The people of West Africa’s Ghana are warm and friendly. They are polite, open and trusting — even with strangers. They take life at a relaxed pace and view time as a series of events rather than a matter of hours or minutes.
To Ghanaians, people are more important than schedules.
“Let’s get to business” conversation is considered rude. Ghanaians exchange pleasantries and inquire about family before beginning business. They greet one another, making extra effort to greet older people. With the men, handshakes almost always accompany greetings.
Ghana’s 24 million people comprise six major ethnic groups that break into more than 60 smaller ones.
The six larger groups are the Akan (Ashanti and Fanti), the Ewe, the Ga-Adangbe, the Mole-Dagbani, the Guan and the Gruma. Like most other African nations, Ghana has rich, traditional cultures that differ from one ethnic group to another.
Along with different ethnic groups and cultures, 52 separate languages and hundreds of dialects are spoken in Ghana. The official language is English — a residual of British colonial rule, from which Ghana gained independence in 1957.
Until its independence, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast. It was renamed Ghana, meaning “Warrior King,” to reflect the ancient Ghana Empire that flourished in West Africa during the 10th century.
Ghanaians emphasize values such as the importance of family, respect for the elderly and honor for traditional rulers. They place high value on dignity and proper social conduct.
Individual conduct is seen as having impact on an entire family, social group and community. Therefore, each person is expected to be respectful, dignified and observant in almost every aspect of life.
An entire family shares any loss of honor, which makes the culture a collective one. In order to protect this sense of “face,” there is a need to maintain harmony. People behave with decorum to ensure that they do not cause embarrassment to others.
Everything is shared — even food, no matter how small the amount.
If a Ghanaian is interrupted while eating, he invites the other to join him. Depending on the level of familiarity, the person may wash his hands and join in. If the relationship is casual, the other person will politely decline.
Among common greetings and responses in Ghana are:
- Maakye — Good morning
- Maaha — Good afternoon
- Maadwo — Good evening
- Wohu te sen? — How are you?
- Onyame na adom me hu ye — By the Grace of God, I am fine
- Me daase — Thank you
- Kusee — Sorry
- Me paa wo kyeo (ky sounds “ch” as it would sound in “chain”) — Please
When talking to an older person, a Ghanaian must not gesture with his left hand. In fact, anything done with the left hand is considered rude. Nevertheless, some people write or do things with the left hand because that hand is stronger than the right. They never use the left hand to eat or gesture, however.
Ghanaians are indirect communicators. They take care not to relay information in any way that could cause issues. This includes delivering bad news, turning down an invitation or refusing a request. Ghanaians want to protect face as well as maintain harmonious relationships.
Ghana is often described as a land of festivals, music and traditional dances. Most communities, clans and tribes have annual celebrations.
There are three main types of music in Ghana. Ethnic, or traditional music, is usually played during festivals and funerals. Highlife music is a blend of traditional and imported music. Choral music is performed in concert halls, churches, schools and colleges.
Children registered at some of the Compassion-assisted Child Development Centers in Ghana have formed choirs. One such choir is the Kasoa Cluster Mass Choir, which rocked the national theatre during last year’s fifth anniversary celebration.
It is a tradition for children at our Child Development Centers to welcome visitors and sponsors with elaborate drumming and dancing. This is an expression of appreciation and Ghanaian hospitality.
Along with being serious about their own customs and traditions, Ghanaians are fast learners who easily understand and adopt other cultures and practices. This makes Ghana a comfortable, easy country for everyone to live in and for outsiders to visit.
Learn more about Ghana and our work there!
This was originally published April 23, 2012.