This past week it seems our media companies have laid on the work as we only have one week left. Looking into personal research Enya and I visited Agbogbloshie. On the first day of our trip we drove through this market. It was an overwhelming experience for me because I we were basically in a tour bus awed by the Kayayei, cramped streets, and waste littering the ground and rivers. I remember thinking “If I could only understand their life, be on those streets with them, then I could feel less overwhelmed by this drastically different culture.” Our recent visit in Agbogbloshie where we walked around the market for three hours allowed me to understand. We went to the e-waste burning site and instead of only smelling and seeing the smoke we talked to the young boys burning, joked with the men hammering computer parts, and bought water from the girls providing water for the fires. We visited the man’s home, which had just been re-built from a fire, who showed us around Agbogbloshie and met his 4 day-old baby girl. Understanding rather than judgement is what I hope to achieve while traveling.
Originally published in Public Agenda on August 24, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
I don’t know if there is a place in the world that is more densely populated than the streets of Kumasi. I certainly have not been to one, and coming into the city with my fellow University of Oregon students, I could not focus on anything besides the intense amount of activity taking place all around our bus; taxis, trotros, venders, cars, hawkers, gawkers, and everything in between.
I was told that Kumasi’s population is about 800,000 more than Accra’s 4 million citizens, but if I had to take a guess coming into the city; I would have assumed there were twice as many people in Kumasi.
This initial reaction was only solidified with the first stop in our Kumasi adventure, the Kejetia Market, which is the second largest in all of West Africa. I’ve frequented open air markets and outdoor gatherings all of my life, but nothing back in the United States can compare with the apparent chaos held within the narrow paths winding like a maze through the vendors. I have never felt so claustrophobic in an outdoor setting before, but the sheer volume of people, sights, sounds, and smells left my senses completely saturated.
I felt a sense of awe that people manage to navigate these areas with determination and accomplishment on a daily basis. The ability to go into the market with a clear goal, and a clear route to accomplish said goal, opens my eyes to yet another skill set that had previously been off my radar. As one of my friends ahead grabbed onto my hand as a last minute effort to avoid being sucked into a passing crowd, I felt that a keen sense of physical awareness and direction must be some of the many treasures of the Ashanti people.
After a tour through Kejetia, my fellow Oregonians and I climbed back onto the bus to take a short trip to the Manhyia Palace, constructed for Asante royalty by the British in 1924.
In the palace, the wealth of the Ashanti people was proudly displayed from corner to corner in each room. The palace itself was meant to be an apologetic gift to the Asante people, after the British wrongly exiled their king, Prempeh I. However, the Asantes refused to accept such a gift and demanded to pay for it, hoping to avoid unnecessary obligations.
Weapons, decorations, and furniture adorned with gold were prominently featured in each room. Modern displays of wealth clashed with traditional treasures as kente cloth lay proudly next to a television set in one room and a refrigerator in another.
The Asante people pride themselves on the wealth of their kingdom, but it is worth noting that their wealth lies in much more than gold. As our tour guide explained that the hand-carried chariots are used to transport the King and Queen Mother during celebrations, even in this age of rapid transportation, I recognised the wealth in the spirit of the Asante people. The Asantes are rich in a way that American moguls will never understand or obtain. They are rich in a way that transcends material wealth. The Asante have a spirit that has survived for hundreds of years, in spite of multiple military clashes with colonisers, opposing Kingdoms and clans, and each other. In the face of globalisation, in the largest city in Ghana, the Asantes still carry their leaders in palanquins through the streets on their shoulders, and this speaks volumes to their cultural richness.
On top of touring the palace, my group visited several other sites in Kumasi, giving me the chance to try my hands at weaving kente cloth, stamping adinkra, and witnessing how beads are made. All of these sites just further drilled the image of Kumasi’s cultural wealth into my head. Designs and weaving styles make use of a vast array of symbolic meanings. Glass is recycled and ground into powder to form beads, boasting the sustainable brilliance of local craftsmen and women. Around every corner, the Asante people found new ways to introduce me to the wealth of their spirit. As long as the Asantes recognize the amount and variety of their wealth, their culture and traditions are never going to be endangered by outside influence.
The largest danger to Kumasi would be to trade the Asante Gold Spirit for the American Green Dollar.
Schuyler is a student of University of Oregon, Eugene, United States.
Read the original post online here…
Originally published in Public Agenda on August 24, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
On Thursday, 16 August, a meeting, entitled Community Dissemination and Engagement Forum on Advocacy Efforts in the Songhor Lagoon, was conducted in a schoolyard in Ada to further the discussion about how to maximise local benefit from the nearby Songhor Lagoon, rich with salt.
Nestled in the far eastern coast of Greater Accra Region, the Songhor Lagoon of Ada is one of the largest sources of salt in West Africa. However, the profits from this natural resource hardly ever find themselves in local hands. In an all-too-common plot-line for African natural resources, the majority of the lagoon has been sectioned off for private use by individuals from outside the area, who turn huge profits from the land by recruiting local salt miners to work at minimal costs.
However, the people of Ada seek to regain majority control of the mines through implementing the Master Plan, a land use resolution conceptualised in 1991. The Master Plan gives the rights to the Lagoon to locally formed co-operatives, who can then mine year round. Due to local disputes, a co-operative was never formed and larger private-interests jumped on the opportunity by introducing the Land Use Plan, which meant that the government developed the mines for private sale to local and outside individuals.
People and organisations such as the Ada Songhor Co-operative Union, which was in attendance on Thursday, are urging the locals to settle disputes and organise to take back their salt mines.
Currently, salt mining is often carried out on large mines, owned by a single person or corporation. The mines themselves are vast stretches of land, with shallow pools cut neatly into the earth. These pools for mining, referred to as dikes, are nearly uniform in length but vary drastically in width, often in correspondence with the wealth of the owner. Some mines, owned by outside interests, display rows of huge rectangles, while others are narrow slits that pale in comparison.
A single owner can have anywhere from just a few to several dozen dikes. An owner with 12 to 14 dikes might have about 30 miners working daily. Local people come early in the morning, to avoid the heat of the sun, and work for little pay until they tire and turn in for the day.
Considering the low pay for miners, the profitable salt that can be mined in a day is staggering. A security guard at one mine laughs as he comments, “The Asante think they are rich but they don’t realise… We have white gold.” Several miners working in one dyke can produce upwards of 500 or more bags of salt in a day, each one selling for 8 Ghana Cedis. On a farm working with twenty or more dykes, daily profits rocket to tens of thousands, all with little overhead cost due to the insignificant wages for miners.
People from all around the Ada area came together on 16 August to raise awareness on this issue and strategise for a solution.
On top of ownership disputes, another major issue called to attention by local people in attendance was the obstruction of waterways feeding the Lagoons.
The Songhor Lagoon is filled with sea water on a regular basis, but, since ancient times, the people have also depended on other sources of water to feed the Lagoon. Nearby rivers and waterways, such as the Volta River, have since been blocked or marred by pollution and development. If the salt mines are ever to return to their previous state, before the intrusion by outside influences, it is necessary to clean the rivers and stop the pollution that seeps into the rivers every day.
Rivers are not the only natural resource that has seen devastation in recent years of development. The forest Okowe has been considered sacred by the people of Ada since they settled in the area. According to local legend, a hawk led the founders of Ada to the forest, where an old woman introduced these new settlers to the splendours of salt mining. However, the forest now stands as a mere skeleton of its former self. Overharvesting of Okowe has left the lush forest with only a few handfuls of trees remaining as a solemn symbol of what the recent decades of development has done to the land and people of Ada.
The meeting escalated in energy and volume as the time stretched on. By the end people were running up to the front, one after the other, to shout their input to a crowd, some receiving cheers, some hardly noticed as my translator leaned over to me and said, “he is just talking to hear himself, there isn’t anything important I can translate.”
As everything came to a close, the crowd joined in on a traditional song to break the tension. Finally, everyone bowed their heads and a prayer delivered their thanks, efforts, and hopes to the Lord.
The Songhor salt mines offer much potential to the people of Ada, and hopefully, with God’s grace and some co-operation amongst the several clans who own pieces of the Lagoons, local ownership of these natural resources can become a reality in the near future.
Schuyler is a student from University of Oregon, Eugene, United States
Read the entire article online here…
Originally Published on Emerge Magazine’s Blog on August 21st 2012
A Dollop of Inka
By Myray Reames
Picture this: you are at a fashion bazaar looking at bracelets. One bracelet with bright green beads catches your eye so you put it on and take it to the mirror looking at it from right to left. It is too loose to your dismay. You frown turn the beads over wishing they were smoother. You run your hands over the clasp desiring something sturdier. You take the bracelet off and don’t think twice about it but Irene Armah, owner of Inka Accessories, will think long and hard about your interaction with this bracelet. She is at a weekend fashion bazaar because this is part of her typical research on accessories; because we, all women, are her potential clients. It could be her diligent research or maybe her unique fusion of Western and African styles that has her outfitting the competition for Miss Ghana 2012 (Accra).
After graduating from the Kwame Nkrumah’ University in Kumasi in 2004 with a degree in publishing administration she started playing around with designing accessories on the side. In 2006 Irene started making and wearing accessories before starting her own line in 2008. Irene says, “I knew if I spent five hours out of my seven hour work day doing [accessory design] then I was in the wrong place. I just decided I’d call it quits, give it a shot and see what happens.”
Irene started Inka in her home to create a clientele base. Eventually she moved into a small shop in Osu where she works now. The one room store is modest in size but bursting with color and beautiful accessories. One could take an hour or so to browse the large necklaces with intricate patterns of small glass beads mixed with large pendants, flowers, and traditional pieces. Necklace sets with earrings and bracelets line the wall while earring stands portray an array of dangling earrings and bright bracelets litter tables. Hair flowers in all colors imaginable line the shelves and in the middle of the room an eclectic hanger of purses and clutches floridly catch one’s eye- an intriguing a mix of plain and African fabrics characterize her bag line. She has partitioned a back portion of the shop as a work area; two women bead bracelets while chatting and listening to the radio as Irene states proudly that now she is not alone in physically making the jewelry.
Every piece in her shop feels rare because Irene never repeats a design: every item is unique. Ms Armah wants clients to be able to find accessories for every occasion but she says, “My forte is statement pieces. Your hair could be messed up, you could be wearing a frock, just a piece of fabric, but then you just have that one piece and that’s it…That’s all you need to look glamorous.”
Irene hopes that clients will be satisfied and proud of their ethnic background once they purchase a piece from her, “I expect them to find a belonging that who they are is what they wear.” She describes her line as ethnic, stylish, and eclectic. The fusion of African and Western styles extends beyond appearance to her. Irene explains that African prints are just coming back into style in the fashion industry and thus African beads and traditional pieces are in greater demand. She says, “It means they are proud of their origin and want to share that with other people. It’s all part of networking and having a multicultural society. It grounds the society as well.”
This year you can look out for Irene’s vintage collection. She has been doing research by watching movies from the 30’s, such as those by Alfred Hitchcock. “It’s kind of [a] ritual of coming back, but not quite the same. The quality and style is different. I need inspiration so those are the movies I’m watching right now. It’s part [of]research part [of] entertainment.”
Outside work Irene is always researching while having fun. “I love to go out. I hang out with my friends and watch movies a lot.” She is also constantly checking out new restaurants.
In the future Irene sees Inka Accessories moving into a complex with its own fashion line, accessories, and even a D.I.Y section. To younger women beginning to recognize their dreams she encourages them to, “start early once you know what you want to do” and start small, but start somewhere.
After a beautiful weekend in the Volta region I am relaxed and recharged for the city again. The monkeys, lake, and waterfall are all adventures I will never forget. The people I met I won’t forget either. The first polaroid portrait is of Mercy and her son Keline, five months, outside of the monkey sanctuary. I came upon her watching the sunset and, of course, watching a pack of tourists wander through her village.
The Second polaroid portrait is of Justin, the manger of Continental, the hotel we stayed at on the lake. He is Indian which entailed delicious Indian food with the best naan bread I’ve ever eaten, and upbeat Indian music with dance parties by the poolside.
Our trip to the Volta Region this past weekend was by far my favorite side trip. It was an amazing experience involving a huge waterfall, monkeys and a boat ride on one of Volta Lake’s tributaries. For me, the sublime nature of the waterfall was tops. The combination of its ability to overpower me and pelt me with stinging spray, and its pure beauty and deafening noise made it an indescribably amazing experience. Being followed up by a little dance party with some locals and feeding monkeys later that day, just put the cherry on top of the whole thing.