Ghanaian americans

by Drew Walker


The nation of Ghana is located in West Africa. With an area of 92,098 square miles (238,533 square kilometers), it borders Burkina Faso to its north and northwest, the Ivory Coast to its west, Togo to its east and the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf of Guinea to its south. With a population of 16,445,000, Ghana is by no means a large African nation, yet its economy and production statistics are among the highest in the continent. Most of the land in Ghana is low-lying, with the highest altitudes not exceeding 3,000 feet (900 meters). Bisecting the landmass of the country is the Volta River Basin and the artificially created Lake Volta. The greatest masses of population are found in the country's southern and southeastern areas.

Within Ghana, there are many distinct ethnic groups, all of which affect Ghanaian Americans as an ethnic group. Ghanaians cannot be easily encapsulated into one shared Ghanaian cultural identity, as they also have strong local identities. Within Ghana there are roughly 100 distinct ethnic groups, most of which also differ in language. The major ethnic groups of Ghana are the Akan, Ewe, Guan, Mole-Dagbane, and Ga-Adangbe. The different communities which make up these groups share a common history, language, and cultural practices. Although a great number of Ghanaians and Ghanaian immigrants to the United States belong to these main groups, there are some who have different cultural practices.


The early history of the land which is today known as Ghana consists of migrations of peoples who lived as fishers and hunters. These peoples shared traditions, technologies and trade among themselves and larger trade networks to the north. From the eleventh to mid-fourteenth centuries there arose distinct states which were involved in the ever-growing trade networks from the north. Within these networks, gold was the most valuable and powerful commodity traded. In central Ghana, gold mining grew to become one of the key indirect exports across the Sahara to Europe and Asia via the great Malian kingdom to the north. With the first direct trading contact with European traders in 1471, North African routes of trade began to diminish in importance and the gold route began moving south to the Atlantic coast. With the trade in gold and other commodities underway, other European countries began coming to the coast and establishing trading posts, forts, and even castles to solidify their positions and relations within the region. These other European trading groups included the British, Danes, French and the Germans. It was not long before slaves also became objects of sale. With the growth of the slave trade, different groups from the interior grew in wealth and power, now using firearms and gunpowder to affect their neighboring groups. It was by this trade, competition, and violence that the modern history of Ghana was inaugurated. By the middle of the 18th century, the coast of Ghana had nearly 40 separate active forts controlled by European slave and gold traders. From early on much of the area today known as Ghana was called the Gold Coast, only taking the name Ghana in 1957.


As the power of the forts grew, southern coastal peoples like the Asante built ever stronger relations with the European traders, establishing themselves as middlemen between the Europeans and the peoples of the north. Growing throughout the 17th and 18th century, the Asante came to control the supply and market of slaves and other goods from the north. In doing so, they also led a series of successful conquests of the coastal peoples to further secure their power. By the early nineteenth century, however, the slave trade was losing strength and by 1814, the British, Dutch, and Danes had outlawed it altogether. In the following decades the British asserted their power over the Asante by making various alliances with other groups like the Fante. They also began to gain control of the Gold Coast by buying out the interests of other nations such as Denmark. The British and Asante fought in a series of conflicts, until the British gained control after a decisive move in 1874 in which they sacked the Asante capital Kumasi. Later that year that the British declared the Gold Coast a colony of the British Empire.

Perhaps one of the most historically significant changes of this period in Ghanaian history was the introduction of cocoa farming, beginning in 1878. As the British government made various moves in the following decades to organize Northern and Asante territories into a colony under one government, the cocoa trade led to the creation of an entire infrastructure, including educational institutions, which was unique in West Africa at the time. Despite these developments, however, the political situation of the Ghanaian people left much to be desired. Divisions and long-standing resentment between the northern and southern peoples led to political unrest and riots in larger towns. Feeling that all-African control of the government would lead to a more just political and economic situation between laborers of different ethnicity and class, prominent Ghanaians and British colonial officials began to draw up plans for an all-Ghanaian legislative assembly which would be, for the most part, organized and run by the Ghanaians. While this plan was slowly developing, impatience and doubt began to grow. The leftist politician Kwame Nkrumah sought to exploit this situation and led his Convention People's Party (CCP) into power. Through popular support and loud demands for Ghanaian autonomy the CCP led their campaign for self-government with strikes and other forms of mass persuasion. In the elections of 1951, the CCP under Nkrumah had secured nearly every seat in the legislative assembly. The colonial Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, invited Nkrumah and his cabinet to lead the new administration and they soon came to hold power almost entirely independent of British rule. In 1957 Nkrumah renamed the new country Ghana and obtained recognition from the United Nations as an independent member of the British Commonwealth.

Leading Ghana for the next nine years, Nkrumah solidified his power by establishing a one-party system and making himself leader for life of both the government and the CCP. Facing a decline in living standards, corruption and massive debt, Nkrumah was ousted in a 1966 coup led by general Joseph A. Ankrah. Serving three years as the head of the governing National Liberation Council, Ankrah lost leadership to another coup leader and general named Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa. In the following decades, Ghana has undergone a series of coups broken by elections which have failed to secure a democratic leadership. Under the leadership of such figures as Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and Jerry Rawlings, Ghana has been subjected to periods of governmental and economic change which have affected both emigration and foreign economic relations.


Although there is no clear record of early Ghanaian immigrants in the United States, Ghana produced many sailors and it is likely that some of them found homes in the port cities of the United States. This lack of documentation is probably the result of Ghanaian immigrants being grouped into a larger category of African immigrants. It is also notable that Ghana was the country of origin of many African Americans who were brought to America as slaves.


The most significant influx of Ghanaians emigrating to the United States has been in the four decades since independence. While many long-time Ghanaian American immigrants in the United States came as students, many of the immigrants of 1980s and 1990s came seeking business opportunities as well as specialized experience and training. While times of economic hardship in Ghana have affected the number who emigrate, sometimes it was the temporary cessation of hardship which allowed emigrants to save money and to build resources for their emigration to the United States.


The highest concentrations of Ghanaians are found in the large cities of the United States including New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. According to 1996 population estimates, 8,000 Ghanaian Americans lived in the New York City metropolitan area; 4,000 in Los Angeles; 13,000 in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas; 6,000 in Chicago; and 5,000 in Boston.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Many Ghanaian American communities have support networks to aid recent immigrants. Often divided by ethnic group of origin, these networks are a crucial source for both the construction of new and the preservation of old cultural forms.


The traditions, customs, and beliefs of Ghanaian Americans can be roughly divided in terms of the major Ghanaian ethnic groups which have settled in the United States. Below are descriptions of these major groups.

The Akan people occupy the greatest part of the areas south and west of the Black Volta River. The primary form of social organization among the Akan is the extended family, or the abusua . The Akan are a matrilineal society, which means that a child's family and group membership is determined by his or her mother's lineage. Every member of the Akan becomes a member of a corporate group which has its own symbols, property, and individual identity. Each corporate group has its own symbolic, carved stool or chair. This chair is often named after the female founder of the group who often lived in the past. Such stools or chairs are seen as the most important possessions of each group. Each group also shares a belief in certain spirits and gods around whom many traditions and beliefs are centered. The Akan are also exogamous, which means that each person is obligated to marry outside of his or her own corporate group.

The Ewe live in southeastern Ghana as well as the southern regions of neighboring countries Togo and Benin. The majority of the Ewe make their living as farmers, although fishing is also a common profession some areas. The Ewe are also known as traders and makers of textiles and pottery. They are a patrilineal society who regard children as descending their father's family. The head of the patrilineal family or group is often the oldest man; he is responsible for keeping the peace, representing his group in political affairs with other groups, and heading rituals regarding the ancestors of the group. In addition to honoring their ancestors, the Ewe participate in group and village rituals involving local spirits and gods. Along with these rituals, many Ewes also practice Christianity.

The Guan are thought to have originated north of Ghana, in what is today Burkina Faso. The settlement of the Guan moved down the Black Volta, eventually reaching the coastal plains. Today the Guan form enclaves in or near areas settled by other groups such as the Akan, Ewe, and Ga-Adangbe. Guan culture has often been eclectic, taking customs and practices from their neighbors and adapting them for their own purposes.

Although many groups inhabit the northern parts of Ghana, the three most prominent groups are the Mole-Dagbane (also referred to as the Mossi-Grunshi), the Gurma, and the Grusi. Of these three subfamilies of the Gur language group, Mole-Dagbane make up 15 percent of Ghana's population and are by far the largest group in their region. Being quite varied culturally, the Mole-Dag-bane group includes subgroups such as the Dagomba, Wala, Mamprusi, Frafra, Talensi, Nanumba, and the Kusase. Known for their diversity of political structure, Gur-speaking peoples traditionally lived in small, self-governed communities which maintained relations among themselves through inter-marriage and trade. In many of these communities, a traditional religious leader would sometimes be summoned to settle disputes. This was not, however, the rule in all Mole-Dagbane communities. Some, like the Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Gonja, lived in societies of a larger scale and had kings.

The Ga-Adangbe live in the Accra Plains along Ghana's southern coastal area. They are two distinct yet culturally similar groups, the Ga and the Adangbe. Their languages stem from the same root, but are today unintelligible to each other. Today the Adangbe include a number of subgroups all speaking different dialects like the Shai, Ningi, Kpone, La, Gbugle, Krobo, and the Ada. Among the Ga are groups such as the Ga-Mashie, who are found in the neighborhoods of central Accra, as well as those who have immigrated to this area from Akwamu, Akwapim, Anecho (in neighboring Togo), and other areas surrounding Accra. Ga communities are prominent within the capital city of Accra, and much of Ga culture is still practiced in such urban settings.


Proverbs have traditionally been very important to Africans, including the people of Ghana and Ghanaian Americans. Proverbs often play quite complex roles which vary greatly from group to group. In many cases, proverbs can be brought out through reference to short stories. Sometimes a series of proverbs is sung and accompanied by drums, a form of expression which reveals levels of emotion and meaning that bare proverbs cannot well relate. Among different groups, the recognized forms of proverbs differ. For example, the Ga and Adangbe make strict separations between proverbs and riddles, but not between epigrams and proverbs. The Ewe divide proverbs into two groups of metaphorical use according to social status and age of their performers. Many proverbs contain simple truths in the form of simple statements, such as the Akan proverb 'Anomuto ne nam nye fan' or 'The toothless man's meat is cabbage,' or in the Adangbe proverb 'Bubulo yo bu we ba' or 'Even a pauper manages to cover his nakedness with cloth instead of leaves.' Other proverbs take the form of simple statements of everyday fact, such as the Akan sayings 'Bosompo botoo abotam' or 'The rocks existed long before the sea,' and 'Dam wobo kyere aman' or 'An insane person's behavior does not escape the notice of the community.' Another popular form of proverb reports the words of animals. The following are examples of this form: Akan-Abowa apatabi se de 'Adze woye no nano nano' (The squirrel sings 'things must be done in the proper way'); Adangbe-Ateplee ke efi nge mi ne ake yahe na (The cockroach says it gave its excrement as its contribution toward the purchase of a cow) and Krakpahe ke enyuwumi nge enane mi ne kee su pa mi loko emaafo, se kpo no lohwehu tsuo ke eza we (The duck says its activity rests in its feet and that it can run only when it is in the water, but all other animals accuse it of sluggishness).


Of the many traditional foods prepared by Ghanaian Americans, most vary from group to group. Ghanaian Americans can often obtain the items they need to prepare specialty foods at African food stores in the large cities in which they live. Many Ghanaian Americans who have immigrated to the United States from the more forested zones of Ghana eat foods prepared from maize, coco yam, plantain, and cassava, while those from savanna prepare dishes from cereals such as millet, rice, guinea-corn, and maize. A common staple food is the yam and pounded yam (known as fufu). Wet and dry vegetables as well as beans are also prepared and eaten with yams and other foods. Meat of all sorts is also commonly consumed. Traditional alcoholic beverages include palm wine and a drink known as pito , which is brewed from guinea-corn, sorghum of maize.


Ghanaian music, which varies among ethnic groups, is often performed at festivals. Such musical performances often feature traditional instruments. A Gangkogui, a double iron bell, is one of the most important instruments in many ensembles; it is used to anchor tempo and timing. The drum is also a key instrument. The complex drumming techniques of many African cultures are said to speak an intricate language.

The Atsimewu is a lead drum. Standing four and a half feet tall, the bottom of the drum is open and smaller in diameter than the top head. Played by striking it on the head as well as the rim and sides, this lead drum is a 'talking drum' and a powerful speaker of song in rhythm, often reciting syllables of prose with drum strokes.

The Sogo/Kidi are a pair of barrel drums which are closed at the bottom. The Sogo is larger and lower in pitch than the Kidi. Each drum is played by a single person who uses a combination of open and closed stick strokes and hand muting while playing.

Other instruments include the Agboba, a large barrel bass drum, three feet high, with a closed bottom, and the Kloboto/Totodzi, which are short open bottom barrel drums. The Kaganu is a narrow barrel drum which is played with light sticks and is of similar proportions to the Atsimewu but built to the height of the Kidi. The Atoken is a small single boat-shaped bell laid in the open palm and played by striking it with piece of metal. The Axatse is a gourd rattle which is usually shaken and struck with the hand and thigh.


Roughly speaking, traditional Ghanaian American modes of dress can be divided according to their geographic origin. These divisions, like many others in Ghanaian society, are drawn between north and south. For men, the cloth, a piece of fabric hanging over the shoulder and wrapped around the body, has traditionally been associated with the south. However, the smock, traditionally associated with the north, has become more popular overall. Among Muslims of the north, forms of Islamic clothing such as robes are also worn. Among the traditional outfits of Ghanaian American women, the slit and the Kaba, fashioned into long colorful dresses, are the most well known.

Of the cloths, Kente cloth is the most popular. Kente cloth has a long history, dating from 12th century Ghana. It was traditionally worn by kings, queens and other great figures of state during ceremonial events and functions. The name 'Kente' comes from the word kenten, which means 'basket,' due to its resemblance to the woven design of a basket. Traditionally each pattern of Kente was unique and had its own name and meaning, much the same way as great paintings or sculptures. Traditional smocks designs are often associated with a certain ethnic group. Among the noted areas in which smocks are manufactured are Yendi, Bimbilla, Tamale, Bawku, Bolgatanga, Lawra, Jirapa, Babile, and Nandom. Sites of Kente manufacture are Bonwire, Adansi, Accra, Keta, and Agbozume.


At festivals, Ghanaian American ethnic groups often perform their varied dances and songs, which are often unique to the celebrated occasion. In addition to performing at festivals, a number of Ghanaian American groups also perform innovative and traditional dances within the United States. The following are examples of some of the dances performed by the California-based Ghanaian American performance group called Zadonu.

One prominent dance is called dowa. Dowa is a graceful dance that borrows from other dances like Kete and Denesewu. Originally a funeral dance, this graceful character is preserved in its own particular form of a dignified walking movement. Dowa is usually preceded by a chorus of voices which are accompanied at first by two boat-shaped bells and later joined by two drums. When the singing and drumming have set the mood in song, the Atumpan drums enter with parts of the drum rhythms being picked up by different parts of their bodies. This is accompanied by a spinning and bowing which the melody of the song suggest to the dancer. This dance is popular among the Twi, the Fante (who call it Adzewa), and the Ga.

Adzohu was originally a cult dance associated with a war god of Benin. In the first part of this dance, called Kadodo, only women dance. Gathering in a group as a chorus, the women sing and perform rituals while the young men are spiritually prepared for war. Then, in the second part called Atsia, the young men preparing for war begin to dance. Here, many of its movements imitate the various positions of battle, from moving in formation, to hand to hand combat, to reconnaissance.

Aside from these two examples, there are a number of other various dances and songs found in the Ghanaian American community. Dance and song are perhaps the most important cultural possessions of Ghanaian ethnic groups.


In addition to celebrating most of the holidays of Anglo Americans, Ghanaian Americans try to preserve the traditional festivals and holidays of Ghana. Among them are: Adaekese, celebrated by the Asante; Odwira, celebrated by the Asante and Akuapim; Akwambo, celebrated by the Fantes of Agona and Gomoa; Homowo, celebrated by the Ga people of Accra; Hogebetsotso, celebrated by the Ewe people of Anlo; Damba, celebrated by the people of the northern and upper regions of Ghana; Bugum, celebrated by the Dagombas of the northern region; Kwafie, celebrated by the Dorma in the Brong Ahafo Region; Aboakyere, celebrated by the Effutu people of Winneba; and Oguaaa Fetu Afahye, celebrated by the people of the Cape Coast. The celebrations of these festivals are often sponsored by ethnic associations within the Ghanaian American community. They include traditional dancing, music and drumming, storytelling, and the display of traditional costumes. For example, the Homowo Festival celebrated in New York City annually is known as the most popular festival in the greater New York area. There is also a well-known Homowo Festival celebrated in Philadelphia. This celebration includes a pilgrimage to the Amugi Naa shrine at which participants pour libations and give thanks to ancestors and spirits. Most of these festivals are meant to give thanks to ancestors and gods, to provide purification of the group, and to offer times of reunion of families and groups. To many Ghanaians, these ceremonies are very important to maintaining links between the living and the dead by paying tribute to the departed and their memory. It is not uncommon for Ghanaian Americans, when possible, to return to the homeland, town, or village of their ancestors during one of the many such festivals to maintain links with their heritage and tradition.

Odwira is a traditional Akan festival which functions as a thanksgiving, dedication, purification, and reunion observed in Ghana and in the United States. Sponsored by the Okuapeman Association in America, it is one of the festivals observed by different groups of Ghanaian Americans. This festival is traditionally religious, reflecting and displaying many of the long-held cultural practices of the Akan people. It is considered key to maintaining a strong and respectful link between the living and the dead, and is therefore dedicated to the honor of ancestors and their spirits. This festival is usually celebrated on the ninth Sunday of the year according to the traditional Akan calender.

The main ritual activity in this festival is the purification of the sacred royal black stools, called the Nkonnwa tuntum, and the calling for blessings of the ancestors.

The Aboakyer festival is celebrated by a Guanspeaking people called the Effutu. It begins in some communities on the first Saturday of May. The term "Aboakyer" means "animal hunt" and requires capturing a live antelope from the bush with bare hands, then bringing it to be offered in sacrifice to one of many important gods or spirits. After the antelope is captured and brought to the community, various rites, including the pouring of libation and the recitation of incantations, are performed. Thereafter the antelope is slaughtered, cooked, and parts are offered to important gods before the members of the community eat the rest of the meat. The next day, after continuing to feast, dance, and celebrate through the night, consultation rites are performed and the future of the community is discussed. Festivals such as the Aboakyer are well known and often attract observers and visitors from other Ghanaian groups as well.


For more recent immigrants from Ghana, diseases common in Ghana are an issue, including malaria and sickle cell anemia. Health insurance is also a concern to this group, as many immigrants, especially the more recent arrivals, are without it. However, because of the large number of Ghanaian American physicians, nurses, and health care workers, disease prevention and treatment are more manageable.


Among Ghanaian Americans, more than 100 languages and dialects are spoken. In addition, Ghanaians use English both in Ghana and in the United States to communicate with other Ghanaians outside of their own ethnic group. Today English is the official language of Ghana. The languages of Ghanaians are placed by linguists into two subfamilies of the greater family of Niger-Congo languages found throughout Africa. These two language groups are referred to as the Kwa group and the Gur group.

The Kwa group of languages, spoken by 75 percent of the population of Ghana, is generally spoken in the southern part of the country. This group includes such major languages as Akan, Ga-Adangbe, and Ewe. Further subdivisions are made within these groups as well, including: Asante, Bono, Akwapim, Akyem, Fante, Akwamu, Kwahu, Ahanta, Nzema, and Safwi (all belonging to the Akan subgroup); Ga, Adangbe, Ada, and Krobo or Kloli (belonging to the Ga-Adangbe subgroup); and the Nkonya, Tafi, Logba, Lolobi, Likpe and Sontrokofi (belonging to the Ewe subgroup). The Gur group of languages is primarily spoken in the northern parts of Ghana and includes subgroups called Gurma, Mole-Dagbane, and Grusi within which further subgroups can also be classified.

Since European colonialism, systems of writing based on the same Latin alphabet as English have been developed for many of these languages. While most publications in the Ghanaian and Ghanaian American communities are written in English, some are also written in the Twi dialects of Asante, Fante, and Akwapim and in other languages such as Ewe, Ga, Dagbane, and Nzema.


Traditionally, greetings are very important in Ghana and usually entail extended conversation and inquiries about the other person's health, family, and other subjects. To neglect greeting someone is considered a great insult, as witnessed in the popular African sentiment that to forgo greeting someone invites bad fortune. Greetings and popular expressions differ within the native languages of Ghana. In greeting a group of people, it is the custom to start from those to your right.

Family and Community Dynamics

Ghanaian American family and community dynamics vary greatly from group to group. However, extended family ties are strong and create ongoing commitments to many Ghanaian Americans. For example, wealthy Ghanaian Americans often support relatives in Ghana or in the United States. Like many recent immigrant groups, Ghanaian Americans push themselves and their children to succeed while seeking a balance of the traditions and customs of both Ghana and the United States.

One of the most important factors in the community dynamics of Ghanaian Americans is the numerous ethnic associations found in cities there the bulk of Ghanaian Americans have made their homes. These associations are not a phenomenon of the Ghanaian immigrant experience in the United States, but rather have their roots in the urban centers of Ghana. Even in 1956, nearly 17,000 people belonged to one of the 94 ethnic associations in the greater metropolitan area of Accra alone. Of these associations, 45 were dedicated to people of the same ethnic group, district or state, and 35 were dedicated to persons from the same town or village; in total, 22 ethnic divisions were represented. Many of the ethnic associations in Ghana could be classified as cultural, political, economic, or any combination of these roles.

Ghanaian Americans ethnic associations came later; most of them were founded in the 1980s. Like the ethnic associations in Ghana's urban centers, many of these associations were created as support organizations for Ghanaian immigrants of a particular ethnic origin. In 1995 there were 11 major Ghanaian ethnic associations in New York City alone, and such organizations can be found in most major cities in which Ghanaian Americans have congregated. While membership is usually not restricted to persons of a particular ethnicity, most of the members of these organizations can claim common roots in one of Ghana's ethnic groups. In addition, while an increasing number of Ghanaian Americans identify themselves as having two or more ethnicities, membership to most ethnic associations is granted on the understanding than a person does not belong to more than one such association. It is also not uncommon for Ghanaian Americans living in non-urban communities where there is no ethnic association to be members of an ethnic association in the nearest large city.

Ghanaian American ethnic associations are dedicated to cultural issues and charitable causes. Most associations operate as non-profit entities, channeling the excess from dues and fundraising into cultural education, group events, and aiding the families of members in the United States and Ghana. For the most part, these associations, unlike their earlier counterparts in Ghana, are not devoted to economic or political concerns. Of the many benevolent roles played by these associations, the provision of help for newly arrived immigrants and the families of members in times of distress are the most prominent. Most associations are run by volunteers and are headed and staffed by officials elected by the membership as a whole.


The Ghanaian American community is devoted to both cultural and institutional education. Ethnic associations and related groups often educate the young in cultural traditions and art forms. In terms of more formal education, Ghanaian Americans are a very well-educated group, and many work in professions which require advanced degrees. Many earlier Ghanaian immigrants first came to the United States as foreign students and decided to stay. It is also not uncommon for Ghanaian Americans to continue their studies while in the workforce, with the hope of advancing their careers.


Ghanaians both within and outside of the Akan group have a custom of deriving names from the seven days of the week. Children born on a given day of the week are given a name, called the kra din, that is derived from that day's name. According to this custom, a child born on Tuesday, whose parents speak the Twi language, would have a name derived from Benada, the Twi word for Tuesday. A boy would have the name Kwabena and a girl, Abena. If born on Friday (Fiada), a boy would be named Kofi and a girl Afua, and so on. In addition, it is common among the Fante that nicknames or pet names, like Siisi and Fiifi, are derived from these names. People from the northern and upper regions of Ghana practice a variation of this tradition by using the Hausa names of the week as their base for naming. Among these people names such as Teni, Lariba, Alamisa, Azuma and Atlata are common. Although different groups have their own variations on these names, this practice is a special element of Ghanaian and Ghanaian American culture.


The traditional roles of Ghanaian and Ghanaian American women have included retailers, farmers, and mothers. Motherhood has been particularly emphasized due to various cultural pressures. In a 1983 survey of Ghanaian women, childbirth was named as an essential role for women due to the benefits and honor it bestows on women and their families, and 60 percent of the women surveyed found it important to have five or more children. However, in the United States, as in urban centers in Ghana, the lower rates of infant mortality, the costs of child rearing, and the constraints of time and career are impacting the traditional views of Ghanaian women regarding their roles. Many Ghanaian American women have found successful careers in education, nursing, and secretarial work, and many others have also begun to seek training and pursue careers as entrepreneurs and businesswomen.


Baptisms and other related forms of traditional cultural practice are found throughout the Ghanaian American community. However, the importance and forms of these practices vary among both Christian and traditional groups. Among Christians, for example, non-Pentecostal, Pentecostal, and Catholic rites and traditions vary greatly.


While Ghanaian Americans have the opportunity to meet other Ghanaian Americans in group meetings and festivals held in the United States, the possibilities to meet others of African and non-African descent have increased. Traditional courtship practices vary among the ethnic groups of Ghanaian Americans, and many younger Ghanaians find it difficult to carry on the courting traditions of their parents in the urban centers in which most of them live. Nevertheless, many Ghanaian Americans are aware of the traditional practices which many older members of the community followed before emigrating to the United States.


It is not uncommon for Ghanaian Americans, especially when marrying within the group, to be married in both a Christian ceremony as well as a traditional religious ceremony most often held in Ghana, though the ceremonies may be performed at times well removed from each other. Generally speaking, Christian ceremonies differ little from the way Americans have them performed. Ghanaian traditions involve many preliminary steps in which the man gains the grace of the family of his prospective wife. During the ceremony, the families come together and gifts are bartered and exchanged according to local customs. When an agreement is reached and all are satisfied, the couple is considered to be married. Afterwards a long-running feast is usually held in which songs are sung (most often by women), and music is played, often accompanied by dancing.


Among Ghanaian Americans there is no more critical and profound time than the death of a loved one. After services are performed in the United States according to the family's religious orientation, it is not uncommon for the ethnic association of the family of the deceased to hold a memorial service and to aid the family in returning the deceased to Ghana for burial, as Ghanaians believe the deceased must be returned to their ancestral homeland. Such memorial services are one of the major functions of Ghanaian American associations.


Outside of their ethnic groups, Ghanaian Americans often interact with other African immigrants with whom they often share common sentiments, traditions, and experiences as immigrants. To a lesser extent, Ghanaian Americans interact with the African Americans with whom they often live. Interaction with and assimilation into African American culture is more pronounced in younger Ghanaian Americans, who share many of the same experiences as other African Americans.


The spectrum of religious affiliation among Ghanaian Americans is quite varied. In the first census taken after Ghana's independence in 1960, 41 percent of Ghanaians identified themselves as Christian, 38 percent as following traditional religions, 12 percent as Muslims (mostly of the Sunni sect), and nine percent as having no affiliation. Among the Christian population, 25 percent identified themselves as non-Pentecostal Protestants, 13 percent as Roman Catholics, two percent as Pentecostal Protestants, and one percent as belonging to independent African churches.

Since this time, Protestant Christianity has grown considerably within Ghana. The diverse religious affiliations of Ghanaian Americans reflects the affiliations of Ghanaians on the whole. Among Ghanaian Americans, church attendance and devotion at mosques are regular features of life. Overall, Ghanaian Americans are tolerant not only of different Christian and Muslim religious practices, but they are also inclusive of traditional Ghanaian religious practices. In this community, one religious interest and commitment rarely rules out another.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Ghanaian Americans are employed across the spectrum of jobs found in the urban United States. There is a strong sense of entrepreneurship which stems from long traditions of trade within Ghana. A significant number of women work in healthcare professions and business. As a group, Ghanaian Americans are upwardly mobile, pursuing advanced degrees in practical areas of study and using networks to compete in the global economy. There is also a large number of Ghanaian Americans in the arts, art education, the social and natural sciences, and the humanities.

Politics and Government

Being a relatively young ethnic group in the United States, Ghanaian Americans have gained few notable positions in United States government. However, many are politically active, keep themselves abreast of government, and, when necessary, are outspoken and eloquent critics. While many of their concerns relate to the politics of Ghana and other African nations, Ghanaian Americans are also active in issues of immigration, racism, and economic concerns.


Relations with Ghana are very much alive in Ghanaian American communities. Extended family, village, and other group ties continually influence events among groups in Ghana and their related groups in the United States. Ghanaian Americans often act as connections between the Ghanaian and the United States economies, whether through investment or the wealth of international connections found in the major urban centers of the United States.

It is common for Ghanaian Americans to visit their homelands frequently and to sponsor relatives and other Ghanaians for visits, immigration, or study stays in the United States. The relations between Ghanaian Americans and Ghanaians is generally strong and beneficial to both groups.

Individual and Group Contributions

With only a short time in the United States as a large group, Ghanaian Americans have made many notable contributions to its culture.


Among the many successful scholars in the Ghanaian American community is Kwame Anthony Appiah. Having earned his doctorate at Oxford University, Appiah is a professor in the departments of philosophy and Afro-American studies at Harvard. Born in Ghana, Appiah's work deals with diversity, cultural identity, and community building. Covering areas a diverse as metaphysics, anthropology, history, and sociology, his work weaves together African, European, and American thought.

Among his many published works is a popular book entitled In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992), a collection of essays on race and culture which was named the New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1992 and was the winner of the African Studies Association's Herskovits Award in 1993. With Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he has co-edited numerous volumes of critical perspectives on different African American writers, including Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison.


Among the many great educators of Ghanaian descent, James Emman Aggrey is of special note. Born in 1875 in Ghana, Aggrey was educated at Methodist mission schools in which he also taught. His first major contribution was his work on translating the Bible into the Fante language. Working as an editor at the Gold Coast Methodist Times, Aggrey rallied a successful campaign against the Lands Bill of 1897, thus stopping the colonial government from seizing all land which was not in visible use. It was in 1898 that Aggrey first came to the United States to study at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. Studying on a scholarship from an American church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, he stayed to work at the college as a registrar and teacher. During the next two decades, Aggrey engaged in ministerial work and studied theology at Columbia University and the Hood Theological School, where he received his doctorate in 1912. Serving in various posts, including a board member of the commission on education for the prestigious Phelps-Stokes Fund, Aggrey spent years working for the promotion of education and social transformation of African people. After founding the new university college of Achimota in Ghana in 1924, he was pressured to return to the United States in 1927. Shortly afterwards he died in New York. For further study of this remarkable figure see the 1929 biography of Aggrey by Edwin Smith, Aggrey: A Study in Black and White .


Among the many great writers of Ghanaian descent is Kofi Nyidevu Awooner. Known mainly as a poet, Awooner (b.1935) has also written novels, short stories, essays, biographical pieces, plays, and scholarly works. After obtaining degrees in Ghana and the United Kingdom, Awoonor obtained a doctorate from the State University of New York-Stony Brook, where he became professor and chair of the department of comparative literature. At Stony Brook, Awooner developed one of the first black studies programs in the United States and completed most of the writing for which he is known. Living in Harlem while at Stony Brook, Awooner developed an ever-growing political consciousness. He returned to Ghana, where he held many important positions and his reputation as a writer, thinker, activist, and statesman continues to grow.


Among many successful Ghanaian American musicians and performance artists, Kobla and Dzidzorgbe Ladzekpo have had a wide range of successes. Kobla and Dzidzorgbe, a couple, are perhaps best known for founding the Zadonu Group in California. Both are long-time performers and instructors, having taught at the University of California-Los Angeles and the Naropa Institute. They have both been on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts for 25 years, and Kobla is chair of the music department. The Zadonu Group is known throughout the world for its workshops, seminars, and performances which have been successful for bringing together African cultural groups in the United States. They have performed for the president of Ghana and at the NFL Super Bowl XXVIII. The name Zadonu is derived from a combination of the names of Kobla's late father and brother, who were highly respected composers of the Anlo clan in their native Ghana. Among the credits of Zadonu are the score for the Hollywood film Mississippi Masala, the Chasima Series for PBS, and the advertisement for the Los Angeles Arts Festival. The couple has also appeared and taught across in the United States and abroad.


Edward Ayensu (b.1935) has been a very prominent Ghanaian American scientist. Ayensu, a noted international plant physiologist, is also widely known as a policymaker on international environmental issues. Born in Ghana, Ayensu was first educated at Achimota College, then went on to receive bachelor's and master's degrees in the United States, and earned a doctorate from the University of London. After receiving his degree in London, Ayensu returned to the United States, where he served as an associate curator of botany at the Smithsonian Institution, then as chair and curator from 1970 to 1989. While at the Smithsonian, Ayensu also served a director of the institution's Endangered Species Project from 1976 to 1980. During this time Ayensu also served on many prominent international boards for the environment. Among his more than 20 books and 100 published professional papers are Tropical Forest Ecosystems in Africa and South America (1973) and Medicinal Plants of West Africa (1978).

Organizations and Associations

A good resource on Ghanaian American performance can be obtained from the Zadonu group at

A site for Ghanaian American children can be found at:

Information on the Homowo harvest festival in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia is located at

A good deal of other information can be found at Ghana Forum ( ) and at the Ghana Discussion Forum ( http://www. ), a bulletin board for issues affecting Ghanaians.

Museums and Research Centers

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Address: 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, New York 10037-1801.

Telephone: (212) 491-2200.

Online: .

Smithsonian Institution.

Address: Smithsonian Information, SI Building, Room 153, Washington, DC 20560-0010.

Telephone: (202) 357-2700; or (202) 357-1729 [TTY].

Online: .

Sources for Additional Study

Attah-Poku, Agyemang. The Socio-cultural Adjustment Question: The Role of Ghanaian Immigrant Ethnic Associations in America. Brookfield, Vermont: Avebury, 1996.

Kondor, Daniel. Ghanaian Culture in Perspective. Accra: Presbyterian Press, 1993.

Ghana: A Country Study. Edited by LaVerle Berry. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1995.

User Contributions:

Enoch Addy
Please I need details of the naming ceremony of the Ewe in Ghana and not a brief history about the Ghana trbe.
Hope you can deliever wiyj such an information.
Thank you for your time and attention.
hi, i think you accidently made a mistake at modern era. It is not CCP it CPP and 16,445,000 is not the population of ghana, 23,382,000 is the population of ghana. really nice thank you
Who ever did this is hardworker and i will shoul keep it up. that is a lot of research and lot of information provided.
Anybody know who wrote this? This is really good.
I need more information about the coutship in ghana. can you do it, pliss i need it because i need to do a proyec right now and it`s for tomorro.

by: carla
I am a Girl Scout Leader who is working on a service project for the poor of Ghana. We are asking for shoe donations to be sent into the poor areas of Ghana. I will be presenting the Country of Ghana at an event which will bring in thousands of Girl Scouts. I have tried to contact the Ghana Embassy in Washington D.C. looking for materials about Ghana which will enhance the publics understand of the people and culture of Ghana but the embassy has not been able to help with sending informative materials such as documentaries,etc. Would like to ask you if you can recommend a place, organization or society that I can go to that can provide me with informative materials i.e. instruments, paintings, masks, music, documentaries. I live near Los Angeles and Orange County, California. Let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas. The event is on March 13th.
thanks for this information,am Samuel from Ghana.I really like African Americans.Can you please send me some names of African Americans who were believed to have migrated from Ghana.
Ghana is a nice country and very peaceful to live.
I need to know more about the cultural effects of Ghana and Mali
is good information. I am African-American and have many Ghanaian neighbors. I just want to point out that
Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C has a large group of Ghanaians as well. Thank you
dear sir or mam my name is rickey bobbitt and I traced my ancestors back to ghana,
through dna I went there and it was a great experience I would like to know if,
there are ghanan social clubs in losaneles california.
thank you rickey bobbitt,american name.
in ghana I am called kwabena egyiri after one of my greatgrandfather.
Bernard ofori debrah
Well Is all good of what you wrote,it helps us to know a little of our background.
The article reflects great information about the traditional makeup of Ghana and the characteristics of their people. Interesting enough, it doesn't show the how other cultures have enhanced their lifestyles and current customs. Like many cultures, other outside influences have a big impact of their relevancy and lifestyles today. Thanks!

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