I visited Ghana on several occasions and have found the experiences tremendously fun and fulfilling with my trips there having a profound impact on me and continue to provide significant knowledge of self and my country of birth, Jamaica.
The first thing that struck me on my arrival to Accra, Ghana, was the many similarities in mannerisms between Ghanaians and Jamaicans. I remember thinking, “rahtid, dem come een like we eeh,” (wow, they are so much like us)….then quickly corrected my thoughts with the acknowledgement that it is not so much they are similar to us, but more like we are similar to them – given that most Jamaicans are descended from our Ghanaian ancestors.
The similarities were many in number, and I became even more intrigued on noticing Jamaican flag stickers on many of the vehicles there. However, curiously, when I asked many of the drivers why they had Jamaican flag stickers on their vehicles, many were not even aware that the flag was Jamaican. Somehow, placing a Jamaican flag sticker on your vehicle became a cool thing to do without even knowing what it symbolized. I will definitely explore this further in the future.
During my trips to Ghana, I had my heaviest emotional experiences when I visited two of the “slave castles,” – the horrific holding places for millions of captured Africans before they were shipped away into slavery. I specifically visited the Cape Coast Castle and the Elmina Castle. To actually tour the castles, to be in the dark dungeons, to hear the guides explain the vile atrocities perpetrated against Africans in the name of European profits, to see and stand in the places where so many innocents were raped and tortured before being shipped away into lifetimes of unimaginable suffering and deaths….were psychologically daunting experiences that inevitably permanently altered my worldview. The tours of the “slave castles” should be a must for anyone visiting Ghana – particularly those of African descent.
It was also intriguing to learn so much more about Ghanaian ethnic groups, particularly those that comprise the Akan peoples – specifically the Ashanti and the Fanti. From what I was told, the Fanti may well have figured much more prominently in the numbers of our ancestors brought to Jamaica, than was generally reported.
Another pleasant surprise was the prominence of Jamaica’s Dancehall aesthetic in the popular music culture in metropolitan Ghana. The popularity of reggae music is long established, including in Ghana, but being there hearing a lot of Ghanaian Dancehall songs, and hearing members of their popular music fraternity communicate fluently in the language and culture of Dancehall was especially intriguing. Of note also was the rivalry between supporters of two of Ghana’s most popular artistes whose sounds are heavily grounded in a Jamaican dancehall/reggae aesthetic: Shatta Wallie and Stoneboy.
Of course, there were notable cultural differences. For example, the courtship rituals leading up marriage, where a couple is considered married when a potential husband asks the parent of the female if they can be married and if the parent gives approval, then that’s it, they’re married! Many Ghanaians do indeed practice Western European style of courtships, but the traditional customs associated with courtship are generally deemed more important in practice.
It’s fascinating to notice the numerous interplay and contestation for legitimacy that that continue to occur between traditional Ghanaian customs and those imported from the Western Hemisphere.
Overall, my most rewarding experiences in Ghana came from my direct interaction with the people. Of course, as is the case in all countries, you will find a diversity of personalities, with some people more pleasant than others. However, my experience with Ghanaians was overwhelmingly pleasant and fun. Also, any Jamaican who has been to Ghana and interacted with the people, would not be surprised to feel ‘us’ in ‘them.’ Jamaicans would indeed experience a flow and feel that says ‘this is undeniably from whence we came.’
My now highly valued connection to Ghana continues and has increased to the point where I started a business with Ghanaian organic products, specifically shea butter.
The next time I’m there – and there definitely will be many next times – my plan is to visit the city of Kumasi, where, I was informed, has volumes to offer and explain about traditional Ghanaian culture and diasporic connections to Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Kingsley Ragashanti Stewart, Ph.D.