In focus: Theophilus Herman Kofi Opoku

Theophilus Opoku was born in 1842 at Akropong in Akuapem. He was the son of Nana Yaw Darko, the linguist of the paramount chief and Nana Akua Korantema. Theophilus Opoku’s grandfather was the paramount chief of Akropong, Omanhene, Nana Addo Dankwa.

In 1851, he entered primary school at Akropong where his intellect became evident.

He enrolled in the Basel Mission Seminary at Akropong in 1858 where he learnt Greek, Hebrew, Latin, dogmatics, homiletics, theology and pedagogy in the rigorous programme. He was diagnosed with a heart-related ailment and his health rapidly deteriorated thereafter. Despite improvement in his condition, Opoku was forced him to abandon his studies as a result of the affliction. After leaving the seminary halfway through his studies, he became a pupil teacher at Mamfe near Akropong. His heart condition interrupted his work and he was assigned to a less strenuous role as a catechist at Larteh, south of Akropong.

On 1 September 1872, Theophilus Opoku was ordained a minister of the Basel mission by Johann G. Widmann together with the Gold Coast historian, Carl Christian Reindorf and Jamaican Moravian missionary,

Alexander Worthy Clerk.  Through his Christian ministry, he went to many towns and villages including a visit to the Togoland and the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast in 1877. He carried out ethnographic research in Salaga and his observations were captured in his diary which were ultimately published in the Christian Messenger in Basel in 1884.

His accounts include everyday life of the Gonja people, the practice of Islam and the trans-Saharan slave trade. After he returned from Salaga, Theophilus Opoku contracted smallpox. During his sickness, he composed a Christian hymn,

“Ohoho ne mamfrani na meye wo fam ha” meaning “I am a stranger and sojourner in this world”, a song which is sung at Presbyterian funerals in Ghana and is allusion to his journey to Salaga.

In 1877, he was transferred to Kukurantumi in Akyem Abuakwa after recovering from the disease. In 1884, he was posted to Adukrom, north of Akropong and to Mamfe in 1891.

His last station was his hometown, Akropong in 1899. He retired from active church work in 1911 at the age of 69.

Together with David Asante, he helped Johann Gottlieb Christaller in translating the Bible into the Twi language. He also contributed to the development of vernacular literature through his writings in classical Twi. His literary talent was honed while growing up in the royal court as the son of the chief’s linguist.

Theophilus Opoku had married his first wife, Sophie Nyam in April 1868. Nyam had received home science and domestic training from the German educator and missionary, Rosina Widmann (née Binder), the wife of the Johann G. Widmann. They had four children. His wife, Sophia died suddenly while they were at Larteh and Opoku fell into depression.

In 1879, he re-married, to Anna Mary Engmann, a Euro-African Ga teacher and organist from Christiansborg, Osu on the coast. His second marriage produced three children.

In mid-1913, during a visit to his cocoa farm at Suhyen, Theophilus Opoku became suddenly ill and died on his way to Akropong on 6 July 1913.

At his funeral service held at the Christ Presbyterian Church, Akropong, the next day, 7 July 1913, he was eulogised by the Basel missionary, Nicholas Timothy Clerk.

Some of Theophilus Opoku’s selected works include:

** Christaller, J. G., Asante, David, Opoku, Theophilus (1871) “Anyamesem anase Kyerew Kronkron Apam-dedaw ne Apam-foforo nsem wo Twi kasa mu” (“The Holy Bible translated from the original tongues into the Twi language”), Basel

**Opoku,Theophilus (1872).

“Autobiographic sketch” An unpublished manuscript in the private collection of the Rev. E. T. Koramoah, Akuropon, Akuapem.

** Opoku, Theophilus (1884) “Extracts from Theophilus Opoku’s diary,” published as a series of articles in the Christian Messenger, Basel

** Opoku, Theophilus “Ohoho ne mamfrani na meye wo fam ha” – “I am a stranger and sojourner in this world” (Presbyterian Hymn, PHB 395)

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