What began as a weekly observance introduced by Ghana’s then-president John Evans Atta-Mills to increase patriotism has evolved into an annual, month-long celebration led by the country’s media personalities. The Ghana Month Heritage celebration is a campaign designed to ignite a common patriotism – by embracing diversity. It’s also a lot of fun.
By Zubaida Mabuno Ismail, Bird News Agency.
On March 1, 2022, television personality, Aisha Yakubu Halid, 31, appeared on the TV3 Network’s 7 pm prime time news show adorned in a yellow, blue, violet, orange, and green wrap flipped over her shoulders with a white lace wrap beneath it. Completing her look and countenance of an Ashanti queen, Halid was adorned with gold ornaments, replete with adinkra symbols, dangling from her forehead, and on both wrists.
It was a royal beginning for the month-long celebration of all things Ghanaian, spearheaded by the media and embraced by the country’s top media personalities, and Halid second time taking part in what has become known as “Ghana Month”.
“It was my first time dressing up as a queen mother from the Ashanti region. And have you seen how magnificent they appear when dressed up? The kente, a few gold accoutrements, and everything on show. Lovely, lovely, lovely. It was fantastic… It was extremely exhilarating for me,” Halid said during an interview in late March.
Halid was initially encouraged to take part in Ghana Month in 2021, by TV3 executive Frances Doku. She quickly discovered a diversity of fabrics in a wide variety of colours that she could now explore for her regular “workday” dress, along with a variety of traditional behaviours, food, games, and stories from all sixteen regions of the country.
In its current iteration, TV stations during Ghana Month kick off their morning programmes with the show hosts performing traditional cultural formalities, from offering “divination and prophecy” to eating native dishes, in an often stunning demonstration of history.
The media drive, which was initially started by Doku at the Media General Group, has been growing in stature and popularity, with many television outlets embracing the idea.
“When I came to the Media General in 2017 there was no such branded and focused campaign. Together with the management at the time we discussed and agreed to embark on the Ghana Month campaign,” he explained.
“Thankfully the team at Media General embraced the idea and all units worked to ensure that we would execute the first one in 2018 and then subsequently have organized Ghana Month every year,” said Doku who now hosts a travel show, Travel Pass on 3FM.
Today, Ghana Month is carried across radio, television, and online and in the television industry, its impact is very apparent across news production, reality shows, magazine shows, sports, entertainment, lifestyle shows, and events. The initiative also falls across the country’s Independence Day, March 6, a date that evokes a spirit of nationalism and patriotism across the country.
This year’s event included a competition in which a number of Ghana’s top media companies spared nothing – whether that was time or money – to capture Ghana’s cultural diversity. Ghana comprises 16 regions and at least 50 ethnic groups, replete with unique languages, dress, culture, beliefs and cuisine.
Some of the dress and behaviours adopted by the media personalities as they showcased the different ethnicities and history, elicited significant responses from audiences.
“I was shocked by the reactions after one of the shows when I had to walk barefooted. I did that because our priests don’t wear slippers and people were initially scared,” said Kafui Dey, a presenter at Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
“People were mainly really, really excited to see that presenters on a national broadcaster were dressed traditionally. GTV covers the whole country and represents the whole country. So, we made a special effort to cover as widely as possible all the Kingdoms in Ghana. So, on the last day of March, all four of us dressed to represent royals from the Akan, Ga Adangbe, Ewe, and Mole- Dagomba ethnic groups.” said the GTV Breakfast Show host.
There was further excitement when on March 19 Halid appeared as an “executioner” from the Akan community. The executioners were a group of feared traditional warriors, usually adorned in black smocks with their faces painted black. Their primary responsibility was to protect the king at all costs from both internal and external enemies.
Halid also teamed up with her colleagues Berla Mundi and Cookie Tee, hosts of the New Day Show on TV Network Ghana Limited, to bring out not just the colours, but meals from all sixteen regions of Ghana to Ghanaians’ homes. In eleven minutes, the duo and their chef prepared Tuo Zaafi, a maize staple native to northern Ghana that is served with ayoyo, a slimy vegetable soup rich in vitamins and protein from ruminant intestines.
As an indication that the media initiative was being keenly followed, the audience shared their views, extensively, taking particular note of the hosts’ attention to detail in the specifics of dress, behaviour and style of various ethnic groups.
“I enjoyed it when Kafui Dey dressed up as a Ga priest; it showed he wasn’t tribalistic to me,” Paa Nii, a Chorkor local, told bird.
One of the highlights was a remixed music video by diva Becca of her “Africa Woman” tune, while another host – this time, Berla Mundi on The Day Show on TV3 Network Ghana – won praise for his neatly stitched kente split beneath a sleeveless blouse, matched with a kinky natural hairdo.
Maame Ekua Gengema, a host on Adom TV, wore a magnificent outfit that highlighted the Fante culture, adding a patriotic touch using Ghana’s flag colours of red, gold, and green – and the black star.
The show hosts were bowled over both by the response and by what they learned.
“We didn’t know all the towns we have. One of our colleagues did a piece on some towns in the Central Region, which have really strange names, very sexual names, like ‘k)ti ye aboa’, which means the penis is a fool or is a beast, ‘etw3 nim nyansa’ which means the vagina is sensible,” Dey said of the discoveries he made as part of the celebration.
Former TV Africa news anchor Sangmorkie Tetteh, an acknowledged shopaholic, has a new list of collections she wants to buy before the year is up, owing to the fashions on display during the month. She may not be entirely responsible but retailers also saw a pick-up in fabric sales in March, compared to other months.
“Sales are usually slow in January, then it begins to pick up in February then becomes strong in March,” the sales manager at the Akosombo Industrial Company Limited, one of Ghana’s fabric companies Petra Aba Asamoah.
Ghana Month traces its origin to John Evans Atta-Mills, Ghana’s 3rd democratically elected president. Months into his first term, he declared every Friday to be Ghana Day, in which citizens were expected to wear anything Ghanaian or African to work (Nelson Mandela famously did something similar in the ’90s, popularising his African patterned “Madiba” shirts so much that executives would wear them to work on Fridays and started wearing casual clothing on Fridays as far away as London).
Atta-Mills’ weekly project would later become a platform for celebrating the country’s cultural variety. For the past 12 years, employees from both the public and private sectors have arrived for their respective jobs on Fridays dressed in casual attire primarily made of African colour prints. Fabrics from the north and south of the country are displayed, ranging from kente to smocks.
To set the ball rolling amongst the country’s politicians for this year’s Ghana Month, the Speaker of Parliament, Alban SK Bagbin, in January discarded his suit and tie and turned up in colourful attire portraying a monarch from the Ewe ethnicity.
While the move stunned some Members of Parliament, appeared stunned, the Speaker called the House to order with the words:
“Honorable Members, this is the Parliament of Ghana, a unique, made-in-Ghana product and we must showcase and market it to the world as a brand.”
Bagbin’s declaration made it to the top five trends on Twitter on January 25th and his face – and attire flashed across almost all the mid-day and evening news bulletins on the country’s 120+ TV stations.
Source: Bird Story Agency/ Ghana.