ENTER THE SHRINE: AN INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN SPIRITUAL WORSHIP

 

OUR GOOD FRIEND, NANA BAFFOUR, IS A YOUNG, HIP TRADITIONAL PRIEST. He has been studying traditional West African spirituality from renowned priests throughout Ghana for more than a decade. Nana B., as we affectionately call him, gave the EBC group a historical tour of an old cocoa plantation in Aburi, a mountainous community 45 minutes outside Accra. Here he provided us with a history of the region and its people and pointed out how different plants and flowers are used for medicinal purposes.
Additionally, Nana B. offered an introduction of Ghanaian traditional worship, highlighting its similarities to and differences from Christianity. He performed a number of popular rituals for the group using fire, alcohol, cowrie shells, beads, and coins as mediums needed to communicate with the divine and ancestral spirits.

Following this introduction, Nana B. performed special ceremonies for Mr. James Brown and Ms. Denyce Bonaparte making them a high priest and priestess, or cultural gatekeepers, in their communities. These ceremonies recognize that both persons have particular knowledge that they must share with their families and friends upon return.

For more on traditional Ghanaian spiritual worship, check out this video of Nana B. in action:

FROM THE TRAVEL BLOG OF GERI NEELY

Geri walks the canopy at Kakum National Park

  • After an overnight flight on 5/17/11, we landed in Ghana at 2 pm…the sun was shining and the wind was blowing…We are in the motherland…Praise be to God! Going through customs and hanging to the cart with our luggage was a balancing act. Did people want to help or were they looking for “Green Americans” who did not know what to do…After braving it out of the airport, Vanessa and I were the trailblazers, I looked in the crowd for that one familiar face that I had not beheld for 8 months…
  • Our first embrace with Africa..people trying to woo us, sell their wares, exchanging a part of themselves for the American dollar…thrusted at us were bracelets, sunshades, bananas, watches, and more…..  transported on tops of heads and in outstretched hands..First lessons .. do not say yes to the items, avoid direct eye contact because we may commit to an object, and we stand out….
  • Jacob, our chef…always treated uus with elegance  as he explained the selections for the day…never knew rice grains could be counted one grain at a time….melted cheese crackers…. how delicious…It took us  forever to get to Mama Pat’s – Passions Cafe in Osu. The food was delicious and the hospitality was equaled.
  • The Makola Market (5/20/11) – was reminiscent of other markets in the US but this was king of all of them. The fish (all sizes) greeted me with their distinct odors in a more than 100 degree area…I knew I was going to pass out… all the bargaining were done by the pros. The bathroom breaks were another long story… but we worked them out..
  • 5/21/11 – headed to the Volta Region – supposedly 2 hrs outside of Accra but  more like 3.5 hours…I was privy to different sights (eg., shacks, huts, seemingly unfinished dwellings, cinder blocks, phone places, cars, motorcycles, children…
  • At one restaurant, we were encouraged to eat with our hands ……..5/21/11- stood in front of the most amazing waterfall…
  • 5/23/11 – our visit to the school – 115 students dressed in purple and white uiforms..entusiastic, asking as well as posing for pictures, Gift packets (composition books, journal books, pencils, pens and erases)…
  • A tender moment ….sounds in the morning .. I was on the patio and I heard a voice crying out,…agonizing, fussing, yelling… Jesus,, praying.. airplane, birds, ..a family across the red clay dirt…a girl, a boy, a todddler..the teen squatting in the yard, tilted her head and waved…I waed back…what does she think of me?
  • The end is coming..so much has transpired..eyes and ears have beheld so much..the haves and have nots. Who is richer…
-Geri Neely, Richmond (VA)

FROM THE TRAVEL BLOG OF KEISHA CHAVIS

Keisha walks the canopy at Kakum National Park

Sionne and Mantse -

Thank you SOOOOOOO much for planning an extraordinary adventure in Ghana!  I had a WONDERFUL time exploring everything with you and the rest of the group!  This was the first trip where I wasn’t concerned about the weather or time — the only thing I found important was the wash room facilities at our disposal because I never knew when the “Triple G” Syndrome (i.e. – Ghana Gotta Go) would hit me.  It spread throughout most of the group but no one let it get the best of them — there was too much to see and do to let a stomach ailment take over.

From the WEB DuBois Center and Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park to the Muslim school and Ghanaian countryside, this trip gave us a view of Ghana that I don’t think we would have gotten on our own.  I learned A LOT and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!  Everyone you introduced us to was so friendly and hospitable.  Thank you for everything you did to make this trip exciting, educational, and enlightening.  I was sad to leave but I’m excited about returning someday for another tour and to “pay it forward” by being of service in some way to the school or the non-profit group that works with women and children living with HIV.

Much love,
Keisha Chavis, Connecticut

FROM THE TRAVEL BLOG OF KAI KENNEDY

Kai on the Kakum Canopy Walkway

I cannot with words express the depth of my honor and appreciation for the opportunity to visit Ghana with this tour. Sionne and Mantse planned our days in a manner that allowed us to take in the history, the culture, and the very pulse of Ghana.

Having accounted for every facet of a traveling holiday, including a few comforts of home, they encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the Ghanaian way of life. In a large tour group with diverse interests, there was something for everyone, from the nature lover to the academician, and from the modern artist to the traditional parishioner. And for those looking to connect to Africa and its people, the activities planned introduced us to Ghana through the eyes of those who know it best.

Our guides were sons and daughters of Ghana, and their pride in their homeland was infectious. Each person that Sionne and Mantse brought in to enhance our Ghana experience was well versed, generous, and warm. While I knew that I was conspicuously non-Ghanaian, I felt enveloped in welcome at every turn. The attention to detail in the planning and execution of this tour afforded me the freedom to connect with each aspect of Ghana that beckoned me.

Personally, the visceral tie with African lineage, the perfect mix of familiar rhythms and style, the undeniable respect for God and family, and the cherished family of Ghanaian friends with which I was blessed… these things will be with me always.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Kai Kennedy, Richmond (VA)

ANDREA CRUMP’S TOP 10 COUNTDOWN

10 Top Reasons My Trip to Ghana was the Best Vacation Ever!

10.  We got to do some different things that I’m sure not every tourist gets to do while in Ghana.  We saw unusual sights such as the coffins made into shapes such as fish, pineapple and a camera in Teshie-Nungua.  We met a traditional priest, who gave us a tour of  Aburi and Tutu park which was an old cocoa plantation.

9.  I did not have to cook, clean, or drive anyone anywhere for 11 days (woohoo)!!!  Jacob, our chef, provided us with delicious and nutritious meals everyday of our trip.  Ben, the caretaker of the mansion, did a good job making sure everything was functioning properly (as best he could) and that we were comfortable.  Ben, the bus driver, made sure we got to where we had to go in one piece, dodging potholes, people, and other cars.

8.  I love going to the beach and we went to Tawala Beach. There is a restaurant right on the beach.  It has little huts with benches that you could sit and enjoy the ocean breeze or lounge chairs to lay in and soak up sun.  This place was nice and relaxing.  I enjoyed eating lunch on the deck – the rice and grilled chicken were tasty.  The actual beach itself was ok – quite a bit of debris. We found some nice shells and rocks.  Someone even found a bracelet that washed up.  But overall, it was a nice place to hang out and chill.

7.  We visited the Wli waterfalls which are in the Volta region, in southeast Ghana.  The ride there was an adventure within itself.  We went through many villages/townships.  It was something to see the different houses people lived in and the variety of things that were sold – everything from fruit, vegetables, electronics, leather furniture, bedding and more.  The roads were not always paved and we seemed to be going straight up in the air.   Once inside, we were introduced to our guide, and he led us to the waterfall.  We had a forty minute walk through the woods, over 9 bridges to get to the waterfall.  It was beautiful.  I could have sat there all day watching the water cascade over the rocky cliff into a lake at the bottom.  You could see hundreds of birds (actually, I think they were bats) flying back and forth over the rocks high up near the top of the falls.  Several people from our group got in the water (it was chilly).  I stuck my feet in (can’t swim so that’s as far as I would go) and found a rock to keep as a memento.

6.  We visited several historic sites such as the W.E.B. Dubois Centre and gravesite, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, and the Elmina Castle, which is the largest and oldest slave fort in the world, built in 1482.  Along with the tour guides, Mantse shared a lot of information with us about Ghana, the people, traditions and current status of the country.

5.  We visited the children at Patience International School in Nima.  This was fun because the children were so cute and excited to see us.  When we arrived, down an alley into a courtyard, there were about 40 elementary aged children there to greet us.  They jumped around and posed for pictures.  Their principal gave us information about the school and when it started.

4.  The Arts Centre was fun but a little overwhelming.  Sooo much to see – jewelry, clothes, masks, artwork, purses, furniture, fabric, musical instruments and more.  Everyone is trying to give a “special deal just for you”.   It was fun to see Mantse barter with the vendors to get us the best price.   We had a special bonus at the Art Centre when we went to a batik class and got to design our own African fabric.  We were able to choose symbols and a color we wanted.  The color of my fabric is orange, and I chose a symbol which means “changing oneself; playing many roles” and the butterfly.  Victor, one of the teachers of the class,  was very patient with me while teaching me how to apply the symbols.

3.  We went to the +233 Jazz Club.  It was the perfect way to end the week.  We heard live jazz from saxophonist Stephen Bedi,  who was featuring his debut cd.  It was great – kind of like being home at Friday’s at Sunset, since we were seated outside under the stars.

2.  I walked across seven bridges 40 meters in the air at Kakum National Park.  I am afraid of heights so to do this was a great feat in my life and one that I will never forget.  It was very exciting and from what I could see from my peripheral vision, very beautiful.  I could only look out over the horizon – I could not look down (even when I got to the platforms); I kept my eyes on the back of Freddie and said every scripture, hymn and prayer that I knew.  It worked!!  God lead me safely over and I’m very thankful for the experience.

1.     The number one reason my trip to Ghana was the best vacation ever was because I got to experience it with friends.  This was the first international trip for me and others, so it was a very new experience.    The trip was put together by friends, who did their very best to make it as easy as possible.  From start to finish, this trip was blessed by God.  I could tell there was a lot of thought and time put into all the places I visited and the comforts I had along the way to ensure I had the best time I could have.  Many thanks go to Sionne and Mantse, “the crew” they pulled together to help us,   and to Robin and Dea. Carter for making my dream vacation a reality. I can’t wait to visit again.

Andrea Crump, Richmond (VA)

HOW I GOT OVER: Elmina Castle & the Slave Experience

THIS WAS, PROBABLY, THE MOST SOBERING EXPERIENCE OF THE TOUR. Our visit to Elmina Castle was the experience that no one wanted to miss. It’s “Door of No Return” is a critical symbol in the historical memory of African Americans who are not able to definitively trace their ethnic roots to a specific place or peoples in West Africa.

Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle, also known simply as Mina in present-day Elmina. It was the first trading post built on the West coast of Africa and is the oldest European building in existence in sub-Saharan Africa. First established as a trade settlement, the castle later became one of the most important stops on the route of the transatlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814; in 1871 the  fort became a possession of the British Empire. Britain granted the Gold Coast its independence in 1957, and control of the castle was transferred to the post-colonial government. Today it is a popular historical site and the castle is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist.

We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song.

We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

See more of our visit to Elmina Castle here:

The Teshie-Nungua Coffin Tradition

WHEN WE TOLD THE GROUP ABOUT THE TESHIE-NUNGUA COFFINS, THEY WERE A BIT SKEPTICAL but game to play along.

These aren’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill coffins but a special tradition of coffin-making that dates back centuries in this suburb of Accra. The artisan trade is passed down through the family structure and is regarded with great respect by others in the community. The wood is carved from a particular type of tree that grows in Ghana and has good weight and texture for coffin construction and painting. The wood is then whittled into giant and marvelous shapes.

As a way to celebrate the deceased, the coffin is shaped into a large, colorful object that suggests the person’s trade while living. A fisherman would receive a coffin in the shape of a fish, a fruit seller’s coffin could be a pineapple, a photographer’s would be a camera. The coffin makers even create huge drink cabinets for bars in the shape of a bottle of coke or Guinness beer.

The EBC group received a history lesson on the Teshie-Nungua coffin tradition and toured a showroom of already-made coffins. Additionally, the group was allowed to witness and photograph the carpenters as they whittled large tree stumps into different configurations–an ice cream cone (dessert seller), a cow (cattle or dairy farmer) and a cell phone (salesman).

To see more, check out this video of our tour of the Teshie-Nungua Coffins:

WALK THE LINE: The Canopy Walkway at Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park is a 375 square km national park located in the Central Region of Ghana and 45 minutes outside of Cape Coast.  The entire area is covered with a tropical rainforest. In the park, gamekeepers are specially trained in the medical and cultural significance of the local foliage. Kakum National Park contains rare animals, including the endangered Mona-meerkat, as well as pygmy elephants, forest buffalo, civet cats, a wide array of birds, and over 500 species of butterflies.

What Kakum is most known for are a long series of hanging bridges at the forest canopy level known as “The Canopy Walkway.” At a 130 feet height, the visitor can approach the plants and animals from a vantage point that would otherwise be inaccessible to people. The Canopy Walkway passes over 7 bridges and runs over a length of 1,080 feet. It is secured by a series of nets and wires for safety purposes that were constructed by a team of 9 persons.

A majority of the group was able to complete the hearty walk which included a 15-minute incline to the bridge, a 30-minute walk through the 7 bridges and then another 15-minute trek down to the park entrance. There are also a couple of lovely yet overpriced craft shops at the Kakum entrance and an open-air restaurant where we dined for lunch after completing the walk.

We were excited about many of the group members who took the walk challenge as a way to conquer their fear of heights. Several even spoke about being able to commune with God in a new way through an appreciation of nature in all its majesty. Kakum was definitely a rewarding experience for all involved.

Take a peek at our Kakum Canopy Walkway trip here:

COME AND BATIK WITH ME!

GHANA IS WELL KNOWN FOR IT’S VIBRANT FABRIC PRINTS. You see the gorgeous finished products stacked up in stalls throughout the markets and streets of the city and even on the high fashion runway shows of Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg. But how exactly are these fabric cloths made? There are a variety of processes for producing these colorful designs. Unfortunately, a lot of the cloths are imported into the country from places like China and Holland where the prints are mass produced for worldwide distribution. This affects the ability of local producers, many who have learned the trade from elder family members, to sell their original designs. We wanted to expose the tour group to this unique cultural tradition and to support the economy of local fabric producers.

One style of fabric printing is batik- the most popular form of printmaking in Ghana and other parts of West Africa-where symbols are stamped onto the cloth and then dyed one or more colors.

The batik activity was, possibly, the most fun for the EBC group. We arranged a class in Arts Centre for the group to understand the complicated process of making printed fabric cloth. Each person worked with professional batik makers, some who have been in the industry for two decades, to complete the step-by-step process of fabric printing.

Here is how you make a batik cloth:

Step 1:  Collect two yards of white fabric cloth.

Step 2: Select the sponge blocks that will used to decorate the cloth. There are more than two dozen sponges available with different symbols that communicate particular characteristics, religious phrases or ethical proverbs.

Step 3: Dip the sponge in a large bowl of steaming hot wax. Shake off the excess wax and print precisely yet firmly on the white cloth. Create a pattern with one or more of the sponge symbols until the cloth is covered fully.

Step 4: Allow the wax prints on the fabric to dry. Select the color dye for the fabric cloth.

Step 5: Soak the fabric in the selected color dye and chemical setting mixture for 15-20 minutes.

Step 6: Allow the fabric to dry on the ground for 2-3 hours. El fini! The cloth can now be used to make: 1) a shirt or skirt 2) a tablecover 3) a throw for a chair, couch or bed or 4) a wall hanging.

After finishing the batik making process, the EBC crew had an enhanced appreciation for the work of fabric cloth makers and sellers.

Check out video of the group making their batik cloths:

Bargaining at Arts Centre

ARTS CENTRE IS THE LARGEST OPEN-AIR CRAFT MARKET IN GHANA. It is located in downtown Accra on High Street, adjacent to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and across from the Supreme Court Building. Arts Centre is a wonderful maze of more than 100 stalls. Here you can get everything–clothing, beads, jewelry, masks, fans, straw rugs, woven and leather purses and briefcases, wallets, batik paintings, drums and other instruments, and fabric cloth. Our good friend, Adamu, has a shop in Arts Centre and was especially helpful in negotiating with his fellow businessman to get everything the group desired.

The Arts Centre is a magnificent place to discover the best of what Ghana, and by extension, the entire region of West Africa has to offer. It can be a hectic experience for international visitors not used to the aggressive but thrilling process of bargaining…

You hear the rush of feet as hands grab you in different directions, “Please,
sister, have a look at my shop!” Tourists equal big money and for market sellers,
this competition for foreign dough can easily turn into shouting matches about
somebody’s mama. Other market sellers chew the fat with one another, in jolly
banter, laughter, gossip or political discussions about corrupt state leaders. On
the far left side of Arts Centre, this main crafts market for tourists, young men
play a vigorous game of football as the Atlantic Ocean, just beyond the market,
roars against the thick, black rocks. At the front left of Arts Centre, a sleepy
restaurant’s speakers are tuned into a local radio station playing U.S. hip hop
and R&B music. Rastafarian market sellers line the benches or are propped
against shop walls, intermittently watching the football game as they pass the
day in casual conversation. A couple in the group beat djembe drums out of
boredom or to draw the attention of backpackers who might want lessons.

The EBC group, although a bit overwhelmed by the attention they received from market sellers, truly enjoyed selecting souvenirs to take back home. So much so that many returned again for a few last minute things!

Take a peek at our first stop to the Arts Centre: