Crashing Funerals (plural!) and Delivering Fake Books in Matching T-Shirts

That’s a long title.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Forgive the backdated post!

This weekend we went up to another big city in Ghana, Kumasi. On the ride to Kumasi, we stopped at two villages: Kente and Adinkra.

The first village we ventured to was the Kente village. The Kente village was full of vibrant colors and people. Unfortunately when we got to the village they were setting up for a funeral. We walked through their preparations as they had only set up a few chairs and a stage. It left myself and some of my peers a bit uneasy and wondering how we were going to get out of the village once our tour was over.

Our tour of the Kente village started off with our tour guide explaining the making of Kente cloth. Kente cloth are usually made up of rayon, silk, and cotton. The combination of colors and patterns in each pattern symbolize different things such as wealth or education. The color blue represents love and the color gold represents wealth and royalty. He explained that Kente cloth is typically worn during important and sacred ceremonies. Additionally, all new patterns must be offered to the royal house of the Asante kingdom. If the Asante king declines the new pattern, the pattern may be sold to the townspeople. If the king does accept a pattern, it may not be worn by the townspeople.

Eventually, volunteers from our group were able to go up to a loom and attempt the weaving process that the Kente people have perfected. After watching the volunteers and chortling, we went inside a workshop where most of the weaving was taking place. It was astonishing to see how fast the cloth was made and how nimble the weavers were. I wish I was as talented as they are.

We ended the trip with playing with some of the local children and buying items make of kente cloth. I bought a kente strip and a kente print bag.

Some of the children we laughed and played fútbol/soccer/football with.

The next dilemma arose when we were trying to leave the village. Right down the street from us, the funeral was in full swing. The entire group was uncomfortable with walking through the funeral. Eventually, we were able to make a path around the funeral and back to our buses.

“English Class Test” by Yaa of the Kente village

The second village we visited was the Adrinka village. The Adrinka village has their own cloth called the Adinka cloth. This closs is embossed with the famous Adinkra symbols. The Adrinka people also handmake the ink that is used for the symbols. It is a very involved process that involves soaking the bark of a certain tree, beating it with a giant mortar and pestle, and then heating it up.

Our Adinkra tour guide showing us the soaking tree bark for the making of the ink. He is wearing an “in memory” t-shirt in honor of the funeral that was taking place.

Before we were able to see the making of Adinkra cloth, we were thrown smack dab into the middle of a funeral. Grim faces clad in mourning colors of black and red stared up at us as we went around in a circle and shook the hand of every single elder in the group. It was a very artificial scene with murmured “Hellos”, “Thank Yous”, and “Akwaabas”. After shaking nearly (or what felt like) 100 hands, chairs were pulled out for us and we sat alongside other funeral goers. After a few photos were snapped, in our matching green CSU-IP shirts and blue UCEAP shirts, we left the funeral and went to make our own Adinkra cloths. It was later explained to us that the village wanted us to proceed with our visit, even though the funeral was taking place.

Folks in the village helped us emboss the fabric with the Adrinka symbols. They were all very kind. After the embossment, we ambled around the village waiting for them to dry. During this time, street merchants were pulling everyone into their stands trying to get us to buy Adrinkra stamps and Obama t-shirts. I told one man I didn’t have any money (I really didn’t) and he suggested that I trade my iPhone 7+ for a t-shirt with an outline of Ghana. I couldn’t tell if he was joking.

One we all finished our Adinkra cloths, we were shepherded to our buses where we were given random books to donate to the school across the street. With all of the cameras and the matching t-shirts, it almost felt as though we were apart of some weird NGO. School wasn’t in session, but school children were there dancing for us. We placed the books on a table in front of school officials and eventually marched back to our buses, confused and angry.

This was not a good day for me.

Before coming to Ghana, I made sure I carefully examined why I was coming to Ghana and what my intentions were. I also made sure that I wasn’t partaking in any “American savior-esque” behavior. So being paraded around in matching t-shirts to donate books which we did not fundraise for made me extremely upset. The optics of such a stunt are horrible. Like Ryan said, I hope that these photos do not show up in any kind of publication or social media site. I am sure that our program had the best intentions in mind, but it was really hard for me to go through with something like that,