By Aishwarya Panicker
Growing up, I romanticised the idea of African nations as being culturally rich and of mysterious nature. But I was wrong, because it is so much more than just that. Having had the opportunity to stay in Ghana for 12 days, I can safely say that it is not only a beautiful (also strikingly similar to South India) and socio-politically sound country, but on a larger note, is also a nation that provides a unique mix-up of politics and morality. Going to a fishing community in Shama, a small village near Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana, I had the chance to experience an assortment of behaviours and ways of communication firsthand. Part excitement and part curiosity followed the observation of various little cultural habits that I have never encountered before. A few of these experiences have been mentioned below.
As soon as we entered the village, it was made clear to us that it is mandatory to go to the Chief of the Fishermen in the village and give our respect to him before venturing out for our work. As a custom, the Chief is to be notified of any outsiders who will be entering the village and the purpose of their arrival. As we greeted the Chief, I silently thought that this was such a distinctive way of saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to the community for being a part of our project.
While conducting the Community Group Discussion with Women (all of whom were traders in the local community market), it came to our attention that there is an informal position, called the ‘Queen Bee of the market.’ The Queen Bee is an informal title given to someone who is responsible for maintain decorum in the marketplace, overseeing all activities, regulating all traders and ensuring overall harmony. We had not realized this beforehand, and had not invited her to participate in the discussion, which resulted in her getting very upset and agitated. A fact well known in these areas is that when a woman is angry, they resort to singing a song with rude lyrics rather than vocally expressing their anger to the person concerned. She sang almost throughout the entire interview, which made many of our respondents extremely uncomfortable and fidgety.
Another distinctive event that comes to mind is the time spent with the fishermen of the village. As one of the boat docked, two fishermen jump out with a swordfish, a baby shark and 6-7 tuna and placing them up against each other on the beach. No time was to be spent on frivolous activities so the butcher is called immediately, cuts the fins off and slices the fish into 3-4 big pieces before a trader is called in to inspect the catch. The responsibilities are all clearly laid out and the process itself takes about 30 minutes, after which the boat leaves again for their next catch. In the meantime, the children in the neighbouring houses will come from their school during break and earn a few pesewes by helping the fishermen out.
While there are many other behaviours, values and culturally specific components that are particularly striking, these experiences were a great way to understand our own presumptions of behaviour in specific situations and also provide a means to be aware of our reactions to these behaviours.