Call it a necessary evil or devil tree – but it is, and in fact continues to be, Ghana’s most well-known, loved and hated carrier of more than 60 per cent of the country’s 25 million populations daily: Christened trotro, these taxi minibuses of all shapes and types are essential for many Ghanaians to commute in and around Ghana cities.
However, the philosophies behind most of these inscriptions remain obscure – they can only be deciphered by either the drivers or owners of these trotros.
Tourists read them but do not understand them, not even when they are inscribed in English. In a country where the usage of local proverbs in conversations are key, most of the phrases are taken from either an old proverb, a modern saying, a Christian or Islamic prayer, the Bible or Quran, a sport or a political event.
Historical and Sociological Insight
Dominic Kofi Agyeman, a retired professor of sociologist of the University of Cape Coast, has an example from his own experience to explain the phenomenon of the inscriptions:
“One reason I remember when I was a child was that some people who were professional drivers want to wish they could have their own vehicle, but they didn’t have the resources to buy the vehicle. So, somebody would buy the vehicle for them and the immediate thing they want to do is to show appreciation for the person who bought the vehicle so they would inscribe something like ‘Thank You Uncle’”, says Prof. Agyeman.
To him, peer pressure is partly a reason why the phenomenon spread. “If you are a driver, can you afford not to write something on your car? If you don’t they will laugh at you.”
“To me, it all boils down to the sort of cultural background the drivers come from namely the propensity to show that they are grateful to people who have helped them.”
After carefully doing driving for years some drivers were able to buy their own cars and thus wrote things like: “I thank God” or “Now I’m My Own Boss”. Professor Agyeman adds that “at the moment, it has become more or less a competition because the inscriptions also serve as a way for people to remember the vehicle they travelled on, so they will look for catchy phrases.”