Sunday, 28 March 2010

6 March - Independence Day

On 6 March 1957, the Gold Coast was the first African colony to gain independence from the British resulting in the creation of the Republic of Ghana.

Like most flags, the Republic of Ghana’s flag is very symbolic. The red stripe is a reminder of the blood of those who died in the struggle for independence; the gold represents the country’s mineral wealth, whilst the green reflects the fertility of the land and the lush vegetation in the south of the country. The single black five pointed star symbolises African unity.

Ghanaians have an intriguing attitude towards their colonial past. I have yet to meet anyone with an outwardly hostile view of their colonial past. When people they find out I am British they often comment “our colonial masters” without a hint of irony. Ghanaians are, however, very proud of their independence and national identity and frequently refer to the positive way their country is portrayed internationally.

6th March is celebrated by people all over the country with cultural celebrations and marches by school children. Talensi-Nabdam is no exception and in the weeks leading up to the big day children practice their marching and finalise their displays.

The celebrations for the district of Talensi-Nabdam were to take place at the Mission Field in Tongo. The programme for the day indicated an early start, but proceedings eventually got underway at 10 a.m. with the arrival of the local Chiefs and dignitaries. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found the day to be most enjoyable.

After the national anthem and speeches there was a cultural display performed by the children.

The students representing schools from across the District began their march past at about midday – this means they had been sitting in the heat of the sun, without any shade or water, for four hours! Despite this, the students marched with great pride and a surprising amount of energy!

Some adults also marched, including teachers, hairdressers, refuse collectors and tailors and seamstresses.

The Independence Day Parade is organised by the Ghana Education Service and it uses this event to publically acknowledge the work of individuals and groups that have contributed in some way to improving educational opportunities for young people in the District. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the Director announce that I was one of those to be honoured for the work I was doing in relation to establishing links between schools in Talensi-Nabdam and Milton Keynes and the setting up of an ICT Centre.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Week 5 & 6: 22 February - 5 March

Many thanks for the feedback on the Blog, it is much appreciated. In response to some of the questions I have received from students about what life is like for young people living in northern Ghana, I have enlisted the help of the two students below. They borrowed my camera and have taken some photographs to illustrate aspects of their lives.  The first part of their entry is below, but more will be added to this posting by the end of next week.

Peter and Jessica

Hello - my English name is Jessica, but I also have an African name which is Badipeth which means “do not stumble and fall”.

My name is Peter. My African name is Tindanzor which means “friend to the owner of the land”.

Jessica: I am 13 years old. I have two sisters. One sister is older than me and the other younger. I also have three older brothers. I live with my Mother and Father. My Father is a Police Inspector in Tongo and my Mother sells chilled Pure Water. I am in JHS1 at St Martin’s Catholic School in Tongo. This is me in class.

Peter: I am 15 years old. I don’t have any sisters, just three brothers – two are older than me and one is younger.

My Father is a farmer and he grows millet, maize and okra on the farm. We also have five cows, three ducks, pigs and six donkeys. The donkeys are used to carry firewood and to plough the land.

Jessica: We have two puppies at home that will be used as guard dogs. We also have five cats, hens, turkeys and pigs. The dogs are my favourite as I don’t like cats very much.

Jessica: My house is called Yindanyir which means “the landlord’s house”.

Peter: My house’s name is Yinbilyir which means “the house belonging to the twin that was born second”. Both my house and Jessica’s house have a similar traditional design. It is a circular compound house with a courtyard in the middle – this is where the family eats and spends most of its time. I took the snap below from the Tongo Hills. It shows the type of homes that are typical in this part of Ghana.

Peter: There are rooms surrounding the courtyard and a manger for the animals. The different rooms include a barn for storing food and bedrooms for parents, grandparents and the children. There is also a cooking room called a danboog. Cooking is done on an open fire using wood for fuel. Three stones are used at the edge of the fire and the wood is arranged in a triangular pattern. The cooking pot hangs above the fire. My home does not have lights and everyone in the village has to fetch their water from a bore hole.

Jessica: Below are some snaps of my home. From left to right they show: the house from the outside; the courtyard and the kitchen. Most homes don’t have lights, but we do which means we can have a fridge and television.

Peter: We live in Tongo, at the foot of the Tongo Hills. This area is famous for its shrines and festivals. Below is a snap of me and a friend at Boare during the recent Golbo Festival.

During the festival people are not allowed to wear shirts. Traditionally people wear skins instead to cover them, but now most people wear towels. During the festival animals are sacrificed at Wakii Shrine. This is in the hope that there will be peace during the festival. The festival is a time when people can make new friends and meet a partner, but marriage is not allowed at this time. There is a lot of dancing and music. If someone has done something bad, then their name is used in a song. They have to be there and dance to the song because if they refuse they will die or won’t be able to have children.

All the local landowners also gather during the festival at the Tenzuk Shrine. Sacrifices take place and they pray to the gods that next year the farms will be productive, babies are healthy, the rains will come and there will be plenty of jobs for people to do.

Jessica: We have two shrines in our home. The shrine below gives the name to a new born baby.

The other shrine is for the blood of Guinea Fowl that have been sacrificed. If the meat of the sacrificed animal is eaten with the blood it brings bad luck on the person.

The men below are my Grandfather and Uncle. My Grandfather is the priest and he and my Uncle are at the Musori Shrine.

The animals sacrificed at this shrine include fowls, cattle and goats. It is a shrine to our forefathers who settled here many years ago. The founder had run away from his older brother who was going to kill him. The place where he built his house is called Puhig and is shown in the pictures below.

The Gingang Festival is held at this place every September to honour our ancestors.  The place is the land on which our Great Grandfather was buried.  Grass does not grow here there even during the rainy season.

Only my Father still follows traditional beliefs. Me, my Mum, brothers and sisters are all Catholic and go to Church on Sunday.

Peter: All my family still follow the traditional beliefs.

A typical school day

Jessica: I get up at about 5am and usually have left over TZ for breakfast. All children have to do jobs before going to school. I sweep the courtyard, wash the bowls and fetch the water from the bore hole. After this, I take a bath and dress for school.

Peter: My morning is very similar to Jessica’s, except boys are also responsible for opening the mangers and tending to the animals. Quite often the bore hole we usually use is not working - when this happens we have to walk a long way to the next one fetch water.

Jessica: Pupils arrive at school at 6 a.m. and school finishes at 2p.m.. Before lessons, everyone has to help sweep the compound, clean the desks, water the flowers and fetch water. The girls also have to wash the teachers’ cups and bowls.

Peter: Morning assembly starts at 7.30 a.m.. We sing the national anthem and say the pledge. Assembly finishes with prayers. If you are late for school you have to stay behind at the end of the day and pick stones. The stones are put in large piles and the school sells them to raise money. If you are often late you are sometimes given 3 canes – this is with a ruler across the back of your hand.

Jessica: There are three classes at my Junior High School. I am in JHS1 and there are 62 students in my class. My favourite subject is English. I really like reading story books and writing and want to be a journalist. My least favourite subject is Basic Design. I don’t like the slowness involved and having to do things very accurately with the ruler.

Peter: We study Mathematics; Integrated Science; English; Basic Design; ICT; Art; Social Studies and Religious and Moral Education at my school. Girls also do Home Economics. My favourite subject is Maths. I like working with numbers, but I don’t like writing. I want to be an accountant when I leave school.

Jessica: We get homework regularly. The piece of homework we were given today was a comprehension exercise. We have been given a passage from the story of Ananse spider and have to answer five questions about the extract to show we understand it. We get given a piece of homework one day and have to hand it in the next.

Peter: If a student misbehaves in class they have to kneel down at the front of the class facing the wall or they might be sent out. In the cold season we might also be caned.

Jessica: We don’t have any after school clubs, but some students have to stay behind for extra lessons. After school I have to fetch more water. The number of times I have to go to the bore hole depends on how much water we need. I also study and do my homework and because I am a girl I have to help my mother cook the meal. When I have spare time I really like playing Ampe – only girls play this. It involves clapping and jumping to make up different dances.

Peter: After school I also have to fetch water and do my homework, but because I am a boy I don’t have to help in the house. This means I have time to play football and Oware with my friends. Oware is a game for two players and involves getting seeds into holes – it is great fun.

The above account was written with input from two of Jessica’s and Peter’s classmates. They also gave generously of their time and made some excellent contributions to the discussion about the issues covered above.

On the Domestic Front

I do hope you have enjoyed the insight Jessica and Peter have given into aspects of their lives – I certainly found it a pleasure working with them on putting this post together.

On 28 February my housemate, Christina, took delivery of a 7 week old puppy – his name for now is Puppy.

As you can see from the photo, he has beautiful blue eyes and in true puppy style started off very timid but is getting more adventurous by the day. At times he already forgets the fact that he is not alpha dog in this pack!

The acquisition of the puppy has also revealed some interesting cultural differences. Local Muslims do not have dogs as pets, they only keep them for security and hunting and Ghanaians who have seen the photo of Puppy having his first bath thought it a very strange thing to do to a dog. I have also discovered that dog meat is a delicacy in this part of Ghana, with a special area of the market trading both cooked and raw dog meat. Hopefully this is not a fate that awaits Puppy when Christina returns to the Republic of Ireland later this year.