Pan African Heritage: Ghana

25 Sep

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In the second part to my series of Pan African heritage, I dedicated this blog to our brothers and sisters of Ghana.

Ghana is located in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. The capital is Accra

As with many ex-colonies in Africa, the official language of Ghana is the colonial language, English. Nine languages have the status of government-sponsored languages: Akan, Dagaare/Wale, Dagbane, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem, Nzema. However, two dialects of Akan, Twi and Fante, although not government-sponsored, are also widely-spoken in Ghana. Hausa is widely used as a lingua franca by Muslims in Ghana.

There are over 100 ethnic groups living in Ghana. The largest are Akan, Moshi-Dagbani, Ewe, and Ga. The Ashanti tribe of the Akan are the largest tribe and one of the few societies in West Africa where lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. Once famous for the luxury and wealth of their rulers, they are now more well known for their craft-work such as hand-carved stools, fertility dolls, and ‘kente’ cloth.

Ghanaian-couple_ava

Family is a very strong bond in Ghana and is the primary source of identity, loyalty and responsibility. Family obligations take precedence over pretty much everything else in life. Individuals achieve recognition and social standing through their extended family.

An interesting cultural variation among the Akan, or Ashanti and Fanti people, is that affiliation within the clan is through women. Mothers have a higher status as in their point of view people get their blood from mothers.

It is important for Ghanaians to maintain dignity, honour, and a good reputation. The entire family shares any loss of honour, which makes the culture a collective one. In order to protect this sense of face there is a need to maintain a sense of harmony; people will act with decorum at all times to ensure they do not cause anyone embarrassment.

Ghanaian society is hierarchical. People are respected because of their age, experience, wealth and/or position. Older people are viewed as wise and are granted respect. In a group one can always see preferential treatment for the eldest member present. With respect comes responsibility and people expect the most senior person to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.

Akan_girl_dancing

Approximately 20 million Ghanaians are residents of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. The term ethnic Ghanaian may also be used in some contexts to refer to a locus of ethnic groups native to the Gold Coast. The Republic of Ghana is a natural resource, mineral resource and fossil fuel-rich nation and is home to one of the world’s largest gold and sweet crude oil reserves and they are the second major producers of cocoa in the world.

The Republic of Ghana is an economical powerhouse in West Africa and has one of the biggest economies on the African continent and one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The Ghanaians established a number of powerful kingdoms from the 10th century AD to the 17th century and the Ghanaians became the dominant military power in the west of Africa. In 1902, the powerful Ghanaian kingdoms had all become a colony of Britain and their powerful kingdoms was renamed Gold Coast following a series of military battles between the Ghanaians and the British. The Ghanaians gained their independence from Britain in 1957, and renamed their sovereign state “Ghana (Warrior King)” due to the fact that pre-historic Republic of Ghana was ruled by warriors. The Republic of Ghana was the first African country to gain independence from European colonisation.

Ghanaian-smock

Notable Ghanaian authors include novelists Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born) and J. E. Casely Hayford, author of Osiris Rising. In addition to novels, other literary genres such as theatre and poetry have been well developed at a national level.

Ghanaian music incorporates several distinct types of instruments such as talking drums, the atenteben and koloko lute, the atumpan, and log xylophones used in asonko music. The most well-known genre to come from Ghana is highlife. Highlife originated in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In the 1990s, a new genre of music, hiplife, was created through the combination of highlife, Afro-reggae, dancehall and hiphop. Hiplife is the most popular Ghanaian music, followed by the other genre of Ghanaian music, highlife.

Ghanaian dance is globally well known and performed worldwide. The dances are varied and may involve complex and co-ordinated movement of the arms, torso, hips, feet and head, performed to different Ghanaian music forms for entertainment, celebrating at festivals, and other occasions. Some popular dances include Adowa and Azonto. Other traditional dances from Ghana are Kpanlogo, Klama and Bamaya.

Ghana_Armed_Forces_–_Military_Sergeant_Soldier
Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) Military Female Sergeant at a GAF military exercise, 2013 in Ghana.

Kente is a Ghanaian ceremonial cloth traditionally used as the national costume. Kente is hand-woven on a horizontal treadle loom in strips measuring about 4 inches wide, which are sewn together into larger pieces of cloth. Cloths come in various colours, sizes and designs, which have different meanings, and are worn on important social occasions. During the 13th century, Ghanaians developed their unique art of adinkra printing.
The traditional costumes of Ghana are not just beautiful. The culture of this country and its ancient heritage influence the folk clothing much. That’s why the designs, fabrics, and patterns aren’t random. They are used by Ghanaians for a long period of time, and therefore, they carry the old knowledge and tradition. At the same time, the national outfit of Ghana looks so bright and festive that it brightens the mood of everyone around.
One of the main clothing crafts in Ghana is the weaving. Locals had wooden looms and produced handmade fabric long before the colonisation of this land. They wove cloth from cotton and raffia fibres (widespread African palm tree). This craft isn’t forgotten even today. Ghanaians still use their traditional looms to make Gonja cloth and kente cloth – national clothing of Ghana is usually made from these fabrics.

African-dress14

Ghanaian smock
The traditional garments of Ghana are the kente cloth and the Ghanaian smock. The smock is made from the fabric called “Gonja cloth”. The kente cloth is originated from Southern Ghana, while the Gonja cloth – from Northern Ghana.
Gonja cloth – thick striped cotton fabric. The cotton is picked, dyed, and woven by hand. Usually, the pattern on this cloth is blue/black and white stripes. Long narrow pieces of fabric (about 4 inches wide) are woven and then sewn together or sold in rolls.
Ghanaian smock (there are other names, for example, “dansika”, “fugu”, “batakari”, etc.) is a garment that resembles a shirt. It is mostly worn by men but there are female versions. Usually, the neckline and sometimes the front part of the smock is embellished with embroidery. The threads used for the embroidery pattern are white or blue&white. The pattern on the fabric itself is a combination of black and white or blue and white stripes of different width. The smock is worn with a kufi cap (a small round skull-cap widely used in Africa) or a red fez hat.

Kente cloth
Kente cloth is another traditional garment of Ghana. It is a handwoven piece of fabric with very colourful and symbolic patterns. This outfit is mostly worn for special occasions, ceremonies, and celebrations. The garment is very important for Ghanaian culture. First kente appeared about a 400 years ago. It was woven from raffia palm fibres and the tissue structure looked like a basket. At first, kente cloth was used only by royalty but later it became an item for ordinary people. Nowadays, kente cloth is made from cotton, and this clothing fits African climate perfectly.
Kente is a unisex outfit, but men and women drape it in a different way. Men use it as an ancient Greek toga – across one shoulder and around the body. Women wear a two-piece kente: one forms a wrap-around skirt (2 yards long and 45 inches wide piece of fabric) and another one is used as a shawl. A plain-coloured blouse is worn to complete the attire.
The most important feature of a kente cloth is its pattern. There are more than 300 various patterns, and each and every one of them has its name and a unique deeply symbolic meaning. Each pattern has a background – social or political events, achievements of a certain person, wise sayings, and so on.

For example, there’s a pattern called “Fathia Fata Nkrumah”. It is dedicated to the marriage of the first president of the Republic of Ghana and the Egyptian woman Fathia. This marriage was important and symbolic for Ghanaians because it united different nations on the African continent.

kente_cloth

But not only the finished pattern has a meaning but every colour of it does. Here is a short list:
▪ red – blood; strong political and spiritual feelings;
▪ pink – calmness, tenderness, and similar qualities;
▪ yellow – yolk of the egg; some fruits and veggies; holy and precious things;
▪ gold – wealth, royalty, etc.;
▪ white – white of the egg; white clay used in some rituals; healing; purity;
▪ maroon – Earth; mother; healing and protection from evil;
▪ purple – Earth; healing;
▪ blue – sky; harmony, peace, good fortune, love;
▪ green – plants; growth and good health;
▪ silver – moon; purity and serenity;
▪ gray – ashes; spiritual cleansing;
▪ black – aging; strong spiritual energy, the spirits of the ancestors.

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