Village to village: A journey along the Ghanaian coast

 

The wooden platform beneath me shuddered, shaking me out of my slumber. Under a moonlit sky, I crept outside of the homestay hut and could vaguely see a group of people gathered in the village across the water. Women wailed and chanted while a plume of smoke billowed from amongst them, and a child wrapped in a blanket was passed from one person to the next.

I walked towards the gathering, and, in the darkness, I quietly asked someone what was happening. I was told that one of the village children had been possessed by an evil spirit. A short while later, a gentleman rushed over to me asking if I could help. Not knowing what to do or say, I suggested that we take the child to hospital to be tested for malaria. “No no,” the person replied, “we need to take out the evil spirit.” The ritual continued well into the night.

The next morning in the village, I ran into a relative of the child and asked how he was doing. With a big smile of relief, the man told me that the child is doing very well. “What was wrong with him?” I asked. “Malaria!” he replied.

In 2012, I travelled west along the Ghanaian coast to a place called Nzulezu – a tiny, isolated village built entirely on stilts in the Jomoro District of Ghana’s Western Region. The village is only accessible by canoe and was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

The homestay hut that welcomed weary travelers like me hovered above Lake Tadane and is connected to the main village by a narrow, lopsided wooden platform. Moments after I arrived in the village and climbed out of the canoe onto the wobbly boardwalk, I stumbled upon a group of Ghanaian women dressed in colorful, glamorous dresses and high heels. I quickly pulled out my camera to photograph the women and the striking juxtaposition of glamour against the backdrop of a rugged, haphazardly built village of huts. One of the women noticed my camera and, without a second thought, the women – who I later found out were models for Ghana Tourism – instantly and effortlessly fell into a perfectly posed formation, allowing me to capture what turned out to be one of my favourite images.

Nzuelzu is one of many villages I’ve had the pleasure of visiting over the course of my visits to Ghana. Between 2008 and 2014, I visited Ghana on several occasions to volunteer with a community-based organization that supports vulnerable people living with HIV/AIDS in the Ashanti region. During my time in Ghana, I explored the country’s fascinating coastal region, travelling by tro-tro (public minibus), canoe and on foot, sometimes walking for days along untouched beaches from one village to the next.

A country rich in history, cultural heritage and ecological diversity, Ghana’s coast is a colourful combination of pristine sandy beaches, vibrant fishing villages, and the remnants of colonial trading interests. Castles and forts dot the landscape, a haunting but important reminder of the region’s dark and brutal colonial history.