Ghana, formerly the British colony of the Gold Coast and the first African country to gain independence from European rule, has a distinct and diverse cultural heritage.
The most visible legacy can be seen in Ghana’s flag, the black star, which evokes black pride and power, as well as a commitment to pan-African unity, which were central themes in mobilizing resistance against British rule.
It is also the name of Ghana’s soccer team and is proudly displayed in Black Star Square, a central meeting point in the capital. Other important symbols derive from Akan traditions that have become incorporated into the national culture.
These include the ceremonial sword, the linguist’s staff, the chief’s stool, and the talking drum. Ghanaian national dress, kente cloth, is another source of common identity and pride. It is handwoven into intricate patterns from brilliantly colored silk. Men drape it around their bodies and women wear it as a two-pieced outfit.
Ghana contains great diversity of ethnic groups. The Akan are the most numerous, consisting of over 40 percent of the population. They are followed by the Ewe, Ga, Adangme, Guan, and Kyerepong in the south. The largest northern groups are the Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprussi, but the region contains many small decentralized communities, such as the Talensi, Konkomba, and Lowiili.
Cultural practices in Ghana have both the good and the ugly sides of it. The good cultural practices in Ghana allow for historical heritage passage, continuity and preservation. This brings a sense of belonging and identity African people boast about. On the other hand are some bad cultural practices that are barbaric, demeaning, in humane, senseless and traumatizing.
Let’s have a look at some positive cultural practices in Ghana.
BIRTH RITES IN GHANA
In Ghana, an Outdooring (Ga: kpodziemo; Akan: abadinto) is the traditional naming ceremony for infants.
Traditionally, this ceremony occurs eight days after the child is born where parents bring their newborn “outdoors” for the first time and give the child a day name. Cultural beliefs states that, after eight days, the infant was likely to survive and could be provided a name. In addition to the day name, Ghanaians frequently give children a name of an elder relative, either living or deceased. During the Outdooring, male infants would be circumcised and female infants would have their ears pierced. Currently in Ghana, many of these practices including naming, circumcision, and ear piercing are done after birth within the hospital, and the Outdooring serves as a symbolic ceremony and celebration of birth.
Although most Ghanaian ethnic groups conduct Outdooring ceremonies, the practices differ slightly. Among the Akan, babies would be raised three times toward the sky three times as an introduction to heaven and earth. Among the Ga, drops of water and alcohol are placed on the child’s tongues to symbolically represent good versus evil. Libations are also poured as protection over the child.
After being given a name, friends and family provide gifts to the baby which is then followed by a feast.
The distribution of circumcision and initiation rites across Africa, as well as the frequent resemblance between details of ceremonial procedure in areas thousands of miles apart, suggest that the circumcision ritual has an ancient tradition and that its current form is the result of a long process of development. This rite is however performed for males.
Circumcision is widely accepted by about 92 percent of men in North Africa and 62 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. In western and northern Africa, it is primarily performed for religious reasons, whereas in southern Africa, it is rarely performed in newborn children rather than as a rite of passage into manhood.
After the child naming ceremony, puberty rites are the next set of rituals of social status transformation which children undergo in Ghanaian culture. The most well preserved puberty rites are the Dipo, of the Krobo ethnic group and the Bragoro of the Ashanti’s. These ceremonies mark the entry of young women into adulthood. In Ghana only a small section of ethnic groups usually found in the northern parts of the country have initiation rites for men and when they occur they are done in secret and not given as much prominence as that for young women.
Women in the Akan culture, represent the beauty, purity and dignity of the society and are guarded against corruption by our traditional laws and regulations.
The Akans believe that they need properly trained mothers with good morals to bring up good children. Hence, the reason more prominence is given to the initiation of women to adulthood than that of men.
Under the supervision of the queen mother of the town or village in collaboration with some female opinion leaders, young women who have had their first menstruation are separated from the community for a period between two and three weeks during which they are taught the secrets of womanhood.
During this period of separation, the girls are given lessons in sex education and birth control. They are also taught how to relate to men properly so that they can maintain a good marriage and their dignity in society.
After the period of seclusion, a durbar is held which is attended by the chief and almost everybody in the community. The newly initiated women are dressed with very beautiful African beads and cosmetics showing off their vital statistics.
Young men of marriageable age troupe there to feast their eyes on the young women and to select their prospective wives.
The rituals are performed in the midst of drumming and dancing, with the spirits of Oynankopong Kwame, Asase Yaa, and the departed ancestors invoked to bless the participants and ensure their protection, blessing, and fertility during their period of motherhood.
According to traditional law no woman is allowed to get married without haven gone through the puberty rites and every young woman must remain a virgin prior to this. These laws ensure that young women grow up disciplined enough to control their sexuality and to prevent them from premature motherhood and unwanted babies. So important are these laws that any woman who gets pregnant or breaks her virginity before the rites are performed is sometimes ostracized together with the man responsible for it. On top of that, a heavy fine is imposed on the guilty party after which purification rites are performed to rid the society of the negative repercussions of their actions.
The Akans customary marriage has strict policies and regulations that the couple-to-be and their families must respect. It is taboo for the parties preparing an Akans traditional marriage to ignore the Ghanaian engagement list. The Akan list for engagement comprises of items that a man must give the bride’s family before the marriage ceremony takes place.
The Ghanian law recognizes three types of marriages, customary (traditional), Islamic (religious), and ordinance (civil) union. The 1985 Customary Marriage and Divorce Law legalizes the Akans’ customary marriage. However, conservative Akan couples perform Ghanian traditional marriage rites called awareɛ followed by civil or religious marriages.
List for Ghanaian engagement items needed for the knocking ceremony in Ghana depend on the tribe’s customs and what the bride’s parents/family wants. Akans have several subtribes like the Agona, Ashanti, and Bono, and each subtribe conforms to specific items for engagement.
The Akan dowry and other engagement requirements bond and create mutual respect between the bride and groom’s families.
Here are some items required from the bride’s parents. The dowry/ bride price, most importantly. Head drinks, usually a Gin, whiskey, palm wine or wine. A minimum of 6 pieces of traditional wax print and exotic jewellery for the bride. A suitcase packed with more clothes, shoes, and other female items the lady requests. Money, Ankara male clothes, and a bottle of whiskey for the bride’s father. Money, African print clothes, and a pair of sandals for the lady’s mother. Money for the bride to invest in a business. An engagement ring. An engagement Bible. Akontasekan (money) for the bride’s brothers or male cousins if she is the only daughter. Cooking utensils for the bride to use in her new home. Enough food and drinks for the wedding guests.
The Akan marriage system resembles the marriage practices of many African communities. Therefore, the enlisted items in the marriage list in Ghana for Akans are relatively similar to what many African communities expect a man to offer to the lady’s family. A man follows several steps before a traditional Akan marriage takes place. First, he identifies a woman he wants to marry and informs his family. Then, his family sends a messenger to the lady’s Akan family to fix a date for them to visit her home and the meeting’s agenda. The lady’s father sends a messenger to the man’s family to inform them of the meeting date. The families then meet to discuss their children’s marital union. The first stage in the traditional marriage is the kɔkɔɔ kɔ. It means the knocking ceremony in Ghana.
Once the woman’s Akan family accepts gifts, they have formally consented to the marriage with or without the lady’s consent. However, some families would seek the lady’s opinion before taking the gifts and drinks. The families fix the wedding date and the bride’s family. The Ghanaian engagement list among the Akans comes in at this stage. The woman’s Akan family presents it to the man’s family on the same day they have performed the knocking ceremony
Welcome to Ghana, a home of unique cultural beliefs and heritage.