Ghanaian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Ghana?

A brief review of the traditions and customs of Ghana, a country on the African continent, which was colonized by Great Britain.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

The staple diet consists of a starchy staple eaten with a soup or stew. Forest crops, such as bananas, cassava, cocoyam (taro), and tropical yams, predominate in the south. Maize is important, especially among the Ga, and rice is also popular.

The main dish is fufu, mashed plantain or tubers in combination with yucca. Soup ingredients include common vegetables and some animal proteins, usually fish, and invariably hot peppers. Palm nut and peanut soups are special favorites.

The main cooking oil is locally produced red palm oil. The staple food of the north is millet, which is made into paste and also eaten with soup. Indigenous diets are consumed at all social levels, including by the Westernized elite.

Bread is the only major European introduction and is often eaten for breakfast. Restaurants are not common outside of urban business districts, but most local chop bars offer a variety of indigenous dishes to working people and singles. People often eat the products offered for sale by street vendors.

Eating Customs on Ceremonial Occasions

Most households keep chickens and dwarf goats, which are reserved for special occasions such as baptisms, weddings, traditional festivals and Christmas. Among the Akan, the main indigenous celebration is the odwira, a harvest rite, in which the new yams are presented to the chief and eaten at public and domestic festivals.

The Ga celebrate homowo, another harvest festival, which is characterized by eating kpekpele, made from mashed corn and palm oil. The most popular drinks are palm wine, made from the fermented sap of oil palms, and homemade millet beer.

European-style bottled beer is widely consumed. Imported brandy and whiskey have important ceremonial uses as libations for royal and family ancestors.

Basic Economy

Ghana’s position in the international economy reflects a heavy dependence on exports of primary products, especially cocoa, gold and timber. International trade accounts for a third of gross domestic product (GDP), and 70 percent of export earnings still come from the three main commodities.

The national economy is mainly agricultural, with an important service and trade sector. Industrial production accounts for only 10 percent of national output, and consumers rely heavily on imported manufactures as well as imported oil.


Ghanaians place great emphasis on courtesy, hospitality and formality. When meeting, acquaintances should shake hands and ask about each other’s health and families. Visitors to a home should greet and shake hands with each member of the family.

They then sit down and are greeted in turn by everyone present. Hosts are usually required to provide their guests with something to eat and drink, even if the visit does not take place at lunchtime.

If a person is returning from or undertaking a long journey, a libation is usually poured out to the ancestors. If someone is eating, you should invite an unexpected visitor to join him or her. Normally, an invitation to eat cannot be refused.

Friends of the same age and gender hold hands as they walk. Age and social status enjoy great respect. A younger person addresses an elder as father or mother and must show the appropriate deference.

It is impolite to offer or take an object or to greet with the left hand. It is also rude to stare or point at people in public. English words like “fool(ish)”, “fool(ish)”, “foolly”, or “nonsense”, are highly offensive and are used only in cases of extreme anger.


Religious beliefs

Christianity, Islam, and African traditional religions all claim roughly equal numbers of adherents. However, Christians and Muslims often follow some forms of indigenous practice, especially in areas that do not directly conflict with Orthodox beliefs. Additionally, some Christian sects incorporate African elements, such as percussion, dance, and possession.

Traditional supernatural beliefs differ by ethnic group. The Akan religion recognizes many spiritual beings, including the supreme being, the earth goddess, the higher gods (“abosom”), the ancestors, and a multitude of spirits and fetishes.

The ancestors are perhaps the most significant spiritual force. Each lineage reveres its important deceased members both individually and collectively. They are believed to exist in the afterlife and benefit or punish their descendants, who must pray and sacrifice for them and lead a virtuous life.

Ancestral beliefs are also incorporated into political rites, as ancestors of the royal lineage, especially deceased kings and chiefs, serve as important foci for observance by the general public.

Religious practitioners

The abosoma is served by priests and priestesses (“akomfo”), who are possessed by the spirit of the god. In this state, they are able to guess the causes of illnesses and misfortunes and to recommend sacrifices and treatments to remedy them.

They have also played an important role in Akan history. Okomfo Anokye was a priest who brought down from the sky the golden stool, the incarnation of the Ashanti nation. Lesser priests and priestesses serve the shrines of fetishes, lesser spirits, and focus on cures and magical charms.

The elders of the family also assume religious functions in their capacity as organizers of ancestral rites. Chiefs form the center of royal ancestor rituals and assume sacred importance in their own right as quasi-divine beings.

Other ethnic groups also worship through the intercession of priests and chiefs. Ga observances focus on the wulomei, the priests of the ocean, inlets, and lagoons. Their prayers and sacrifices are essential to successful fishing and they serve as advisors to the chiefs of Ga.

In the modern context, the Nai Wulomo, the high priest, assumes national importance due to his responsibility in traditional ritual in Accra, the capital of Ghana. In the north, the tendana, priests of the earth’s shrines, have been the key figures in the indigenous religion.

They are responsible for making sacrifices for offenses against the land, including murder, for rituals to maintain the productivity of the land, and for allocating land that they do not own.

Rituals and Holy Places

The most important rituals revolve around the cycle of ancestral and royal observances. The main form is the adae ceremony, in which the ancestors are prayed to through the carved stools they possessed in life.

These objects are kept on a family stool and are brought out every six weeks, when libations are poured and animals are sacrificed. Royal stools receive special attention.

The sequence of the adae culminates in the annual festival of the odwira, when the first fruits of the harvest are given to the apse and royal ancestors in large public ceremonies lasting several days. Royal installations and funerals also assume special ritual importance and are marked by sacrifice, drumming, and dancing.

Death and afterlife

Death is one of the most important events in society and is marked by most ethnic groups and religions by long and elaborate funeral celebrations that involve the entire community.

People were traditionally buried under the floor of their houses, but this custom is now only practiced by traditional rulers, and most people are buried in cemeteries. After death, the soul joins the ancestors in the afterlife to be revered and nurtured by descendants within the family.

Eventually the soul will be reborn within the same lineage to which it belonged in its past life. People sometimes see a resemblance to a former member in a baby and name it accordingly. They may even apply the relevant kinship term, such as mother or uncle, to the returnee.

Secular celebrations

In addition to the main Christian and Islamic holidays, Ghana celebrates the New Year, Independence Day (March 6), Labor Day (May 1), Republic Day (July 1), and Independence Day. the Revolution (December 31).

New Year’s Day follows the generally Western holiday pattern. Independence Day is the main national holiday celebrating liberation from colonial rule and is marked by parades and political speeches.

The remaining holidays are also highly politicized, providing forums for speeches by top national leaders. Revolution Day is especially important to the ruling party as it marks the anniversary of Rawlings’s coup.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

The arts are mostly self-supporting, but there are some avenues of government funding and sponsorship. The publicly funded University of Ghana, through the Institute of African Studies, provides a training ground for artists, especially in traditional music and dance, and hosts an annual series of public performances.

The government also regularly organizes pan-African arts festivals, such as PANAFEST, and sends Ghanaian artists and performers to similar celebrations in other African countries.


Although there is a small body of literature written in indigenous languages, Ghanaians maintain a rich oral tradition, both through the glorification of past chiefs and through folktales enjoyed by popular audiences.

Kwaku Ananse, the spider, is a particularly well-known popular character, and his clever and sometimes counterproductive exploits have been a source of delight for generations. Literature in English is well developed, and at least three authors, Ayi Kwei Armah, Efua Sutherland, and Ama Ata Aiddo, have reached international audiences.

Graphic arts

Ghana is known for its rich graphic arts tradition. Wood carving is perhaps the most important. The focus of the craft is on the production of stools that are carved whole from large logs to take the form of abstract or animal designs. These motifs generally represent proverbial sayings.

The stools are not merely worldly objects, but become the repository of their owners’ souls after death and objects of family veneration. Carving is also applied to the production of traditional office staves, drums, dollies, and game boards.

Metal sculpture is also important and bronze and iron casting techniques are used to produce gold weights and ceremonial swords. Ghanaians do not make or wear masks, but there are some clay funerary effigies.

On the other hand, pottery is dedicated to the production of simple household items. Textiles are well developed, especially hand-woven kente, and patterned adinkra cloth.

Most traditional crafts involve artists working according to standardized motifs to produce practical or ceremonial items. Purely aesthetic art is a modern development and there is only a small community of sculptors and painters who follow Western models of artistic production.

Performing arts

Most of the performances take place against the background of traditional religious and political rites, which include intricate drumming and dancing. While these activities are organized by trained performers, a strong emphasis on audience participation prevails.

Modern developments have encouraged the formation of professional groups, who perform on public occasions, at international festivals, and in theaters and hotel lounges. The University of Ghana is home to the Ghana Dance Ensemble, a national institution with an international reputation.

The most popular modern forms focus on high life music, a style of dance similar to samba, which is played in most urban nightclubs.

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