"For me I think it's the... optimism? There's a lot of joy in Ghana that I don't think you see enough here because people get on with things and they take delight in the good they have, you know? That's not to say that times aren't hard but it's not that 'starving', disgusting, 'malnourished' thing you see on TV all the time, like there is so much joy and there is so much happiness in Ghana, so lively. I haven't been back since I was 6 but that's what I remember about it most, just that people were happy and they were joyous and it was infectious. You couldn't hang out with people and not be happy."
This is what my friend said, word for word, when I asked her what her favourite thing was about Ghana. What sets it apart? I asked. She said joy and happiness. And reading up and learning about this vibrant, beautiful West African country, that's what I took away too.
The essence of Ghana seems to lie in this vibrancy, this warmth, the importance of harmony, respect, sharing. Never something you would take away if you went purely off the Western media representation. If I can be so bold as to say it, I don't think any non-Western country has justice done to it in the mainstream media.
Ignorantly, I never took a minute to research either. I've never sat down and read about Ghana. About the multitude of cultures and traditions that come from its 6 ethnic groups; i.e. the Akans (Ashanti & Fanti), Ga-Adangbe, Ewe, Mole-Dagbani, Guan and Gruma, let alone the 60+ smaller groups that these break down into! Every one of these groups has their own traditions, their own beliefs, practices. Their own stories. I'm sure I haven't read even a fraction in my own research. And yet, it's still too many to tell you in a simple blog.
So let's change this habit of being disconnected with the world that lies beyond what we see directly in front of us. Or, let's bring it in front of us.
The piece I created based on Ghana was a spin on the Gustav Klimt painting, 'The Kiss'. It's a pretty famous one and one of my all time favourites. I knew immediately that a lot of ethnic wear I'd worn and seen my friends wear would complement those patterns Klimt created, so I went looking for it - looking for something that simply fit the piece aesthetically. But, boy, was I in for a treat. I came out of this search absolutely enchanted by the Kente cloth. Every design, every colour, every pattern has symbolic meaning and a story attached to it. How beautiful, right? The cloth tells the history of the Ashanti people, from the early emergence of Ashanti kingdoms to the slave trade, to modern day living in Ghana. The colours convey virtues and emotions.
Honestly, for my artwork, I picked a reference to recreate that caught my eye and reflected the colours of the Ghanaian flag, and in no way am I claiming it is 100% accurate either. However, it just became even more beautiful to me when I realised that that garment was trying to tell me a story and the cloth itself had magical legends attached to it.
The Ashanti legend says that 2 farmers, Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban, from the village of Bomwire, came across the spider Ananse spinning a web SO beautiful, that they tried to recreate it with black and white raffia. They presented it to the Ashanti Asantehene (king) Nana Osei Tutu. That was the first woven Kente cloth.
When Portuguese traders brought silk, this began to be woven into the Kente cloth, and the material and hefty journey via the trans-Saharan route made it an expensive luxury. Only royalty would wear this beautiful garment. Now, it's made mostly of cotton and rayon which makes it available to the general public; but even now, any new design has to be presented to the royal family. Only if it's rejected by the king, can it be sold to the general public.
This isn't the extent of Ghana's richness in arts. Talents lie in textiles, pottery, wood carving, gold and silverwork, and so much more. Entire craft villages exist. Some of the most famous are near Kumasi (which happens to be where the charity we're supporting is based!). You can read more about these on the links below.
In terms of music, the most famous genre you may have heard of is Highlife, which fuses European and Indigenous musical elements. Traditional music and choral music are also widespread (and beautiful).
In terms of dance - remember all those ethnic groups I mentioned? Every one of them has their own dances and specific dances for different festivals. Patsa by the Ga-Adangbes, Agbadza by the Eees, Adowa by the Akans, to name a few.
Some renowned authors from Ghana are Ama Ata Aidoo, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kofi Awoonoor. There are so many more a single google search can find you! These authors write mostly in English too.
The country excels at football. It's decked with incredible titles like the first African Nation to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup (2009). It has an incredible women's team, too, The Black Queens (I love that name, how awesome). The first black African to win an Olympic medal was Ghanaian boxer, Clement (Ke) Quartey. Not to mention, there are SO many multiple-time boxing champions from Ghana ((honestly this page would be so long if I listed all the amazing sportspeople).
Okay so I know, a simple google search would've got you all this. It got me all this! But let's be honest, when do we ever really sit down and think huh, I'm gonna google this country now. I rarely do, though I wish I could say different. So if you'll join me, let's do something to change that. I'm gonna put down below the links that gave me this information, but also a list of authors, musicians, artists; talent from Ghana. Pick anyone, anything. And have a read, have a listen, have a look. Because there is so much we don't see, but so many things that deserve to be seen.
Ama K Ababrese
Ama Ata Aidoo
Ayi Kwei Armah
Ayesha Arruna Attah
Kwei J. Quartey
Ama 'Poetra' Diaka
Sergei Attukwei Clottey
If you read, listen to, watch, or look at any of these incredible people's work, or even read one of the links, tell me! Let's talk about it.
In my next post I'll talk all about the charity we're supporting with the sale of my print, 'The Kente', and the inspiring person behind it.