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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Ghana
 
 
 

Ghanaians place great emphasis on politeness, hospitality, and formality. Upon meeting, acquaintances must shake hands and ask about each other's health and families. Visitors to a house must greet and shake hands with each family member. They are then seated and greeted in turn by all present. Hosts must normally provide their guests with something to eat and drink, even if the visit does not occur at a mealtime. If a person is returning from or undertaking a long journey, a libation to the ancestors is usually poured. If someone is eating, he or she must invite an unexpected visitor to join him or her. Normally, an invitation to eat cannot be refused.

When in Ghana, beware of what you take photographs of. If you want to take pictures of people, ask them first. Many will happily say yes, but some may try to charge you a fee. Sometimes people may fear that by getting their picture taken their soul will be captured, so be aware of that and always ask before snapping a photo.

When visiting a palace, do move up to a chief or king when invited to greet him, and then stop a bit in front of him and bow. You may also be invited for a handshake but don't speak directly to a king or chief. You may communicate through a linguist called "Okyeame."

Friends of the same age and gender hold hands while walking. Great respect is attached to age and social status. A younger person addresses a senior as father or mother and must show appropriate deference. It is rude to offer or take an object or wave with the left hand. It is also rude to stare or point at people in public. Such English words as "fool(ish)," "silly," or "nonsense," are highly offensive and are used only in extreme anger.

In traditional society, women had considerable economic and political powers which derived in part from their ability to control their own income and property without male oversight. Among the matrilineal Akan they also regularly assumed high statuses within the lineage and the kingdom, even though their authority was often confined to women's affairs. Colonialism and modernisation has changed women's position in complex ways. Women have retained and expanded their trading opportunities and can sometimes acquire great wealth through their businesses. Men have received wider educational opportunities, however, and are better represented in government and formal sector employment. A modest women's movement has developed to address gender differences and advance women's causes.

Tradition dictates that family elders arrange the marriages of their dependents. People are not allow to marry within their lineages, or for the Akan, their wider clan groups. There is a preference, however, for marriage between cross-cousins (children of a brother and sister). The groom's family is expected to pay a bride-price. Polygyny is allowed and attests to the wealth and power of men who can support more than one wife. Chiefs mark their status by marrying dozens of women. Having children is the most important focus of marriage and a husband will normally divorce an infertile wife. Divorce is easily obtained and widespread, as is remarriage. Upon a husband's death, his wife is expected to marry his brother, who also assumes responsibility for any children.

The spread of Western values and a cash economy have modified customary marriage patterns. Christians are expected to have only one wife. Monogamy is further supported by the ability of men to marry earlier than they could in traditional society because of employment and income opportunities in the modern sector. Young men and women have also been granted greater latitude to choose whom they marry. Accordingly, the incidence of both polygyny and cousin marriage is low. There is, however, a preference for marriages within ethnic groups, especially between people from the same town of origin.

The basic household group is formed on a complex set of traditional and contemporary forces. Akan custom allows for a variety of forms. The standard seems to have been natalocal, a system in which each spouse remained with his or her family of origin after marriage. Children would remain with their mothers and residential units would consist of generations of brothers, sisters, and sisters' children. Wives, however, would be linked to their husbands economically. Men were supposed to provide support funds and women were supposed to cook for their husbands. Alternative forms were also present including avunculocal residence, in which a man would reside with his mother's brother upon adulthood, and patrilocality, in which children would simply remain with their fathers upon adulthood. In all of these arrangements men would assume the basic role of household head, but women had some power especially if they were elderly and had many younger women under their authority.


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