Ghana - Background information


History
Natural history
People and culture

History

Ghana, like the other modern states of West Africa, is fundamentally a European creation of the late 19th century. For this reason, it would be thoroughly misleading to write about Ghana as a meaningful entity prior to the colonial era. True, as long ago as 1700, the coast of modern-day Ghana stood firmly at the epicentre of the European maritime trade out of West Africa, while the Ashanti Empire gave political and social cohesion to much of the area between the coastal belt and the Black Volta. But even as recently as 1873, when Britain established its Gold Coast Colony, few would have foreseen the eventual existence of a political state with borders approximating present-day Ghana. Indeed, it was only in 1902 that the central and northern parts of Ghana were annexed to the colony, while the interior east of what is now Lake Volta, which formed part of German Togoland before World War I, was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations in 1919.

St George Castle in Elmina Ghana by Ariadne Van ZandbergenSt George Castle in Elmina © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library

Natural history

Most of southern Ghana – that is for about 250km inland of the Atlantic – supports a natural cover of rainforest or moist semi-deciduous forest. Unfortunately, while southern Ghana remains very lushly vegetated, the clearing of forest for cultivation together with logging activities means there are now few areas of true rainforest left intact outside designated reserves. For most visitors, exposure to this habitat is limited to a day trip to Kakum National Park, which is noted for its unique and spectacular canopy walkway, but there are countless other opportunities for more adventurous travellers to explore Ghana’s forests. These include the readily accessible Owabi Forest Reserve and Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary close to Kumasi, the Ankassa Resource Reserve in the far southwest, and a handful of more obscure national parks and reserves suited to self-sufficient hikers.

Blue bellied roller Ghana by Ariadne Van ZandbergenGhana is a country with great birding potential; pictured here, a blue-bellied roller © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library

Ghana lacks the vast conservation areas and huge herds of wildlife associated with eastern and southern Africa. Indeed, several large mammals typically associated with Africa do not occur in Ghana at all, for instance rhino, zebra, wildebeest and gorilla, while many other large mammal species have been driven to extinction in Ghana, notably giraffe, cheetah and African wild dog. The status of several other large mammal species, including lion, is highly vulnerable. For all that, Ghana still offers some great opportunities for game viewing, with a wide variety of large mammals present, and monkeys, in particular, well represented and easily observed. 

People and culture

Language

English is the official national language, and it is widely spoken as a result of the country’s long links with Britain and an unusually high standard of education from colonial times to the present day. A total of at least 46 African languages and 76 dialects are spoken in Ghana, generally divided into the Akan, Mole-Dagbani, Ewe and Ga language groups. Twi is the main Akan tongue, first language to roughly half the population, including both the Ashanti and Fante, and widely spoken elsewhere in central and southern parts of the country.

Music

Traditional drummers Ghana by Ariadne Van ZandbergenGhana is well known for its innovative musical style © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library

West Africa is well known for its vibrant and largely self-contained music scene, and for many years Ghana was perhaps the leading innovator when it came to styles that combined traditional African sounds with foreign influences. More recently, Ghana has by and large relinquished its status as innovator to its francophone neighbours; nevertheless, a practically incessant backdrop of music remains a notable feature of travelling in urban parts of the country, and visitors will find themselves exposed to a rich variety of novel sounds (alongside more familiar genres such as reggae, with the late South African singer Lucky Dube being particularly popular).

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Ghana articles

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Six reasons to visit Ghana

Get up close with rare birds along Africa's oldest canopy walkway, visit one of the traditional kente craft villages of the south or marvel at the magnificent architecture along the Gold Coast. 

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The road to ruin

Abandoned cities, crumbling stelaes, slave trade relicts – Africa really does have some remarkable ruins. 

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Two weeks in Ghana

Looking for ideas for a two-week holiday in Ghana? We've come up with an itinerary that showcases the best of the country.

 

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Related guides and other books

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