Getting To Know Ghana's Many Artisans
Bolgatanga baskets | © Photogramma1/Flickr
There is a wealth of local crafts and artisans to explore in Ghana, from traditional fabrics and musical instruments to pottery and beads. Here are some of the many artisan crafts you should discover when visiting Ghana.
Declared a national cloth upon independence in 1957, this heavy and durable woven fabric is one of the items most associated with Ghana. There are about 50 types of kente pattern, with symbols and decorations, each with its own special meaning. You can still see kente woven on traditional looms, and you can purchase your own specially made cloth at Adanwomase kente weavers association or at Bonwire.
Woven Kente fabric | ©ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Djembe drum makers
Drumming is deeply woven into Ghanaian history and life, and many men know how to use drums to communicate and evoke different sounds, and there are many men who make these items with many different forms of decoration. In Accra, the Centre for National Culture and the Arts has many different craftsmen, both making and selling their wares, and you can also watch a drum being constructed. You will also find xylophones, rattles, stringed instruments, like the African violin, calabash-based percussion, and gankogui (an iron bell or gong).
Gonja cloth makers
The distinctive, coloured stripes of gonja cloth smocks and dresses are Ghana’s other national fabric after kente. A product of Northern Ghana, the smock is called a fugu and is the dress of choice for kings of three national regions, but over the years has become popular and worn throughout Ghana. The cloth is constructed from hand-loomed strips (strip cloth) which are then joined together by hand or machine, while embroidery on the neckline is typical. The recognised capital of gonja cloth-making is Daboya, in the north, which is also one of the oldest settlements in Ghana, an hour west of Tamale. A little easier to access is Gowrie, another gonja village near Tamale. In Accra you will easily find versions of all qualities purveyed at roadside stalls.
Bolgatanga basket weavers
Traditional baskets have always been woven by the men of the FraFra tribe, indigenous to the Bolgatanga area of Northern Ghana. No longer bound by tradition, these modern straw creations are colourful and unique, come in all shapes and sizes, and can be used as handbags, laundry baskets, shopping baskets, large sun hats or just for providing a touch of colourful decoration. The Ghanaian designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi and her label AAKS is rooted in this weaving history. You’ll find the FraFra men selling their wares all over Accra, predominantly under trees, where they have shade to weave, and where large clusters of brightly coloured baskets and hats are strung up for sale.
Beads are hugely popular and diverse in Ghana and you can see them in all shapes and sizes on ankles, wrists, waists, as hair accessories and decorative elements to sandals and slippers. Materials such as shell, bone, bauxite, clay and glass are used and the making of beads is done traditionally by men. Large, chunky wrist and ankle beads are used to demote royals within tribal clans and the thin waist beads, which you will see carried in great spools by men who walk through town, are cut to fit a woman’s waist and are worn until they fall off naturally.
Beads can be purchased from street sellers and at every market, with the Artists Alliance Gallery in Accra having a large selection of all forms, as well as books on the subject. You can also check out TK Beads, near Accra, just 10 minutes north of the Adenta junction; the Thursday bead market at Koforidua, capital of the Eastern Region, which has one of the biggest selections of beads in Ghana; and Cedi’s Bead Factory, about three kilometres north of Somanya, heading towards Kpong. Also, the Agomanya Market has an exceptional display of beads on Wednesdays and Sundays and is located about three kilometres from Kpong on the Somanya-Kpong road.
Waist beads, Kumasi, Ghana | © Hampus/Flickr
One of the few crafts that is traditionally produced by women, pottery in Ghana is mainly functional, and they are used to prepare, cook and store food. In modern times, men also produce their own versions, not so much bound by tradition. The most functional and widely used bowl is our own version of a pestle and mortar: a wide, shallow bowl ridged on the inside, into which items are ground; mainly spices, herbs and pepper. The traditional asanka bowl is the customary way of serving fufu (as the bowl is said to cool the soup) and you can find smart, glazed versions of these at most markets. In the Upper East region there are two distinct pottery villages which you can also peruse. The Village of Pottery Art and Culture (VOPAC), which is eight kilometres west of Bolgatanga on the main road to Navrango (you can call +233 24 467 1562 for details) and the Sirigu Women’s Organization for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) at Sirigu, also off the main road to Navrongo. Call +233 72 243 78 or +233 24 822 2232 for more information.
West African jar | JamesDeMers/Pixabay