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Ghana Travel Guide

Ghana — History and Culture

Historically called the Gold Coast, Ghana is best known for its beautiful, long shore which once served as a major trading hub. The earliest history of this African nation can be traced back to 1500 BC with the arrival of the Dagombas people along with the Akans, the Gas and the Ewes. The Ghana of today is perhaps most strongly influenced by the Ashanti Empire era.

History

Several kingdoms have taken over Ghana benefitting from the territory’s massive gold deposits. The Ashantis emerged as a dominant power during the 16th century, conquering tribes and capturing trade routes to the coast. The capital of Kumasi became a thriving urban center, but it didn't take long for the Europeans (led by the Portuguese, then the Brits, French, Danes, Swedes, and Dutch) to come sniffing around, building fortresses and promoting slave and gold trade.

The city of Accra was constructed during the 16th century by the Ga people and was held at some point by three ruling powers—the Dutch, the English and the Danes. It was not declared the Ghanaian capital until the mid-20th century. Remnants of colonial rule under the different foreign forces are still visible in the city today, including the Danish Osu Castle.

Slave trade was rampant during the 15th century and evidence of this can be seen in the different forts that still exist along the Cape Coast, including the Elmina Castle and the Pikworo Slave Camp. When the Dutch left in the late 1800's, Ghana became a British protectorate. Things were chaotic around West Africa during this time, with the period marked by war.

Ghana was freed from colonial rule in 1957, following post-WWII strife. The Independence Arch is a symbol of this momentous occasion in the country’s history. By the 1960's, tourists began pouring in to see Accra and Ghana’s coast. It was during this time that the country’s major attractions were established, including Kakum National Park and Mole National Park.

While the nation’s recent history has been plagued by military coups, they still enjoy economic stability and Ghana is one of the more wealthy and developed countries in Africa, frequented by curious travelers. The National Museum in Accra was established in the 1950's and contains a great deal of historical and cultural artifacts that say a lot about their culture, ethnography and harried past.

Culture

Ghana's culture is diverse as its 24 million people are composed of a number of ethnicities from the Akans of Akanland to the Dagombas of the Dagbon region, the Ashantis of Kumasi, and many other minorities. The natives speak many distinct languages and dialects, despite English being the country’s only official language. Various museums including Accra’s National Museum of Ghana offer a glimpse into the great ethnography of Ghanaian people, while archaeological galleries feature the collections dug up from ancient sites.

Ghanaians are conservative, religious people which is why tourists are encouraged to dress modestly wherever they go. It is important to ask permission before taking photographs of locals and sacred grounds. Taking off your shoes when entering a place of worship is common courtesy, as is accepting a welcome drink.

Music is also an important part of the Ghanaian tradition. There are three distinct types of local sounds: ethnic  music, which is played during festivals and sometimes at funerals; highlife music, which is a fusion of imported and traditional music; and choral music, which is often performed in churches, concert halls and schools. Dancing is also distinct, with certain moves depicting different acts of celebration, praise, worship, and storytelling.

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