Ciao Kumasi!

Before arriving in Ghana two weeks ago, I was told to prepare myself for the shock: there will be harsh exhaust fumes, deafening noises, unbearable heat. The transition, in these aspects, has been gentle so far.

My senses were not overwhelmed until May 26th – the premiere of the first circus in Kumasi.

Il Florilegi is an award-winning Italian circus that tours the world and will be in Ghana for six months. It recently wrapped up in Accra and will be in Kumasi for two weeks, followed by shows in Takoradi.

I received two free tickets from Luv FM, the radio station at which I will be working for the next ten weeks. A friend and I headed over to the Centre for National Culture for the big opening. Having never been to a circus before, my friend was excited to see if it mirrored what he saw on television. Having been to multiple circuses, I braced myself for the screams of hyper children.

It was a standard circus with jugglers, trapeze acts, clowns, as well as animal acts – snakes, tigers, and a kangaroo – that have become less common in circuses due to animal rights laws in many countries. Ghana has no laws regarding animal treatment or protection; alternatively, Canada has strong animal welfare laws. In Ontario, animal abusers can face jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to $60,000.

Children, adults, expatriates and locals all cheered as performers joked, danced, and leapt through the air in bright, glittery costumes. The sounds of laughter and techno music filled the tent, likely reaching the ears of many admirers outside the Centre. Crowds of ticketless people – mostly children – surrounded the gate to get a glimpse of the circus.

Most people left the two hour show with smiles on their faces, as did I. However, I could not help but notice some irony in the event: the Centre for National Culture, formerly the Kumasi Cultural Centre, was founded by Dr. Alexander Atta Yaw Kyerematen who believed that Ghana was being engulfed by foreign cultures. The Centre opened in 1956, honoring Ghanaian culture through historical museums, crafts, zoos, theatre, dance.

The Cultural Centre, once designated for practices that teach and glorify traditional Ghanaian practices such as kente cloth making and kete drumming, was showcasing an American woman dancing to Britney Spears’ “Circus”, an Italian man demonstrating his control over four large tigers, and an awkward, lone kangaroo.

International events are more common in Accra (Bow Wow and Keri Hilson were performing at the Accra International Conference Centre that same night); they are infrequent in Kumasi, a city that heavily values Ashanti history and customs.

It will be interesting to see if this is a sign of increasing international influence in Kumasi, a city that blends traditionalism, modernity, royalty and democracy.

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