A new adventure in Ghana
So for those of you who don't know I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya during the late 90's. I was doing agroforestry and met my husband there. I always joke that I went to school in Minnesota, but I had to go to Kenya to get a husband from Minnesota. He's an engineer and he's been involved with Engineers without Borders for about 2 years. The local chapter needed help with the education portion for a composting toilet facility they were designing for a school in Axim, Ghana. Well I'm going to Ghana here in a few months. I haven't been back to Africa since I left Kenya in 1999, I had watched the American Embassy there blow up even. We've been paying school fees for a good 10 or more kids since we left, volunteered with several NGO's working from the US to help there, but not been back. I'm excited to get going, but there is a little trepidation as well. Visas, shots, paperwork, all by the end of next month. I figured while I'm crash coursing everything Ghanaian I would make it a learning experience for all. Food, culture, music.
Ghana is a West African country, bounded on the north by Burkina Faso, on the east by Togo, on the south by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Côte d'Ivoire. Formerly, it was a British colony known as the Gold Coast and was led to independence by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on the 6th of March, 1957.
Ghana became the first black nation in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence from colonial rule. The country is named after the ancient empire of Ghana, from which the ancestors of the present inhabitants are thought to have migrated. Ghana is a democracy, having completed the 3rd successful election cycle for parliament and president most recently in December 2008. Ghana does retain its traditional chieftainship system, as well.
English is the official language and is used in schools from about our 4th grade level. Most Ghanaians also speak one or more "home" languages.
In 2010, the World Bank ranked Ghana 152 out of 181 countries in GDP-PPP(Purchasing Power Parity). Although Ghana's economy has improved markedly in the last decade or so, the average per person annual GDP was only $1,644. The compares to the US at $47,1543, Mexico at $14,564, South Africa at $10,565, and Democratic Republic of Congo at $347 (in 181st place).
Axim is the Capital of the Nzema East District, an area encompassing 2194 square kilometers (9.8 percent of the total area of the Western Region). This relatively poor town has recently become a municipality. The population of greater Axim, including nearby villages is approximately 33,000. There is a modest hospital in town. The economy is based on fishing, subsistence farming, and government services.
Axim is near Ivory Coast to the west, and the nearest substantial city, Takoradi, is about a one-hour drive to the east. It is about 150 miles west of Accra, about an eight-hour drive. Recently oil was discovered some 50 miles off the coast of Axim. It remains to be seen what effect that may have on the life and economy of the area. Axim people are mostly Nzema. Most speak Nzema, Fante, English, and smatterings of other Ghanaian languages. Schools teach French or Arabic, as well.
The "castle", Fort Fort St. Antonio, is the center of the town. The Dutch captured it in 1642. It was ceded to Britain in 1872. For some 300 years, it was a center for trading gold, slaves, timber, cotton and other products. Today the castle houses some offices and has some areas historically preserved to demonstrate how it was used as a slave trading center.
Every September, Axim hosts the Kundum Festival. It coincides with the fish season. Families return to their "family homes." Deceased ancestors are remembered and mourned. Family problems are sorted out in peaceful ways, helped by the traditional elders if necessary. There is much dancing, drumming, and feasting. Traditional leaders and honored guests are ceremoniously carried in palanquins, shaped like their fishing canoes, and decorated with flowers. No one knows for sure how far back this festival goes, but we do know that a Dutch traveler recorded a Kundum Festival in the 17th century.
Ghana is a democracy, but it also retains its chieftaincies. The Paramount Chief of the Lower Axim Traditional Council is King Awulae Attibrukusu III. Axim also has a Queen Mother. The system is somewhat similar to that of our own American Indians, where the tribe controls land and has rights within the democratic system.
The symbol of the royal house is a chicken nesting on a pole, signifying the need of the King and the royal family to nurture the people. The man carrying the symbol pole is the chief linguist. He is knowledgeable about Ghanaian laws, customs, and protocol and typically is the spokesman for the King in formal public forums.