Ghana - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Ghana
Formation 1957 / 1957
Population 24.3 million / 274 people per sq mile (106 people per sq km)
Total area 92,100 sq. miles (238,540 sq. km)
Languages Twi, Fanti, Ewe, Ga, Adangbe, Gurma, Dagomba (Dagbani), English*
Religions Christian 69%, Muslim 16%, Traditional beliefs 9%, Other 6%
Ethnic mix Akan 49%, Mole-Dagbani 17%, Ewe 13%, Other 9%, Ga and Ga-Adangbe 8%, Guan 4%
Government Presidential system
Currency Cedi = 100 pesewas
Literacy rate 67%
Calorie consumption 2849 kilocalories
A people called the Proto-Mande by archaeologists, forced to domesticate cattle in response to ecological pressures in their homeland, migrated from the Saharan highlands in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west. Archaeological research in North Africa documents the movement of semi-sedentary cattle herders from Saharan sites into West Africa. This sedentary economy resulted in a population large enough that the Mande speakers were able to spread throughout northwest and west Africa between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago. In 1471 when Portuguese sailors arrived on the coast of Ghana they were amazed by the highly structured kingdoms they encountered. This initial contact, along with the area’s reputation for being wealthy, encouraged Europeans to settle in the region and to trade bronze and manufactured objects for Ghanaian gold and slaves. West Africa is famous for its gold deposits, which gave rise to the British name for this region, the Gold Coast. Gold served as a profitable commodity and helped to expand Ghana’s trade with Mediterranean countries.
British explorers and traders followed the Portuguese in the 16th century and established their control along the Gold Coast. Toward the end of the 16th century states such as Dagomba, Gonja, and Mamprusi, known collectively as Mole-Dagbane, came into being in northern Ghana. The Mande-speaking people strongly influenced these states and their people. Many settlers, such as the Sisala, Talensi, and Kasena, did not form states but were organized as clans headed by rulers. Ashanti is the best known of all the states of Ghana.
In the 17th century the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) had several small-scale principalities in which peoples belonging to the Akan cultural group lived. These Akan groups paid tribute to a group called the Denkyira. Although they were connected by trade routes, a shared language, and similar belief systems, these states were separate until the early 18th century, when Osei Tutu (d. 1717) became the Ashanti ruler and began a territorial expansion that united the states as one kingdom. Using guns purchased from Europeans with gold and slaves, Osei Tutu first defeated the Denkyira and then, using the means at hand, convinced the other Akan groups to unite. In 1701 the Ashanti Confederacy was formed, and Osei Tutu was crowned asantehene, the ruler of the Ashanti.
By 1750 Ashanti was a large empire whose borders were similar to those of contemporary Ghana.
Developing an inclusive model of leadership that emphasized points of similarity and adopting traditions from throughout the territory for courtly use, Osei Tutu promoted unity among the peoples over whom he ruled and cultivated a strong national identity that has continued. It flourished as an empire and annexed the neighboring territories of Gonja, Mamprusi, and Dagomba until it came up against British colonial power in the 19th century.
In 1821 the British government took control of the region from the traders and decided to establish a colony. In 1844 the British signed an agreement with the local Fant chiefs (an ethnic group in southern Ghana), lending their efforts to colonize the region some legal status and support from the local chiefs. In 1873 the British ransacked the city of Kumasi after the Ashanti refused to accept British dominance. They captured the city and declared the Gold Coast a crown colony. Because of its wealth and strength Ashanti was one of the few African states capable of resisting the European invaders.
Britain fought four wars against the Ashanti between 1826 and 1896. In 1900 the British finally won and renamed the kingdom the Gold Coast. By 1902 they had captured all the Ashanti territories and declared them a British Protectorate.
The British also fought against the Portuguese, captured the town of Cabo Couso, renamed it “Cape Coast,” and made it the capital of the Gold Coast colony.
Although British rule was centralized and authoritarian, it did offer limited powers to the Ghanaians, and the Gold Coast developed rapidly during colonial rule. The British built a new infrastructure, including Takoradi Harbor and new roads, and in 1878 they introduced the cultivation of a new commodity crop, cacao. Cacao flourished and became Ghana’s major export. In 1948 the University College of Gold Coast opened. Western education took roots under the influence of the British and helped Ghanaians find employment in the British administration.
This educated class became increasingly prominent.
They were well versed in the country’s social, political, and economic structure. Soon they wanted independence. The great Ghanaian leader Dr.
Kwame Nkrumah (1909–72) led the way as a founder of Pan-Africanism (the movement to recognize cultural similarity and commonality and unify all African countries) and in 1949, of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). In the wake of World War II colonies all over the world intensified their demands for independence. Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party also increased pressure on the British government to grant independence to the region. The British agreed, subject to the support of the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly.
In 1956 elections were held, and the Convention People’s Party emerged victorious.
The British fulfilled their promise and on March 6, 1957, the independent State of Ghana came into existence. The merger of the Gold Coast and the British Togoland Trust Territory led to the formation of the Republic of Ghana on July 1, 1960.
As the first sub-Saharan country to achieve independence in colonial Africa, it enjoyed greater political and economic privileges than other African countries.
Ghana was the leading exporter of cocoa and was rich in minerals, gold, and timber. The country had good foreign currency reserves, excellent transportation facilities, high per capita income, and comparatively low national debt. Its efficient educational and parliamentary system should have helped Ghana become one of the strongest African nations. Unfortunately bad economic policies and planning caused a downslide, and the first 20 years after independence were difficult for the people.
Ghana’s powerful leader Kwame Nkrumah became the prime minister and later the president of Ghana. Dr. Nkrumah borrowed heavily for financing public projects, which included building the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. However the dam was a financial disaster since it did not provide the promised irrigation and electrification program for more than a decade after it was operational.
Moreover there was widespread corruption in the country, which further added to Ghana’s woes.
Between 1966 and 1981 the country witnessed several coup d’йtats, which subjected Ghana to a series of six inefficient governments.
Each regime seemed worse than the preceding one, and instead of improving the life of the people, these dictatorial regimes made it worse.
On June 4, 1979, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings (b. 1947) and his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led a successful coup against the then-president of Ghana Lieutenant General Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo (1937–79) and assumed power as the head of state. After the successful coup Rawlings relinquished power to Hilla Limann (1934–88), who had been elected to head a civilian administration. The economic situation worsened under Limann, provoking nationwide strikes against the government. On December 31, 1981, Jerry Rawlings and a group of military officers led another successful coup against the Limann government and once again assumed control of the nation.
Rawlings introduced Ghana to socialist economics and implemented a number of anticorruption measures to stop economic conditions from worsening.
He also introduced various progrowth reforms and later became an advocate of a free-market economy.
Jerry Rawlings’s government brought Ghana greater stability and economic independence. In 2000 Rawlings stepped down as president and handed the reins of government to John Kufuor (b. 1938).
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Ghana is located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. It lies south of Burkina Faso and is flanked by Cфte d’Ivoire to the west and Togo to the east. The coastal regions of Ghana have pristine beaches, while the tropical rain forests in the north, known as the Ashanti region, is home to the country’s mineral deposits, timber, and cocoa. Farther north bushes and parklike savannahs (grasslands dotted with trees) and grassy plains cover the region.
The country has a mild tropical climate. The rainy season in the northern regions is between March and April. Intermittent rain falls between August and September. Ghana gets around 30 inches of rainfall every year. Temperatures soar in March, whereas August is pleasant when no significant difference is noted between the day and nighttime temperatures.
Trade has been important to Ghana since the 13th century. Gold reserves and oil palms were its major sources of wealth. Europeans and North Africans exchanged their products for gold, kola nuts (obtained from native West African trees such as the Cola nitida or Cola vera, they have a high caffeine content and a bitter flavor), and slaves. Gold remained the most significant trade item. The slave trade boomed with the arrival of more Europeans, and African merchants readily exchanged slaves for guns.
The slave trade ended in the early years of the 19th century, and trade in timber, textiles, and palm oil increased. Today cocoa is a major revenue earner. Though Ghana faced an economic depression during the administrations of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Jerry Rawlings, a subsequent economic recovery program moved the country toward a more stable economy. Diamonds, manganese, and bauxite have also helped to boost Ghana’s economy.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
A country of 21 million people and 100 different ethnic groups, Ghana has a mix of cultures and traditions.
Many of the ethnic groups are tribes from neighboring areas.The Ashanti tribe is the largest tribe in Ghana.
Ghana is home to the largest Christian population in West Africa, although many Ghanaians maintain their traditional beliefs. The latter believe in a supreme deity, yet they reason that the everyday woes of human beings are too insignificant to concern this god. For day-to-day issues lesser deities, more directly concerned with human actions are prayed to and appeased with sacrificial offerings.
Beliefs and traditions in Ghanaian society are handed down orally from one generation to the next; there are no written scriptures.
Highlife is the most popular style of music in Ghana. The term highlife refers to the English style of dancing to music played by native bands. Highlife was initially performed during military functions but evolved, incorporating native songs and rhythms. It is now the most popular form of music in Ghana and is played in Ghanaian pubs and discotheques, as well as in other parts of Africa.
Corn, rice, and the root crops of cassava (manioc) and yams provide the staple diet of Ghanaians. Fufu, made of mashed cassava or yams, is served with every meal. They also consume plenty of meat and vegetables. Shito (a hot spicy sauce) is of Ghanaian origin. Jollof (a rice dish made with spices and tomatoes) is also popular.
Some kind of soup usually accompanies every meal. Groundnut soup (pepe), uniquely Ghanaian, is a widely consumed preparation made with meat and peanut butter. Waatse is rice served with beans, and kenkey, fermented cornmeal wrapped and boiled in plantain leaves, is eaten with seafood in a hot pepper sauce. Efan forowee is a spinach soup made with fish, beef, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and spices. Kelewele is a ripe plantain preparation seasoned with chili, cloves, and ginger and fried in hot oil. A variety of fresh fruits, including bananas, oranges, and mangoes, are often eaten for dessert.
The popular drink in Ghana is palm wine.
COMING OF AGE
The Krobo people of Ghana celebrate the Dipo- Krobo Festival every year. It marks the coming of age ceremony for girls of the Dipo tribe, and the girls are dressed in new attire for the ceremony.
They wear strands of colored beads, some of which are usually given to them by their mothers. The girl stays in seclusion throughout the Dipo-Krobo ceremony.
Coming of age is considered an important step toward marriage, and girls are taught the moral and ethical values of the tribe during their isolation.
In earlier times a girl was thought to be ready for marriage soon after the ceremony and might even have been married the same day. The customs are now a little different, although the practice of female cutting (genital mutilation) continues. The practice persists in spite of legislation passed in 1994 that explicitly prohibits it.
Various ethnic groups follow different customs in marriage, which consists of a religious ceremony followed by civil registration. Certain matters must be attended to before choosing the spouse. Every family member goes through a check for incurable diseases, criminal background, employment status, and religious background. An individual who is hardworking and respectable is preferred. Intermarriage is not generally practiced between Christians and Muslims. However converting from Islam to Christianity and vice-versa is encouraged before marriage.
Among the Ashanti marriage is very important to community life. Men can have more than one wife, and many take several wives to advertise their willingness to be generous and their ability to support a large family. Women in the Ashanti culture do not marry unless their parents consent to it, and many women do not meet their husbands until they are married.
Even so divorce is very rare in the Ashanti culture, and it is the parents’ duty to keep a marriage going.
The Ga tribe believes that people should be buried in a coffin that identifies the occupation or lifestyle of the person. Also they believe in an afterlife and that failure to bury the deceased with the proper rituals means that his or her spirit will haunt the living members of the family and bring death and disease.
Therefore proper funerals are conducted with the rites properly executed under the supervision of an experienced and elderly person who is well versed in all the burial rituals.
Muslim burial rituals involve cleansing the body and draping it in a white shroud. Then the body is carried in a procession to the local graveyard and buried with the proper Islamic rites.
After the burial the neighbors and other villagers extend their support to the family members of the deceased. A 40-day mourning period, during which she is not allowed to come out of her hut, is mandatory for a widow.