Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Weekend photo-journey: Kumasi!

Day 20, 21, 22
29 June - 1 July

Annnd, we're back folks! This weekend was one of our two optional group trips in which we had the opportunity to travel up north toward the heart of Ghana to Kumasi, the ancient capital city of the Ashanti (or Asante) region. The Asante nation was once the major ruling population in Ghana and its traditional culture is still very much a presence here, albeit blended with modernity. Just prior to European colonization, they had developed a large and powerful empire in West Africa.

On Friday, our first stop (of which I have no photos to share because my camera died on the dumpy six hour bus ride there) was the Manhyia Palace Museum. It was a brief tour, but it covered a lot of history. Before being converted into a museum much later, the palace was originally built in 1925 to be the residence and office for the 13th and 14th Asante kings, Prempeh I and II. Both kings, but especially Prempeh I, ruled during a time of much unrest and interaction between the Asante and the British who were working to further colonize the area. We toured this fascinating landmark, filled to the brim with preserved artifacts, creepily lifelike wax figures of previous kings and queen mothers, and even working appliances from a dying age of ruling African kings. I wish I could go into detail about the extensive history, but there was only so much I could pile into my little head at the time. Still, I am continually amazed by how much this area has transformed in the last hundred years. [Note to self to look into African studies when I return to UNR...]

We had scarce time to do much else after the tour, so we headed to dinner and then to our hotel, which had not only water that was running but was also HOT. Hot water! This weekend, I enjoyed my first hot bath in what feels like ages. The things we take for granted, I swear it. It felt like royalty. I commanded that dirt to get outta here better than Napoleon commanded the French.

The next day, we got an early start to visit three nearby craftsman villages:

Bonwire, known for the weaving of the luxurious kente cloth.
Ntonso, where Adinkra symbols are screenprinted on kente cloth with special dye made from tree bark.
And Ahwiaa, the woodcarvers' village.

The inside of the kente weaver's shop. The set up is awfully complex-looking!

 ...which seems to suit what a complex, time-consuming process kente cloth-making truly is.

 Putting their work on display for us.

I can't handle how many adorable dogs we see running around everywhere! I just want to fluff their disease/flea-ridden fur.

No, it's not just your eyes, that's Obama screenprinted on the yellow and white strips of cloth at the bottom of the photo. Either this village gets a lot of American tourists or Ghanaians really like Obama. I'm sensing a hint of both ;)

Our village guide, Peter, showing us the process of making the gorgeous black dye for screenprinting. I would love to meet the person who looked at a tree and thought, "I bet I can make ink out of that."

 The first step is to mash the bark with a giant mortar and pestle!

Then, you heat the bark over the fire until it releases its juices. The more you take the juice and heat it, the more it reduces into what you see at the bottom of the photo: thick, black goopy dye!

 Stamping my first Adinkra symbol! Each symbol has a significant meaning. I chose the Alligator, unique for how it lives life in the water, yet it breathes air. When I read that description, it reminded me of how in the Bible, Jesus encourages His followers to essentially "live in the world, yet be not of the world." Though some Christians may interpret this as segregating oneself from those who have objections to your views, I believe the idea was intended to encourage us to live with and for one another, while setting our sight on Christ and our identity in Him. Sometimes (okay, often, haha) I forget that I'm not here to live my life for myself.

After stamping my cloth, I was invited to try my hand at weaving kente! Right when I gave my camera over to Adelaide to take my picture, this cutie pie came over asking if he could be her model. I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT FACE.

The process involves both hands AND feet. I felt kind of like a human spider!

So, I didn't take any photos at the woodcarver's village because, in all honesty, I didn't see any craftsman who were carving the wood, only people selling the finished product! In any event, I bought some VERY special gifts for some certain special people ;)

After visiting the three villages, we ended our day at the cultural center, which is at the heart of the largest market in West Africa. I don't think I have to tell you how tired I was of shopping at that point. While bartering can be playful and fun in short spurts, an entire day of being pulled (verbally and sometimes physically!) left and right into people's shops left me feeling very overwhelmed, on top of the fact that I am not too skilled of a bargainer. Personally, it was difficult at times not to assume the worst of sellers who I felt were taking advantage of me for being a foreigner. With that said, I can't hold it against them for doing what they can to make a living. That's the nature of a free market after all... one can take it or leave it. Overall, I feel content with the fruits of my labor, which were mostly souvenirs for friends back home.

Finally, we spent Sunday making a trip out to take a boat tour of Lake Bosomtwe, the largest natural lake in the area. In fact, the lake fills an ancient meteorite impact crater in the middle of the rainforest, which has lent it distinct ecological characteristics. There are many interesting questions that surround it, like how in the world did fish come to live in it? However they did, the native Ghanaians are thankful for it! About 30 villages have made their home and subsistence around this lake, and it is considered to be sacred by the Ashanti people. I really admired the fact that funds raised by tourism at Lake Bosomtwe are used to protect and preserve it due to environmental concerns. Their current project is to replenish the tree population that has previously faced deforesting.

 Do you see that floating plastic bottle toward the bottom of the photo? When we first got on the boat, we saw TONS of floating plastic bottles, which of course made us flip a biscuit about how terrible that there is so much trash in the lake... To which our tour guide informed us that the bottles are actually improvised fishing traps! Talk about a surface level judgement, haha. Woops!

 Jesus-like fishing methods include floating on wooden planks!

This photo was really candid, but I wanted to show off some of the gorgeous traditional style clothing that Ghanians wear for special events. These women were actually on their way to a funeral. I love that they are wearing both black and white! Seems a bit more uplifting than straight black. Not that it would ever make a difference to my deceased self, but I'd love it if people wore bright colors at my funeral. Why perpetuate sadness more than we do already, yeah??

It was a long journey home, but we made it there hands fuller and pockets emptier than when we left... I call it a successful weekend!

Nante yie,

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