Africa > West Africa > Ghana > Ghana Art / Culture Profile

Ghana: Ghana Art / Culture Profile


 Aboakyer Deer-Hunting Festival;Winneba,Ghana

Ghana, formerly the British colony of the Gold Coast, assumes a appropriate prominence as the initial African country to acquire independence from European policy. Ghanaian politicians marked this significant transition by replacing the territory's colonial label with the name of a great indigenous civilization of the completed. While somewhat mythical, these evocations of noble origins, in combination with a rich cultural heritage and a militant nationalist movement, have provided this ethnically diverse country with unifying symbols and a sense of common identity and destiny. Over forty years of political and economic setbacks since independence have tempered national pride and optimism. From presently on, the Ghanaian people have maintained a society free from critical internal conflict and continue to develop their considerable natural, human, and cultural resources.


In general, Ghanaians emphasize communal values such as family, respect for the elderly, honoring traditional rulers, and the importance of dignity and proper social conduct. Individual conduct is seen as having impact on an entire family, social group and community; therefore, everyone is expected to be respectful, dignified and observant in public settings and in most each aspect of life. Naming ceremonies, puberty initiations, marriage and death are all marked by family ceremonies, and while Ghana has the highest % of Christians in West Africa, belief in traditional animist religions is still common. Seasonal festivals serve to bring a whole tribe or clan together in spectacular fashion.

Customs are often passed on through the extended family. While the customary leaders or chiefs, are given historical authority over social, family, and land-related matters. Relationships within traditional society are based on family membership, inherited status, and ancestral beliefs. In modern society, relationships are determined by completed status, formalized education, membership in professional associations, and ethnic affiliation. The result is that, even those who live primarily in the modern urban setting remain bound to traditional society through the kinship system and are held to the responsibilities that such associations entail.

No part of Ghana, however, is ethnically homogeneous. Urban centers are generally ethnically mixed due to migration to towns and cities in search of employment. Rural areas, with the exception of cocoa-producing areas that have attracted migrant labor, tend to reflect additional traditional people distributions. One overriding feature of the country's ethnic people is that groups to the south who are closer to the Atlantic coast have long been influenced by the money economy, Western education, and Christianity, whereas ethnic groups to the north, who have been less exposed to those influences, have come under Islamic influence. These influences were not pervasive in the respective regions, however, nor were they all restricted to them.

In urban centres, the degree of traditionalism or modernism demonstrated by an individual is, to a large extent, determined by the length of residency in an urban setting, level of education, the degree of Westernization and, in some measure, by religious affiliation. Professionals in economics, politics, education, government, medicine, law, and similar occupations constitute the elite of their respective groupings. Taken as a whole, however, such elites do not compose an upper class. The individuals who constitute the elites come from different social and ethnic backgrounds and base their power and social status on different cultural values. Most of them continue to participate in some aspects of traditional society and socialize with members of their own or other lineage groups. Most importantly, they do not regard themselves as an elite group.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Country.

Ghana is a colonial creation, pieced together from numerous indigenous societies arbitrarily consolidated, and sometimes divided, according to European interests. There is no written documentation of the region's completed prior to European contact. By the time the Portuguese initial established themselves on the coast in the fifteenth century, kingdoms had developed part various Akan-speaking and neighboring groups and were expanding their wealth, size, and power. The Portuguese quickly opened a sea route for the gold trade, and the emergence of the "Gold Coast" quickly attracted competition from Holland, England, France, and other European nations. With the development of American plantation systems, slaves were added to the inventory of exports and the volume of trade expanded. The Ashanti kingdom emerged as the preeminent Akan political force and established its policy over several neighboring groups and into the northern savanna. Some indigenous states on the margins of Ashanti expansion, such as Akim and Akwapem, retained their independence. Coastal peoples were able to resist conquest through alliances with European powers.

In the nineteenth century, England assumed dominance on the coast and developed a protectorate over the local African communities. England came into conflict with Ashanti over coastal expansion and the continuation of the slave trade. At the end of the nineteenth century, it defeated Ashanti and established the colony of the Gold Coast, inclunding the coastal regions, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories beyond. The boundaries of this consolidation, which included a lot of before separate and independent kingdoms and tribal communities, were negotiated by the European powers to suit their strategic and economic interests. Next 1918, England further complicated this arrangement by annexing the trans-Volta region from German Togoland as a spoil of World War I.

The colony was administered under the system of indirect policy, in which the British controlled affairs at the national level but organized local control through indigenous rulers under the supervision of colonial district commissioners. Western investment , infrastructure, and institutional development were concentrated in the urban complexes that emerged within the coastal ports. Educational and employment opportunities were created for Africans, mostly from coastal communities, but only for the purpose of staffing the lower echelons of the public and commercial sectors. The rural masses were disadvantaged by the colonial regime and the exactions of their chiefs but gained some degree of wealth and local development through the increase of a lucrative export trade in cocoa, particularly in the forest zone. The north received little attention.

Resistance to British policy and calls for independence were initiated from the onset of colonial policy. Indigenous rulers formed the initial core of opposition, but were any minute at this time co-opted. The educated Westernized coastal elite any minute at this time took up the cause, and the independence movement remained under their control until the end of World War II. Next the war, nationalists formed the United Gold Coast Convention and tried to broaden their base and take chance of mass unrest that was fed by demobilization, unemployment, and poor commodity prices. They brought in Kwame Nkrumah, a former student activist, to lead this campaign. Nkrumah any minute at this time broke ranks with his associates and formed a additional radical movement though the Convention People's Party. He gained mass support from all parts of the colony and initiated strikes and public demonstrations that landed him in jail but finally forced the British to grant independence. The Gold Coast completed home policy in 1951. On 6 March 1957 it became the self-governing country of Ghana, the initial sub-Saharan colony to gain independence. In the succeeding decades, Ghana experienced a lot of political instability, with a series of coups and an alternation between civilian and military regimes.

National Identity

In spite of its disparate origins and arbitrary boundaries, Ghana has developed a modest degree of national coherence. British policy in itself provided a number of unifying influences, such as the use of English as a national language and a core of political, economic, and service institutions. Since independence, Ghanaian leaders have strengthened national integration, particularly through the expansion of the educational system and the reduction of regional inequalities. They have as well introduced new goals and values through the rhetoric of the independence movement, opposition to "neo-colonialist" forces, and advocacy of pan-Africanism. A second set of common traditions stem from indigenous cultures, particularly from the diffusion of Akan institutions and symbols to neighboring groups.

Ethnic Relations.

Ghana contains great diversity of ethnic groups. The Akan are the majority numerous, consisting of over 40 % of the people. They are followed by the Ewe, Ga, Adangme, Guan, and Kyerepong in the south. The major northern groups are the Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprussi, but the region contains a lot of small decentralized communities, such as the Talensi, Konkomba, and Lowiili. In addition, significant numbers of Mossi from Burkina Faso have immigrated as agricultural and municipal workers. Nigerian Hausa are widely present as traders.

Intergroup relations are usually affable and Ghana has avoided major ethnic hostilities and pressure for regional secession. A small Ewe separatist movement is present and some localized ethnic skirmishes have occurred part small communities in the north, mostly over boundary issues. There is, however, a major cultural divide between north and south. The north is poorer and has received less educational and infrastructural investment . Migrants from the region, and from adjoining areas of Burkina Faso, Togo, and Nigeria typically take on menial employment or are involved in trading roles in the south, where they occupy segregated residential wards called zongos. Various forms of discrimination are apparent.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Although Ghana is primarily a rural country, urbanization has a long tradition within indigenous and modern society. In the south the traditional settlement was a nucleated townsite that served as a king's or a chief's administrative base and housed the agricultural people, political elite, and occupational specialists. In precolonial times, populations in these centers ranged from a few hundred to several thousand in a major royal capital, such as Kumasi, which is presently Ghana's second major city. Traditional political nodes as well served economic functions concentrated in open-air marketplaces, which still constitute a central feature of traditional and modern towns. Housing consists of a one-story group of connected rooms arranged in a square around a central courtyard, which serves as the primary focus of domestic activity. The chief's or king's palace is an enlarged version of the basic household. Settlement in the north follows a very different pattern of dispersed farmsteads.

The British government introduced Western urban infrastructures, mainly in the coastal ports, such as Accra, Takoradi, and Cape Coast, a pattern that postcolonial governments have followed. Thus central districts are dominated by European-style buildings, modified for tropical conditions. Neither regime devoted much attention to urban planning or beautification, and city parks or other public spaces are rare. Accra contains two notable monuments: Black Star Square and the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, symbols of Ghana's commitment to independence and African unity.

Much of the vibrancy of urban life is due to the incorporation of indigenous institutions, particularly within the commercial sector. Commerce is dominated by open-air markets, such as the huge Markola market in Accra, where thousands of traders offer local and imported goods for sale. Although the very wealthy have adopted Western housing styles, most urban Ghanaians live in traditional dwellings, in which renters from a variety of backgrounds mingle in central courtyards in much agricultural.
the same way that family members do in traditional households. Accordingly, marketplaces and housing compounds provide the predominant settings for public interaction.



The Ashanti people of the Akan, from which nearly half of the Ghanaian people is descended, comprise the major ethnolinguistic group in Ghana and one of the few matrilineal societies in West Africa. The matrilineal system of the Akan continues to be economically and politically significant. Each lineage controlled the land farmed by its members, functioned as a religious unit in the veneration of its ancestors, supervised marriages, and settled internal disputes part its members.

Ashanti kings, once renowned for their splendour and wealth, retained dignitary status next colonization. Celebration of the Ashanti kings lives on in the tradition of the Golden Stool (see Arts & Crafts, below). The Ashaniti are noted for their expertise in several forms of craft work, particularly their weaving, wood carving, ceramics, fertility dolls, metallurgy and kente cloth (see Arts & Crafts, below). Traditional kente cloth, is woven in complex patterns of bright, narrow strips. It is woven outdoors, exclusively by men. In fact, the manufacture of a lot of Ashanti crafts is restricted to male specialists. Pottery-making is the only craft that is primarily a female activity; but even again, only men are allowed to fashion pots or pipes depicting anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures.

The various Akan groups speak various dialects of Twi,(Tree) a language rich in proverbs, and the use of proverbs is considered to be a sign of wisdom. Euphemisms are as well very common, particularly concerning events connected with death. The Ashanti village is the primary social and financial unit, and all village typically participates in major ceremonies.


The coastal Akan (Fanti) were the initial to have relations with Europeans during the "Scramble for Africa". As a result of long association, these groups absorbed aspects of British culture and language. For example, it became customary part these peoples to accept British surnames.

The language is Fanti

Ewe people

The Ewe people occupy southeastern Ghana and parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. The Ewe are essentially a patrilineal people, the founder of a community became the chief and was usually succeeded by his paternal relatives. Ewe religion is organized around a creator deity, Mawu, and over 600 other deities. A lot of village celebrations and ceremonies take place in honor of one or additional deities.

Coastal Ewe depend on the fishing trade, while inland Ewe are usually farmers and keep livestock. The local variations in economic activities have led to craft specialization. The Ewe as well weave kente cloth, often in geometrical patterns and symbolic designs that have been handed down through the ages.


Mole-Dagbani is spoken by about 15 % of the country's people, the name of which is a portmaneau of two closely related languages: Moore language (Mole), spoken by the Mossi, and Dagbani language (Dagbane) spoken by the Dagomba, two related peoples. The majority of the Mossi live in Burkina Faso, which the Dagomba mainly reside in Northern Ghana. Its speakers are culturally the majority varied. For centuries, the area inhabited by Mole-Dagbane peoples has been the scene of movements of people engaged in conquest, expansion, and north-south and east-west trade. Hence, Hausas, Gurunsi, Fulanis, Zabaremas, Dyulas and Bassaris are all integrated into the Dagbani areas, and a lot of speak the language. For these reasons, a considerable degree of heterogeneity, particularly of political structure, developed here. A lot of terms from Arabic, Hausa and Dyula are seen in the language, due to the importance of trans-Saharan and West African trade and the historic importance that the Islamic religion has had in the area.


The Guan are believed to have migrated from the Mossi region of modern Burkina around A. D. 1000. Moving gradually south, through the Volta valley, they created settlements along the Black Volta, the Afram Plains, in the Volta Gorge, and in the Akwapim Hills before moving onto the coastal plains.


The Ga-Adangbe people (named for the common proto-Ga-Adangbe ancestral language) inhabit the Accra Region, Eastern Region, Togo and Benin. The Adangbe inhabit the eastern plain, while the Ga groups, occupy the western portions of the Accra coastlands. Both languages are derived from a common root language, modern Ga and Adangbe languages are still similar.

Despite the archeological evidence that proto-Ga-Adangbe-speakers relied on millet and yam cultivation, the modern Ga reside in what used to be fishing communities, and additional than 75 % of the Ga live in urban centers. The presence of major industrial, commercial, and governmental institutions in the city, inclunding increasing migration of other people into the area, has not prevented the Ga people from maintaining aspects of their traditional culture.

The role and status of women

Women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Within the traditional sphere, the childbearing ability of women was explained as the means by which lineage ancestors were allowed to be reborn. In precolonial times, polygamy was encouraged, particularly for wealthy men. In patrilineal societies, dowry received from marrying off daughters was seen as a traditional means for parents to be acknowledged for taking good care of their daughters. As well to thank them for the good training

In rural areas of Ghana, where agricultural production was the major economic activity, women worked the land. Coastal women as well sold fish caught by men. A lot of of the financial benefits that accrued to these women went into upkeep of the household, while those of the man were reinvested in an enterprise that was often perceived as belonging to his extended family. This traditional division of wealth placed women in positions subordinate to men. In traditional society, marriage under customary law was often arranged or agreed upon by the fathers and other senior kinsmen of the prospective bride and bridegroom.

Part matrilineal groups, such as the Akan, married women continued to reside at their maternal homes. Meals prepared by the wife would be carried to the husband at his maternal home. The wife, as an outsider in the husband's family, would not inherit any of his property, other than that granted to her by her husband as gifts in token appreciation of years of devotion. The children from this matrilineal marriage would be expected to inherit from their mother's family. The Ewe and the Dagomba, on the other hand, inherit from fathers. In these patrilineal societies where the domestic group includes the man, his wife or wives, their children, and perhaps several dependent relatives, the wife was brought into closer proximity to the husband and his paternal family. Her male children as well assured her of additional direct access to wealth accumulated in the marriage with her husband.

The transition into the modern world has been slow for women. On the one hand, the high rate of female fertility in Ghana in the 1980s showed that women's primary role continued to be that of child-bearing. On the other hand, current research supported the view that, notwithstanding the Education Act of 1960, which expanded and required elementary education, some parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school because their labor was needed in the home and on farms. Resistance to female education as well stemmed from the conviction that women would be supported by their husbands. In some circles, there was even the fear that a girl's marriage prospects dimmed at the same time as she became educated.

Despite these resistances, women have risen to positions of professional importance in Ghana. Early 1990s data showed that about 19 % of the instructional staff at the country's three universities was female. Of the teaching staff in specialized and diploma-granting institutions, 20 % was female; elsewhere, corresponding figures were 21 % at the secondary school level; 23 % at the middle school level, and as high as 42 % at the primary school level. Women as well dominated the secretarial and nursing professions in Ghana. At the same time as women were employed in the same line of work as men, they were paid equal wages, and they were granted maternity leave with pay.


The celebration of festivals in Ghana is an essential part of Ghanaian culture. Several rites and rituals are performed throughout the year in various parts of the country, inclunding child-birth, rights of passage, puberty, marriage and death. Most of the celebrations are attended by entire villages and are strictly observed by the traditional elders of the respective ethic groups.

The Panafest is held each summer. It is celebrates Ghanaian roots. People from other African nations, inclunding African-Americans with roots in Ghana, often visit the country and celebrate their heritage.

The Homowo Festival-The word "Homowo" literally means hooting at hunger. Traditional oral history tells of a time at the same time as the rains stopped and the sea closed its gates. A deadly famine spread throughout the southern Accra Plains, the home of the Ga people. At the same time as the harvest finally arrived and food became plentiful, the people celebrated with a festival that ridiculed hunger.

Kobine is a traditional dance and festival incomparable to the Lawra area of north western Ghana. The dance and the festival named next it are celebrated in September and October to mark the end of a successful harvest.


The literary tradition of northern Ghana has its roots in Islam, while the literature of the south was influenced by Christian missionaries. As a result of European influence, a number of Ghanaian groups have developed writing systems based on Latin script, and several indigenous languages have produced a rich body of literature. The principal written Ghanaian languages are the Twi dialects of Asante, Akwapim, and Fante. Other written languages are Nzema, Ewe, Dagbane, Ga, and Kasena (a Grusi language). Most publications in the country, however, are written in EnglishEnvironmental issues do not play a significant role in political and economic decision-making. The far additional pressing issues of addressing abject poverty and, at the same time, strengthening the performance of national institutions are overriding concerns. Therefore, the environmental consequences of investments are only scrutinized if and at the same time as donor assistance is involved one way or the other. Environmental protection is still rarely discussed, and any the subsequent policies are typically minimal. As long as the economic challenges persist, and particularly as the manufacturing sector faces adverse conditions, there will be no change. Nevertheless, the success of tourism and the interest of visitors in a clean environment may be incentive enough for increased awareness if the tourism sector continues to play an significant economic role next the oil revenues begin to flow. Until again, the donor community will undoubtedly remain the major impetus for environmentally friendly policies.