Culture in Ghana

Culture in Ghana


Meet chiefs, witches & weavers in Ghana

Ghana is famously one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. This achievement is all the more impressive when you take into account that there are over 100 ethnic groups living side by side in this little nation, and Christianity and Islam sit comfortably alongside traditional African religions, ancestor worship and the use of sacrifice and fetishes.

Similarly, there is a democratically elected government and president, but much local power is devolved to village and regional chiefs who have their own hierarchical system. The Ashanti even have their own king. Yet rather than causing friction, these traditional systems make it easier for justice to be served, and for conflicts to be resolved more quickly between neighbouring tribes and villages.

Discovering the local culture is a focus of any Ghanaian vacation, and here are some of our top cultural experiences to be found across the country.

Meet a chief


Many villages in Ghana will have their own chiefs.

Vicki Brown, travel writer and editor at Responsible Travel: “I met the Chief of Tengzuk and his entourage outside his impressive, mud-walled compound in the far north of Ghana. He was happy to answer all our questions – no matter how silly – about his role in the community, how one becomes a chief, how many wives he had (22 ‘official’ ones, apparently) and how the local justice system worked. The only question he didn’t answer was how many children he had – he just shrugged, as he had no idea!”

Visit the "witches"


Jim O’Brien, from our supplier Native Eye Travel: “In the north of Ghana we visit a village of witches – they are people who have been accused of being witches by their communities and been exiled. There is a strong belief in witchcraft in Ghana, so they are not allowed to go back to their communities and they generally have a fairly terrible life. But in this area they’ve established their own village where they can go about their business without fear of persecution. You can go and have a chat with them and find out their histories and learn a little bit about that side of the culture which is a little but disturbing – but it’s part of it.”

Attend a funeral


It may seem strange to visitors, but to Ghanaians, funerals, particularly of elderly people, are not sad events; death is seen as a part of life, and family members believe they will be reunited in the afterlife.

One of the most unusual aspects of Ghanaian funerals is the “fantasy” coffins; bespoke coffins are constructed for more important members of society. A pilot may be sent off in a giant wooden plane; a teacher in giant pen. If you aren’t able to attend a funeral, try and arrange a visit to a coffin workshop in Accra, where these works of art are painstakingly carved from hardwood by hand.
Jim O’Brien, from our supplier Native Eye Travel, explains:“It sounds a bit weird, but they advertise their funerals and it’s an honour for guests to come as they are honouring the life of the dead person. So they’re quite welcoming if the odd westerner comes along. I went to one myself and met the president, as it was the funeral of one of the Ashanti Royal family! So that was quite unexpected, but my presence was not a problem at all; you see all the people dressed up in their traditional red and black dress, there’s dancing… funerals in Africa aren’t the sombre affair that they are here, they’re a chance for celebration of someone’s life.”

Appreciate the small things


Ghana’s cultural festivals are impressive, but the highlight for many are the low key encounters that happen while you’re out shopping or by the roadside, or on a village tour. Head to a village market to buy a length of cloth and chat to the stallholder about the meaning of the adinkra symbols or how the batik is made. Then take your fabric to a local seamstress and she can make a shirt or trousers or dress in your chosen style. Alternatively, head to a kente weaving workshop to see the weavers working on long, narrow looms, and learn about the symbolism behind this heavy fabric that adorns kings and chiefs to this day.

And along the coast, take a wooden boat along the Volta River, stopping at a sandy island in the estuary to meet a man who can show you how he has been distilling his own rum on the island for decades. Sit in the shade with him and sample the spirit as you chat about life on this tiny island.
In the north, spend time with a women’s cooperative as they make shea butter, and learn about the process of extracting the fat from the shea tree nut. You can see how the nuts are washed, pounded and roasted, turned into a paste, purified and heated to extract the vitamin-rich oils, a process which has been carried out in much the same way for centuries.
Photo credits: [Meet a chief: US Army Africa] [helpdesk: Stig Nygaard] [Attend a funeral: David Stanley] [Appreciete the small things: Rachel Zack]
Written by Vicki Brown
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