"The Ashanti tribe of the Akan..." Accra Local Custom Tip by evliyasems

Accra Local Customs: 6 reviews and 8 photos


The Ashanti tribe of the Akan are the largest tribe in Ghana and one of the few matrilineal societies in West Africa. Once renown for the splendour and wealth of their rulers, they are most famous today for their craft work, particularly their hand-carved stools and fertility dolls and their colourful kente cloth. Kente cloth is woven in bright, narrow strips with complex patterns; it's usually made from cotton and is always woven outdoors, exclusively by men. The Ew also weave kente cloth, and their more geometrical patterns contain symbolic designs handed down through the ages. Kente cloth is only worn in the southern half of the country and - as distinct from other forms of traditional weaving - is reserved mainly for joyous occasions.

Unlike virtually all other West Africans, Ghanaians do not use masks, although this is not to say they don't believe in supernatural powers and the fetishes used to invoke them. Rather, in Ghana this is most often accomplished using wooden or clay statuettes, often placed on altars in fetish houses. Fetish dolls in particular are treated like magical items, and women who want to ensure themselves beautiful, healthy children can be seen carrying the dolls around on their backs, with only the dolls' flat, fat heads protruding from their slings. In all sculpture, gender is very important, and body parts - especially the head, buttocks, breast and navel - are exaggerated in size.

Ghana has the highest percentage of Christians in West Africa, but the belief in traditional animist religions is still extremely common. Though each ethnic group has its own set of beliefs, there are some common threads. Though they all accept the existence of a Supreme Being (as well as reincarnation), the Creator is considered to be too exalted to be concerned with the affairs of humans. There are a host of lesser deities whose moods can be swayed through sacrifices, and ancestors are often deified as well. There are no great temples or written scriptures; beliefs and traditions are handed down through word of mouth. The Ew, for example, have over 600 deities to turn to in times of need. Many village celebrations and ceremonies take place in honour of one or more deities.

Soups, which are more like sauces, are the mainstay of Ghanaian cuisine. They're usually fairly thick broths and are eaten with a starch. Popular stews include groundnut, garden egg, fish, bean leaf and forowe, a fishy brew with tomatoes. Other main courses are jollof rice, a paella-like dish with meat; kyemgbuma, crabs with cassava dough, meat and potatoes; and gari foto, eggs, onions, dried shrimp and tomatoes accompanied by gari (course manioc flour). Another ubiquitous staple is fufu, which consists of cassava, yam, plantain or manioc that has been cooked, pureed and mashed into a ball. Kelewele, a spicy dessert of fried plantains seasoned with chilli pepper and ginger, is a popular street-stall item, as is askenkee, a cool, white, nonalcoholic beverage made of corn. Pito (millet beer) is the booze of choice in the north, while palm wine is more popular in the south.

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  • Written Aug 26, 2002
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