Ghana is one of more than 50 countries on the African continent.
But whatever your Ghanaian know-how, these 16 interesting facts about Ghana will help you get to know the country even better.
Talk to people about Ghana and they might ask: “Where’s that?” Ghana is pretty much at the center of the world, being both close to the equator and on the Greenwich Meridian, which represents 0° longitude.
On a world map, you’ll find it on the west coast of Africa, the side closest to the Americas and bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Follow the western coast of Africa until it curves inwards and you’ll have located the Gulf of Guinea. Now, draw a line straight down from London to the Gulf of Guinea and you’ll have landed on Ghana.
And if anyone asks what time it is in Ghana? Well, that’s easy. Ghanaian time is exactly the same as Greenwich Mean Time, so it shares a time zone with London.
2) WHAT IS GHANA’S WEATHER AND LANDSCAPE LIKE?
Ghana is one of a handful of countries vying for the title of “closest to the equator”, so you aren’t likely to find many climates as tropical as this one. In fact, Ghana only really has two seasons: one wet and one dry.
In the dry season, temperatures can get pretty hot, reaching up to 30°C, or 86°F, on most days. The country is about equal parts sandy desert, shrubby savannah, and lush rainforest. The area along the coast is dry, but the heat is tempered by the cool breezes blowing in off of the Atlantic Ocean.
Just above the coast is the large man-made Lake Volta. Its green embankments stretch out along the eastern side of Ghana. In the middle of the country sits the Ashanti plateau, a series of rolling hills overgrown with tropical forests.
Go further north and the area becomes drier and turns into arid grasslands. Popular national parks in this area include Kakum National Park in the south – which boasts a canopy-level walkway through its jungle treetops – as well as Mole National Park, where herds of elephants roam the wide-open spaces.
3) WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF GHANA?
Ghana’s port city, Accra, is the commercial hub of the country. It’s also Ghana’s most populated city and the seat of its government.
The country’s oldest university, the University of Ghana, is located in the suburb of Legon. Some points of interest in Accra for those volunteering in Ghana, include its white sandy beaches which are well-loved by surfers, street markets where you can shop for handicrafts, and the National Museum of Ghana which is the perfect place to explore Ghana’s cultural history through its artifacts.
When traveling to Ghana, visitors stop off at Kotoka International Airport in Accra. It’s also easy to travel to some of Ghana’s other important cities – like Kumasi in the forested Ashanti region and Tamale in the northern region. Both of these destinations have international terminals.
4) WHAT IS GHANA’S HISTORY?
As one of roughly forty castles used to imprison enslaved people, Cape Coast Castle forms a central part of Ghana’s painful and complex history.
Ghana’s history includes myriad tales that come together to explain how the country has gotten to where it is today. The area now known as Ghana has seen battles with many African countries and was colonized by European nations over the last 2,000 years.
Ghana existed as an empire from the seventh to the thirteenth century. During this time, the country was actually located at a higher elevation than where it’s found today, and the Ghanaian Empire included what we now know as Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. The ruler of this empire was known as the Warrior King – or Ghana – which is how the empire became known to its enemies and allies.
Towards the beginning of medieval times, the empire was driven towards the coast by the rising Mali Empire. Later, during the Renaissance period, this clan of tribes – known as the Akan people – formed the Ashanti Empire, with their main seat being in the central woodlands of Kumasi.
Ghana became powerful and wealthy from trading in gold and was a pioneer in making contact with Europeans.
Although they were given a run for their money by many other kingdoms that make up modern Ghana, the Ashanti were able to maintain control over the coastal area for many years. This allowed them to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
In the early twentieth century, the British colonized the area as part of their commonwealth, naming it the “Gold Coast”. During this time, Ghanaians began trading on a global scale and grew their economy through the production of cocoa and coffee.
5) WHEN DID GHANA GAIN INDEPENDENCE?
The tomb of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, is a unique architectural wonder.
In 1957, Ghana became the first self-governing country on the African continent, under president Kwame Nkrumah. Their new flag incorporated the Pan-African colors (representing an ideology of political unity between all who live in Africa), red, yellow, green, and black. Many other African countries followed suit.
Their coat of arms was created to proudly display the black star – a symbol of Ghana’s emancipation – and the national currency was changed from Pounds to Cedis.
Today, Ghana’s president is Nana Akufo-Addo, and the country continues to be a strong force in the economy and development of Africa. Ghana is also an affordable location to visit, since a dollar will get you 5.76 Cedis, and the cost of living is one-fifth of what it is in North America.
6) WHAT IS THE MAIN LANGUAGE OF GHANA?
The different styles of dress depicted here are representative of the manifold cultures of Ghana.
The population of Ghana lives in a cosmopolitan metropolis, and the government recognizes a host of indigenous languages as national languages.
Two of the most widespread of these are the Twi language of the Ashanti people, which is spoken in the southern and central regions, and the Dagbani language of the Dagomba people – more commonly spoken by people in areas to the north.
Ghanaian languages were kept alive mainly through oral tradition. However, one group of Ghanaians – the Akan people – used a form of symbolic depiction known as Adinkra. Adinkra was used on everything from fabrics, jewelry, and pottery, to walls, architectural elements, and the weights used in trading gold. Personal and home accessories, as well as clothing incorporating these symbols, can be purchased from Ghana’s many artisans.
Modern Ghanaians communicate across linguistic barriers using English as a unifier. About half of the country speaks English, and it’s one of the nation’s official languages. In fact, even Ghana’s National Anthem is sung in English.
Original photo: “Bead merchant Garbe Mohammed at Koforidua beads market” by comms is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
7) WHAT RELIGION DO MOST PEOPLE IN GHANA ASCRIBE TO?
Today, most Ghanaians identify as Christian. However, the native religion of the influential Ashanti Empire was a form of polytheism. Many elements of this faith tradition are still active today and are a big part of Ghanaian culture. And they’re combined with Christian traditions too.
Ashanti/Asante cosmology centers around a supreme, creator god, most widely recognized by the name Nyame. Name is said to make his home in the sky. Asase Yaa, the earth goddess, is the second most powerful of the Great Spirits in this faith tradition and is often considered a maternal figure.
Relatives who have passed over are also considered to be part of the non-physical realm. A favorite spirit god of traditional Ghanaian storytellers is Anansi, a deceptive spider, represented in Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, which was recently made into a TV series.
8) IS GHANA’S CULTURE MATRIARCHAL?
One of the most predominant cultures in southern Ghana, that of the Akan people, practices a system of inheritance based on the matriarchal lineage. However, men still hold the main positions of power in this society.
So, for example, while both the king and his sister will inherit their royal status and wealth from their mother, it’s the king who will sit on the throne. But, it’s not the king’s son who will be given the throne, but the king’s sister’s son.
9) WHAT IS GHANAIAN FOOD LIKE?
You can find these delicious roasted plantains at just about any food stall anywhere in Ghana.
Ghanaian food is a mix of indigenous flavors and outside influences – like European and Indian. You’ll find tomato-based stews with complex flavors throughout Ghana. The stews usually contain a type of marine or freshwater fish and are eaten with a dough, which is used to scoop up the fish and soak up the fragrant sauce.
The dough – sometimes called fufu or apple – is made from any type of starch, including cassava, plantain, yam, maize, millet, sorghum, potatoes, or cocoyams.
Another staple of Ghanaian cuisine is jollof rice: a one-pot rice dish that includes a variety of Ghanaian spices with tomatoes and chili.
Peanuts are often used to flavor stews and garnish dishes. You’ll also find taro leaves and okra in many dishes.
Street food is also a big part of the Ghanaian culture, so be sure to buy a few takeaway meals in the market when you visit.
10) WHAT TYPES OF CLOTHES DO GHANAIANS WEAR?
Bazaars in Ghana abound with handcrafted clothes and accessories like these beaded necklaces.
The Ashanti Empire was influential in shaping the culture of modern Ghana, and fashion is no exception. Kente cloth, the fabric worn by Ashanti royalty, is still a point of national pride.
Folklore tells of two boys exploring the jungle, being taught by Anansi, the spider spirit, how to weave the sacred fabric made from cotton and silk. But this traditional cloth is actually made using a style of basket weaving that creates distinctive blocks of brightly colored stripes. Each color has a unique meaning and was customarily woven to deliver specific powers to a certain person or for a specific occasion. Today, you can buy kente cloth in just about any market throughout Ghana.
Ashanti kings were also known for wearing the gold they grew rich trading in. This was fashioned into necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Ghanaian people still place great value on gold jewelry today.
The Ghanaian braid, an incredibly versatile, yet protective – and now very trendy – braided hairstyle, originated here.
Modern Ghanaians wear a mix of Western and traditional clothing but remain advocates of brightly colored, boldly patterned fabrics.
Original photo: “Kente (Batik) Cloth in Market – Kumasi – Ghana” by Adam Jones is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0
11) HOW ARE CHILDREN IN GHANA NAMED?
The first names of children of Akan tribes – like the Fante and Ashanti tribes – are based on the day of the week on which they were born. It’s said that your name influences aspects such as your spiritual and professional path, as well as your personality.
12) WHY ARE GHANAIAN COFFINS SO UNIQUE?
If you’re ever in Accra, you’re likely to spot a huge fish or airplane sculpture traveling down a side street on the shoulders of several gentlemen. You might be surprised to learn that these detailed wooden carvings are not only artworks, they’re also coffins.
The custom of creating elaborate coffins for persons of prominence originates from the Ga people’s belief that life carries on after death. The theme for the coffin is usually based on the person’s vocation, and the goal is to make a good impression once the deceased gets to the other side.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one, take note of the workmanship. A lot of care goes into making these coffins, and they can take more than a month to complete.
Original photo: “Lion Coffin” by D-Stanley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
13) WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC ORIGINATED IN GHANA?
Customarily, music had a social function in Ghanaian society. Drumming was used as a form of communication, and stories told using music helped to convey the history of Ghanaian people.
Similarly, a praise singer, or griot, would have the role of documenting and conveying the accomplishments of kings. String and wind instruments were also commonly used by Ghanaian people in the north, while in the south, drumming was the main way to make music.
The Portuguese, Dutch, and British introduced European instruments to Ghana during colonization. Soon after Ghana gained independence, musicians in Ghana began creating traditional rhythms using these instruments, thereby developing a musical style now known as highlife.
Today, highlife has evolved into hiplife: electronic beats featuring Twi-language rap. Upbeat gospel songs are also favored by the majority, due to Ghana being a predominantly Christian country.
Original photo: “Drum Village” by one village Initiative is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
14) HOW DID THE GHANAIAN MOVIE INDUSTRY DEVELOP?
Despite the small number of funds and infrastructure available to develop the entertainment industry, a straight-to-video film industry sprung up in Ghana during the 1980s.
The city of Accra was and still is, the capital of this industry and the films usually revolve around challenges faced by residents of urban Ghana. The spirit world also has a prominent presence in these films.
Ghanaian films have become so successful that the largest media capital in Africa, Nigeria’s Nollywood, has even taken an interest in Ghana’s filmmakers and actors, setting up several partnerships.
15) WHY IS GHANA SO GOOD AT SOCCER (OR IS IT FOOTBALL)?
Soccer is a national pastime in Ghana and their national football team – also known as the Black Stars, named after the five-pointed star displayed on their flag – has been competing on an international level since the 1940s.
Having won the Africa Cup of Nations numerous times, Ghana is one of the best in the sport and regularly goes toe-to-toe with accomplished national teams like Mexico and Egypt.
You’ll see the Ghanaian soccer team out on the field, dressed in their white jerseys with black accents and a black star just below the collar. Famous Ghanaian soccer players include Edwin Gyasi and Jordan Ayew.
GVI volunteers in Ghana can contribute to skills development projects much like the one shown above.
So, now that you feel like less of an “oburoni” (a foreigner) and a bit more of an “obibini” (a local), you might want to take a look at some of the volunteering opportunities available in Ghana through GVI.
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