Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DR RAPHAEL ERNEST GRAIL ARMATTOE: GHANAIAN AND CELEBRATED AFRICAN MEDICAL PRACTITIONER WHO WAS ONE-TIME NOMINEE FOR NOBLE PEACE PRIZE NOMINEE FOR MEDICINE AND PHYSIOLOGY

Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe (12 August 1913 – 22 December 1953) was a man of many talents - a renowned medical doctor, anthropologist, writer of prose and poetry, one-time Nobel Prize nominee  for Medicine and Physiology in 1949, and towards the end of his life, a budding politician. Born and raised in Ghana, Armattoe spent over a decade working in Northern Ireland.  The New York Post called him "the ‘Irishman' from West Africa".  Henry Swanzy of the BBC referred to him as the "African Paracelsus".  And in 1949, a group of parliamentarians from Stormont, the Dáil and Westminster joined together to sign letters nominating Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe for the Nobel Peace Prize."Dr Armattoe discovered the Abochi drug that saved millions of lives in Africa in the 1940s. It was very efficacious in treating water borne diseases, ring worms and other allied diseases. The Nigerian government bought the patent for thousands of pounds and named it Abochi."  He died very young aged 40 years and it looked as if he knew he will never last long on this earth as his poem "The Way I Would Like to Die" says it all. Dr Armattoe wrote in the first four lines "
This is the way I’d like to go,
If you must know.
I would like to go while still young
While the dew is wet on the grass;"
So who was this man who appears to have made such a great impression on all who knew him?
Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe, Ghanaian renowned medical practitioner, anthropologist and one-time nominee for Noble Peace Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1949

Raphael Armattoe was born in August 1913 to a prominent family of the Ewe tribe in Denu, Volta Region of Ghana, which was then part of Togoland. After the First World War, the former German colony was divided into two mandates, one under French rule and the other British. Thus young Armattoe grew up speaking three European languages as well as his native Ewe, and was later to write and publish works in French, German and English. He comes from the Ayivor family lineage (clan). The grand father was Chief Baku Ayivor II of Denu and the father, Glikpo ‘Armattoe’ Ayivor, an industrialist. He had his basic education at Keta and proceeded to the prestigious Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast where he met his mate and best friend Kofi Abrefa Busia (later Professor Busia). His friend Busia, also an anthropologist would later become prime minister of Ghana in 1969. Armattoe was so brilliant that by the age of 17 he has completed his studies and was on his way to Germany for further studies in the 1930`s.
 He studied in a Hamburg University, however, the rise of the Nazis in Germany prompted the move to further studies in France. In France, he continued his studies in anthropology, literature and Medicine at the Sorbonne and Lille Universities. While studying in Europe, Armattoe met a striking willowy and intelligent woman from Switzerland, Leonie (later known as ‘Marina') Schwartz, whom he married.

Dr Armattoe with his Swiss wife Leonie (née Schwartz, later known as ‘Marina’) and their eldest daughter Irusia. (Recollections of the Nobel Laureation)

Having completed his studies in anthropology, literature and medicine in mainland Europe, Raphael Armattoe moved with his wife to Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons, where he qualified to practice medicine in the British Isles and to work as a certified surgeon. His subsequent residence in Northern  Ireland may have been largely a matter of  chance;  the doctor got a job as a locum in Belfast and then was appointed  to the Civil Defence First Aid Post in Brooke Park, Derry where he worked from 1939-45. After the war, Dr Armattoe had a medical practice at his home at 7 Northland Road; and devoted increased time to writing and public speaking on a variety of topics, mostly concerned with anthropology. The doctor often issued copies of  speeches and magazine articles under the imprint of the Lomeshie Research Centre named after his mother.
Most of the people in Derry today who remember Armattoe have only vague recollections from childhood. Local writer Helen Morrison says, "Everyone would have known him.  There were no black people in Derry at the time -  yes, there were some servicemen and seamen during the war, but Armattoe was here even earlier. They said he was a marvellous doctor.  He died young, you know.  We were all very sad when we heard about it."
Elsa McMillan Spence was in her twenties when she met Dr Armattoe at a St. John's Ambulance Brigade lecture series. She recalls that "Of all the speakers, he was the best. He was a marvellous talker and could keep you spellbound with his knowledge of many subjects." Dr Armattoe engaged Ms McMillan to revise his publications for publication, and she was referred to in the Londonderry Sentinel as "The Hon. Secretary to the Sociological Section of the Research Centre."
Armattoe became more well-known in 1946 when he published his book on The Golden Age of West African Civilization and also made newspaper headlines when he claimed that the Russians had developed an atomic bomb the size of a tennis ball. Dr Armattoe never divulged the source of his information, but his statement was put to the U.S. President Truman at a press conference. The president denied any knowledge of the alleged Russian weapon. The publicity resulted in further speaking engagements for Dr Armattoe, not only in Derry and in Dublin, where he spoke at the Mansion House about "The Advance of Science in the Soviet Union", but in Sweden and the U.S.
Dr Armattoe dancing at the 1947 Nobel banquet. (Tidningen)
Dr Armattoe dancing at the 1947 Nobel banquet. (Tidningen)

In 1947, Dr Armattoe attended the Nobel Prize laureation ceremonies with his friend Erwin Schrödinger, winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics. Schrödinger worked in Dublin at the Institute for Advanced Studies and wrote the foreword to The Golden Age of West African Civilization.  Perhaps the visit to the Nobel ceremonies whetted Dr Armattoe's appetite for full-time research, for he soon successfully applied to the Vikingfund (Wenner Gren Foundation) for an anthropology research grant. The 1,000 grant allowed Dr Armattoe to return to West Africa, to the land he had left some 18 years previously.
After about half a year of field research, the doctor returned to Derry to write up his reports. Most of the papers published as a result of this research trip were studies of Ewe physical anthropology, especially charting the distribution of blood groups, a field of study that was just emerging into the limelight at the time. Although Dr Armattoe wrote of studying the ancient herbal medicines of County Donegal, and collected many African plants to study for medicinal applications, we have not been able to trace any scientific reports of these endeavours.

 Mr Stanley Armattoe (middle), son of Dr R E G Armattoe in a memorable photo shot after The Ulster History Circle unveiled a Blue Plaque in celebration of Dr. Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

The period between Armattoe's first return to Africa and the end of his family's residence in Derry was particularly memorable, as in 1949, Doctor Armattoe was a panellist at a major conference in New York and was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace received massive publicity due to the attendance of delegates from the Soviet Union and the resultant anti-Communist picketing.  Dr Armattoe's photograph appeared in the New York Post and the New York Times alongside some of the notorious Russians, including composer Dmitri Shostakovitch.
The parliamentarians (mostly Nationalist and Labour) who nominated Dr Armattoe for the Nobel Prize did not seem to think it necessary to give much background information in their letters of nomination, writing little more than "in numerous publications he has advocated peaceable understanding between all Nations and races and is a noted supporter of settlement of differences between Nations by peaceable means."1  That was not enough to get Armattoe's name on to the shortlist. The 1949 prize went to John Boyd Orr, Director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.

By the end of 1950. the Armattoe family had left Derry for Kumasi. There Raphael Armattoe set up a medical clinic, but also embarked on new adventures in poetry and politics. His two books of poetry, Between the Forest and the Sea and Deep Down in the Black Man's Mind, are of continuing interest to students of African literature. Varying in both style and quality, the poems are evidence of Armattoe's broad readership and familiarity with the genre. Ireland, Germany and Switzerland all receive attention, but the poetry mostly features Africa and Africans. The poems about his family and about African history are full of love and pride, but many of the poems express the author's despair with the emergent leaders of the Gold Coast Colony.

Dr Armattoe with his wife Leonie and his elder daughter Irusia on holiday. He will be recognised with a Blue Plaque in Londonderry where he worked in the 1940s

Nkrumah and Armattoe had met at the groundbreaking 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. Both were strongly in favour of independence for African colonies, but Nkrumah's vision was more centrist and Armattoe's more federalist.  Armattoe was quick to join the Ghana Congress Party (GCP) formed in 1952 amid allegations of corruption in Nkrumah's Convention People's Party. GCP was then headed by Justice Nii Amaa Ollennu and had people like Busia who was  Armattoe`s best friend in Mfantsipim School and Tawia Adamafio as members.
He also became active in the Joint Togoland Congress, calling for the re-unification of the Togoland mandates as opposed to uniting British Togoland with the Gold Coast Colony.  Dr Armattoe travelled to New York in 1953 to address a United Nations committee on the "Eweland Question". On his way back to Gold Coast, he visited Ireland (his eldest daughter Irusia was by then enrolled in a Dublin boarding school) and Germany. Taken sick en route, Armattoe was treated in hospital in Hamburg, where he died on 21 December, aged only 40 years old. Mme Armattoe was anxiously awaiting her husband's return for Christmas. After she received the news, she told friends that her husband had said he'd been poisoned, but she did not know by whom. It was well known that Armattoe had enemies in the Nkrumah camp, but; we shall never know whether the doctor died of natural or unnatural causes.
source:http://www.newulsterbiography.co.uk/index.php/home/viewPerson/1865


  Stanley Armattoe unveils his father’s plaque


POEMS OF DR R E G ARMATTOE
Africa (To Mme. Leony Armattoe)
Written by  Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

I was once saw a maiden dark and comely,
Sitting by the wayside, sad and lonely.
Oh! Pretty maiden, so dark and comely,
Why sit by the wayside, sad and lonely?

‘I am neither sad nor lonely,’ she said,
‘But living, sir, among the deaf and dumb;
Relentlessly watching these shameless dead,
Makes my warm heart grow very cold and dumb.’
Source: West African Verse, An Anthology Chosen and Annonated by Donatus I. Nwoga

The White Man’s Grave
Written by  Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

No longer do the brave
Brave the white man’s grave
For science has change its face,

Making a garden space,
For God’s chosen race
Since kids and women grace
The now lovely place.
The bastard negro race
Must leave without a trace
Must find some other place.
Why not underground,
Or just out of bound
For the bastard hound?
Offer him a pound,
dope him well and sound
let him hang around
A dog lost and found
Choking without a sound
Dying without a sound
The poor bastard hound

Servant-Kings
Written by  Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

Leave them alone,
Leave them to be
Men lost to shame,

To honour lost!
Servant kinglets,
Riding to war
Against their own,
Watched by their foes
Who urge them on,
And laugh at them!
Leave them alone,
Men lost to shame,
To honour lost.

The Way I Would Like to Die
Written by  Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe

This is the way I’d like to go,
If you must know.
I would like to go while still young,
While the dew is wet on the grass;

To perish in a great air crash,
With a silver ‘plane burning bright
Like a flashing star in the night;
While the huge wreckage all ablaze,
Shines brightly for my last embrace
I’d like to see the flames consume
Each nerve and bone and hair and nail,
Till of dust naught but ash remains.
Or as stone, swiftly sink unseen.
But if I should hear someone wail,
Because dust has gone back to dust,
Mad with fury, I shall return
To smite the poor wretch on the head.
So, let me go when I am young,
And the dew is still on the fern,
With a silver ‘plane burning bright,
Like a flashing star in the night.
Mother, do not grieve when I’m gone!
This is my wish, I’d have it so.
This mere burden of flesh was I,
Whom you loved and tended dearly
But you, my love, where’er you be,
Remember these warm lips of mine
That poured their youthful passion out,
These wide eyes that mirrored my soul
And beheld wonders in your eyes;
This mind that godlike stood alone,
The head that lay in your gentle lap,
The very hand that held this pen,
The heart that daring reached the heights,
The all of me that gave you joy,
Cleansed now of all impurities
By the red all-devouring flames,
Will though dust, remain, believe me,
Part of th’eternal Mind of God.

Source: West African Verse, An Anthology Chosen and Annonated by Donatus I. Nwoga

Asantehene
Upon his stool of solid gold,
Smiling his smile of silent mirth
with his lips curled up in earnest mirth

And he looked about him,
He looked around him.
All bent their heads so low
and some felt their power go.
Then up rose he and out spake he:
My trusted warriors, an ye men of the Guard,
my cousin of Mampong and you of old Juabeng
Essumeja, Nsuta, Nkoranza and Ejisu,
All who lift their heads aloft,
turn your faces to the sun
For we are met on a gracious day.
Thrice a hundred years this day
Our sires banished their fears,
Marching East and North,
Tramping West and South
They razed their neighbors' field,
and smashed their vaunted shields
But today we are met
To change our nation's fate.
Farewell to arms, to arms farewell!
This Nation under God
Must resume its allotted spot,
First in peace as first in war,
So in fame as in work,
Let's build this land anew
Till the topmost rafters ring
With our proud nation's song.'

The Lonely Soul
I met an old woman
Talking by herself
Down a lonelt road,

Talking to herself,
Laughing all the time
Talking by herself
Down a country road
Child, you cannot know
Why folks talk alone.
If the road be long
And travellers none,
A man may talk to himself
If showers of sorrows
Fall down like arrows
The lone way farer
May talk by himself
So an old woman
On a lonely country road,
Laughing all the time,
May babble to herself
To keep the tears away.
Woman, you are sad!
‘Tis the same with me.

source:http://www.poetryfoundationghana.org/index.php/en/poets-connect/poets-directory/item/513-raphael-ernest-grail-armattoe

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