Jan 25, 2016
MEDIA IN WHICH GHANAIAN CULTURAL SYMBOLS OCCUR
MEDIA IN WHICH GHANA CULTURAL SYMBOLS OCCUR
Ghanaian artists and crafts people use a variety of media to express themselves. The most prominent media the artists and crafts people use are architecture, woodcarvings, textiles, metal casting, leather, baskets and pottery. We draw symbols from some of these media to show how the Ghanaian artists and crafts people convey meaning through what Cole and Ross (1977) refer to as "the verbal-visual nexus."
Ghanaians use various symbols in their architecture. Different symbols are used as base relief or plinths and walls. They may be used to give a honeycomb effect or serve as screen walls providing openings for ventilation while at the same time serving as protection against visual intrusion. Traditional buildings at Edweso Besease in the Ashanti Region and Abetifi in the Eastern Region (where Ramseyer of the Basel Mission stayed) are examples of architecture in which the Akan artists conveyed expressive meanings. The incorporation of symbols in Ghanaian architecture was traditionally limited to public buildings such as the king’s palace (ahemfie) and shrine building (abosom dan), and, in some cases, the homes of high ranking community leaders. In contemporary times the symbols are incorporated in both private and public buildings in order to emphasize Akan aesthetics as well as the social significance of the buildings. Use is made of what is termed “designer block” in houses and public buildings and what is termed “fence wall.”
Wall decorations in northern Ghana have become popular with the town of Sirigu. The wall decorations are a very unique expression of the cultural identity of Sirigu. Women take pride in making the houses of the husbands beautiful. During the rainy seasons the women come together in order to paint the houses. Newly built rooms have to be painted, but also older houses are repainted every three years as the colours are not durable. The designs are made of abstract geometrical and stylized animal figures or objects. They can be painted on a flat surface or in relief. The colours used are black, red and white.
In recent years, architects have utilized some of the symbols to resolve design problems associated with fenestration, balustrading, fencing and finishings in both private and public buildings. For example, the Children's Library Complex in Accra incorporates the symbol called mmabunu benyini (the young shall grow). The medical students hostel at the University of Science and Technology has a honeycomb wall that incorporates the yen yiedie (our well being) symbol. The Catholic Holy Spirit Cathedral in Accra, the Emmanuel Methodist Church at Labadi, Accra, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church at Community One, Tema, and the walls at the front gate, as well as the columns of the Nkonnuafieso Temple of the Kumasi National Cultural Center are other examples of public buildings that have incorporated several of the Ghanaian cultural symbols.
Sirigu, a small village about 30 km northwest of Bolga, is famous for the murals on the walls of their homes. After finely burnishing the walls of their mud houses, the houses are painted with brown, black and white earth pigments. The patterns, a combination of animals and geometric designs, all have symbolic meaning. Sirigu is also known for its pottery.
Wood is one of the most important materials Ghanaians use in their arts to express their thoughts. Wood is used to carve various items for household and utilitarian use as well as for ceremonial uses. In both their utilitarian and ceremonial usages wood carvings of the Ghanaian communicate symbolic, aesthetic and spiritual values.
Wood is either classified hardwood or softwood and both of them are used in Ghanaian wood carvings. Wood is carved as personal objects and these include comb (dua afe), doll (akuaba), jewelry box, stool (adwa), canes (poma), and chewing sticks. Wood is also carved for use as household and kitchen items. Household and kitchen items carved out of wood include bowls for preparing and serving food; grinders; trays (flat trays - apampaa or koro) and concave ones for winnowing grains; ladles and spoons (ta, kwanta); and, mortars (waduro) and pestles (womma). Wood carvings feature prominently in Akan architecture especially as carved doors and panels.
Carved doors and panels
First, they are used to adorn the entrance gates of family compounds and rooms to express the social status and beliefs of their owners. They are also used for decorative purposes. Stools
The stool is one of the more ubiquitous types of carving in Ghana. Among the Akan, the stool has varied functions. First, it is an utilitarian object found in every household. Second, the stool is an object associated with rites of passage. The third function of a stool is the use of the stool as a sacred object. The fourth function of stool stems from its use as political symbol.
In the political realm of Ghanaian traditional rulers, wood carvings are given prominence. The royal regalia include hilts of swords, umbrella finials (kyiniie ntuatire), linguist's staff (ɔkyeame poma) and stool (adwa). Specially carved drums (e.g., wompε and fontomfrom) are an example of musical wood carvings in the royal regalia.
Household and Personal Items
Wood is carved as personal objects and these include comb (dua afe), doll (akuaba), jewelry box, stool (adwa), canes (poma), and chewing sticks. Wood is also carved for use as household and kitchen items. Household and kitchen items carved out of wood include bowls for preparing and serving food; grinders; trays (flat trays - apampaa or koro) and concave ones for winnowing grains; ladles and spoons (ta, kwanta); and, mortars (woduro) and pestles (wɔmma).
Fishing gear - canoes, paddles
To the Ghanaian people the canoe is not just a boat to catch fish with; it is their history, a focal point in their lives; children grow up with them as models for toys, fathers become canoe fishermen and mothers sell or cure the fish. The canoe provides continuity and encompasses the hopes of much of their lives. The beached canoe acts as a meeting place and work place. The canoe is not simply a boat but a concept which permeates many facets of the fishing community's life, including the aesthetic and the sacred. Fishermen along the coast decorate their canoes with various symbols. The canoe is carved from a long trunk of a tree.
Coffins A burial in Ghana is by no means an ordinary one. That's because each coffin is a small art work, reflecting the fantasy of the local craftsmen. The local habit forces the family to spend a lot with the "throne" (coffin) so that to commemorate and tell the life story of the deceased person. Craftsmen around Accra, the capital of Ghana, specialize in making wooden imaginative coffins for this purpose. The coffins usually speak about a detail, a significant fact, a symbol of the dead, illustrating the profession, hobbies, social status of the dead
One of the most obvious features of the material culture of the Ghanaian is cloth. Ghanaians have used cloth not only for personal adornment, but they have also used it metaphorically as a powerful expressive medium of communication.
The Ghanaian cloths include the screen and block-printed adinkra, the hand-woven kente and batakari (fugu), tie and dye, the appliqued akunintam and asafo flags, and the factory-made Java and wax prints.
One of the best documented traditional technologies of West Africa is the cire perdue or lost-wax metal-casting process of the Akan of Ghana. Historically, as early as the 1400s, the Akan people were known for their metal arts, casting in gold, iron, and brass.
The Akan employed the cire perdue "lost wax' method of casting when they made their gold weights. They could take items from nature like a crab's claw or a peanut, place the item to be copied in a mud wrapping, pour in molten brass which would burn out the claw or peanut or wax model and leave a molten replica in its place. After the cooling process the casting was then "cleaned" up, perhaps incised designs were added and the finished product was either a geometric weight or in later periods, the 18th and 19th centuries, the weights took figurative forms of animals and people in everyday life scenarios. It is difficult to date these miniature sculptures because until this century, artisans were making the same figurative weights the same way as their forebears had in centuries past.
Pottery - Ceramics
In Ghana, traditional potters in villages are women and contemporary potters, usually university trained, tend to be men. Pots are made for household as well as ceremonial uses. Pots are used in the house as cooking utensils, cups and dishes. Among the Akan, pots are made by individual women, who may be helped by a younger daughter who is learning. Ceramic production takes place in the courtyard of the compound, not in specific workshops or specialized activity areas. Pots are made for household as well as ceremonial uses. Pots are used in the house as cooking utensils, cups and dishes.
Among the Akan, ceramic vessels were commonly found in burials of the past. One Akan group the Kwahu, for example, is well known for the funerary ceramics (terracotta) found by archaeologists. Among the funerary rituals of the ancient Akan peoples are ceramic sculptures dedicated to the memory of their ancestors that served as grave markers. Although these ceramic sculptures are sometimes full figures, they are more often just heads. These heads are thought to commemorate royalty.
Baskets and Mat Weaving
Basket weaving is an art form and a skill which allows women and men across the country to express themselves and their imaginations. From toys to cups, from laundry baskets to lockable picnic baskets, basket weavers produce a variety of items for household use and decoration. Basketry is the weaving of un-spurn vegetable fibers, usually to form a container. Baskets have been made from any wood, vine, leaf, or fiber that could be formed into a desirable shape. Since basketry is a handicraft found throughout the country, the choices and styles are endless. Each region and people has its own style of weaving, color, pattern and general design which make it unique.
Grasses, reeds and canes used to make basketry in Ghana vary from place to place. You will find everything from rattan to palm branches to millet to rattan. Differences in the grasses and reeds used changes a lot in a basket. The type of grass used determines what dyes are used, if any. It will also change the style itself as some grasses can be woven very tight and others more loosely.
Basket weaving tends to be female dominated in northern Ghana while it is male dominated in southern Ghana. Basket weaving around Bolgatanga in Upper East Region serves as an example of the craft skills of women in the north. Mat weaving is the work of both males and females in various communities.
For centuries the Fra-Fra people of the Bolgatanga region in Ghana have woven small containers from the abundant straw that grows in the northern savannah plains. These baskets are now internationally renowned for their quality, durability and utility. Only vegetable dyes are used in their colouring and with comfortable leather bound handles, each Bolga bag has its own unique pattern and colour.
In the south rattan and palm baskets are woven mostly by men, baskets woven from reeds in the south tend to be female activity. Rattan, palm and reed baskets were used in the past as storage containers and “boxes” for clothes. In the southern part of the Volta Region tight-layered mats are made from reeds.
Ghana has a distinctive leather tradition, producing many items from this durable and versatile material in a range of colors, textures and finishes. Leather is crafted into all types of products, including belts, shoes and bags, as well as cushions, rugs, jewelry boxes and a myriad more objects. These products can be found throughout Ghana, but it is in the north where the main tanneries, and hence better prices, are located.
People of the north have a nomadic tradition, so an animal skin is viewed as a versatile and invaluable possession. The skin serves as the chief's throne, equivalent to the stool in the south. The number of skins a chief sits upon is not an indication of status, but instead it is the type of skin. The more fierce the animal, the more powerful the chief.
Bolgatanga аnd іts surrounding villages аlsо comprise the largest producers оf leather works, straw baskets аnd smocks іn the country. In Tamale, the Zongo Leather Factory is an excellent place to see the leather making process.
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