16 interesting facts about Ghana
Talk to most people about Ghana and they’re likely to ask “Where’s that?” Ghana is pretty much right at the centre of the world, being both incredibly close to the equator and on the line representing 0° longitude.
On a world map you’ll find it on the west coast of Africa – the side closest to America, and bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Follow the western coast of Africa until it curves inwards and you’ll have located the Gulf of Guinea.
Ghana is one of the many nations you’ll find here. Now draw a line straight down from London to the Gulf of Guinea and you’ll have landed on Ghana.
And if anyone asks what time it is in Guinea, it’s easy. Ghana time is exactly the same as Greenwich Mean Time as it shares a time zone with London.
2) What is ghana’s weather and landscape like?
Ghana is one of a handful of countries vying for the title of “closest to the equator”, so you aren’t likely to find a climate more tropical than this. As such, Ghana doesn’t have four seasons, but rather two: one wet and one dry.
It’s also pretty hot, reaching about 30°C or 86°F on most days. The country is about equal parts sandy desert, shrubby savannah, and lush rainforest. The area along the coast is dry, but the ubiquitous heat is tempered by cool breezes blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Just above the coast is the massive man-made lake Volta. Its beautifully green embankments stretch out along the eastern side of Ghana. In the middle of the country sits the Ashanti plateau, a series of rolling hills overgrown with tropical forests.
Go further north and the area becomes drier and turns into arid grasslands. Popular national parks include Kakum National Park, in the south, which boasts a canopy-level walkway through its jungle treetops, as well as Mole National Park, where huge herds of elephants roam the wide open spaces.
3) What is the capital of Ghana?
Ghana’s port city of Accra is the commercial hub of the country. It is also Ghana’s most populous city and the seat of its government.
The country’s oldest university, The University of Ghana, is located in the suburb of Legon. Some points of interest in Accra for those on holiday in Ghana include its pure white sandy beaches, well-loved by surfers, bustling street markets – where you can shop for handicrafts – and the National Museum of Ghana, which is the perfect place to explore Ghana’s rich cultural history through ancient artifacts.
International visitors flying into Accra will stop off at Kotoka International Airport. Other important cities include Kumasi, in the forested Ashanti region, and Tamale, in the northern region. Both have international terminals.
4) What is Ghana’s history?
Ghana’s past is incredibly complex. The area now known as Ghana has seen battles with many African nations, and was colonised by European nations over the past 2,000 years.
The ancient Ghana Empire was actually located higher up than present-day Ghana and included Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. The ruler of this empire was known as the “Warrior King” (the Ghana), which is how the empire became known to its enemies and allies.
Toward the beginning of the medieval times, the empire was driven toward the coast by the rising Mali Empire. Later, during the Renaissance period, this clan of tribes – known as the Akan people – formed the Ashanti Empire, with their main seat being in the central woodlands of Kumasi.
They became powerful and wealthy from trading in gold and were pioneers in making contact with Europeans.
Although they were given a run for their money by many other kingdoms that make up modern Ghana, the Ashanti were able to maintain control over the coastal area for many years. This allowed them to trade with the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
In the early 20th century the British colonised the area as part of their commonwealth, naming it the “Gold Coast”. During this time, the country grew into a prosperous nation through the production of non-endemic crops like cocoa and coffee, and through the establishment of many schools.
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5) When did Ghana gain independence?
In 1957, Ghana became the first self-governing country on the African continent under president Kwame Nkrumah. Their new flag incorporated the Pan African colors of red, yellow, green and black. Many other African countries followed suit.
Their coat of arms was created to proudly display the black star, a symbol of Ghana’s emancipation. The national currency was changed from Pounds to Cedis. Today Ghana’s president is Nana Akufo-Addo and a dollar will get you 5.39 Cedis, meaning that Ghana is an affordable location for most visitors.
6) What is the main language of Ghana?
The population of Ghana is incredibly diverse, and the government of modern Ghana recognises many national languages. Two of the most widespread are the Twi language of the Ashanti people, which is spoken in the southern and central regions, and the Dagbani language of the Dagomba people, spoken by people in areas to the north.
No Ghanaian culture historically used traditional forms of writing, and they kept their languages alive through oral traditions. However, the Akan people did use a form of symbolic depiction known as Adinkra. These designs represent complex concepts, like proverbs and overarching theories, rather than single words.
They were used on everything from fabrics, jewellery, and pottery, to walls, architectural elements, and on the weights used in trading gold. Personal and home accessories, as well as clothing, incorporating these symbols, can be purchased from Ghana’s many artisans.
Modern Ghanaians communicate across linguistic barriers using English as a unifier. About half of the country speaks English, and it is one of the nation’s official languages. In fact, Ghana’s National Anthem is sung in English.
Original photo: “Bead merchant Garbe Mohammed at Koforidua beads market” by wrcomms is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
7) What religion do most people in Ghana ascribe to?
Today most Ghanaians self-identify as Christians. However, the native religion of the influential Ashanti Empire was a form of pantheism known as Akom, a Twi word meaning “to be hungry”. Many of the traditions of Akom are still very much alive today and are combined with Christian traditions.
The Akom cosmology centres around a creator god, most widely recognised by the name Nyame – who makes his home in the sky – and his wife, Asase Yaa, the Earth. Their wishes are carried out by spirit beings.
Relatives who have passed over are also part of this nonphysical realm. A favourite spirit of traditional Ghanaian storytellers is Anansi, a swindling spider, represented in Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, which was recently made into a TV series.
8) Is Ghana’s culture matriarchal?
One of the most predominant cultures in southern Ghana, that of the Akan people, distribute riches and titles to the next generation based on the matrilineal line. However, men still hold the main positions of power in this society.
So, for example, while both the king and his sister will inherit their royal status and wealth from their mother, it is the king who will sit on the throne. However, it is not the king’s son who will be given the throne, but the king’s sister’s son.
9) What is Ghana’s food like?
You will find tomato-based stews with complex flavours throughout Ghana. The stews usually contain a type of marine or freshwater fish and are eaten with a dough, which is used to scoop up the fish and soak up the fragrant sauce.
The dough, sometimes called fufu or akple, is made from any type of starch, including cassava, plantain, yam, maize, millet, sorghum, potatoes or cocoyams.
Another staple of Ghanaian cuisine is jollof rice: kind of biryani flavoured, with tomatoes and chili.
Peanuts are often used to flavour stews and garnish dishes. You’ll also find taro leaves and okra in many dishes.
Street food is a beloved Ghanaian custom, so be sure to buy a few takeaway meals in the market when you visit.
10) What is Ghanaian fashion sense like?
The Ashanti Empire was incredibly influential in shaping the culture of modern Ghana, and fashion is no exception. Kente cloth, the fabric worn by Ashanti royalty, is still a point of national pride.
Folklore tells of two boys exploring the jungle, being taught by Anansi, the spider spirit, how to weave the sacred fabric made from cotton and silk.
It is created using a style of basket weaving to create the distinctive blocks of brightly coloured stripes. Each colour has a unique meaning and was customarily woven to deliver specific powers to a certain person or for a specific occasion. Today, you can buy kente cloth in just about any market throughout Ghana.
Ashanti kings were also known for wearing the gold they grew rich trading in. This was
fashioned into necklaces, rings, and bracelets.
The Ghana braid, an incredibly versatile, yet protective and now very trendy braided hairstyle, originated here. Modern Ghanaians wear a mix of Western and traditional clothing but remain advocates of brightly coloured, boldly patterned fabrics.
11) How are children in Ghana named?
The first names of children of Akan tribes like the Fante and Ashanti are based on the day of the week on which they were born. The day on which you are born, and therefore your name, is said to influence aspects such as your spiritual and professional path, and your personality.
12) Why are Ghanaian coffins so unique?
If you’re ever in Accra, you’re likely to spot a huge fish or aeroplane sculpture travelling down a side street on the shoulders of several gentlemen. You might be surprised to learn that these detailed wooden carvings are not only artworks, they are also coffins.
The custom of creating elaborate coffins for persons of prominence originates from the Ga people’s belief that life carries on after death. The theme for the coffin is usually based on the person’s vocation, and the goal is to make a good impression once the deceased gets to the other side.
If you are lucky enough to spot one, take note of the workmanship. These are truly works of art that take more than a month to complete.
13) What type of music originated in Ghana?
Customarily, music had a social function in ancient Ghanian society. Drumming was used as a form of communication, and stories told using music helped to convey the history of the people.
A praise singer, or griot, would have the role of documenting and conveying the accomplishments of kings. String and wind instruments were common in the north, while in the south drumming was the main way to make music.
The Portuguese, Dutch and British introduced the people of Ghana to European instruments. Soon after they gained independence, musicians in Ghana began creating traditional rhythms using these instruments, thereby developing a style now known as highlife.
Today the style has evolved into hiplife: electronic beats featuring Twi language rap. Upbeat gospel songs are also favoured by the majority, due to Ghana being a predominantly Christian country.
14) How did the Ghanaian movie industry develop?
Though lacking funds and infrastructure, a straight-to-video film industry sprung up in Ghana during the 1980s. Accra was, and still is, the capital of this industry and the films usually revolve around challenges faced by residents of urban Ghana.
What many foreigners note is that the spirit world has a very physical presence in these films. The largest media capital in Africa, Nigeria’s Nollywood, has even taken an interest in Ghana’s film-makers and actors, setting up several recent partnerships.
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15) Why is Ghana so good at soccer (or is it football)?
Soccer is a national pastime in Ghana and their national football team, known as the “Black Stars” after the five-pointed star displayed on their flag, has been competing on an international level since the 1940s.
They are the envy of many African nations, having won the Africa Cup of Nations numerous times, and regularly go toe-to-toe with accomplished national teams like Mexico and Egypt.
Their jerseys are white, with black accents and a black star just below the collar. Famous players include Edwin Gyasi and Jordan Ayew.
So now that you feel like less an oburoni, a foreigner, and a bit more of an obibini, a local, you might want to take a look at some of the volunteering opportunities available in Ghana through GVI.
Be sure to complete an application if you would like to join one of our volunteer projects in Ghana.
- Cape Coast
- Cape Town
- Chiang Mai
- Community Development
- Fiji Islands
- Gap Year
- GVI Live
- In The Field
- Kampong Cham
- Limpopo and KZN
- Luang Prabang
- Mahe and Curieuse
- Marine Conservation
- Personal Development
- Phang Nga
- Responsible Travel
- Service Learning
- Siem Reap
- Study Abroad
- Under 18
- Wildlife Conservation
- Women's Empowerment