Category Archives: Ghana


The great grand children have appropriated an area of the border at the bottom of our garden, under the acer tree, as their Den.

Cara's Den

The den is a threat to all of the flowers in our garden, as Cara and Cade seem to think that they look much better in their den than boringly attached to their parent plant.

However, the other day, I noticed that Cara had hit on a less anti-social mode of decoration – she had liberated some nice looking pebbles from next door’s drive, and pressed them into the earth to enliven their abode.


As I looked at the pebbles, and thought about dens, seven-year-olds, and concepts of beauty and style, my mind took a sideways step and latched on to a memory of another dwelling, ornamented by another human being.

It was a hot day in a remote part of Ghana in 2009. The area belonged to the Gonja people, and even though it was remote and very poor, it was notable for the number of people – migrants – who had come from other countries in west Africa to make a living there.

I was in a four wheel drive vehicle, bumping along a primitive track. On either side of the track, the earth showed through the thin grass a dusty red, with termite mounds scattered between the trees.

As we rounded a bend in the track, some distance from the nearest village, I saw a hut a short way into the bush, and we stopped so that I could take a look.

Deserted hut, Ghana.

There was no-one in sight, and when I looked around the hut and the animal shelter beside it, I could find no belongings or anything of value. Perhaps the hut was abandoned, or maybe its owners were itinerant farmers who only used it for part of the year.

Sweating profusely in the blinding sun, I entered the hut. When my eyes adjusted to the deep shade, I took in the lack of belongings of any sort, and then my eye was caught by a gleam in the wall.

Decoration in hut wall, Ghana.

Embedded in the mud wall were these shiny stones, and as I stood there looking at them, I wondered about the life of the people who had lived in the hut. I wondered about how difficult was their struggle for survival, and how the urge towards beauty is in us all. I wondered who it was that had the impulse to decorate the hut. Too high up the wall to be a seven year old.

Was the connection made by my mind real? The connection between the decorations in my garden den and the African hut?  Or were there complexities of culture embodied in those stones in the mud wall that went beyond the simple urge to decorate and domesticate a dwelling?

Anyway, that’s the story behind two photographs taken today and two photographs taken seven years ago.

Some corner of a foreign field

When I visited Ghana in 2007, I spent some time in Wa, the capital of the Upper West region, and the main city of the Wala people. Near where I was staying, there was a cemetery and I had been told that it contained the graves of some Europeans. At a loose end one day, I decided to investigate and found them together in one corner.

Grave of Lieutenant Hunter in Wa, Ghana

As soon as I saw Lieutenant Hunter’s grave, some lines of Rupert Brooke’s poem resonated in my mind.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts a peace, under an English heaven.

Today, I came across this photograph in my collection, and looked up the full poem, and wondered who Lt. Hunter was. Presumably a young man – did he die of illness? Or was it by violence? I thought of his family back home, and pondered on how traditions change over time. No respectful journey back home, accompanied by comrades, for the body of Lieutenant Hunter. No hearse and flowers, no mention by name in Parliament, no grave which could be tended by grieving relatives.

His grave was one of the oldest in the cemetery. Nearby was Major T. Westbrook, M.C., who had died twenty years later, and there was a Mr Cook, Agriculturist, who died in 1930. The only grave which was older than his was that of Mr G.E. Ferguson, a Fante from the south of what would have been the Gold Coast colony. He had spent some years surveying the country, and signing treaties with local chiefs on behalf of the British, and was killed in 1897 in Wa by a slave trader called Baburi. The cemetery was named after him.

So what of Lieutenant Hunter? He died and was buried alongside Mr Ferguson in 1902, which was the year that the British established control over the Northern Territories, after finally defeating the Ashantis. There were no roads to Wa at the time, and just five years previously, the British had stopped the selling of slaves at the Kintampo market, nearly 300 km to the south. The world was very different then, and it seems that the death of a British soldier somewhere on an obscure border of the British Empire was not a newsworthy event.

After looking around the dusty cemetery, I walked over to see what the men were working at nearby. They were making concrete blocks for the construction of what appeared to be a stand for a football ground.

Workers making concrete blocksLife goes on around the “small corner of a foreign field”. Lieutenant Hunter’s grave, with its Christian cross and reminder of Ghana’s colonial past, remains intact, treated with respect in this overwhelmingly Muslim town, if judged by its tidiness and lack of graffiti.

And I continue to wonder – Who was he? How did he die?

Paul Nyamaah–Stamp Carver




Paul lives in the village of Ntonso in the Ashanti region of Ghana. It is well known for its textile industry and is visited by many tourists. The textile workers of Ntonso specialise in a traditional textile called adinkra, which is used in mourning ceremonies. It is a cloth which is dyed black, and then marked with a different dye using stamps and other tools. Paul carves the stamps which are used to apply the dye to the cloth.





Stamps used in the production of adinkra textiles, made from calabash. Ntonso, Ghana.


The stamps which are used to apply the dye are also sold to tourists as artistic objects in their own right, being representations of traditional patterns, all of which have meaning.




Paul showed me the pattern which he intended to carve for me – called Fihankra, signifying safety or security in a home.


Making an adinkra stamp from calabash, Ntonso, Ghana.


His raw material is calabash, the hard-wearing seedcase which is used in a hundred different ways throughout Ghana. Paul obtains his calabash from traders who have used it to transport shea butter to Ntonso from northern Ghana, where the shea tree grows. Shea butter is extracted from the tree’s fruits, and is used as a cosmetic and in cooking.


Making an adinkra stamp from calabash, Ntonso, Ghana.


The first step is to cut the calabash fragment to the right size and then to mark guidelines for the pattern on the calabash shell.





Making an adinkra stamp from calabash, Ntonso, Ghana.

Paul then uses a number of small knives to cut the pattern into the calabash shell, and constructs a handle from slivers of bamboo.



Making an adinkra stamp from calabash, Ntonso, Ghana.

Making an adinkra stamp from calabash, Ntonso, Ghana.






Paul said that he was good at art when he was in school, so that was a good reason for becoming an adinkra stamp carver. He earns his living by selling his stamps to the textile workers, but also to tourists, for whom he has a table displaying stamps he has carved – some of which have been used.

Stamps used in the production of adinkra textiles, made from calabash. Ntonso, Ghana.