Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tourist trips: Manhyia Palace and the National Culture Centre

Yesterday we spent a leisurely day touring some of key tourist stops of Kumasi. We headed off around lunchtime after spending all morning watching reruns of “Friends” from the season when Monica and Chandler got married. (I think that may the only Western TV I’ve watched since I’ve landed in Ghana.) Our first stop was the Manhyia Palace, home of the Ashanti King, also referred to as the Asantehene. For whatever reason, it’s one of the many cultural stops that does not allow photography on the grounds.

We arrived at the Museum, paid our 7 cedis (tourist pricing—locals pay 2 cedis), and were added to a tour already in progress. In Ghana, the majority of tourist and cultural sites require a guide to see them. At many of the sites, the guidebooks say that the guides don’t do much to earn their pay, but this guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. The group we joined had a German couple, 3 Indians, and one possible local who appeared to be there with the Indians. I found the inside of the museum to be an utterly fascinating look into the lives of the Ashanti kings. Among the many cultural artifacts were a 1965 Sanyo TV given to the 14th Ashanti king, Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II, by Sanyo; a 60-year-old refrigerator that still works; multiple thrones and stools; and ceremonial swords and guns.

Ceremonial stools play a key part in the history of the Ashanti. The Asante Nation began when a powerful chief of the Kumase state united the chiefs of the Asante states and had them swear allegiance to the nation and the Golden Stool, which he told them contained the soul of the Asante nation (check out the Manhyia palace website for the whole story). In addition to these historical pieces, there were extremely lifelike representations of the last three kings and their queen mothers—lifelike enough that I expected them to get up. The Ashtanti people are a matrilineal society, with kings chosen by the queen mother. One of the most celebrated queen mothers was Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa, who led the kingd
om in a war against the colonizing British in 1900. For that act, she and the king were exiled to the Seychelles, where she later died. If you want to learn more about the kingdom, there’s a good, concise write-up on the history of the Ashanti Kingdom on Wikipedia (the go-to source for almost any information these days). After the tour, we saw a 12-minute documentary on the Ashanti kingdom. Then we were herded into the gift shop full of overpriced souvenirs, which we declined to purchase.

Every six weeks, there is an Adae Festival at the palace to celebrate the ongoing allegiance of the Asante nation to the king. The exact Sunday for the festival is based on the Akan calendar, with a 42-day “month” and nine months in a year. The next one is November 28th and supposedly photography is allowed on festival days, which is backed up by blog posts from someone who attended the March 21st festival this year and another who attended in August last year. Maybe I can get some pictures of the palace then. Until then, I’ll have to be content with some pictures of the outside of the palace, like the one here of a porcupine, known in Twi as kotoko. [Editor’s note: For those of you following this blog regularly, you might recognize Asante Kotoko as the local soccer team, discussed in my post about the Kumasi versus Accra game. The motto of the Asante Kotoko is “Kum apem a, apem beba” or “[you] kill a thousand, another thousand will come.” Another blogger gives a possible back-story for the motto in this post.] The majority of the other symbols on the palace are Adinkra, used to represent various ideas or thoughts. To learn what the various symbols mean, you can check out try this link with the surprisingly obvious name.

We ended up getting a less-than-knowledgeable cab driver to take us over to the National Cultural Center.—Side story: I am reasonably well-known for my lack of direction and utter reliance on my Garmin GPS back in the US. Kumasi is not particularly well set up for GPS or maps, given the lack of streetnames, and many of the cab drivers are surprisingly lacking in knowledge about key stops in the city. Therefore, I’ve had to take an active interest in the geography of Kumasi. Between Dorella and I, we were able to recognize key landmarks, like the Mother and Child Hospital (from her work) and the Kumasi Zoo (which I saw on the way to Bantama Presby school) that allowed us to help guide the cab driver to the right place.—Dorella and Steffi had been there a few weeks earlier and had really enjoyed it. Given the hot day (as they all are), we started the visit with a cold drink at the center’s bar—that serves beer and liquor, which seemed a little odd for a cultural stop.

One of the key atractions of the Cultural Center is the workshops and studios of Ghanaians practicing traditional crafts, from woodworking to painting to weaving. We saw men carving traditional African drums from tree trunks and another man showed us cloth weaving on traditional looms. The prices for the finished products are very reasonable and there’s much less hassle than in the typical tourist stops around Kumasi. While I didn’t buy anything today, I found many ways that I will contribute to the local economy before I return to the States.

In our wanderings around the grounds of the center, we saw a wedding that had just ended. Nela and I joined the crowd of photographers with our digital Canons. Unlike Marfo, who is still using film, these wedding photographers were using digital cameras. One of the guys wielding a Nikon equivalent of a Canon Digital Rebel complimented me the on the very professional 7D I was carrying. Dorella and Nela even managed to get into a picture with the bride and groom.

In case anyone notices Steffi’s absence from this post, she was in Accra until tonight. Her husband, Marcus, flew in on Thursday to spend two months here in Ghana with her. Steffi and I switched rooms to give the two of them the master suite in the house. But I can’t complain. I ended up in a room with more closet space that’s right across from the shared bathroom.


  1. Hi Michelle - Dwayne here. I have been quite late in reading your blog, but have read from your departure to the most current post. Your stories are fabulous! Thanks for taking the time to write of the experiences and the cultural items you have observed along with the pictures and video clips. Very interesting that you can just run into the soccer team head coach and everyone is your friend and exchanges cell phone numbers. The weekend with LJ and the skydiving experience sounded fun. Of course, your work and team mates are important too and it is interesting to read about the current capabilities and such openness to learn. Keep up the good work. Hope you get more comments in the blog!

  2. Hi Dwayne,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm happy that you're finding the posts to be both useful and interesting. The Pulse program emphasizes the importance of sharing our experiences with our colleagues back home, so your feedback is clear proof that I'm doing my part.