The 6th edition of the Bradt Guide to Ghana is out … and Funky Frog contributed!
I have a real affection for this guide as in a funny way it was because of it that I chose Ghana 8 years ago when I was searching for a country in Africa where I could go and volunteer. For one thing it described Ghana as the perfect entrance into Africa….the ideal destination for first-time visitors to Africa…. and also there were beads listed in the index … more than once. That settled it for me …
In my 2013 visit I happened to be staying at the Three Villages Inn at the same time as Philip Briggs. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet him … forget movie stars…. for me the author of a guide book on Ghana was just way cooler! Over breakfast we chatted and it was really delightful. … I even got my picture taken with my hero..
Philip was kind enough to make sure I received a copy when the edition came out. (I ended up giving my copy away while in Ghana to a delightful young couple who were traveling around with just the guide book to western Africa. I knew they would get a lot of use out of the Bradt Guide!) … but before I gave it away I definitely checked out the Funky Frog blurb on Beads!
My contribution is on page 298:
BEADS IN GHANA Anita Low of funkyFrog (www.funkyfrog.ca)
For anyone interested in beads, Ghana is a treasure trove, with three interesting categories to be found: old trade beads, contemporary beads made in Ghana, and beads from elsewhere in Africa. The old trade beads, as their name suggests, were used for trading from pre-colonial times. Brought to Africa by mercantile ships from Europe, they were really treasured by the locals, and were accepted in exchange for everything from food and goods to – horror of horrors – slaves. Limited in number, these beads are getting ever harder to find and more expensive.
More modern Ghanaian-made beads include lost-wax brass beads, recycled glass beads and bauxite beads. These beads are still in production so you will find them both old and new. You will also find contemporary beads from Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and various other African countries. Some examples that are easy to find in the markets are batik bone beads from Kenya and clay spindle beads from Mali.
All of these beads can be found in various bead markets. The most important is held in Koforidua on Thursday (see page 337), where traders come from all over West Africa to set up stalls for the day. I would rank the Odumase/Agomanya bead market, every Wednesday and Saturday, as the second most important in Ghana. Next on our list would be central Accra’s Agbogbloshie Market. Finally, bead lovers could also visit Kejetia Market in Kumasi where there are a few interesting stalls.
It is also worth scheduling a visit to see the actual craftsfolk making the beads. Recycled glass beads have experienced a real come back thanks to Cedi Beads, a visit to which is easily combined with one to Odumase/Agomanya Market for a day’s outing out of Accra. Other good glass bead factories in this area where you will be welcomed, include TK Beads and Tet Beads. Glass bottles are used to make these gorgeous beads. Very eco-friendly!
Another bead particular to Ghana is the beautiful and incredibly labour- intensive bauxite bead. The main centre of manufacture for this bead is Akyem Abompe (see page 342), which used to be the site of an NGO specialised in bead-making and distribution. Sadly, it seems that this NGO is no longer functional and there are now only a couple of old people able to show you how the bead is made.
The lost-wax brass bead is another bead for which Ghana is famous. This uses a method similar to the method used to make brass statues, etc. All kinds of metals from old taps to coins are recycled to make these beads. Another eco-friendly bead! A good place to see these beads being made is the co-operative at Kofofrom on the outskirts of Kumasi, close to Four Villages Inn. As with Akyem Abompe, bead-making at Kofofrom appears to be more of a dying craft than something thriving. You have to wonder why the government doesn’t protect and encourage this national craft, which is an integral part of Ghana’s heritage – and a viable trade to be passed on to the next generation.
If you are not inclined to make your own necklaces but would like to take some home there are lots of local artisans making jewellery. You will find necklaces in all of the markets but there are also some other places worth mentioning. One fun place to visit and buy jewellery is Lady Volta in Ho (see page 309). In Accra, Suntrade Ltd (Mango Tree Avenue, Asylum Down) is a lovely store where you can buy beads, and also local gorgeous jewellery made with them.
Some pointers about buying beads. It is all cash, and preferably local currency (most traders will accept US dollars but this tends to create more confusion than anything). Also, the traders are usually ready to negotiate and deal with you. Depending on how green you look, the price could start at more than double than what they will settle for, so do some research first. Find out how much the beads are worth before you arrive at the market. Or visit several stalls and find out what each of them is asking for one type of bead to get a feel for the range of prices. And there is a huge price difference between new beads and antique ones: a string of the former might cost as little as US$2 while the latter can fetch upwards of US$200. Finally, don’t let the traders intimidate you – many are fun to deal with, but some can be whining bullies … so stand firm but also remember that the beads are always great and worth every penny!