Glimpses of Ghana

The Republic of Ghana in West Africa is located along the Coast of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The first permanent state in the territory of present-day Ghana dates back to the 11th century. Numerous kingdoms and empires emerged over the centuries, of which the most powerful was the Kingdom of Ashanti. Beginning in the 15th century, many European powers contested the area for trading rights, with the British ultimately establishing control of the coast by the late 19th century. Following over a century of native resistance, Ghana’s current borders were established by the 1900s as the British Gold Coast. It became independent of the United Kingdom on 6 March, 1957 and is now a democracy.

Accra is the capital of Ghana. We have not really explored this city as is its due. But the markets are irresistible!

We visited a shop run by an organisation called Global Mamas.

“Founded in 2003, the Global Mamas community is comprised of thousands of people from around the world working together with the mission of creating prosperity for African women and their families. Our Mamas define prosperity as going beyond financial well-being to include happiness and good health. They achieve prosperity by creating and selling unique, handcrafted products of the highest quality. Being able to do the work they love and being empowered by financial independence leads to greater happiness. Our Mamas realize their dreams of having the opportunity to support their families, send their children to school, improve their health, and save for the future.” (From their web page.)

They have interesting products, each of which is crafted with care. From beads to batik,

household odds and ends

to pet fashion,

this is a one-stop shop for gifts.

It is not cheap, but you are paying for a good cause.

Ghana is famous across Africa for its beads. And this was the focus of this visit. Beads have been used as trade currency for eons across this continent and particularly in West Africa. In fact, the old beads are known as “trade beads”.  It is no surprise that Ghana has such a thriving bead industry.

Our first stop was TK Beads. As we drove into a rather unimposing compound we saw this huge heap of bottles next to the gate … beer bottles, wine bottles …

This made us curious – were in the right place? As we walked in, the heap of bottles gave way to … a heap of beads!

Going further, we found ourselves under a tiled roof held up with wooden poles with a small wood-fired oven in the middle! One of the men sitting there gave us a brief explanation of the activity going on. This man was hammering those bottles into pieces, sieving them and hammering the residue again.

Another man was using these bits of glass to fill small clay receptacles.

A third man was placing each of these receptacles on a long shovel which he then thrust into the heart of the blazing kiln oven.

A few minutes later he brought it out showing us the now melted glass. A few seconds and he tipped over the clay containers

… and out rolled the beads! Voila! 

In one room a group of women sat stringing the beads. This is the ultimate glass recycling plant! From waste to jewellery!

Walking into the shop we were dazzled.

Tables laden with strings of beads,

walls hung with more such strings.

Every conceivable colour and size and shape seemed to overflow from that small room! Truly a beader’s delight! We spent a happy couple of hours shopping!

Our next stop was at the Ghana bead society. To quote from their website

“The Ghana Bead Society is dedicated to recording Ghanaian Bead Culture and to the preservation and promotion of Ghanaian Beads. It is the first Bead Society in Africa. To our great concern, we watched a significant part of Africa’s cultural heritage being shipped overseas in huge quantities. Members feared that with this exodus of old and valuable beads, a great deal of culture and history would be lost to the Ghanaian people.”

Here we found ladies patiently stringing together all those beautiful beads into more beautiful jewellery using brass embellishments and “findings” – those metal parts that go into the making of jewellery.

The designs were simple, rustic, heavy and yet elegant.

The following day we drove for a couple of hours to the capital of the Eastern region, Koforidua. It is a beautiful drive through lush green countryside.

We had read about this town hosting a bead market on the internet. Indeed it was first mentioned to us a few years ago on the other end of the continent – in Kenya! We discovered that we had miscalculated the enthusiasm of Ghanaian bead sellers and buyers. We landed there at midday to find quite a few of the sellers packing up! The market though technically open all days of the week is only completely open on Thursdays. It apparently opens at dawn and closes early afternoon. The explanation is quite simple. The sellers need to return home – which may be anywhere in the country!

Once again rows of bead sellers – some with stalls, some with tables and umbrellas

and some sitting on sheeting on the ground – took our breath away!

Here we found to our delight, gorgeous brass beads, glass beads, wood beads, terracotta beads, bone beads – in fact, beads of all colours, shapes sizes and materials!

The brass beads we were told are made of recycled brass – all those waste plumbings and automotive parts, for example.

But our focus for this visit was the Chevron bead.

An old Italian design, the chevron is a much-coveted bead. Of course, finding an original Italian chevron is close to impossible. But even the “duplicates” are much prized and stunningly beautiful!

An afternoon well spent!

Driving back to Accra, we spotted this amusing hoarding.

Having satisfied ourselves with all this retail therapy, we headed out the following day to explore the Cape Coast of Ghana!

Kakum National Park is unique in that it was established at the behest of the local people and not the wildlife department. It was declared a reserve forest in 1931 and was gazetted as a national park in 1992. It is a tropical forest covering 375 sq. kms. 

We chose to do the “canopy walk”. This is a walkway at treetop level – going up to 40 m high! A short but steep path through the forest took us to the base of the canopy walk. Along the way, the guide pointed out several species of plants and trees and spoke to us about their medicinal and commercial value.

The picture above gives a perspective on the width of the tree base!

Hand engraved wooden plaques provided more information about some of the iconic species of trees found here.

To form the canopy walk, 7 trees are connected by suspension bridges (330 m. in all). Wire ropes tie the bridges to the trees.

Each bridge comprises of horizontal aluminium ladders covered by thin wooden sheets, just wide enough to stand on! Protective netting is provided on either side.

There are small viewing platforms at each of the trees. After you cross the first bridge you have an option of taking a shortcut out if your stomach or head or heart has protested the experience! It’s exhilarating and we strongly recommend you try it. Do not expect to take any pictures when you are on the bridges. Both hands are needed to keep yourself upright! At least a semblance of a steady head is a must! And if there are other visitors, well, the swaying of the bridges is that much more exciting!

This t-shirt available at the gift shop on your return says it all!

The forest is home to a variety of species of animals, eg., antelopes, duikers, civet cats, leopards, forest elephants, etc. In addition, there are at least 266 species of birds and a rich variety of butterflies in the park. We saw very little of the fauna as we did not do the “forest walk”. But we did get to marvel at the flora that covered the forest floor on our short trek to and from the bridges.

Sunlight filtering through the “umbrella” tree.

We literally could not see the top of this tall tree … it probably reaches all the way to heaven!

Mushroom and fallen leaves create beautiful patterns on the pathway.

One of the huge trees fell during a storm. In the dead trunk, a plethora of small life forms have found a safe haven.

Ferns thrive in the humid atmosphere of this forest.

It is possible to stay at the “Tree House” inside the park, a treat we have saved for another visit!

We spent a night at a beach resort at Elmina called The Coconut Grove Beach Resort.

While the accommodation is nothing special to talk about, it is clean and adequate. The staff are friendly. The food is absolutely delicious. You might be treated to some live music and dance performances in the evening. There is a pool, a golf course, a water body filled with crocodiles and of course the beautiful beach.

Early morning saw us at the restaurant for breakfast – a veritable feast for a vegetarian … the local food is a must taste! Sitting at our table we watched a couple of young men set up stalls on the beach to sell – what else? – beads!

They also unpacked brightly coloured bags and scarves

At the last, they brought out rustic looking figurines which on closer inspection (and conversation) turned out to be made of bronze – which may or may not be true – but are cast metal for sure.

A bit of bargaining later we walked away with some of these beauties! We were also assured that we were welcome to visit the craft unit where these figurines were made.

We also spent a night up the coast at Takoradi, at the Planters Lodge. Though not on the beach, its set in extensive grounds and has a distinctly colonial feel.

The staff, once again, are friendly and helpful. 

Old world charm versus new world convenience?

Of course, as usual, we made friends with the resident cats!

One of the must do’s when visiting Elmina is the Baobab House, a short walk up the road from the Cape Coast Castle.

Run as part of the Baobab Children’s Foundation, it is a guest house-cum-gift shop-cum-restaurant. The profits go towards supporting a school, though donations make up most of the funding. The shop has clothes, fabric and other gift items that are handcrafted by current and previous students. 

You can book with them to learn some of these local crafts at their production centre. Looking around the shop, we found a booklet on Ghanaian cuisine (inspired by dinner at Coconut Grove!), one on the cultural symbols of Ghana (that you see on everything from sculptures to jewellery)

and another one on the rules of one of their traditional board games, Oware (also known as Mancala in East Africa) – something we had long been looking for.

The vegan / vegetarian restaurant is small, slightly run-down and has a most curious menu.

We took a chance and ordered more of the unfamiliar local dishes. We got refreshing fresh juices and wholesome, delicious food.

There is so much more Ghana offers the discerning visitor. This article, as the name suggests, merely offers glimpses of parts of Ghana. There is still plenty for us to explore and experience in this vibrant country. 

To answer a much-voiced concern about most of Africa, Ghana is SAFE! It is a country that is a pleasure to just walk in … warm and sunny and colourful. Given the horrific history of the country, the people are friendly and welcoming. They seem to hold no grudge against the rest of the world for the hundreds of years of misery and torture inflicted on them – for no reason other than that they had strength in their arms. 

Moving on from cuisine, craft and nature, we next dipped into the history of Ghana. But that is another tale that calls for its own space.