Northern Region Summary

Saturday, November 04, 2006

By Melissa Rick

From Monday to Monday sixteen students, Professor Groenhout, her kids, Samuel, and our driver Robert went to the Northern Region.  Northern Ghana has a mystic element about it.  Most of the Southern Ghanaians I have met have never traveled to the Northern Region.  Stereotypes and generalizations about the North and Northern people permeate discussions and assumptions.  1,820,000 people live in the Northern Region, a small percentage of the 21 million population of Ghana.  Of this number 305,000 live in Tamale.  70% of the economy is agricultural and Islam is the dominant religion.  The average yearly income is around $100 US dollars. 
We drove by villages comprised of round clay huts with patched roofs.  Groups of compound houses would make up the small village.  Compound houses are separate huts formed in a circle with a courtyard in the middle.  One hut will be the kitchen, one for the male, one for each wife (polygamy is legal and practiced in Ghana especially in the North), and then an entrance hut. 
After a twelve hour bus ride we arrived for our first night in Tamale.  We spent most of our nights at TICCS (the Tamale Center for Cultural Studies) as we traveled around the surrounding areas during the day.  Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was renting old-rusty-barely-working-metal-bikes in Tamale.  Tamale has few cars and most people get around the relatively small city on bikes.  It was accelerating weaving past motor bikes, pedestrians, stalls, and other bikers on wobbly bikes.  The bike tour was a great way to see and experience the city. 
We also visited World Vision’s Northern office.  World Vision is focused on providing clean water for different villages in the North.  They function as an amazingly efficient NGO that wants communities to build sustainable projects that the community can maintain without assistance from World Vision. 
Another day we visited a crocodile pond.  The members of the village that surrounds this pond have their entire lives wrapped up in the existence of the crocodiles.  The crocodiles even lay their eggs in people’s homes.  For the tourists (us), the villagers coaxed a large crocodile out of the pond with a squawking live chicken.  The crocodile stayed stationary with its jaws open toward the chicken while our group sat on its back and took pictures.  Finally they handed the chicken over to the mouth of the crocodile and he consumed it in a few bites then slide back into the water. 
One night we stayed over in Yendi, which is the second largest “city” in the Northern Region.  While there, we saw another NGO, BIRDS and visited women in a collective.  The collective makes shea butter and sells it to make profit. 
That night we were treated to a Gonji Performance inside the courtyard of a more modern compound house.  The courtyard was packed with gonji players, women, and at least a hundred children.  The gonji is a traditional guitar like instrument that has almost a moaning type sound.  The performance was fun and at one point we each had to dance by ourselves or with one other person in the courtyard (embarrassing). 
Another highlight of the Northern Region Trip was Mole National Park.  The Park is a reserve for African animals.  We stayed at a hotel (with a pool!) at the park.  The hotel overlooks a watering hole and we watched warthogs, elephants, and birds enjoy the water.  In the morning we went on a nature hike through the park to see animals.  However, when we woke up we were surprised to find an elephant inches away from our hotel rooms!  On the nature walk we found two more elephants drinking water and sat and soaked up their majestic entertainment for a while. 

Cape Coast

By Melissa Rick

Ghana rests on the Gulf of Guinea.  Cape Coast, one of the largest cities in Ghana, embodies a typical tropical city.  The buildings are painted brighter colors, palm trees lean into the ocean, and white beaches scattered with white shells.  Long narrow wooden fishing boats crowd the beach fronts.  They are painted bright colors and are filled with thick fishing nets.  Naked or scantly clad children play in the water or practice acrobatic tricks on the sand. 
Our primarily purpose for visiting Cape Coast was to see the infamous Cape Coast castles.  Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle are painted white and to the unknowing eye, beautiful historical structures.  However, I found the community trash dump behind Cape Coast Castle to more adequacy portray the historical elements of these landmarks.  These castles represent periods of Ghana’s history since they were built.  Elmina Castle was built in the 1400s when the Portuguese were first establishing trade links with the African people off the coast.  This location was crucial in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  The process of the trade is described as a triangular slave trade.  England would trade manufactured goods for slaves.  The slaves were then sent to America to work in plantations to produce the raw materials that were sent to England to manufacture goods…and the cycle continues.  Over 11 million slaves passed through Elmina Castle and 4 million passed through Cape Coast.  This figure does not include those that died at the castle and in the process of capture or transport.  Elmina Castle over time switched hands to the Dutch and then the English.  Also as history progressed and slave trade was abolished by the British the castles took more administrative proposes. 
Visible cruelties run throughout the structures.  For example, the church in Elmina castle is located directly above the slave’s dungeons.  The dungeons still smelled terrible.  They are concrete rooms underground with little to no ventilation or light.  The rooms were built to contain 500 persons but during the height of the slave trade over 1, 000 were kept there at a time.  The captives could stay in the rooms for up to 3 months.  Both castle’s exit to the ocean was called the door of no return.  Our guides explained that these gates were now the doors of return for the Africans of the Diaspora to return to Africa. 
We also visited Kukom Rainforest and Canopy Walk.  The Canopy Walk is narrow rope bridges strung from tree to tree.  The bridges hover over the rainforest trees allowing us to look down into the forest.  Walking on the shaky but ultimately stable bridges was an adrenaline rush.  While at the park we also took the Ebony Tree Trail Walk.  Ebony is an endangered wood and was extracted from Africa during pre-colonization and colonization.  One tree takes 1,000 years to mature!  My favorite tree on the walk was the proud tree.  It is a small tree but its roots make it stand above the ground and the roots grow out in front of it so it follows were the water is essentially walking through the forest.  The sap from the roots cures certain aliment and the fruit cures different aliments.  However, if the two are mixed together it is a powerful poison and is even used as a pesticide.  The liquid that comes from the roots will kill any plant life that it touches so that nothing stands in its way as it moves through the rainforest, hence the name proud tree.

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