Described by those who knew her as “resilient”, ” a survivor”, “ahead of the times”, this creative, talented woman was, without a doubt,
Comfort Vesta Adzesiwor Carboo was born prematurely on October 7, 1918, two days after her father’s sudden death, the forth and last-born of her mother. Her oldest sister had died in infancy. By the time she was born, her mother was already aging and menopausal, and her father had fathered multiple other children with several women, after the initial three that he had with his wife. She was the next-to-youngest of his 37 or so children.
Her father was the late Jonas Carboo, nicknamed “Kabu Opertoto” on account of his immense wealth, a great cocoa merchant of the Gold Coast and founder of Kabukope, now New Ningo. Her mother was the late Mrs. Victoria Numenawu Carboo from the Namoah family of Zinglinya, of the Kponkpor Wetso, Big Ada.
Comfort, known to her family as “Aunty Baby” on account of her youthful demeanor, and to her friends as “Aunty-C,” spent her early childhood at Mangoase with her mother and her elder sister, Selina, who helped their mother to bring her up. Mangoase was then one of the biggest commercial centres of the Gold Coast and headquarters of her father’s cocoa business. Her bother, the late Daniel Otubua Carboo, who was then away at school in Sierra Leone, would assume the role of father, and was unquestionably the most positive male influence in her life.
After her primary education in Mangoase, Comfort attended Krobo Girls’ School in Krobo Odumase, and then went on to Achimota School. It was during one of her vacations from Achimota that she began showing her mettle as an organizer, a calling that was to mark the rest of her life.
This was during World War Two. As she and other kids played on the Ningo beach, they espied a boat carrying wounded white men rowing towards them. As the alarm was sounded, the British High Commission in Accra dispatched a welcoming party led by their young information officer, Jimmy Moxon, to meet the group.
The wounded men turned out to be British soldiers whose warship had been torpedoed by an enemy ship. Before Moxon’s party arrived at Ningo beach to meet them, Comfort had already organized the townspeople to attend to the wounded men. She had put into practice the little first aid skill she had learned as a member of the Red Cross Society at Achimota School.
As a token of their appreciation, the British soldiers presented her with a first aid kit that she kept for several decades, and Jimmy Moxon remained a lifelong family friend.
Her encounter with the British soldiers must have had quite an impact on her because she enrolled in the army and served at the United States military base at Feo Eyoo, near the railway line at Kwame Nkrumah Circle – a location later occupied by the Ghana Housing Company in Accra. She and Miss Awura-Ama Cato were among the first Gold Coast women to wear military uniform.
By this time, Comfort had grown into a strikingly beautiful young lady and, with her artistic flair and lithe body, managed to turn that khaki uniform into one of the most fashionable outfits ever to adorn a woman’s body.
After the military base closed down, Aunty-C went to work for a while at Kingsway stores, during which time she started setting up in business as a hairdresser. Her hair salon in the Accra suburb of Adabraka, with the rather precise name “Afuo Yi Ye Bie” – meaning “We Style Hair Here” – was the first of its kind to be established in the Gold Coast. It drew clientele, from all walks of life, who simply wanted to look stunning.
In 1959, she traveled to Britain for further training to extend her capabilities as a beautician. She returned with a diploma and new ideas to develop her hair salon into a full-service beauty parlour, and also expand her product line. Soon she began filling some of the leading shops in Accra and Makola with baby clothes, embroidery and home décor.
Aunty-C styled the elite, politicians, diplomats, businesswomen, working women, housewives, brides and beauty queens, including two Miss Ghana titleholders, all of whom went on to become dear friends. She and her daughters traveled across the country each year during festivals and other events at the behest of clients. She would later take up beautifying corpses, several of whom she had styled as vibrant women or excited brides.
Aunty-C was a positive and monumental force in the communities where she lived. People came to view her as a maternal figure, someone they could turn to for advice, mentorship and the frequently needed shot of common sense. She had a ready wit, outrageous sense of humour and a sharp, honest tongue that rather endeared her to the many people who frequently sought her counsel while reclining or swiveling about in front of her mirror.
She became a mother, sister, fashion consultant and chief confidant to all. Indeed, she forged many cross-generational friendships. The now-deceased Mrs. Matilda Charlotte McAddy, described Aunty-C as a friend of her mother (Mamie Sikliteh of Asylum Down) who later became her own friend and role model following her mother’s death.
She was a trendsetter and the best advertisement for her craft. Over the years, the grace with which she wore her long, silver hair in a big pompadour, or twisted in an intricate turban, and much later, in beaded silver braids, became her trademark, and inspired many to wear their grey hair with pride. She earned many nicknames from neighborhood kids around Asylum-Down, where she settled for many years – “Yomo be Ga”, “Abiriwa Rasta”, “Mamie Pompadour” – all speaking to her youthful, head-turning sense of style.
Throughout the course of her life, besides her own two sons and four daughters, Aunty-C helped to raise and educate numerous relatives’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who were sent to her specifically to benefit from the good breeding which she symbolized. She also trained many women and young ladies to become successful hairdressers, cosmetologists and businesswomen.
“Aunty Baby grew with us and seemed able to identify with every stage of our lives. It even seemed as if she remained young while we outgrew her after a while…” – from Grandchildren’s Tribute, February 2000.
The sentiment is the same no matter which of the numerous grand-children, great-nieces and nephews you talk to. Aunty Baby was incredible fun, and was more a peer than a grandmother. She related to us on a level that no other adults in our lives did, certainly not our parents, who would have thrown a fit had they had a clue about half the topics she allowed us to discuss with her.
She taught us all the important “whys” in life, not just the “whats.” And she was generous to a fault! She shared her insights not only with us but she also embraced our friends who benefited equally from her advice. It was futile to get jealous if you discovered that one of your friends was now on visiting terms with her, because that was her nature. Inevitably, your friend would become her own friend. If not, she would let you know as soon as possible what was wrong with that one and why you should find a new friend fast. Nine times out of ten, she was spot on.
We learned from her:
You needed to know my grandmother firsthand to understand her. People like her come along once every several generations to remind us that God does not use the same mold twice. She was definitely one of a kind.
Comfort’s life had not been a bed of roses by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Having got married early, she also got divorced early, and subsequent unsuccessful attempts to do it over had left this cheerful, optimistic dreamer very much the wiser and extremely independent for the experience. In the early to mid 1900s, however, the Gold Coast or any other African coast for that matter was not an environment in which divorced women had support groups. You could probably count them all on one hand.
As she went through and overcame each test in her life, she grew stronger spiritually, and became more active in a Christian fellowship known as “Sinners Saved by Grace” or by their Ga name, “Tooku” meaning sheepfold. This group of staunch prayer warriors would remain her strongest support system throughout her adult life, and in time, some of us grand-kids who remained in Ghana, even began accompanying her when she started using a walking cane and needed an arm to lean on during the long trip to meetings.
In the late 1970s, her beauty parlour caught fire from an electrical fault and she lost most of her investment and her life’s work. This marked the end of a major chapter in her life, which she never looked back on. She never opened another beauty parlour.
She then moved to the United States for a while to be near four of her children who were living there during this time. This marked the beginning of frequent visits to the US, but in-between those trips, she continued to make house calls and hold individual consultations in her home with long-time clients and more frequently, would answer the call to “please come and dress up” a dead friend, relative or former client.
Comfort remained very close to her elder sister Seli, who had raised her and whom she considered a spiritual mentor to herself and her children. The death of Seli in 1997 combined with the dramatic death of their niece Doris following a car accident while enroute to Aunty Seli’s funeral, was a blow from which she never recovered. It marked a sharp decline in her health.
She moved in with her eldest daughter, who said that Comfort would sit for hours on end on the porch, staring into space and only eating when coaxed to do so.
By Christmas of 1999, she was deteriorating quite rapidly and got admitted to the Ridge Hospital in Accra. Constant prayers of the immediate and extended families, and members of the Tooku fellowship, ushered her into Y2K, just barely.
Twelve days into the new year, she died, the last of her siblings to pass away.
Her funeral in February of 2000 was attended by people representing every sector of society: family, friends, well-wishers, chiefs and dignitaries, representatives from hairdressers’ associations, and people who had simply heard of her and wanted to say “farewell.” All those whose heads, faces or spirits she had touched over the years were there, or represented by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the small town of New Ningo, as the last of Kabu Opertoto’s children was laid to rest. (To post a comment, scroll to bottom of page)
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