#4 Ghana, Feb. 5, 2001

Dear Everybody,

Thanks for all your emails. I love to get them.
.
NEW RULE!! Do not put your cashcard in an ATM unless the bank is open. I did this on Sunday and my card was ‘retained.’ On Monday morning, (today) I did get it back with no trouble, but the bank was FULL of people and it took a while.  And what if I had planned to leave early on Monday?

Tuesday in Kumasi I began to see what a mighty nation the Ashanti were until the British did them in, in 1873, although resistance continued until 1900. The Ashanti, too, got rich from the slave trade. I went to two museums and saw many 18th, 19th, and 20th century items used by the various Ashanti kings. The succession has always been through the maternal line so the queen mother is a very important person. I met the present one—she ‘receives’ on Tuesday mornings. Everyone was so dressed up—all the men in their toga-like robes, all the women in their beautiful prints, as well. I was wearing khaki pants and a man’s tee shirt! However everyone was very gracious—I told her I was from America and a man interpreted, and we shook hands. I didn’t see any other whites there.

As I was walking from there to a museum, I snapped a photo of an especially handsome group of people (about 15). One of the men called to me and asked me if I would send him a print. I said I would if he would give me his address. He told me that his family was here today because his sister was being installed in North Accra as the queen mother (for a chief of a smaller area—the Kumasi king is overlord of many chiefs) and she had to be approved by the ‘big’ queen mother (the one that I met). I had seen the woman earlier—very tall and striking and beautifully dressed with a special hairdo with a black bank of makeup on the forehead at the hairline. I asked this man if this was his sister (that I described) and he said it was. So he called his family all for a formal poise, and I took two more pictures. After he had written his address in my book, a woman came up and said, “This is MY husband—I’m his wife, let’s go!” I guess she thought he was flirting.

The status and demeanor of women in Ghana is very different from most third world countries that I have visited. In most countries, women usually don’t make eye contact on the street, and I never ask them for directions as they appear very nervous, and can’t/won’t answer my question. I have found that it’s usually best to ask a middle-aged man. But here, when I would ask, nearby women would join in the answer, or the man would turn to the woman for an answer or confirmation of the answer. The women often initiate a greeting on the street, usually with a smile. Presumably the long history of the queen mother person and the matrilineal succession are part of this. At the museum I saw a wax figure of a very important woman warrior/queen mother named Yaa Asentewa. In 1900 she led an army of 20,000 against the British, was eventually captured and exiled to the Seychilles where she died. Also at the Queen Mother’s palace there was a council gathering (with some pomp and ceremony) to ‘solve problems,’ a man explained. About half of this council were women. They were all seated on ceremonial stools.

Wednesday I went with Kwesi and a Norwegian girl named Solveig on a tour of four craft villages. Kwesi works for the Tourist Board. His name means ‘Sunday-born,’ (Kofi, as in Kofi Annan means ‘Friday-born’). Solveig’s boyfriend was sick, so he stayed behind. We first saw pottery at Pankrono—a woman made a pot using only a corncob as a tool—no wheel, not even a table—she just bent over the pot on the ground; wood carving at Ahwiaa—I’m having a carved ceremonial stool sent home—Kwesi is seeing to it;

 

 

 

 

 

Adinkra cloth at Ntonso being stamped using a hot liquid made of tree bark;

 

 

 

 

and kente cloth being woven at Bonwire.

Afterwards I treated the three of us to lunch in quite a nice restaurant. We all had ampesi with palaver sauce which is yams and plantains with a spinach/chicken/tomato sauce. Three plates plus two huge beers and a tip was $4.75—you don’t think that’s too much, do you?

It really is HOT here. I (and everybody else) sweat so much. Yet, the amazing thing is that I rarely smell BO! Maybe ALL that sweating kind of washes away the bacteria and therefore it doesn’t get time to make a bad smell. Anyway, I’m grateful. I also have adopted the local custom of having a folded white men’s handkie with which to mop my brow. Maybe that’s where Louis Armstrong got that habit! Of course that doesn’t explain why Pavarotti does it too.

On Thursday I went to see the Ashanti king but alas, I was told “it is a bad day for the king and he won’t come out today.” So I went to the Military Museum in an old fort instead. The Queen Mother/Woman Warrior (Yaa Asantewa) besieged the British in this fort in 1900 and many Brits died from starvation—but they got reinforcements and eventually got the upper hand. I also learned that in World War II Britain sent black troops from Gold Coast to fight in Burma—without shoes! Only officers could have shoes. There were pictures of them marching with huge packs on their heads and no shoes!

Friday I went to the Bobiri Forest Reserve and Butterfly Sanctuary. I stayed at the guesthouse in the park, in a huge room with a mural, a huge bathroom and a porch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There really were many butterflies, a beautiful forest and QUIET—I could hear my ears ring. The Peace Corps woman, Karen, reported meeting a black cobra snake (very poisonous) on one of the trails that morning.

Saturday night I went to a nightclub next door to the hotel I’m staying in now in Kumasi. What fun! Lots of African men in their ‘togas,’ women nicely dressed also. They danced like our modern rock and roll, but with more ‘African’ fluid movements. Women often danced with women, and men with men, although some couples danced together. They also danced in groups of three or four; a lady asked me to dance in her ‘group’ so I did, which was much fun. The people were very friendly and gracious. The Norwegian couple turned up so I sat with them.

Big surprise, last night it thundered, lightened and rained for about an hour. It’s not the rainy season, but obviously it does, occasionally.

Which brings me to this morning. I had breakfast and chatted with a young man that grew up in Swanville, MN!! He now lives in LA, and his name is Hanson.

BUT THEN—I visited the KING! I had been told that he would ‘come out’ on Monday at 10:00. So I went to the palace and asked around, getting conflicting answers. However, a guard told me to come with him, and he directed me to take a plastic chair and set it THERE. I did and had a ringside seat for when the king and his entourage came—FINALLY. That happened about 11:50, but that’s African time for 10:00. Everyone was dressed in mourning clothes—subdued rich fabrics of black or very dark colors, with much hand printing.  All the chiefs gathered and the king walked in the middle of his supporters under a beautiful golden umbrella. He didn’t wear kente cloth—that’s only for special occasions, and the man next to me told me that today they would be talking about their ancestors, so that’s why they all wore mourning clothes.

 

He is an impressive looking man—quite big and regal looking. Well, now I’ve seen the Ashanti king!

Tomorrow I shall take the bus to Tamale, to go to the Mole Park. No, I’m not in Mexico—this Tamale has the emphasis on the first syllable.

Carol

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