Our Culture And National Identity
Our country, Ghana is a multi ethnic, multilingual and multicultural state: it contains many ethnic groups, many languages and therefore, many cultures. There are several problems generated by the ethnically and culturally plural structure of our nation. One problem is how to weld the consistent ethnic groups into a new, certainly, larger socio-political association for the welfare and benefits of all the groups, how to create a unity out of plurality; in short, how to integrate the constituent ethnic groups into one nation: this is the problem of nation – building, which is expected to result in national integration. Another problem is how to avoid ethnic conflicts which can tear the nation apart.
There is also the problem of how to create a national culture that we can describe as “Ghanaian culture”, rather than Akan culture or Ewe culture or Dagomba culture or Ga culture, and so on.
A culture is defined as a way of life in a certain community. In addition, this encompasses the social behavior, institutions, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.
A further problem is about the creation of a national identity, so that the citizens of this ethnically plural state can identify with the whole, that is, the nation (the central political authority) rather than with the various ethnic groups. Related to the immediately foregoing point is the problem of how to get the citizens to transfer their loyalties and allegiances from the ethnic groups to the state. These problems are, in fact connected.
These problems are not unique to our situation. A substantial number of the countries of the world today are ethnically and culturally plural societies. Many of them have managed to deal quite successfully with the problems attendant to the plural character of their societies. So, we, too should be able to grapple with those problems and build a nation with one people, one destiny. If we, as Ghanaians respect one another, create democratic institutions and good governance, build a just society – with a system of equitable distribution of the resources and burdens of the state, with equal treatment for all the citizens irrespective of one’s ethnic background, we would be on the way to overcoming the problems engendered by the ethnically and culturally plural character of our country.
Explanation of culture and its components
The culture of a people is their way of life. It is seen in the various aspects of their lives; in their views about what they hold to be most desirable for their lives (i.e. their values); in their beliefs about nature, in their forms of worship, in the way they regulate their personal and social relations and manage the affairs of their state, in the way they educate their children, in their styles of dressing, in their architectural style, in what they regard as polite behavior in society, in their techniques of farming, habits and customs are also part of the culture of a people, as are their systems of rewards and punishments. This is not all. For, when we talk of the culture of a people, what also comes to mind are works of art, such as music and dance forms, sculpture and painting their literature (oral and written), science and technology.
When certain ways of doing things or of thinking or of behaving or when types of attitudes have become a pattern in the way of life of a people in that they have been held over a fairly long period of time, then we say that these have become the way of life of the people and so have formed themselves as the culture of the people. Culture is, thus, a creation of a society, of a community of people. It is clear from what has been said above that culture has many components, consisting of, or enhancing, all aspects of the life of a people.
Involving all aspects of a people’s way of life in its totality, culture is a very complex thing. Yet, in Ghana, it is very common for people to understand culture as referring only to drumming and dancing. This is a narrow, and thus, not a correct understanding of culture. The notion of culture, as we have seen, involves much, much more than just drumming and dancing.
Culture and civilization
Some people think that culture is the same as civilization. But this is not quite right, the two terms do not mean the same thing. The term ‘civilization” usually refers to a state in the life of a society, or people characterized by high development of government, science, technology, the arts and related institutions. This means that civilization must be considered the stage- the final stage- when the possibilities of a culture have been actualized, that is have become more concrete, when certain admirable achievements have been made in the process of the development of a culture.
Thus, civilization is the product of a particular original process of cultural creativity which is the work of a particular people.
It is not every human culture that has blossomed into a historically known civilization, such as Mesopotamian, ancient Egyptians, ancient Greek and Islamic civilization. So, there are civilization, and there are cultures. There are specific cultures within civilizations, make civilization a more comprehensive notion.
Many cultures or societies participate in a civilization because of spectacular and admirable achievements. Thus, a civilization embraces many cultures or societies and generally involves a much larger number of people. A civilization, then, is the highest cultural entity. It is thus clear that, even though there is a close relationship between culture and civilization, these two terms do not refer to the same thing; they are not synonymous.
Elements of Ghanaian culture
Ghana is not only a multi ethnic state – made up of many ethnic groups but also a multi cultural state, containing many cultures. It is a multi cultural state because the various ethnic groups that compose the state naturally have their own languages and cultures. This being the case, can we correctly speak of a “Ghanaian culture” at all? Should we not speak, rather of Akan Culture, Ewe Culture, Ga culture, Dagomba culture, Frafra culture and so on and so forth? These are appropriate questions that need to be examined. It would be correct to say that, while we can correctly speak of the cultures of the various component ethnic groups of Ghana, it would not be entirely wrong to speak of a Ghanaian culture as such.
What are the reasons that make it quite correct to speak of a Ghanaian culture?
One major reason may be found in the historical fact of cultural contacts. As a result of cultural contacts, neighbouring cultures have not only learnt from one another but they have also had influences on one another. It is impossible for people who have lived closely together for many centuries not to affect one another culturally, not to borrow from another’s culture.
In Ghana, ethnic groups have borrowed cultural forms or elements from one another, having lived closely together for centuries. There has, consequently, have been cultural interpenetration through exchanges and borrowing of ideas, values, practices and institutions. The ways our chiefs, other than those of the Northern regions dress for ceremonial occassions, for example, are very familiar, indicati cultural influence or borrowing.
Also, there have for decades been movements of members of the different ethnic groups to other cultural areas of the country. These have resulted in their learning the culture and language of the people among whom they settle.
A number of the ethnic groups in Ghana are so small, and consequently their cultures have been so greatly influenced by those of the neighbouring large groups that they may now be said to a great extet to share the culture of the large groups. For instance, it would be correct to say that the language of the Akan people, Twi in particular, is now the most widely spoken indigenous language throughout the country; but not only that; their culture has also influenced those of several ethnic groups within the borders of Ghana. But it can be said that the cultures of other groups within Ghana have influenced or penetrated into the culture of the Akan people.
In short, as a result of cultural contacts, cultural learning and borrowing, it can certainly be said that there are so many cultural features or elements that can today be said to be shared by Ghanaians. For all these reasons, it would be quite correct to speak of a “Ghanaian culture.”
Common elements of Ghanaian culture
The talk about the common elements of a culture becomes necessary and appropriate only in the case of the society that is multi cultural, that is, a society that contains many cultures. In spite of the existence of many cultures in the society, nevertheless, there are features of the cultures that can be found to be similar. Thus, by common elements of a culture, we are referring to the similarities or affinities that are clearly visible in the various cultures of the multi cultural society; they are the characteristics features of the cultures of the multicultural society. It is on the basis of the common elements that we can correctly use the word “culture” in the singular instead of the plural: thus “Ghanaian culture” rather than “Ghanaian cultures”
These are several elements that make up the Ghanaian culture and generally bind us together. These include the following:
The sense of community
The sense of community or communal life, is basic to the Ghanaian cultural life. All the cultures of Ghana attach a great deal of importance to community or group life. The structure of the entire Ghanaian society is communal. This structure has created a sense of community that has become characteristic of social relations among individual members of the society. The sense of community has in turn given rise to communal values – those values that express appreciation of the worth and importance of community, those values that guide and strengthen the type of behaviors, social relations, and attitudes that ought to exist between individuals who live together in a community, sharing a social life and having a sense of the common good.
Examples of such communal values are sharing, solidarity or unity that is based o shared interests, feelings and aspirations, mutual aid, caring for others, interdependence, that is relying on each other for the fulfillment of one’s needs, reciprocal obligation, that is, what one is required to do for a person in return for what he expects to receive from him or her, and social harmony, that is, having many points of agreement concerning the interests, feelings and opinions of people who live together in a community to the extent of reducing conflict to the minimum.
All the cultures of Ghana recognize the importance of kinship. This is the whole basis of the extended family system which is certainly a common element in the Ghanaian social structure and practice. It is not that the nuclear family is not recognized; it is, as was explained. The nuclear family exists within the broad system of the extended family. But society in Ghana is not structured on the nuclear family that consists only of the father, mother and children.
Ceremony and ritual
The pervasiveness of ceremony and ritual in many aspects of social life is a remarkable element of the Ghanaian culture. At all social and even political functions there is stress on ceremony and ritual. There is always the performance of certain acts such as formal hand-shakes, dancing and singing, the pouring of libation and other formalities.
Kindness to strangers is an important moral value commonly held and practiced in all societies and cultures of Ghana. This moral character of Ghanaians is so well-known and so impressive to foreign visitors to Ghana that the expression the “proverbial Ghanaian hospitality” has come to stay.
All the cultures of Ghana as indeed of many other parts of the world, revere their ancestors and do many things to honour their memory, such as instituting festivals in their honour, pouring libation to them, naming our children after them, and so on. Even though they are dead, they are nevertheless, believed to be alive in a world of spirits, from where they constantly communicate with their descendants in the human world. Reverence for the ancestors is a very noticeable element in the Ghanaian culture. This is due to the their beliefs in the spiritual and hence higher, status occupied by the ancestors, the power that goes with that spiritual status, the interest they are supposed to have in the welfare of their descendants, and their readiness to show them kindness and help them in their various undertakings
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