Friday, 8 October 2010

Exploration in and around Kumasi I

27 September 2010
It was Sunday and we had decided to roam around the Kumasi city. We had decided to wait for Rahul who was coming from Accra and he was to reach Kumasi by 9:30 am. We had to do breakfast and we went on the road to find something. After walking for two blocks, we came across a square where there were number of street side stalls selling various things. Most convenient and known to us was the stall selling fried eggs. The person could not speak English well and just knew the basic minimum by telling the prices of limited items on offer. We tried to ask him which part of Ghana he was from when another man sitting beside him told us that he was an immigrant from Mali and knows little English. Jillian spoke with him in French and he could talk with her. She is very skilled at striking discussions and speaking with unknown people. An omelet with two eggs, a large piece of bread and a hot cup of Milo (chocolate malt drink) made us full and we were all ready to start our exploration. Rahul came on time and we started for our first destination, Ntonso.
Ntonso is a small village, 10 km away from Kumasi and it is known for weaving of Adinkra and Kente cloth. These are traditional types of cloths worn by the people of Akan ethnic group. When we reached the village, the atmosphere was very relaxed as it was Sunday and most of the villagers were busy attending Church or funerals. Most of the people attending the funerals could be identified as they were wearing black clothes.
The shop where we went first had many types of cloths hung around but the mood in the shop was pretty relaxed as sellers were not telling anything about it. When a youth came from somewhere and started talking with us. Adams, as we found later, was a local volunteer in a community run project in the village which was started with an assistance of an American Peace Corps Volunteer. They have developed a small museum which gives information on this traditional art of weaving. As it was Sunday, museum was closed but he found the key for us and showed us around.
There is a story associated with this art of weaving. The Asante Kingdom defeated Gyaame Kings and enslaved these people. These people were known for their art of weaving cloth. These people were brought near Kumasi, the capital of Asante, and were settled in the villages around it. The art of these people were then adopted by the Asante and was made official. There are two types of cloths. One of them is Adinkra which is black and white and has numerous symbols which are made by using stamps. Other type, Kente cloth, is very thick and worn especially by people with royal heritage in earlier days. These days anybody can wear it. It is made by sewing number of pieces of cloth into a pattern.
There were no fees for the museum and he did not even try to persuade us to purchase anything. He seemed to have a true volunteer spirit. We then sat near a shop and had soft drink with him afterwards while hearing about his activities on HIV and AIDS.
Since we were really not sure about our next stop, we kept on asking each other. Finally we decided to go to the village which specializes in woodcarving. The Bradt guide book came in handy when the tro tro mate was not able to understand our pronunciation of the name of our destination. After a short tro ride, we got down at Ahwiyaa just near the shops selling wooden items. Heat was intense but by this time, relaxed atmosphere of the morning had changed into a busy one. There were many vehicles on the road.
We entered in a shop and then quickly found ourselves engulfed in the game of bargaining. Nobody knew the right price of the items. Some of the items were really good and beautiful. There were wooden masks, fertility dolls, sculptures showing human figures, various souvenir type of items showing Ghanaian flag colours, drums etc. The variety of items was huge and the sellers were very aggressive. Jillian and Rahul both bought some items by bargaining them down to 50-60% of the price and the guy gave each of us (including me because I helped them to strike a deal though I did not buy anything) a small leather bracelet as a dash. Dash means anything which comes free, over and above than the agreed. "Give me a dash," is a phrase commonly heard in Ghanaian markets. After seeing that we purchased in one shop, all the other shop owners started to aggressively persuade us to come to their shop and see the items they had. It was fun for sometime but afterwards it was too much to bear and then we left from the scene. Still it was worth recommending anybody to go over there and have a look at least as the village is really a centre of wood carving industry and at many places one can find the artists engaged in the work.
A police officer gave us a lift up to Kumasi, thanks to the skill of Jillian in begging lifts. After knowing that we were Indians, he told us that he used to work with Indian police forces in Cambodia for some time as part of the UN peace keeping force. He took us all the way up to our hotel.
 Colourful Kente cloths 

Wooden masks at Ahwiyaa