPP, and was headed by Mr. Agbeli Gbedemah. Was GR Norgbey’s posting masterminded by those in power then? Did he ask to be posted up north so he could concentrate on his career as an educator? These were some of the questions asked then. The centre-right Progress Party eventually won the majority in parliament and formed the government of the second republic. The Progress Party rule however did not last long and ended with the coup d’etat of January 13, 1972.
GR’s ability to achieve results was phenomenal and this had sent the name of Norgbey and Ziavi well beyond the boundaries of the Volta Region in the early post independence years. In 1972, he returned to the Ho District Education Office and served in various capacities. He was made the officer in charge of Logistics and Textbooks, and later the district head of the Schools Inspectorate Division. He retired in 1974 after working in the District Education Office for a few years while continuing his involvement in the development activities of the Ziavi Township. In August 1977, Gershon Norgbey died at his home in Ziavi after a short illness.
At the celebration of his funeral in September 1977, all the streets which he helped to carve out 20 years earlier, were filled with mourners from all corners of the country. The funeral service was led by the Parish Priest in charge of the Methodist Church of Ghana at Ho. As representatives of schools and colleges, government, professional, social and political organisations, chiefs and individuals in their own rights filed to pay their last respect, a lone shrill voice exclaimed, -a prophet is seldom accepted in his own home!-
After the burial of GR Norgbey, the Methodist Church was established in Ziavi in the October of 1977. In appreciation of his good pedagogical works in the Methodist Educational Unit and to engender the rapid growth of the church in Ziavi, a school was established in his name in 1978: the GR Norgbey Methodist Experimental Primary School. Notwithstanding all difficulties associated with starting a school, this school was so successful that six years after its establishment, all the class six pupils who wrote the common entrance examinations were successful; a feat achieved only by elite preparatory schools in the metropolis of Accra, Tema and Kumasi.
Gershon Richard Kwasi Norgbey is remembered fondly today for his enormous contributions to the development of education in the Volta Region of Ghana, and also as an astute farmer who cultivated the first plantation size oil palm farm in Ziavi. He was a brilliant musician with a number of his light tunes still sweetly remembered today. He also contributed, in no mean measure, to developing and restructuring the chieftaincy institution in Ziavi.
The Author Mighty Agbenuke Kwaku Norgbey, (MSc Economics (Finance & Banking), Kishinev; MSc PAFI, York UK), is the 11th child of GR Norgbey.
Acknowledgements I pay solemn tributes to Uncles Krakani and Philemon Atta-Kuma Norgbey, for the insightful memories about G R Norgbey, which they shared in their lifetime with the author.
I acknowledge the contribution of Dr Segbedzi W Norgbey and Dr Gameli K Norgbe for providing the sketch text which was developed into this piece.
Thanks to Eric Agbemafa Norgbey who proofread the article and suggested necessary revisions to make this historical account an interesting reading.
The Ho District 1The Ho District then was a very expansive area covering the Awudome, Sokode, Abutia, Adaklu, Ho, Avatime, Kpedze, Ave, Agotime, Etordome, Anfoeta, Saviefe, Ziavi, Taviefe, Klefe, Matse, Agogoe, Dzolo, Tanyigbe, Nyive, Akrofu, Hlefi, Hodzo and other enclaves. Each of these enclaves contained more than two towns or villages with some having as many as 36 towns and villages. A few of these traditional areas had towns which were already urban in structure and could have quite a number of schools eg Ho, Tsito, Kpedze, Vane, Amedzofe and Kpetoe. The substantial part of the district was however underdeveloped and rural, and needed a lot of educational development.
Indigenous Ewe Names 2GRK christened his children Semadzi, Elesi, Semabia, Segbedzi, Sefakor, Amewodzina, Enyonam, Mawutor, Gameli, Mawusi, Agbetor, Agbenuke, Agbemafa, and Apefa. His brother Erasmus also gave his children names like Selete, Senagbe, Semenyo, Selasi, Babanaeto, Apenorvi and Eli among others.
In Ewe traditional religion, God – Mawu, Nature/Fate – Se, and Life – Agbe are considered Supreme and are used interchangeably. Semabia – I will ask God/Nature/my Fate Segbedzi – God’s bidding/Nature’s bidding/Life’s bidding Senagbe – God gives life/nature gives life/ Life gives life.
For example, the three meanings of Senagbe confirm the ability of the many concepts in Ewe traditional wisdom to converge religious doctrine (biblical teaching) and evolutionary science (Darwinism). God is life – God the Creator; Nature gives life- creation of life from matter, evolution by natural selection. Life gives life – you can only give what you are/have.
Master Efu 3 -Efu- is an Ewe word which means Bone in English. Not many could tell the origin of this appellation. One school of thought had it that GR Norgbey was so good academically that he was nicknamed -Bone- or -Efu- to show how intelligent he was.
Some other people associated the name with GR’s tall lanky physique and called him -Bone- or -Efu- for not having a lot of flesh.
The Volta Region of Ghana
Location: The easternmost Region of Ghana, bordered by the Eastern Region to the west, the Greater Accra Region to the southwest, the Gulf of Guinea to the south, the Northern Region to the north and the Republic of Togo to the east.
The People: The people of the Volta Region are predominantly Ewe. The Ewe (Fon) language is also spoken in the Republic of Togo and the west of Republic of Benin. The Volta Region is also home to the Guan clans of Avatime, Akpafu, Buem, Bowiri, Nkonya, Logba, Tafi, Nyangbo, Likpe and Santrokofi. Some Akan and Dangbe people are also found in this region.
Major Towns: Ho, Keta, Anloga, Aflao, Denu, Kpando, Hohoe, Jasikan
Tourist Attractions: The Wli / Agumatsa Waterfall – the highest waterfall in West Africa. Location: Hohoe District
Afadjato Mountains – Highest Mountain Peak in Ghana. Location: Liati, Hohoe District
Tafi Monkey Sanctuary – rare exhibition of human/wildlife cohabitation. Location: Tafi Atome, Hohoe District
Kente Village – every household has a loom on which the kente fabric (traditional Ewe/Ashanti textile) is woven. Location: Agotime Kpetoe, Adaklu Anyigbe District
Fort Prezenstein – Keta, Keta Municipality
Kalakpa Resource Reserve – Abutia Mountains. Location: Abutia, Ho Municipality
The Roman Catholic Church Grotto – Awe-inspiring religious scenery – Location: Kpando Agbenorxoe, Kpando District
Fresh Tilapia Joints: Sogakope, South Tongu District
Water Sports: Volta River, Sogakope, South Tongu District
Home Roasted Coffee (Ziavi tutui): Ziavi, Ho Municipality
Organic Bananas: Ziavi, Ho Municipality
Traditional Festivals Hogbetsotso – the great migration of the Ewe people. Venue: Anloga, Anlo State.
Yam Festival – Asogli Traditional Area, Venue: Ho
Awazorli – the migration of the Ewe people. The festival is celebrated by the Ziavi, Botoku, Mepe, Kpedze and Kpando Dzigbe Communities. Venue: Rotates among the Awazorli communities
Hotels: Chances Hotel, Ho Pensioners’ House, Ho
CONTINUITY This text will be revised periodically on receipt of additional information on GR Norgbey, his life and contribution to education in Ghana.