Saturday, December 16, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Kumasi is the “garden city of West Africa”.  Driving into the second largest city in Ghana, I was surprised and the extreme visual differences Kumasi appeared to have with the rest of the Ghanaian cities I’ve visited.  The city is built on several hills giving the streets and architecture curves and flows.  There are few shacks or stales lining the main streets and all the shops and stales and parking spaces feel clean, organized, and fresh.  Many of the buildings resemble early 19th century architecture.  The buildings betray Kumasi’s rich and important past.  It was the capital of the Asante Empire with a history that far exceeds any of the other prominent Ghanaian cities. 
The highlight of our trip was walking through the Kejetia Market.  It is reputedly the largest open air market in West Africa.  It sprawls out from the city center and goes on and on.  It is crowded and busy.  Sections of the market are organized for certain goods like clothing, shoes, live snails, and whatever else you could possible want.  The clothes in markets are second hand t-shirts and other items from the States.  It is interesting to see people walking around in t-shirts advertising the Super Bowl, Britany Spears, or teams and schools only someone from that area in the States would know about.  Children often have Disney characters or other cartoon outfits.  These clothes are called dead white man’s clothes. 
When we were in the market, I kept getting called Akosua, which is the Sunday day name.  What I have never been able to figure out is why they call us Akosua and not another day name.  Someone explained to me that there is a story or belief that all white people were born on Sunday, another mystery solved. 

A Wedding and A Funeral

By Melissa Rick

In Ghanaian culture, from birth to death there are certain rites of passage that each person goes through.  Seven days after a child is born he or she will be named in a ceremony.  This is called an outdooring, signifying taking the child outside for the first time.  During the ceremony, the child’s tongue will be touched with two liquids.  One is water and the other was traditionally the local alcoholic beverage but many people use some kind of soda today.  The child’s tongue will be touched with the water and alcohol to teach the child to learn the difference between good and evil.
Two other important ceremonies are weddings and funerals.  These usually happen every Saturday and take up an enormous part of Ghanaian’s lives.  They are usually all day ceremonies.  When I am traveling around on Saturdays, it seems like everyone is dressed to attend some kind of ceremony.  Some people will be dressed in colorful traditional clothes, while others will be in black and red for funerals.  Unlike American weddings and funerals, there is a distinct dress code for ceremonies. 
My host family invited me to attend a wedding and a funeral over two weekends in the last month.  I stayed with them and enjoyed their generosity and home cooked Ghanaian food.  The wedding I went to was a Christian wedding so many elements of it were similar to an American wedding.  A traditional wedding would consist of the groom’s family coming to the house of the bride to ask for her.  They would bring presents that the bride’s family had requested.  This has been called the brideprice.  The brideprice is misleading because it seems like the groom is purchasing the bride but really it signifies that the groom is at a point in his life where he can support a family and values the woman he is marrying.  Before this time, the family of the bride would have done all kinds of background checks on the groom and his family.  Currently, the traditional ceremony is usually used as the engagement ceremony or performed a week or so before the Christian wedding.
The wedding I went to was supposed to start at noon but did not begin until two.  Everyone, accept me, was dressed in beautiful Ghanaian bright silk fabrics.  The place was packed.  There is no such this as a small Ghanaian wedding.  You do not have to be invited to attend.  If you hear that a friend of yours is getting married, you should attend.  The wedding itself was over three hours long.  Then the reception was just an extension of the wedding with speeches and songs and lasted for at least another hour.  There were six presiding ministers.  There was loud praise and worship music throughout the ceremony and dancing and celebrating with the couple.  I was exhausted when we left.
The funeral contrasted American funerals.  There were eight ministers and it felt more like a celebration of the passing into the afterlife than a time to be sad.  Ghanaians spend enormous amounts of money on funerals.  It is important to have a proper funeral for the deceased.  The woman who died was over eighty years old.  Women in the church had paper visors on with her picture and the dates of her birth and death.  The entire ceremony was in Twi, so I had no idea what was said.  I was the only white person there and sat on a bench in squeezed in the middle of some very large Ghanaians.  I sure it was a ridiculous site.  The woman actually died a month and a week before the funeral but they kept the body in a freezer until the funeral arrangements were made.  This is quite common, but I was surprised that they still had an open casket.  The casket had gold like decorations and was covered in small tiles that looked like mirrors.  In Ghana, caskets shaped in strange designs are popular.  Some are shaped like cars, fish, pens, animals, or any special request depending on the person and his or her occupation. 
The funeral lasted for over two hours then everyone went to the grave site for another couple of hours.  The funeral was singing and preaching, much like a church service.  After the grave site, we went and greeted the family’s elders, which meant walking around and shaking about fifty people’s hands who were seated in an open area as refreshments were served.  We went into a room where the body was laid in state the night before and a group of women were seated around the bed.  They stayed with body the night before.  We walked around this room and shook hands.  Then we went to the reception, where served food and gave a donation to the family.  It is expected that everyone will give donations to help the family with the expense of the funeral because the funerals are so extravagant. 

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