|Akwabaa! This phrase is used to welcome visitors and guests to Ghana. Renowned as one of the friendliest countries in the world, Ghana has a distinct and rich culture that is intertwined with majestic chiefs, pulsating African drums, bustling city life in Accra contrasted by lush green villages and craft towns, slave castles dating back to the 15th century placed along the coastal beaches, and wildlife preserves inhabited by elephants, monkeys, hippos, and alligators. There are many large open air markets and crafts fairs to explore, as well as African drumming and many historical sites.
Geography and Population
Ghana, officially the Republic of Ghana, is located on the coast of West Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Togo to the east, Burkina Faso to the north, and the Ivory Coast to the west. It is roughly the size of the state of Oregon, or the United Kingdom, which gives it an area of around 238,000 square miles.
Ghana has a population of about 24 million, with 20 percent living in or around the capital, Accra. Accra is where most of our participants are placed, and the city is famous for its busy, bustling streets, dusk-to-dawn nightlife, persistent street vendors, and ethnic diversity. Other major cities include Kumasi, the heart of the Ashanti region, Tema, Takoradi, and Cape Coast. Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world and is also home to Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in the world.
English is spoken throughout the major cities but there are over 70 different dialects that exist amongst Ghanaian populations. The languages are broken into four main groups: Twi, Ga, Mole-Dagbani, and Ewe. Twi is spoken by roughly half of the population. Religiously, two-thirds of the population are Christian, another 15 percent are Islamic, and the remainder practice pagan beliefs.
The culture of Ghana is lively and unique, with an emphasis on tradition and family. The extended family, in fact, is the foundation of Ghanaian society. Traditionally, towns are spearheaded by Chiefs and Queen Mothers. The chief then answers to a paramount chief, who is the political and spiritual head of his people. This is how community decisions are made in everyday life in Ghana.
Visitors are generally welcomed with friendliness as politeness is a shared value among Ghana’s people. Greetings, handshakes, and courtesy are very important parts of this culture, which makes Ghana’s people so well liked by her visitors. This trademark politeness is credited for the stability in the country through some tough times.
Visitors are drawn to Ghana because of its exotic allure and natural appeal. Many people consider this country to be a great introduction to the African continent, dubbing it the Gateway to Africa. Ghana’s stable economy and well structured society helps shield it from the struggles that many other African countries are facing, making it a comfortable place for work or travel.
Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana is steeped in cultural history. Trade between African and European states flourished after contact with the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the British established a colonized country called the Gold Coast because of the gold found in the country in 1874.
The Gold Coast achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, becoming the first sub-Saharan African nation to do so under the direction of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. The country was named Ghana because the word means “Warrior King,” and derives from the ancient Ghana Empire which once extended throughout much of West Africa.
Ghana’s location on the west coast of Africa established Ghana as a prime center for global trade in goods including gold, ivory, rum, guns, and cloth. And slave forts that remain standing evidence the harsh reality of the slave trade from the shores of Ghana.
After being under the leadership of Jerry John Rawlins, who eschewed to power in a coup in 1981, Ghana held its first democratic election in 1992. Since then, Ghana has enjoyed a stable government and relatively strong economy compared to its sub-Saharan counterparts.
Ghana is currently one of the most stable countries in Africa, and outranks the UK on the global peace index. Ghana’s economy is dominated by agriculture, which is lucrative; however, the country continues to rely heavily on foreign assistance and remittance from Ghanaians living abroad.
With at least five major ethnic groups spread throughout various regions, Ghana offers a diverse cultural landscape, as well as a diverse topical landscape. From lush farm villages and wildlife preserves, to active coastal fishing communities and bustling city life, Ghana offers a little bit of everything.
Ghanaians are very friendly and laid back. They are a very communal society and come together to celebrate many occasions, including funerals, naming and outdooring festivals to welcome newborns, and marriage and rites rituals. Such celebrations are traditionally open to the community.
Among the greatest tangible treasures that visitors take from Ghana are the many arts and crafts practiced in various regions of the country. Popular favorites include weaving, wood carving, painting, drumming, traditional dance, and bead making.
There is no single tourist attraction in Ghana, but among the must-sees for many visitors are Lake Volta, the world’s largest man-made lake, a 130-foot high suspension bridge which provides a spectacular view of Kakum National Park, and the many wildlife preserves and monkey sanctuaries, as well as slave castles and craft villages.