Ghana History, Language and Culture
History of Ghana
Ghana is named after an ancient gold-trading empire that flourished in the West African interior between the 4th and 10th centuries, when the trans-Sahara caravan route linked the region to the Mediterranean via Timbuktu.
However, prior to independence on 6 March 1957, the territory was known as Gold Coast, a reference to the large volumes of gold that were mined in the interior and exported by sea following the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. Over the centuries that followed, Gold Coast became the site of several dozen castles, built by various European empires to protect their trade in gold and slaves.
In 1874, the Gold Coast formally became a British colony, and the territory reached its present extent after WWI, when parts of what were formerly German Togoland were annexed to its eastern border to form present-day Volta Region. In 1957, the newly independent state of Ghana became the first black African country to be granted independence. Under President Kwame Nkrumah, the country underwent rapid development. A key founder of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), Nkrumah also played a leading role in international affairs, by supporting the struggle for liberation in other African colonies.
Nkrumah's dictatorial tendencies resulted in a 1966 coup, which was the first of several military takeovers during a 15-year period of economic and political instability that culminated in the coup led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings on 31 December 1981. Under Rawlings's uncompromising leadership, the decade that followed was marked by sustained economic growth, but also by high levels of dissidence and repression. In 1991, Rawlings bowed to popular pressure and enacted a new constitution returning the country to civilian rule.
Rawlings won the first democratic election in 1992 and was re-elected in 1996. The election of December 2000, won by John Kufuor, led to the first transfer of power from one elected leader to another in Ghanaian history, and the country’s democracy has continued to go from strength to strength.
Did you know?
• Accra, the capital, is known for its carpentry workshops, where unusually-shaped coffins including cars, mobile phones and shoes are created for clients.
• The cedi, the country’s currency, is named after a sea shell that was once used as currency.
• In 1991 Ghanaian Ferdie Ato Adoboe set the world record for running 100m backwards, with a time of 13.6 seconds.
Religion in Ghana
There is no official state religion, and freedom of worship is a constitutional right, but religion has a strong influence on day to day life. Indeed, Ghana emerged as the world’s most religious country in a poll conducted by the Christian Science Monitor in 2012, with 96% of respondents stating that they are religious.
A 2010 census claims that 71% of Ghanaians are Christian, and around 18% Muslim, making Ghana is the only West African country where Christianity is numerically dominant. Islam is the predominant faith in the north, having arrived there via the trans-Sahara trade routes as early as the 8AD. Christianity dominates further south, with Catholicism having been introduced by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. Minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, and various traditional faiths.
Social Conventions in Ghana
Ghanaians should always be addressed by their formal titles unless they specifically request otherwise. Handshaking is the usual form of greeting. It is customary in much of West Africa not to use the left hand for touching food.
Photography: Permission should be sought before photographing military installations, government buildings or airports. Elsewhere, there are few restrictions on photography, but it is polite to ask before photographing a street or market scene. Many official tourist sites charge addition fees for photography and/or use of a video camera.
Language in Ghana
The official language is English. Local Ghanaian languages are widely spoken, including Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe and Ga.
Browse our Video Guides