BMY: Description and Analysis of a Bulsa Facebook Group
Up to now, anthropologists have been studying the traditional parts of the Bulsa culture,
mainly through their religion, social and political structure, material culture and history.
Acquiring knowledge of the rich traditional Bulsa culture – a culture that is on the brink of a
rapid decline in recent times – might justify their attempt at intensive research. Today, Bulsa
daily life is already largely characterized by modern technology (mobile phones, TV, radio,
cars and motor-bikes) and a writing culture acquired in schools.
New research methods that have a more sociological character must be used to investigate this society. In this journal article it is appropriate to investigate attitudes toward this new life as it reveals itself, for example, in Bulsa websites and discussion groups on social networks. A Bulsa website that constantly publishes the latest news from the Bulsa districts and provides opportunities for comments and discussions currently do not exist. The Bulsa District site (www.ghanadistricts.com/districts/?news&r=8&_=104) and the Buluk Journal (www.buluk.de) cannot meet these demands.
Internet chat rooms, which emerged in the early 1970s, have now spread all over the world. The googled term "chat room" results in over 40 million hits. In Ghana this particular type of social network is, to my knowledge, not particularly popular and widespread. In some of them, contacts between the sexes and dating seem to play a greater role than discussions. At the moment, the most appropriate media for communication and discussion on the Internet are Facebook groups as they have emerged in recent years in several ethnic societies of Northern Ghana:
Dagombas on Facebook
Members: 2867, Language: English and Dagbani
Dagaati, Frafra, Wala, Dagomba, Mamprusi and Sisala
Members: 32, Language: English. All Northerners are called to participate.
Mamprugu Youth Association (two different groups for West and East Mamprugu)
West Mamprugu: Members: 498, Language: English
East Mamprugu: Members: 97, Language: English
Dagaaba Frafra Group
Members: 2123, Language: English (Dagaaba and Frafra are not immediate neighbours, but joking partners)
In addition to the examined BMY group, there are other Bulsa Facebook groups with similar purposes, for example Builsa Youth Network on Facebook (977 members) and Builsa Development Network (144 members). Other groups which cater to people of a particular institution or local unit within the Bulsa area are:
Builsa Students (529 members),
Sandema Senior High School, SANSEC (342 members),
Wiaga United (football club; 808 members),
Chuchuliga / Chamaka (29 members).
Bulubisa Meina Yeri (BMY), to my knowledge the oldest and largest Bulsa Facebook group, was founded by Winston Atigsi-Badek Afoko (a.k.a. Slim Badek Exet) and some other Bulsa around 2009 (cf. Buluk 7: 29) and enjoys a growing popularity among the Bulsa. Its name, "house (or group) of all Bulsa", is actually not quite correct because the 3000 educated members are only insufficiently representative of the whole of Bulsa society, for the BMY group includes only Bulsa who can communicate in English, have access to the Internet by means of a computer, smartphone or tablet and stay within the transmission coverage area.
In the following, an analytical study of BMY members and the topics discussed will be conducted. Material for this project was provided by the lists and profiles of BMY members and, respectively, their posts and comments over the last two years. Since often no information about a member’s place of residence, religion, education, etc. is provided, the results presented here are still imperfect and can only offer a first impression and a basis for further investigations.
1. THE MEMBERS
In September 2014, the group consisted of 3,104 members about one third of them being female. Unlike other discussion groups and chat rooms, the number of members is not only exceptionally large, but also heterogeneous in terms of age, gender, social status, education and religion. Members are held together only by their strong ties to the Bulsa ethnic group. The following data relate to a sample of 200 members.
1.1 Origin and Birthplace
In their Facebook profile, BMY members can list where they are “From”. It is not clear whether “From” refers to the birthplace or the origin of the family. For the answers "Accra" and "Kumasi", the former is probably true.
150 of 200 members gave information about their origin.
Bulsa Traditional Area (134)
The following places got one response each: Biuk, Doninga, Kadema, Uwasi
Outside Bulsa Traditional Area (16)
The following 16 places have been mentioned as birthplaces outside of Bulsaland:
Accra (5), Kumasi (2) and, with one each, the following: Navrongo, Laribanga, Wa, Bole, Lawra, Cape Coast, Mexico, Illinois (non-Bulsa) and Braunsberg (non-Bulsa).
1.2 Place of Residence
Of 151 members, who provided information about their residence [“Lives in...”], 125 lived in Ghana and 25 abroad.
Southern Ghana 80
other cities in southern Ghana: 23
Northern Ghana 46
Canada, Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Austria, Syria, Ukraine, Zambia: 1 each
The unusually high number of members living outside the Bulsaland can perhaps be explained by the fact that many people living outside two Bulsa districts give their place of residence more so than insiders. On the other hand, the figures also show that the emigrants have not, as often claimed, lost interest in their home. Through their BMY membership, they want to obtain information about the Bulsaland and even exert some influence on the political and social events. Protests over misadministration and suggestions for improvement are very common from people living in the diaspora.
1.3 Knowledge of Languages
Apart from a few exceptions in which participants have written a message exclusively in Buli, all discussions are carried on in English. This means that most participants can express themselves in at least two languages: their mother tongue, Buli, and English, their literary language. This bilingualism is also reflected in the fact that Buli words, set phrases, proverbs, etc. are incorporated in many English messages.
1.3.1 Written English
Often the English stylistic expressions do not meet the requirements of Standard British English but is sometimes a mixture of British or American English, West African Pidgin and Ghanaian English. Many writers also follow the global fashion trends to replace English words by numbers (for = 4; too, to = 2) or letters in their isolated pronunciation (you = u; are = r; why = y). Often radical word shortenings are based on the phonetic pronunciation (but = bt; should know = shd knw; they = dey, brother= bro). There is, however, only a restricted usage of emoticons [e.g. (, ;, :)], and the @ symbol (e.g. @ the end of the month). This unorthodox orthography does not necessarily mean the writer has a poor command of English since university graduates also sometimes make use of these spellings. In fact, a desired imitation of the orthography of young anglophone speakers or even demonstrating one’s skill in creating phonetic puns may be more important.
Can some1 pls 4ward dis? (Can someone please forward this?)
Call me 4 ans 2 ur questions. (Call me for answers to your question.)
That cld be a factor, u know. (That could be a factor, you know.)
1.3.2 Knowledge of other languages
Besides Buli and English, almost all members who gave information have some knowledge of other languages.
Ghana/ West Africa
Akan / Ashanti / Twi: 30
Frafra / Gureng: 3
Wali and Dagari: 2 each
Ewe and Mossi: 1 each
Spanish and Latin: 2 each
Finnish, Dutch, Russian, Ukrainian, Jamaican Patois, Portuguese: 1 each
Information on the attended schools and education of the members can be analysed only with difficulty since part of the training institutes and companies are not known to the author (F.K.). Having attended a primary school is not stated by any of the examined members. However, this can be assumed for almost all because the posts and comments are written in English. Some Bulsa may have acquired some basic knowledge of colloquial English without schooling, but usually they cannot communicate adequately in writing. In the following list one can assume that in each case the highest educational institution or the highest examination degree was given. 149 of the 200 members of the sample made statements concerning their education.
Secondary school (junior and senior high school): 24
Ghanaian Universities: 91
University of Ghana (Legon): 22
University of Development Studies (Tamale): 19
University of Cape Coast: 14
Kumasi University of Science and Technology: 12
University of Education: Winneba: 6
Others (e.g. private and clerical universities): 18
Foreign Universities: 16
Bergen, Calgary, Cornell (USA), Donetsk, Helsinki (2), Katanga, Leuven, Liverpool, London, Münster (2), Padova, Leeds, Reading, Vienna
Colleges, polytechnics and other vocational schools: 29
Other training centres: 13
In summary it can be said that the educational level of BMY members, of which nearly three
quarters have a university degree, is well above the average for a Bulsa, but also above the
average for a European.
1.5 Religious Affiliation
Of the three major religions in Ghana, Christianity (30%), Islam (30%) and the indigenous religion falsely called animism (40%), only the first two are often spoken of in the posts by members of the BMY group. A student of Legon told me that many of his fellow students sacrifice to their ancestors in their home village and participate in all traditional rites, but they almost always specify their religion as “Christian” or “Muslim” in questionnaires. In the sample of 200, only one member called his religion "traditionalist". But perhaps, hidden among the missing or otherwise specified statements (e.g. "God believer" or “We all worship God”), links to the traditional religion may be revealed, because in discussions with members of the traditional religion you can often hear sentences like “We all believe in the almighty God”. Although comments criticising religion appear in the posts, only one member of the sample calls himself a "freethinker". The very low number of members proclaiming a commitment to Islam does not match the impression a reader of posts and commentaries would have in light of how often the name of Allah is mentioned.
From a sample of 200 BMY members, 88 people made entries concerning their religion:
One response each : Assembly of God; Christian Fountain Gate Chapel; Jah See and Know; Lighthouse; Christadelphian; Christian COP; Protestant; Rastafarian, traditionalist, freethinker.
In addition, some statements about religious affiliation are difficult to be classified: Humanitarian; Love; what promotes human welfare; believer; Jesus the only way; Jesus is my saviour; so-called pastors; we all worship God; God believer.
The possible contributions to BMY Facebook are limited only by the central
theme: Bulsa, their culture, their social and political development, the fate of individual Bulsa, criticism of
existing institutions and individuals, development projects, etc. Once a writer leaves these
topics in a post, he is immediately admonished by the other commentators (8.3.14 ... Is this
related to BMY?).
Compared to similar forums in Northern Ghanaian Facebook groups, the BMY site displays a large variability in its topics. Propaganda merely for political parties and religions is excluded. In the following list of topics, all posts (about 435) since January 1, 2013, have been included in our examination. A complete quantitative evaluation was not possible.
Note: In quotations from posts and comments, the names of the authors have been left out, and the texts have usually been shortened. While very obvious typos have been corrected, the stylistic representation in Ghanaian Pidgin or English as well as the orthographic / typographic representations (e.g. for = 4) have remained unchanged.
Part of the BMY members, especially the vast majority of those not living in Bulsaland, have - in my estimation - joined the group to obtain the latest information about their home country and other educated Bulsa, many of whom they have not known offline. Other reasons for participating are to be explored.
Correspondingly, posts and comments of the following types are to be found:
New regulations, such as a ban on the sale of alcohol in the compounds (10 posts)
Major events, such as the Fiok Festival (2); meetings in other cities (2)
Relief actions by Bulsa, for example, the projects by BMY (23)
The election of Miss Buluk (2)
Robberies in the two Bulsa districts (6)
Results of Bulsa football matches (9)
Establishing the Sports Academy in Sandema (7)
Weather, rainfall and crop prospects (2)
Diseases and epidemics (ebola, cholera, HIV, 1 each)
Deaths of Bulsa personalities or members of the group (5)
The personal contacts among members is intensified by numerous congratulations for
birthdays, weddings, the New Year, promotions and major Christian festivals. It is
noteworthy that congratulations at the beginning of the Islamic fasting month (Ramadan) are
also expressed by Christians.
Publications of photos from modern or traditional life with very sparse or no commentary by the photographer are extremely popular and include: war dances, markets, food, school groups or just groups of adults and children.
Often new events are not only described, but grievances, misconduct by officials, alcoholism, corruption and sloppy or missing work on school buildings or road repairs are strongly attacked and in some cases actions are even carried out against these abuses.
2.2. Bulsa Culture
It was a pressing concern by the founders of BMY to make the educated elite familiar with traditional Bulsa culture and history and also to increase its knowledge by collecting facts from informants. The struggle for new insights is displayed in a long discussion about marriage prohibitions, e.g. between Sandema Abilyeri and Suarinsa (96 comments) with some participants reporting on their own marriage prohibitions but also on the general rules of exogamy, a custom which is partly outdated today.
The Buli language is of particular interest, especially the possible translations of common English terms, e.g. "television set" (suggestion: yesung dok, "shadow room"), "table", "my dear", "proverb", "culture", "Sunday", "dehydration" and the English words for the months. There are also some difficulties in translating Buli terms into English, e.g. kuurika ale katika or the day names of a Bulsa funeral (Kalika, Tika, Gbanta...). One member wants to know the difference between muo and muma (rice); another one asks members to propose a traditional Buli name for his son.
In the posts and comments, Buli terms, proverbs or phrases are frequently used. Posts or comments written completely in the native language, as they often occur in the Dagomba Facebook group “Dagombas on Facebook”, are rare on the BMY site.
Similar to other Facebook groups, many texts, photos and videos are uploaded in order to entertain other members. There are jokes, riddles, lyrics, songs and short stories, which sometimes end in a question to the readers, e.g. “How would you have chosen?”
In the telling of bawdy stories or jokes, some members are not prudish. Usually erotic or violent videos were not produced by the member but taken from other Internet sources. A member requested more restraint in the representation of sex videos.
11 August 2014: We have to be careful about the kinds of videos we post on this network. I just opened the video posted by ... and had to close it right away because it traumatized me. I am sure others have also seen it... I commend the BMY administrators for taking it down to spare more people the trauma I suffered. People on this network should keep in mind the aims of the network. It is not for voyeurism and for catering to people's base instincts. Keep away the sex videos, etc. Those interested in such videos can find them elsewhere. There is a basic level of decency, humanity and respect for others (especially in their suffering) that we have to adhere to on this network.
Many subjects and the nature of their presentation are similar to those of other African, European and American groups of this kind. But in comparison to European groups, some notable features, especially those concerning religious statements, are evident.
A relatively large number of BMY postings have a purely religious content. Although some posts appear about the new Pope Franciscus, specific denominations are otherwise rarely mentioned, and there is never any propaganda made for them. Mostly only personal feelings, prayers and thanksgivings are posted.
27 March 2014: We think having faith means being convinced God exist in the same way we are convinced a chair exists. People who cannot be completely convinced of God's existence think faith is impossible for them. Not so. People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.
18 March: What will u ask GOD to do for u this year?
17 March: Why is it that when we fined everything in life good we turn to forget god, but when everything turn outside down we try to remember him? I need an answer.
9 February: How was church today? Any lessons to share?
12 March: Successful indeed are the believers those that offers their salats With all earnestness and obedience. ..Quaran 23 vr.1-2
In Europe, websites and network groups which are regionally or ethnically focused avoid parochial expressions in a direct way. Nevertheless, by the selection of images and texts, they can unconsciously awaken some sense of pride or satisfaction in the reader for being part of such an ethnic group or region.
On the BMY site, however, the phrase "I am proud to be a Bulsa” appears quite often. Does this sentence express an attitude of supremacy over other tribal groups? Or is the feeling of belonging to an ethnic-oriented group here greater than in Europe? Other reasons are probably more relevant. Usually Bulsa living in southern Ghana learn one of the Akan languages very quickly. Many of their children born in the south speak this language better than Buli, and they often have an Akan weekday name (Kofi, Kobina, Yaw etc.). In a BMY discussion, a member complains that some Bulsa in the south deny their northern origin entirely (24 April, 2014: “Why do we bulies always lyk hiding our identity?”). The reason for this may be a reaction to derogatory statements and assessments made by some Southerners as they appear, for example, in comments about specific articles of the Ghana Website. In light of this, the sentence "I am proud to be a Bulsa" can be seen as a real declaration by someone as a member of the Bulsa ethnic group.
2 September 2014: Am so proud of all of you. You all made very important thought provoking points. Lets move ahead and think about how to make Bulsa land great. Long live BMY, long live our great Bulsa land, thank you.
2.6 BMY: Appreciation and criticism by its members
Of the 30 posts on this subject the vast majority are very positive:
28 July 14: just wanna salute the leaders of Bmy for their tireless efforts for the growth of Bmy and Buluk at large. Bmy is a young group and has in its short existence made a lot of gains: in education, health, and information... I salute you also for plans to organise vacation classes for our pupils---I plead with all members to be committed to the success of BMY.
30 April: BMY... Thank God! Corruption is exposed here. That alone is something we can all celebrate. Let us not ask more than this. We are already a force in BULUK. We are not just words. Guys we will soon rise for justice.... Action is near. Get ready.
30 April: I wish to express my profound gratitude to and admiration for members of this August group for the alacrity and solicitude we demonstrate towards members of the buluk fraternity who are faced with problems... BMY will be able to expose the malfaescance of remiss public officers in buluk to enhance its development.
Negative criticism is directed partly against individual members and their contributions but
also against general practices of the group. The latter are mostly associated with suggestions
Quite often the question of whether there should be a body which moderates the group arises,
and, by extension, what this body should look like and what competence should be entrusted to it. Currently, the founders of the Facebook group and some additional experts have the possibility to remove posts that violate the principles of BMY.
23 August 2014: ...I would have wished that the creaters of this platform could have added or established an editting centre where all comments coming through must go there for editting before being posted.
29.9.13: ...in every organization, there are rules and people are mandated to effect them. So
the question abt who hv the right to delete a post irritates me... Are we saying that Bmy hv no executives....
31 August 2014: ...You need to check what is posted by people but not allow anybody who thinks he can type a few words to take others for a ride n end up misleading people.
In a lengthy discussion (31 August, 2014), two opposing viewpoints are expressed. Some members deplore the "childish squabbles" between individual contributors and emphasize the unity of all Bulsa, which should also be reflected in the group. Others promote the right to express a "diversity of opinions".
31 August, 2014: ...We get busy condemning each other instead of supporting ourselves as one people. I think freedom of expression is allowed bt in a group like this we expect expressions dat wil promote unity, peace n development.
31 August, 2014: But what they are posting are issues about buluk so I see nothing wrong with them coming out with their oppinions that differ, my snr bro.
31 August, 2014: ...Diversity rather enriches us and we should promote it instead of conformity. ...I My brother, I respect ur view but I don't advocate conformism but diversity in ideas that will ultimately bring innovation and creativity in the way [we] do things.
Some posters charge their opponents of having made "insultive utterances" against them. In
the opinion of the author (F.K.), the term "insult" should be defined more precisely. Should
only statements about the person and character of a member be counted as insults? Or is it
offensive when the opponent is accused of a lack of knowledge, competence and insight?
In recent decades, an educated upper class has formed within the ethnic groups of Ghana. A majority of Northern Ghanaian elites live outside the ethnic area, mostly in southern Ghana, but also in European and North American countries. Their attitudes toward and relationships with the uneducated classes, the traditional religion and the political and social traditional structures have not yet been established in a uniform way. They may bridge the gap from complete detachment to occasional contacts (for example, when visiting the funeral of a close relative) to full recognition of their own native culture and develop a keen interest and great love for their original homeland.
For many educated Bulsa, BMY has become an institution which, on the one hand, conveys a strong sense of togetherness and has also created and deepened numerous contacts with other Bulsa outside the mother country. On the other hand, a contact with the folks back home and representatives of the traditional society has been created which is now no longer limited to family obligations (e.g. financial aid, participation in family celebrations, the promotion of younger siblings) but comprises the Bulsa as a whole. This has been voiced in numerous discussions on how development can be promoted and grievances and health problems can be eliminated by intervention of BMY. Bulubisa Meina Yeri is going to rise above its present incarnation as an Internet discussion group and become an active participant in the events in Bulsaland. According to the views of the educational elite, it may enforce positive change.