POPULATION: About 18 million
LANGUAGE: English; Akan; Hausa; more than twenty-five African languages
RELIGION: Islam; Christianity
Modern Ghana was established in 1957, when colonial subjects of the Gold Coast ended more than seventy-five years of British rule. For the previous ten years, nationalists had conducted nonviolent boycotts, demonstrations, and mass strikes against the British. A leader of this anticolonial movement, Kwame Nkrumah, became the first elected head of the nation. As the first independent nation south of the Sahara Desert, the country was named for the ancient empire of Ghana.
In its forty years of independence, Ghana has experienced four military coups d'état (takeovers). The first was in 1966, and the most recent was in 1981. Ghana is now a constitutional democracy with several political parties. It is governed by a president, an executive branch composed of cabinet-level and regional ministers, and a two-hundred-member National Assembly.
Just under 18 million people live in Ghana. It is a small tropical country located just north of the equator. Consisting of 127,205 square miles (239,460 square kilometers), it is roughly the size of the state of Oregon.
The geographical features and climate zones of Ghana are varied. Its humid southern regions are marked by coastal plains and rain forest. The savanna lands (grassy plains) of the northern regions face harmattan (dust-laden) winds for four months each year. The country's central regions are marked by plateaus and escarpments (cliffs).
The nation's capital, Accra, is a busy international city with a population just under 2 million.
English is the official language of government and business. However, Ghanaians speak more than twenty-five distinct African languages belonging to the Niger-Congo language family. Akan is the first language of more than half of all Ghana-ians.
Arriving at the international airport in Accra, travelers may observe colorful billboards with the word Akwaba , or "welcome" in Akan, written in bold letters. Here are typical Akan greetings one may hear in southern Ghana:
|Wo ho ti sen||How are you?|
|Me ho ye||I am fine.|
|Me ho wo ekyere||See you later!|
Other languages spoken by large numbers of Ghanaians include Ewe, Ga, Guan, and Gur. Most Ghanaians speak two or more African languages. Hausa, a Nigerian language introduced into Ghana nearly 200 years ago, has become a lingua franca (common language) throughout the country. Hausa is a second language for more Ghanaians, but can be used to communicate with people from other groups.
Before Ghana was a British colony, the history of most Ghanaians was preserved by oral historians. Today, the stories of many legendary leaders of Ghana's various ethnic groups are included in school history books. Storytelling is one of the most important recreational activities for Ghanaians, especially in rural villages.
Among the Akan-speaking and Guan-speaking peoples, folktale characters include the tortoise, hare, vulture, and crow. But Anansi the spider is the most popular animal character. Anansi defeats his larger opponents by using his intelligence, humor, and cunning, rather than through the use of physical force.
Islam was introduced into parts of Ghana as early as the fourteenth century. Christianity was introduced by missionaries in the nineteenth century. Today, about 40 percent of Ghanaians still practice traditional African religions. These religions include the concept of a supreme being and a belief in the power of ancestral spirits.
There are also some independent Christian sects. These were founded early in the century by African Christians who became dissatisfied with the churches controlled by white missionaries. The Harrist church, for example, includes African dance and song in its services. This church also gives women a greater role in religious matters than the white churches do.
Even those who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim (followers of Islam) do not totally abandon their traditional religions. They still take part in community festivals commemorating the ancestors.
Ghanaians celebrate Independence Day on March 6 and Republic Day on July 1. The government often sponsors major parades in the large cities on national holidays.
Their are two religious holidays, one Christian and one Muslim, recognized by all. These are Christmas and Damba , which marks the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. At least one regional festival is held in some part of Ghana every month. For example, in August the Adkye-Ga people of Accra sponsor the Homowo Festival, a celebration of female adolescent rites.
Every part of the cycle of life from birth to death is marked by some type of celebration in Ghana. Throughout southern Ghana, ethnic groups carry out special naming ceremonies for newborn babies. Among the Adkye-Ga people for example, the mother or other female relatives of a newborn baby born will dress the infant in waist beads. This is believed to protect the baby from disease and evil spirits.
Many ethnic groups in Ghana sponsor events to mark adolescence. Among the Ashanti and other Akan groups, coming-ofage rites for girls include activities such as giftgiving, distribution of food on behalf of the girl, a hair-cutting ceremony, and the eating of a ritual meal.
Among Ghana's varied groups, custom dictates how greetings should be given and received. Among the Akan peoples, one cannot initiate a conversation without first saying the proper greeting. Otherwise, one risks being labeled as rude and uncivilized.
Most city houses are one-story or two-story family units built of cement. Apartment buildings over ten stories high are rare in most cities. Wealthier suburbs have large two-story houses surrounded by walls and shaded by palm and fruit trees. The older areas in the center of the city are often made up of mud and cement houses with corrugated zinc roofs.
Traditional architectural styles are found in the rural communities, with variously shaped adobe houses with thatched roofs. Among the Gurensi of northern Ghana, women paint beautiful geometric designs in their circular adobe houses.
An average of five people live in each house in Ghana.
The usual family structure in Ghana is the extended family. Depending on the ethnic group, Ghanaians may trace their descent through either their father (patrilineal) or their mother (matrilineal) . The influence of descent groups is still very strong. They keep track of marriages and provide members with a system of mutual aid.
Most Ghanaians believe that marriage is a family matter, not just a contract between two individual persons. Marriage requires the approval of the family. It also involves a specific set of gifts from the potential groom to his fiancée's family.
During the day, Ghanaians may choose to dress in either African or Western-style clothes. A popular African-style outfit for women is the kaba and slit, a long wraparound skirt and matching blouse made from African cloth. It is considered as acceptable as a Western business suit. The fugu is a striped cotton shirt that men wear on ceremonial occasions. It was traditionally worn by men of the northern groups, and it is now worn by men all over the country.
All students attending elementary school, high shool, and college wear uniforms. But it is not unusual to see teenage boys in the cities dressed in fashionable blue jeans.
Ghanaian cuisine is very savory, or strong-flavored. Cayenne, allspice, curry, ginger, garlic, and onions are used in most dishes. The national dish is groundnut (peanut) stew, which may include chicken or beef. Another common dish is plava sauce, a spinach stew which may be eaten with fish or chicken. Jollof rice , a spicy dish that includes tomato sauce and meat, is enjoyed by many Ghanaians. The main staple foods served with Ghanaian meals are rice, millet, corn, cassava, yams, and plantains. The recipe for fufu , served all over west Africa, that follows has been adapted for Western cooks. It is not authentic, but it approximates the finished product one would enjoy in Ghana. In Africa, fufu is made by boiling plantain, cassava, or rice, and then pounding it with a large wooden mortar and pestle.
Most rural people rarely eat Western food. For example, Fante villagers may eat fish and bangu , a fermented corn dish, for breakfast. Some of the fast foods sold by city street vendors include roasted plantains or peanuts, corn on the cob with pieces of coconut, and beef kebabs.
Serve on a large platter with soup or stew.
Adapted from Hultman, Tami. The Africa News Cookbook. Durham, N.C.: Africa News Service, 1985.
After gaining independence, the Ghanaian government introduced free education. All educational expenses are paid from the time students enter primary school until they complete university. Primary education lasts six years and is compulsory (required). Secondary education lasts seven years. Competition to attend the nation's high schools and colleges is very intense. Entrance examinations, for high school and for the university weed out all but the very best students.
Ghana has public universities and professional and technical colleges that offer training in fields including nursing, teaching, fashion design, and computer programming.
Traditional music and dance are performed at festivals and the funerals of high-ranking members of a community. A funeral ceremony among the Dagomba people may include musical performances by more than six groups, each playing in a different musical style.
The drum is the most important musical instrument among southern ethnic groups; the xylophone predominates in the music of northern groups. Other traditional instruments include various types of rattles such as the shekere, clapperless bells, and wind instruments such as the bamboo flute and single-note trumpet made from animal horns, ivory, or wood.
One of West Africa's most respected composers and experts in traditional music is the Ghanaian J. H. Kwabena Nketia. He bases his modern compositions on traditional elements of Ghanaian music. Since the time of independence, literature has flourished in Ghana, although Ghanaian writers were severely censored during the nine years that Kwame Nkrumah served as head of state. Well-known authors include playwrights Efua Sutherland and Joe Graft and novelist Ayi Kwei Armah. Halo, oral poetry in the Ewe language, has been a major influence on the poetry of Kofi Awoonor.
Approximately two-thirds of Ghana's population is engaged in subsistence farming (growing just enough food for survival). In most groups, men carry out the heavy work of preparing the fields. Women and children plant, weed, and harvest most food crops. Many women sell any surplus food crops to city traders in order to earn cash.
Fishing is an important economic activity, connecting communities from the farthest ends of the country. During the fishing season, small crews of men in brightly painted canoes cast their nets into the Atlantic Ocean. The fish they catch is processed and marketed by their wives or female relatives.
Manufacturing is growing at a slow pace. It includes wood processing, food processing, textiles, brewing, and distilling.
Women make up 40 percent of Ghana's non-farming workforce. Many work in retail sales as small traders. Professional women cluster in occupations such as nursing and teaching.
The most popular spectator sport in Ghana is soccer. Every major city supports at least one professional team and a stadium—Kotoko in Kumasi, the Vipers in Cape Coast, and the Hearts of Oak in Accra. Ghana's national team, the Black Stars, is made up of the best players from these teams. On any weekend, it is not unusual to find teenage boys or men competing in soccer matches.
Basketball and tennis are replacing cricket in popularity among the wealthy.
When they attend night clubs or house parties, Ghanaians dance to reggae or rhythm and blues music.
After World War II (1939–45), the concert party, a type of comic opera performed in the Akan language, became the most popular form of entertainment in the coastal towns. This folk theater is a combination of Akan performing arts, influenced by Western music and drama. Today, there are over fifty concert-party troupes that perform in both city and rural areas. The event opens at nine o'clock at night with a dance and live band playing popular tunes. Two hours later, the troupe performs a comic play which lasts until two or three o'clock in the morning.
Ghana has maintained a rich tradition of arts and crafts. Certain crafts, such as batik (a method of dyeing or painting fabric), were introduced in the 1960s. However, others, such as pottery, have been practiced for thousands of years. The perfectly round clay pots produced by Shai women are known throughout southern and central Ghana. They are used for storage and cooking. Akan women are among the few female sculptors in Africa. Their clay figures are portraits of chiefs or important elders in their society. Women also produce the beads found in markets throughout Ghana. Asante smiths produce beautiful gold jewelry.
Traditional Ghanaian woven clothes, leather bags, bead necklaces, and beautifully carved masks and stools are sold in many large American cities. Many African Americans decorate their high school and college graduation robes with scarves of kente cloth produced by Asante weavers.
The minimum age to work is fifteen, but custom and a family's need for more income often force children to work at a younger age. The government has set up agencies to help protect children. Tensions between ethnic groups in the northern parts of Ghana have eased somewhat in the 1990s, but they have not completely disappeared.
Brace, Steve. Ghana, Economically Developing Countries. New York: Thomson Learning, 1995.
Cole, Herbert M., and Doran H. Ross. The Arts of Ghana . Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1977.
Hultman, Tami. The Africa News Cookbook: African Cooking for Western Kitchens. Durham, N.C.: Africa News Service, 1985.
Myers, Robert A. Ghana . Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1991.
Priebe, Richard K., ed. Ghanaian Literatures . New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Embassy of Ghana, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.ghana-embassy.org , 1998.
Garbrah, Steve. Ashanti Home Page [Online] Available http://www.ashanti.com.au/ , 1997.
World Travel Guide. Ghana. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/gh/gen.html , 1998.
World Travel Guide. Ghana. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/gh/gen.html , 1998.