Water and Culture: Ghana
Water in Africa
- Africa, Ghana
by Sasha Bennett, Bongo-Soe, Ghana
The communities in my region of Ghana, the Upper Eastern region, are very much dependent on water. Farmers sow crops during the rainy season and then harvest the crops when the rainy season ends.
In Bongo-Soe, where I am serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, there is only one rainy season. When the rains come late or if there is a drought, ceremonies are performed. For example, farmers pray to the traditional gods in what is called a Tinkana. A Tinkana is a grove of trees that people don't cut down, because it is believed to house spirits and traditional gods. There, people (mostly farmers) pray and sacrifice animals to the gods. Sometimes farmers go to the oldest man in the village to consult gods to bring the rain. This village elder is not a witch doctor or juju man; he is consulted because of his age and wisdom. When the rains come, and when the people are at last able to harvest, they use their produce to buy animals such as goats, fowl or sheep to give to the elder as a sacrifice to the gods.
by Molly Campbell, Amisano, Ghana
While I was still in Peace Corps training, my host family took me to another home to witness a special ceremony. I had no idea where I was going. Every time I asked, I received an unclear response. Upon arriving, I saw a group of people in their best African dress. I was informed that it was a "baby-naming" ceremony. When the baby was brought out, the head of the family took the child and then proceeded to do a type of baptism. First he used water, dipping his finger into the water and dripping the water into the baby's mouth, saying things in the local language. He then performed the same ritual with palm wine and again with another type of alcohol. Family and friends come to pay homage and respect to the parents of the child, helping the child embark on his life adventure.
by Amy Wiedemann, Gbefi, Volta Region, Ghana
Water, whether the rivers and streams or the rainfall, is definitely deemed to come from "above." These days, with the spread of Christianity, God receives the credit. However, "in our fathers' day," meaning days past, various gods were seen as rivers and as the cause of water. The River Dayi, the principal river that passes along my village, was a fetish river. To this day, the people clearly respect it and its force.
Water also played a vital role in the history of the Ewe people, which is the tribal identity of my village and the surrounding area. A long time ago, all the Ewe forefathers were held captive by an evil king, Togbe Agokoli, in the town of Notse in present-day Togo. The evil king imprisoned everyone by surrounding their community with a high, strong wall, and positioning sentries all along the fortress so there was no escape. The Ewe leaders eventually devised a plan and from that day forward, every drop of water was to be thrown out against a designated part of the wall. They made a diversion at the other end of the fortress, and thus were able to flee through the hole worn by the water. They went on to found the villages that one sees today.
by Steve Tester, Odumase Krobo, Ghana
When you come to a Ghanaian's home, the first thing you are offered is a glass of water. This is a sign of welcome. During festivals, libations are poured. Water was at one time a libation; now it is common to see gin poured to please the gods.
"Mami" is an excellent example of a local goddess still alive in the folk tales near the coast. She is the goddess of saltwater and brings in that which is outside.
On Lake Volta at night, one should hope not to see cometlike spirits flying along the lake or river, because they bring bad luck. The spirits with red "O" shaped mouths are said to be witches that kill those whom they see.
by Chris Botzman, Akome, Volta Region, Ghana
When a baby is born, an elder gives him or her a drop of water and says, "This is water." Then the elder gives the baby a drop of wine and says, "This is wine. When you mean water, say water, and when you mean wine, say wine."
by Michael Nelson, Gbani, Northern Region, Ghana
In Japan and China it is tea. In the United States it may be coffee in the morning, or a soft drink later in the day. In southern Ghana it is akpateshie (distilled palm wine). In northern Ghana, it is—quite simply—water.
Water is the drink, not of choice, but of necessity. And, knowing it is a necessity, people consider it an obligation on the part of the host to provide the guest with a calabash (a gourd bowl) filled with water. One is supposed to give the guest what one can afford and what is needed: These requirements can be met with a simple serving of water.
Water, however, can transcend this frequent human interaction. Sometimes it becomes an offering to the gods. Here in Gbani, sacrifices—of goats, sheep, chickens, guinea fowl—are still practiced. Sometimes they are associated with a Muslim holiday; sometimes they are associated with traditional animist practices. Always, water is present.
In a water-poor area such as Gbani, sometimes the sacrifices are for the water itself. I will never forget the day the chief made a sacrifice in his compound. Only the family members were present. Our crops were dying from a lack of rain. They needed water. He prayed over the small ancestral mound, a tiny dome near the center of the compound yard. Then, using a calabash full of water, he consecrated that mound. A goat and the blood of a fowl followed soon after. Of course, I was skeptical, but I must admit, the next day it did rain. And for the rest of the season, we did not have to worry about water for our crops.