Akwaaba and welcome back! Since my first update, our list of valuable experiences has continued to grow. When we first toured Accra, I remember being extremely disoriented. Now, it feels as though we have a good idea of the layout of the area and can navigate fairly easily through town. Over the past week and a half, we have become more familiar with the history and culture of the region through our classes. In addition, the classes have allowed us to interact with others from the area, which has helped in gaining a well-rounded understanding and appreciation for what we are learning.
Two guest speakers from the University of Ghana have come and spoke to us: one to the history class and one to the music class. Dr. Kofi Boku came to discuss the history of colonial and post-colonial Ghana last Tuesday. Yesterday, Dr. Adjei Kwafo, who is the head of Music and Dance at the Institute for African Studies, came to discuss traditional African music of three institutions: the chieftaincy, the Asafo warrior groups, and religious associations. These speakers broadened our understanding for the history and music of the region. As local scholars, they provided a fresh perspective which complimented our professors’ courses well.
Last Tuesday night, a traditional cultural drumming and dancing group called the Dza Nyonmo Dance Ensemble came to our hotel to perform traditional African music and dances for our group. The group performed a variety of African dances and explained the meaning of each dance. The speed and precision of the drummers, as well as the style and gracefulness of the dances were very impressive. After this, the group taught all of us how to play a traditional African song using the drums. The final event of the evening involved learning the various movements and steps to an African dance. We then formed a large circle, in which we entered in pairs to dance to the rhythm of the drums. This was definitely a fun experience, and we shared many laughs that night at each other’s expense.
On Wednesday, we traveled to a small village outside of Accra, where we met with a local subchief. The chief system was used by the Ashanti people whose kingdom encompassed Ghana before the period of colonialism. Atop the chief system sits the Asantehene, who is the ruler or head chief. As an independent country, these positions are now strictly ceremonial, but the Asantehene and local chiefs still exist to protect and preserve the traditions and heritage of the people. This was a very exclusive opportunity, as the chief invited our group to his home, where elders of the village, his wife, and he responded to questions posed by our students. The discussion was focused on how life varied between the colonial and post-colonial periods. Despite straying from the topic at times, it was very interesting to hear the opinions of the chief and his peers. This interaction will definitely contribute to our understanding of how colonialism positively and negatively affected the people and the region.
After visiting with the chief, we traveled to a placed called the Aba House, where the art students made batiks with local African artists. The Aba House was right by the beach and a large, beautiful tree covered the backyard where we worked. This involved choosing an Adinkra symbol to carve into a piece of foam. This foam was then dipped in hot wax and stamped onto a piece of cloth. We then died the cloth and removed the hot wax to show the symbols. In addition to the batik, we have been coiling raffia (dried grass) to make a basket and weaving cotton to make kente cloth. Kente is a traditional cloth of the region, and we have learned the many styles and colors that have important meanings to the people. Both the coiling and the weaving activities have definitely challenged my patience, but the final products will make the effort well worth it.
Our group visited an elementary school called the Anani Memorial International School on Friday. Mr. Anani is also the founder of the performance group that we met on Tuesday. At the school, the African students sang, danced, and performed skits for us. The students were very excited to see us and sang many songs including “Oh, When the Saints, Go Marching In.” Their performances at such young ages helped me to realize why Africans are so in tune with the traditional music and dance of their culture. After the performances, we observed the work being done to improve the school and played with the children. This was a very rewarding experience seeing the joy the students had in their interactions with us.
Even though thousands of miles separate us from America, I have still managed to follow the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and have seen some of the many upsets on television at a local restaurant. I have also been watching lots of soccer and am becoming more and more of a fan as the days pass. This is pretty humorous considering I endured three years of haggling from my former roommate Kyle Waller, who may be the biggest soccer fan I know. I have finally given in to the sport and will call myself a fan.
Just as we are settling in and beginning to feel comfortable in Accra, it is almost time to leave. We only have one more week in Accra before we head north to Kumasi. It will be nice to have a change of scenery and to be exposed to new people in a new setting. I look forward to sharing those new experiences with you from Kumasi.