For centuries now, Ghanaian craftsmen and women have been constructing what they and their neighbors needed from natural materials using much the same techniques that are practiced today. Of course, the primary function of these items was practical, often as a vessel to store or transport foodstuffs in. But, human nature being what it is, artisans were soon competing with each other not just to make their products useful, but also as decorative as possible.
This is an attitude the West has lost somewhat in the age of injection molding and mass production. Owning a unique, handmade product is therefore something special, especially when it hails from an exotic country and a foreign culture. So, if you are lucky enough to visit this beautiful corner of the earth, remember that it isn’t only Dubai and Paris that are famous for their shopping. Buying ethnic handicrafts is not only good for the local economy, but will leave you with something distinctive, either for your own use or to give to someone back home.
In former times, plastic shopping bags were simply not available. Today, unfortunately, they make a major contribution to Kumasi’s perennial litter problem.
When a Ghanaian woman heads to her local market, she’s very likely to have a bolga basket on her arm. Woven from elephant grass, these are amazingly durable and also comfortable to carry. Bolga baskets have enjoyed a surge in popularity on foreign shores, but some of the best are still only available in Ghana itself (and for a fraction of what you’ll pay online). They may be sold undyed, but some truly intricate and vibrant patterns are also available. Almost all of them are still woven in Bolgatanga, but you shouldn’t have any problem finding them for sale in other regions.
Numerous other kinds of baskets are also available, often woven on patterns that have been rigorously defined over the decades and centuries. While you will use different wastebaskets for the kitchen where hygiene is a concern, having a natural-looking trash container for an office can help soften the decor and make the atmosphere a little more soothing.
Fabric and Clothing
When it comes to owning something beautiful and unique, few things make as much of a statement as clothing. Traditional Ghanaian clothes tend to be comfortable, suited to hot weather and come in bold designs and colors.
Much of the cloth is still woven by hand on traditional looms from cotton and palm tree fibers. This fabric can be bought for as cheaply as $3 per metre and then taken to a tailor (they’re everywhere) to be made into a garment that fits you exactly. The most well-known Ghanaian garments are a kind of loose, buttonless shirt, called a “dress” regardless of the wearer’s gender, and a toga-like costume called a kente cloth.
Although most traditional clothing is laced with meaning and symbolism, a new generation of fashion designers is also busily expanding on this tradition. Sadly, a wave of cheap imports, usually second hand, is starting to relegate Ghanaian dress to being worn mostly at special or ceremonial occasions.
Although most visitors will certainly be interested in traditional baskets and apparel, Ghana is just about littered with artists for all kinds of crafts. Beautiful jewelry, ceramics, paintings, instruments, masks and leather goods can all be had for a song.
While it is possible to search out exceptional shopping experiences on your own, you should also be aware that Ghana operates very differently to what you may be used to. Joining a tour group gives you access to a local guide, who will get you to where you want to be far quicker and more safely than you could manage by yourself.
Getting Your Purchases Home
Objects like baskets and clay pots tend to be large and not at all suitable for airline luggage. Not only that, but carriers’ charges for weight and size overages are stiff and maybe even a little exploitative – not to mention that their treatment of passengers’ luggage can best be described as indifferent.
While it is possible to sort out transport and insurance at the last minute and even at the airport, it’s highly recommended to use a registered freight forwarder. Apart from the peace of mind this offers, they can also take a lot of the hassle out of international shipping, from packing your purchases properly to dealing with customs regulations.