Culture of Ghana

Culture of Ghana
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Culture of Ghana

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Ghana is a country of 24 million people comprising over 60 ethnic groups. Fifty two major languages and hundreds of dialects are spoken in Ghana, and English, the official language of Ghana, is spoken by many. Like most other African nations Ghana has rich traditional cultures that differ from one ethnic group to the other.


Social relations

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 every aspect of life. Naming ceremonies, puberty initiations, marriage and death are all marked by family ceremonies, and while Ghana has the highest percentage 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 achieved 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 more traditional population distributions. One overriding feature of the country's ethnic population 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 wholly 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, administration, 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 important, they do not regard themselves as an elite group.[1]


On the basis of language and culture, historical geographers and cultural anthropologists classify the indigenous people of Ghana into five major groups. These are the Akan, the Ewe, MoleDagbane, the Guan, and the Ga-Adangbe.


The Ashanti people of the Akan, from which nearly half of the Ghanaian population is descended, comprise the largest 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 important. 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 among its members.[1]

Ashanti kings, once renowned for their splendour and wealth, retained dignitary status after 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 many Ashanti crafts is restricted to male specialists. Pottery-making is the only craft that is primarily a female activity; but even then, 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 also very common, especially concerning events connected with death. The Ashanti village is the primary social and financial unit, and the entire village typically participates in major ceremonies.


The coastal Akan (Fanti) were the first 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 among these peoples to accept British surnames. The Fanti people live predominantly in the Central Region though a large number too live in the Western Region of Ghana.

A young Ghanaian standing on a partially submerged tree branch near the Wli Lower Falls, located in the Volta Region.

The language is Fanti.


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. Many village celebrations and ceremonies take place in honor of one or more 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 also 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 percent of the nation's population, 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 most 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 many speak the language. For these reasons, a considerable degree of heterogeneity, particularly of political structure, developed here. Many 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 more than 75 percent of the Ga live in urban centers. The presence of major industrial, commercial, and governmental institutions in the city, as well as 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, especially 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. Also to thank them for the good training.[2]

To help rural women transition into the modern world, the city of Nsawam has created the "Dora-Project for young rural women".

In rural areas of Ghana, where agricultural production was the main economic activity, women worked the land. Coastal women also sold fish caught by men. Many 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.[2]

Among 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 house. 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 also assured her of more 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 also 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 when she became educated.

Despite these resistances, women have risen to positions of professional importance in Ghana. Early 1990s data showed that about 19 percent of the instructional staff at the nation's three universities was female. Of the teaching staff in specialized and diploma-granting institutions, 20 percent was female; elsewhere, corresponding figures were 21 percent at the secondary school level; 23 percent at the middle school level, and as high as 42 percent at the primary school level. Women also dominated the secretarial and nursing professions in Ghana. When women were employed in the same line of work as men, they were paid equal wages, and they were granted maternity leave with pay.[1]


Ashanti yam ceremony, 19th Century by Thomas E. Bowdich

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, including 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 ethnic groups.

The Panafest is held every summer. It is celebrates Ghanaian roots. People from other African countries, as well as 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 when the rains stopped and the sea closed its gates. A deadly famine spread throughout the southern Accra Plains, the home of the Ga people. When the harvest finally arrived and food became plentiful, the people celebrated with a festival that ridiculed hunger.

Kobine is a traditional dance and festival unique to the Lawra area of north western Ghana. The dance and the festival named after 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 English.[1]


There are three distinct types of Ghanaian music: ethnic or traditional music, normally played during festivals and at funerals; "highlife" music, which is a blend of traditional and ‘imported’ music; and choral music, which is performed in concert halls, churches, schools and colleges.

Southern Ghanaian music incorporates several distinct types of musical instruments including:

  • Axatse -is a type of rattle or idiophone. It is constructed by hollowing out a gourd or calabash. Beads are attached with string which is woven in a fishnet design.
  • Gankogui -is a double bell or gong. It is constructed from iron. In Ewe music in general, and during Atsiã in particular, gankogui keeps the time.
  • Kaganu-is a narrow drum or membranophone about two feet tall, its head is about three inches in diameter and it is open at the bottom.
  • Kidi -is a drum about two feet tall, its head is about nine inches in diameter and has a closed bottom. The Kidi responds to calls from the lead drummer.
  • Atsimevu-is the lead drum. It is a narrow drum approximately four feet tall and its head is about eleven inches in diameter.
  • Sogo-is the largest of the supporting drums used to play Atsiã. In other pieces it is used as a lead drum. It is about two and a half feet tall, its head is about ten inches in diameter and it is closed at the bottom.
  • Kpanlogo- Carved from a single piece of wood, and covered in skin to create the drum head.

Northern Ghanaian music incorporates the following instruments:

  • North and Northeastern Ghana is known for talking drum ensembles, goje fiddle and koloko lute music, played by the Gur-speaking Frafra, Gurunsi and Dagomba nations, as well as by smaller Fulani, Hausa, Mande-speaking Busanga and Ligbi peoples.
  • Upper-Northwestern Ghana is home to the Dagara, Lobi, Wala and Sissala peoples, who are known for complex interlocking Gyil folk music with double meters. The Gyil is a close relative of the Balafon. The musical traditions of the Mande Bissa and Dyula minorities in this area closer resemble those of neighboring Mandinka-speaking areas than those of other Upper-Northwestern groups.


Ghana Cultural Dance Group performing.

Ghanaian dance is as diverse as its music. Each ethnic group has their own traditional dances and there are different dances for different occasions. There are dances for funerals, celebrations, storytelling, praise and worship etc. Some of these dances include

Bamaya It is performed by the Northern people of Ghana. It narrates the legend of a time of great drought. An oracle told the people that the drought was brought about by the manner in which the men were severely repressing and demeaning the women. It further stated that the drought would be relieved only when the men lowered themselves to the role they were imposing on the women by putting on skirts and participating in this dance. When the men did this it began to rain. It is currently performed during harvest time in northwestern Ghana by both Dagbani men and women.

Ghanaian dancers

Adowa A dance of the Ashanti people of Ghana. This dance is especially noted for the grace and complexity of the dancers' movements. The drumming is also noted for the complexity of the interlocking rhythms and the two atumpan drums which are used as the lead or master drum. Originally funeral dance music, Adowa is now also performed at annual festivals and social gatherings.

Kpanlongo Is performed by the Ga people of Ghana. It is often referred to as "the dance of the youth," Kpanlongo started during the wake of Ghana’s Independence as a musical type for entertainment in Accra. Kpanlongo is presently performed at life-cycle events, festivals, and political rallies.

Klama Is the music and dance is associated with puberty rites of the Krobo people of Ghana. It emphasizes the graceful movement of hands and feet. With small rhythmic steps and heads turned demurely downward, the dancers embody quiet elegance. The different movements of the dance are designed to reveal the beauty of the dancers. Suitors watching from the sidelines will often approach a girl's family after the ceremony and make an offer for her hand in marriage.

Agbadza The traditional dance of the Eʋe (Ewe or Eve) people of Ghana. It is characterized by the graceful choreograph of a couple seasoned with the rhythmic movement of the arms, the waist and the feet in perfect synchrony. Agbadza, is traditionally a war dance but is now used in social and recreational situations to celebrate peace. War dances are sometimes used as military training exercises, with signals from the lead drum ordering the warriors to move ahead, to the right, go down, etc. These dances also helped in preparing the warriors for battle and upon their return from fighting they would act out their deeds in battle through their movements in the dance.

Atsiagbekor is a contemporary version of the Ewe war dance Atamga (Great (ga) Oath (atama) in reference to the oaths taken by people before proceeding into battle. The movements of this present-day version are mostly in platoon formation and are not only used to display battle tactics, but also to energize and invigorate the soldiers. Today, Atsiagbekor is performed for entertainment at social gatherings and at cultural presentations.

Atsia dance is performed mostly by women, and its a series of stylistic movements dictated to dancers by the lead drummer. Each dance movement has its own prescribed rhythmic pattern, which is synchronized with the lead drum. 'Atsia' in the Ewe language means style or display.

Bɔbɔɔbɔ (pronounced Borborbor) the Ewe-speaking people in the central and northern parts of the Volta Region of Ghana cultivate the Bɔbɔɔbɔ dance. Bɔbɔɔbɔ (originally 'Akpese') might have originated in the Kpando area, and is said to have been created by the late Mr. Francis Kojo Nuadro. He is thought to have been an ex-police officer who returned to Kpando and organized a group in the middle to late 1940s. The dance has its roots in the 'Highlife' popular music of Ghana and other West African countries. Bɔbɔɔbɔ gained national recognition in the 1950s and 1960s because of its use at political rallies and the novelty of its dance formations and movements. It is generally performed at funerals and other social occasions. This is a social dance with a great deal of room for free expression. In general, the men sing and dance in the center while the women dance in a ring around them. There are 'slow' and 'fast' versions of Bɔbɔɔbɔ; the fast Bɔbɔɔbɔ is believed to come from the Kpando area and the slow version from Hohoe. The slow one is called Akpese and the fast one is termed to be Bɔbɔɔbɔ. Lolobi-Kumasi is known for doing a particular fast version of the slow version.

Agahu is both the name of a dance and of one the many secular music associations (clubs) of the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo, and Dahomey. (Gadzok, Takada, and Atsiagbeko are other such clubs). Each club has its own distinctive drumming and dancing, as well as its own repertoire of songs. A popular social dance of West Africa, Agahu was created by the Egun speaking people from the town of Ketonu in what is now Benin. From there it spread to the Badagry area of Nigeria where migrant Ewe fisherman heard, adapted, and eventually took it to Ghana. In dancing the Agahu, two circles are formed; the men stay stationary with their arms out and then bend with a knee forward for the women to sit on. They progress around the circle until they arrive at their original partner.


Ghana has diverse traditional dishes from each ethnic group,tribe and clan. Generally though, most Ghanaian dishes consist of a starchy portion, and a sauce or soup with fish, snails, meat or mushrooms.

Arts and crafts

The AADC (African Arts and Design Centre) is a foundation that celebrates and preserves Ghanaian culture. It is a foundation that is quietly supported by some of the most influential individuals and bodies in Ghana.

Kente weaving is a traditional craft among the Ashanti people of Ghana. A kente cloths is sewn together from many narrow (about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) wide) kente stripes. This image shows different patterns of typical Ashanti Kente stripes.

Kente Cloth

Kente is one of the symbols of the Ghanaian chieftaincy, which remains strong throughout the country, particularly in the areas populated by members of the culturally- and politically dominant Ashanti tribe. The Ashanti's chief, known as the Asantehene, is perhaps the most revered individual in the country. Like other Ghanaian chiefs, he wears bright Kente, gold bracelets, rings and amulets, and is always accompanied by numerous ornate umbrellas (which are also a symbol of the chieftaincy itself). Weaving is a highly developed craft, with dozens of standardized and named textile designs. The colors and patterns of the Kente are carefully chosen by the weaver and the wearer.

Kente cloth is worn primarily in the southern part of the country and –in contrast to other forms of traditional weaving - is reserved mainly for joyous occasions. It is also quite appropriate for outsiders to wear it for religious and festive occasions.

Adinkra Symbols

During the 13th Century, the asante people developed their unique art of adinkra printing. Hand-printed and hand-embroidered Adinkra clothes were made and used exclusively by the royalty and spiritual leaders for devotional ceremonies and rituals. Each of the motifs that make up the corpus of adinkra symbolism has a name and meaning derived from a proverb, a historical event, human attitude, animal behavior, plant life, or shapes of inanimate and man-made objects. These are graphically rendered in stylized geometric shapes. Meanings of motifs may be categorized as follows: Aesthetics, Ethics, Human Relations and Religious concepts.

This brass ornament was produced by Ashanti craftsman, and originally used to keep precious gold dust. The lid is decorated with a village scene; the chief is sitting under his umbrella playing owari (a type of African bead game).

Wood carving

Traditional wood carvings are divided into many branches, each with its own specialists. Among the major products are wooden sculptures and talking-drums (ntumpane).

The famous wooden "stools" are symbolic and ritual objects rather than items of furniture. The ownership of a symbolic carved chair or stool, usually named after the female founder of the matriclan, became the means through which individuals traced their ancestry. These lineages have segmented into branches, each led by an elder, headman, or chief. A branch, although it possesses a stool, is not an autonomous political or social unit. Possession of the ritually important stool is seen as vital, not only to the existence of the elder but to the group as a whole.


The most sacred symbol of the Ashanti people is the Golden Stool, a small golden throne in which the spirit of the people is said to reside. It is kept in safekeeping in Kumasi, the cultural capital of the Ashanti people and the seat of the Asantehene's palace. Though the chieftaincy across Ghana has been weakened by allegations of corruption and cooperation with colonial oppression, it remains a very vital institution in Ghana.


Tamale stadium
Vida Anim, Ghanaian athlete

Association football is the most popular sport in the country. The national men's football team is known as the Black Stars, with the under-20 team known as the Black Satellites. The under-17 team is known as the Black Starlets, while the national men's Olympic team are known as the Black Meteors. They have participated in many championships including the African Cup of Nations, the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

On October 16, 2009, Ghana became the first African nation to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup by defeating Brazil 4-3 in a penalty shootout.[3] On June 13, 2010, Ghana defeated Serbia 1-0 in first round play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup becoming the first African team to win a FIFA World Cup game hosted on African soil and subsequently became the only African team to progress from the group stage to the knock out phase at the 2010 event. On June 26, 2010 Ghana defeated the USA by 2 goals to 1 in their round of 16 match, becoming the third African country to reach the quarter final stage of the World Cup after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. A loss to Uruguay in Johannesburg on July 2, 2010 by penalty shoot-out ended Ghana's attempt at reaching the semi-finals of the competition.[4]

While men's football is most widely followed sport in Ghana, the national women's football team is gaining exposure, participating in the FIFA Women's World Cup and the CAF Women's Championship. The Ghana national women's football team is known as the Black Queens, while the Ghana national women's under-20 football team are the Black Princesses.

There are several club football teams in Ghana, which play in the Ghana premier league and Division One league, both managed by the Ghana Football Association. Notable among these are Accra Hearts of Oak SC and Asante Kotoko, which play at the premier league level and are the dominant contenders in the tournament.

Prominent Ghanaian football players recognised at the international level include Michael Essien, Abedi Pele, Asamoah Gyan, Ibrahim Abdul Razak, Tony Yeboah, Anthony Annan, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, John Pantsil, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Samuel Osei Kuffour, Richard Kingson, Sulley Muntari, Laryea Kingston, Stephen Appiah, Andre Ayew, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah.

Ghana is also the birth place of World Wrestling Entertainment Wrestler Kofi Kingston (born Kofi Sarkodie-Mensah), who is wrestling on the Smackdown brand. Also is Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong who competed in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The country has also produced quite a few quality boxers such as Azumah Nelson a three time world champion, Nana Yaw Konadu also a three time world champion, Ike Quartey, as well as boxers Joshua Clottey and IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko. Ghana also have a successful hockey team winning tournaments such as the Afro-Asian cup.

Rugby union

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Ghana: a Country Study, accessible online at the US Library of Congress website = by use of its Search box.
  2. ^ a b "African Wedding". African Holocaust Society. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ Kenyon, Matthew (2009-10-16). "". Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  4. ^ "USA 1-2 Ghana (aet)". 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  • Some of the information, where noted, was reproduced from Ghana: a Country Study edited by LaVerle Berry. Text and graphics contained in the online Country Studies are not copyrighted. They are considered to be in the public domain and thus available for free and unrestricted use. As a courtesy, however, appropriate credit should be given to the series.

Further reading

External links

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