The Cities of Kumasi and Accra in Ghana

The next day, I got ready for my next excursion… a trip to “Kumasi”, the capital of the traditional land of the Ashanti people (or “Asante” in the native language). We have all heard of the word “Ashanti” either through music or the media. They are actually an ethnic group that lives in present day Ghana. They have a King that is the symbolic head of the kingdom. The monarchy is based on matrilineal descent, and the King and his Mother (the Queen Mother) rule in a quasi co-regent status. Since it is matrilineal, the King’s son does not take over the thrown when he passes. It is his sister’s son that becomes King and the sister rules with her son as the Queen Mother. On our way to Kumasi from Accra, you pass some of the most beautiful mountain forests. We passed the house of the wife of the late Bob Marley. She moved to Ghana from Jamaica and now calls Ghana her home. It was a large house with a gate in front that had an image of Bob Marley singing, it was great. We then stopped at a Master weaving shop in a town called “Bonwire” near Kumasi. The traditional cloth of the Ashanti is the Kente Cloth. Men are traditionally only allowed to do the Kente weaving and women are discouraged from weaving. I was shown how the weaving was done, using the hands to thread the cloth and the toes of the bare feet to alternate between threads. It’s an art form, and many of the cloths are colorful with yellows, reds, oranges and other colors in geometric shapes. It is woven in long strips, then sewn together to make large cloths that are used to wrap around the body. The King will appear in Kente cloth and pure solid gold jewelry head to toe when making public appearances, it’s very regal. Most Ghanaians wear western style clothes, but you still have the traditionalists that will still wear Kente or other styles of African clothing. Our next stop was the Ashanti Royal Palace. The palace had a gate with gold leaf surrounding it. At the entrance you have an Ashanti symbol in gold. You are discouraged from taking pictures when inside the palace grounds. The tour was of the old palace from the early 1900s. Modeled after a mix of African and English architecture and decor, it would be considered an ‘upper middle class’ home in early 20th century western standards. The Ashanti built a brand new palace which was completely modern. The new palace was off limits, but I got a peek of the backyard while looking over the fence very discretely. Very Nice! We then headed to the open market in Kumasi which is considered the largest open market in West Africa. It was described to me by my guide as “organized chaos”. That it was, as thousands and thousands of people walk through alley ways of merchant stands, selling clothes, electronics, food, spices, everything you can think of. The energy there was 100 miles an hour, as you pass thousands of people making transactions all around you. We stopped for something to eat. One of the traditional meals is Fufu with Pepper Soup. Fufu is cassava, yam or plantain that is heated with water then mashed to a thick, pasty texture. It reminded me of a thicker Hawaiian poi, with a starchy taste that can be eaten with any flavor. Pepper Soup with chicken, meat or fish is poured over the fufu and it is eaten as a meal. The Pepper soup was one of the spiciest soups I have encountered. The heat from the spice makes you sweat automatically and it’s hard to imagine eating it in 90 degree weather 90% humidity, but, it’s done! It’s said the spiciness is meant to make one sweat, so to help cool off in the heat. I was even told that there are soups that are spicier than the one I had! Hard to believe, but true. I thought the soup was delicious, as long as you are eating it under an air-conditioner! Our drive back to Accra was a nice drive, passing small towns on the way, seeing modern West African culture at its best.
The next day was my tour of Accra. I had been in Accra for 3 days, but didn’t get a chance to see it (considering my first tours were of regions outside of the city). Accra is a modern city with modern buildings, high-rises and western style 4 and 5 star hotels being constructed. Business trade is growing and Accra is being touted as the business conference destination of West Africa. Passing the streets I saw modern Ghana, everyday people going about their business, merchants selling items in the outside city markets. The traditional way of carrying objects is on the head. Many Ghanaians will carry objects, large and small, balanced on the head. This allows the arms and hands to be free to carry more objects. It’s awesome the size of some of the objects that are balanced on the head. It’s common to carry objects this way in West Africa, and to a Westerner, quite amazing to see this perfectly orchestrated balance act. Ghana was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot about African culture on this trip. Ghanaians have a warm hospitality and I will never forget my trip to Ghana.