During my 2 weeks in Ghana, something that I really appreciated is the diversity in craftsmanship I witnessed: in markets, in villages, in schools. Everyone seems to have a talent for making things with their hands. There are five particular hand crafts that stood out for me during my time in Ghana, and though they aren’t all unique to the country, they are certainly prominent trades that need to be experienced (and they make great souvenirs!).
1. Batik Fabric
Batik fabric is made using dye and wax. The wax is heated and then used to print designs onto the fabric. Following this, the fabric is placed in dye. The designs printed in wax will resist the dye, and stay white (the original colour of the fabric) as the rest of the fabric takes on the colour of the dye. The process can then be repeated to incorporate more colours, and once finished and set, the wax is removed in hot water. It is then used just as printed african fabric is used: most often the batik fabric is tailored into clothing, but can also be used to design accessories, cloth bags, or furnishings such as pillows and bedspreads. What I love about batik, is that each one is unique and particular to the craftsman, unlike manufactured fabrics. You can also find places that run workshops that allow you to design and make your own batik cloth!
2. Bead Making
In market stalls in Ghana, you will spot certain necklaces and bracelets with quite interesting patterns on the beads. These are traditional Ghanaian beads, or Krobo beads. They are made from recycled glass crushed into fine dust, which then fills moulds that are placed into a traditional clay oven. When removed from the oven the craftsman will pierce a hole in each bead whilst it’s are still hot. If a motif is to be added to the bead, it will be painted on and placed back in the oven to seal the design. I had a lovely visit to TK Beads, just an hour out of Accra, to observe the bead making process. It was also hard to resist buying a few items of jewellery from their colourful selection!
3. Kente Cloth
Kente Cloth is particular to an ethnic group in the south of Ghana called “Akan” (the same ethnic group also covers a large portion of Ivory Coast). The threaded patterns and colours found on the kente cloth all have different meanings. Colours will often be associated with qualities such as love, joy and prosperity, whereas the patterns will symbolise particular events or beliefs. I’ve observed kente cloth being weaved both in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and a craftsman even let me have a go once. It was pretty tricky coordinating the hand and feet movements but after a few minutes I got the hang of it. I imagine it’s pretty tiring to do all day though! Once finished, the individual strips of cloth can be worn as neck or headscarves, but often you find that several strips will be sown together to make a bigger piece of fabric for traditional clothing, or to be used as a table cloth or bedspread. I’ve also seen little souvenirs such as purses and bow ties made from kente cloth.
4. Basket Weaving
Baskets in Ghana, also known as Bolga baskets, originated from the Bolgatanga region in the north of the country (which is still the centre of basket making) but the trade has since spread throughout Ghana. The baskets are woven with elephant grass, which makes them very durable, and ensures your basket will last for years. Friends I was staying with in Accra had these baskets dotted all around their apartment, using them as storage for magazines, smaller baskets for stationary, or simply using them as decor. Unfortunately my travel backpack isn’t a Mary Poppins bag which can fit an additional basket, but maybe you’ll have room for one on your trip!
5. Wood Carving and Carpentry
Woodwork is a skill you see all over Africa, and Ghana is no different. You will find wooden drums, ornaments and masks in just about any market or shop expecting a few tourists. Towards the end of my stay in Ghana, I payed a visit to Jamestown, an impoverished neighbourhood on the coast of Accra, which is lined with wooden fishing boats. As we were given a tour and informed about the history of the area, I also noticed men making, carving and perfecting new boats. That was really exciting to see: carpentry skills being put to use beyond the gallons of souvenirs. Whilst travelling, you’ll also notice beds and cabinets on the side of the road. These may look out of place, but usually it is a local vendor advertising his work. Speak to him and he’ll make you any type of furniture you wish, in your specified dimensions. I don’t advise buying a wardrobe as a souvenir though… maybe stick to the small animal ornaments.