The Fine Line between Traditional and Modern Worlds

Acrylic Painting of a Woman Headporter on Canvas

One of the many advantages of travelling is the opportunity to experience diverse cultures and, participate in cross cultural exchanges with locals, immigrants and other travelers. These encounters with differences and the unfamiliar are incredibly enriching. It allows people to connect and learn common values, while understanding and accepting each others’ differences.  Beliefs, behaviours and norms can also clash within inter-cultural and cross-cultural environments. As we continue our development research for CIDA and our journalism internship at Kapital Radio, we are observing the role of traditional attitudes and practices in the developing context of modern Ghana first hand. Two events this week revealed the complicated balance between both worlds.

We were fortunate enough to witness some traditional drumming and dancing performances at the National Cultural Centre in Kumasi. Wearing their familial Kente cloth, performers moved fluidly and in synch with the drum beat to honor the tribal Chief and director of the Centre. As customary music and dance was expressed to pay tribute, a less conventional offering was also given-spectators, performers and other elders also paid their respect with donations of cash. They stuck low denominations of Ghana Cedis (the local currency) on the Chief’s forehead as an offering of their respect and support for the Centre, the Chief and the culture, as he continued dancing all the while

Performers honour the Chief/Director of the National Cultural Centre in Kumasi

After the performance, we browsed the stalls of art that were set up for sale in the open space of the compound.  Vibrant colours and images were displayed in paintings, carvings, beadwork and in the traditional Kente cloth representing the many family clans and tribes of the diverse Asante peoples. I chatted with a Ghanaian Asante artist from a small rural village named Bobo, who was selling his paintings and thread art representing traditional village life. As we exchanged personal stories, I asked him his opinion on whether material forms of art and culture lose their intended meaning when they are reproduced.  He explained that his paintings had much more significance than what the symbols and activities represented. His work was the realization of skills and talents of his ancestors, passed down through generations. Bobo’s work symbolized the bonds of his family, their history and their traditional values. Selling his art was also Bobo’s method of earning an income. Living back home in his village, he did have many viable opportunities. He moved to Kumasi in the hopes of succeeding as an artist and to pursue a degree in business at Kumasi Polytechnic College. For Bobo, it is important to support his family and community and maintain his culture, and he can achieve this by selling his art. The reproduction of his art and culture clearly had more meaning than I expected.

Although we come from two different upbringings and have different plans in life, we bonded over our common values for family and honest friendships. By the end of our conversation, I grew appreciative of Bobo, his life and his art. He did not ask me to buy any of his work, but only requested that “[I] return so we could spend more time learning from one another.”

This week we also learned about the gender equalities that can result from traditional patriarchal thinking.

For the past month, we have been helping plan and produce Up Front, a youth talk show on Kapital Radio that airs Saturdays from 8-9 pm. Last week, we discussed whether teenagers need parental consent for dating.  In recent local news, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed by her own father for disobeying his orders by dating a boy he did not approve of behind his back.

Many people called in to express their thoughts and opinions regarding the issue, but something one of our panel guests said really stuck out. She referred to the incident as “an unfortunate accident.” However, she justified the father’s actions, explaining that the girls’ disobedience in dating without consent had led to his violent reaction due to emotional stress.

This traditional way of thinking is embedded in the minds of many people. Although it is important for one to maintain one’s traditional values and customs, tradition does not override human rights. Ghana, as a state, has committed itself to protecting these rights by signing on to various human rights doctrines, and enacting various rights protection acts. Regardless of traditional rationale, the aforementioned man has his daughter’s blood on his hands.

Next week, Laura and I are heading to the field- the Upper West Region, one of the least developed areas in Ghana, to work on our priority issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *