Ghana’s under-promoted culture not being well sold (I)

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Ghana`s cultural tourism sub-sector, which has been experiencing a serious flop in relation to the general tourism industry, received a major impetus lately. The National Theatre, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, launched the Ghana Theatre Festival in Accra. The event is aimed at promoting the diversity and uniqueness of Ghanaian music, dance and other performing arts. The organisers averred that this cultural resuscitation will bring on board various acts from the length and breadth of Ghana to showcase indigenous culture. The novel event is supposed to come off from September to October every year.

 

Experts in culture say the launch was one of the best things that happened to the country`s cultural tourism sub-sector which has been suffering as a result of the lack of promotion, sponsorship and official policy support to ensure its sustainability, usability and vitality. Ironically, cultural tourism is one of the major sub-sectors of the larger tourism phylum which Ghana has in abundance. Globally, this kind of tourism has been identified as one of the major growth markets. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) expects the growth to continue in the coming years. As a result of this, governments at the national and local levels are becoming increasingly interested in the potential of cultural tourism to attract tourists. They, therefore, support cultural attractions. In some countries, cultural tourism has been adopted as a doctrine – the holy grail of ‘good’ tourism that can bring the benefits of development without the evils of mass tourism.

 

Why Cultural Tourism?

Cultural tourism is the point where culture, which defines in large part a people’s way of life, meets tourism. Culture is composed of the material (dance, music, crafts, food) and intangible aspects (beliefs, mysticism, values). It is a leisure activity pursued by people with an interest in observing or becoming involved in with the life of a people. During its 1994 Commonwealth of Australia Creative Nation Fair, the Australian Tourism Ministry defined cultural tourism as the sub-sector that “embraces the full range of experiences visitors can undertake to learn what makes a destination distinctive – its lifestyle, its heritage, its arts, its people – and the business of providing and interpreting that culture to visitors.”

Cultural tourism is made up of ‘heritage tourism’ – related to the past products – and ‘arts tourism’ – the contemporary products. Cultural attractions can be grouped on the basis of the cultural resources offered to tourists. Cultural resources are divided into two, namely static attractions (monuments, museums, theme parks, architectural and artistic works or sculptures) and events/performances (historical, musical, dance, theatrical, linguistic, literary, rituals and other artistic events and festivals).

As Kobi Cohen-Hattab and Jenny Kerber rightly stated in their work ‘Literature, cultural identity and the limits of authenticity: a composite approach,’ thoughts and lifestyles form the creative process of culture, while structures, artistic products, traditions, customs and medium form the products of these processes. Historical areas, monuments, parks or other things of socio-cultural qualities form the “passive tourist environment providing formation of the cultural tourism, while cultural activities, festivals, exhibitions etc. form the activity oriented environment.” In Ireland, it is estimated that 55 per cent of Irish people on a long holiday (four plus nights) always include a visit to a historic site in their itinerary. According to a study by the European Commission, 60 per cent of European tourists are interested in cultural inventions in the course of their journeys while 20 per cent of the tourism visits in Europe are aimed at cultural attractions.

Cultural tourism, therefore, encompasses some other major distinctive sub-tourism sectors such as heritage, art, spiritual, city and ethnic tourisms, lifestyle artistic activities (contemporary representations and visual arts) and creative industries (design, fashion, folklore, festivals, contemporary architecture, advertising, etc.). It is clear from the above examples that the ‘culture’ created by the tourist industry is largely based on living culture such as dance and performances, monuments and other material heritage. The prevalence of living culture in the African cultural tourism products means that much depends on the health of arts and crafts production. Sustaining local skills and knowledge in the face of rapid socio-economic change is very paramount to continuous growth of tourism in Africa.

According to the UNWTO, cultural tourism is one of the high revenue generating sub-sectors and represents between 35-40 per cent of all tourism worldwide. It is growing at 15 per cent per annum – three times the rate of growth of general tourism. The reason, UNWTO says, is a result of the sub-sector`s overwhelming capacity in establishing a dialogue between various cultures and approximate them to each other. This makes tourists to spend money on their own countries’ culture while trying to know about other cultures. Apart from this, experts and scholars opine that the sub-sector prevents the cessation of local-cultural values against globalisation by creating an important synergy between culture and tourism.

 

Simultaneous increment

The symbiotic relationship between culture and tourism culminates in simultaneous increment in incomes and cultural resources. This is because people who participate in cultural tourism are well-educated, rich and travel-interested, and they are generally acceptable upper level tourists. In consonance with the status of tourists and places they wish to trek, cultural tourism forms a type of culture that is new, improving and attractive.

The sub-sector also provides development, in addition to its epochal role as a social change agent which brings together social unity of senses and activities in the contemporary international relations. For example, through cultural tourism many African countries that are unaware of their neighbours’ cultures have learned to understand and assimilate the cultures of others. Thus they have tried to improve their own culture through tourism policy formulations. Culture tourism can, therefore, be seen as performing a key role in forming the African identity, supporting of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) sector and increasing the tourism incentives through structural and regional tourism developments and funds.

Cultural tourism is seen by experts in Ghana as one area that the country has an overwhelming potential and can easily turn that into a very huge profitable venture. Ghana has many reputable heritage sites, diverse ethnic groups with unique cultures and languages, unstructured and not well-resourced creative arts industry, avalanche of important festivals, cultural celebrations and many other untapped intangible cultural concepts and structures that can be transformed into a cash cow.

The country is replete with a cornucopia of heritage sites like fortes and castles, Fante Posuban (Asafo warriors’ armouries), statues of great Gold Coast (Ghana) leaders, nationalists, warriors and founders of ethnic groups, kings and contemporary Ghanaian trail-blazers. Great festivals like Winneba (Efutu) Aboakyer, Oguaa Fetu festival, Ga-Homowo, Anlo Hogbetsotso, Ho-Asogli Yam festival, Edina Bakatue, Odwira and Akwasidae Kesie festival of the Akans, especially those of the Asantes and Akuapems, Damba festival of the Dagombas, Feok of Bulsas and Bugum (fire) festival of the people of Bawku have massive commercial values.

On top of these top-rated festivals are also the unique and time-honoured initiation practices like Ga and Fanti festival for twins, Akomfo fire jumping initiation ceremonies, Krobo dipo initiation for adolescent girls as well as the annual vodu festive activities of Vodu (Voodoo) devotees in the Volta Region. In fact, these spiritual and ritual initiation ceremonies are aspects that the government, in collaboration with the traditional religious authorities, can develop to attract spiritual tourists to visit the country.

Ghana can follow the Orient in the promotion of religio-spiritual tourism. India and China, for example, receive large numbers of the world tourists as a result of their well-developed spiritual tourism sub-sector that revolves around Hinduism, Krishna, Budhaism, Confucianism and Taoism/Shintoism. Tibet alone receives over 100 million people annually who embark on spiritual pilgrimages there to find respite for their souls in ancient meditation on or near awry and scenic mountains. Tibet, in its far seclusion, is attracting people from all over the world because every location has ‘culture’ that tourists will be automatically attracted to once they are made aware of its existence and benefits.

 

Abundance of talents

On the creative arts segment, Ghana has an abundance of talents who are ready to expose their repertoire of ingenuity to the tourist and the world. There are many traditional drama groups in communities, villages, towns, cities and in schools that perform to the delight of high-profile government officials at special occasions. The drumming and dancing troupes too abound. The country prides itself as a consciously Pan-Africanist nation-state whose glorious days were immediately after its independence from British colonial rule when President Kwame Nkrumah bore the torch of African liberation.

In the past, state groups and private-cum-traditional ones perform at the Arts Centre in Accra. But this could not be sustained, leaving very few private and community-based cultural troupes to perform that role. Folkloric activities like traditional concert parties, kodzi kodzi (Ananse story-telling) groups and kolomashie members added up to spice Ghana`s diverse performing arts segment. The groups which used to perform are now dormant as a result of lack financial assistance and support. These performances can be revived to serve as a potential source of attracting cultural tourists to the country. Folklore events forms an important element of the cultural tourism ‘package’, bringing tourists to small and isolated villages and creating growth opportunities in the broader hospitality sector in dispersed areas.

Ghana also is home to the highlife music genre, even though Nigerians took it, made it their own and produced great highlife artists like Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Sonny Okosun, Sir Victor Uwaifo and others. The truth still remains that Ghana is the birthplace of highlife and plays the best highlife, especially the original palm wine highlife which was never given away. Dr Daniel Amponsah aka Koo Nimo, Akwaboah, Akompi, Kwaa Mensah, Yamoah, Nana Kwame Ampadu and Amakye Dede are a few of the musicians who best represent highlife. This genre has given birth to hiplife which can be aggressively marketed internationally to attract tourists and music consumers.

The art and craft industry needs to be propped up as there are scattered all over the country without much publicity about   their intrinsic values and locations. Ghana must take the approach that cultural traditions will only survive in a modern market economy if people have an economic incentive to maintain them. The production of traditional crafts and textiles, for example, can only compete effectively with cheap manufactured goods if the crafts can be sold at a premium – otherwise local people will not find it worthwhile to invest time in making them.

Stated potentials

Apart from these stated potentials not being fully exploited, the relative peace that Ghana enjoys in a sub-region steeped in conflict has made it very attractive for international tourists. When Dr Taleb Rifai, the Head of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), called on potential tourists around the world to visit Ghana once in their life time, it was a testimony to the country’s touristic allure. In a speech he delivered as a guest at Ghana’s Independence Day Celebration in Berlin, Germany, which was organised by Ghana’s Embassy in Germany, Dr Rifai noted: ‘’There is nothing like the experience of being with the wonderful, beautiful, warm, and hospitable people of Ghana.”

As it has been established, cultural tourism embraces the desire and effort to travel to where a given peoples’ way of life in the past and present is most striking and the consumption of its indigenous ideas, customs, skills, architecture and art. Ghana has over forty ethnic communities whose values, mores, norms, customs and material culture are diverse. The potential of Ghana’s culture is, therefore, enormous. Haplessly, only a few of it is partly being exploited for tourism. The once-flourished but now dying creative arts sub-sector can be a source of touristic interest.

The creative arts are arguably the most ancient of the tourism sector. From the days of yore, Africans have exhibited spectacular and skillful inherent traits and extraordinary folkloric theatre performances in the countryside. It is a fact that beads, pottery, leather artefacts, basketry, traditional clothes like the Bonwrie, Agotime and Agbozume Kente and the northern smock (Fugu/Batakari), musical instruments like xylophone and seperiwa, other crafts and historical artefacts which are part of everyday life.

The country boasts of great wood carving communities such as Adjumako, Anhwia and Aburi where the great wood carver and sculptor Dr Oko Ampofo has made a haven of African carving centre. Currently, the tourism market is segmented in the creative arts industry and large numbers of SMEs are in this sector delivering services in a form of fashion design, textile making, accessories design, architecture landscaping (all elements of the creative arts).

 

Huge transformation

In the theatre/film sub-segment of creative arts, a huge transformation took place 15 years ago when many youths moved into film acting and production, building Ghallywood in earnest. Hiplife and azonto dance took centre stage and have become global acts. Despite the opportunity that the creative arts offer, they suffer immensely. It is in this light that some cultural connoisseurs and activists bemoan the lack of the    government’s and private sector’s participation in sponsoring, sustaining and making a cash-making venture out of the performing arts.

Sharing his perspectives on the state of Ghana`s creative industry, John Osei Tutu Agyeman, a Ghanaian actor, media practitioner and television anchor, stated that the country has the capacity and the skills to be at the forefront of an African cultural renaissance. Yet the country sits down unconcerned as other countries strengthen their creative industry. “It is sad to note that with the exception of the Centre for National Culture in Kumasi, most of the other Centres are all but dead and almost buried. I cannot fathom our appetite for the things that so destroy our heritage and identity. First of all, we throw out our history and our culture from our schools and replace them with shadows of some resemblance. We look down on our music and crave for something else,” Agyeman said.

Taking cognisance of the importance of the creative arts industry and culture as an enabler in the tourism drive, the government, through an Executive Instrument in 2013, rechristened the Tourism Ministry as the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Creative Arts. The cardinal objective of the name change was to mainstream culture and creative arts into the national development agenda by using the two to propel the growth of the tourism sector.

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