Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ghana 2017 - Day 6. Yet another day

Not much going on. I lingered around my room for most of the morning, and went to the International House way too early for my class. I hung out there for about an hour and a half until class time, met from 12:30 to 3:45 pm, and then everyone went his or her own way.

Without much else to do I wandered through campus, keeping my eyes and nose open to try to locate a restaurant (no luck), and eventually made it back to the night market, where I knew there was food to be found at almost any time of the day or night. But ordering food at the market is difficult, because there are no menus. Normally I would go to any stall and ask what they have, but I always get the same response: “What do you want?” Then I try pointing to one of the pots, but to no avail. So you have to know the name of what you want . . . hmm . . . OK, I know “banku”. The lady then gruffly points to some other stall, and from there on proceeds to ignore me. I walk that way, and lo and behold I come to the stall where the specialty is banku. It is not such a bad system really, but it relies on you knowing precisely what it is that you want. Since I don’t I am facing the real danger of having to eat banku for the following 25 days!

On the way back I stopped at an exposition on bronze figurines, or goldweights, which started as utilitarian weights to use in scales while trading gold dust, but eventually became an art form. They came in two different masses, 5 gram and the 30 gram, and eventually changed into an amazing variety of figurines, which represented just about every walk in the daily life of the Ghanaian society (men dancing, hunting, gambling, and the one female figurine grinding some corn). There were also animals, birds, fish, crabs, crab legs, fruits, and bread to mention but a few.

The method used to cast the goldweights was a home-spun version of the lost wax (ciere perdu) method, in which a model of the figure would be rolled or carved in hard wax. A few tendrils or wax were attached to the model, to provide channels for the wax to run out when melted and for the bronze to be poured in. The whole thing was then rolled in very finely powdered charcoal and then encased in a ball of clay. The tips of the tendrils would then be exposed by carving little holes in the ball of clay, and then the whole thing was baked in a hot fire. The heat would then melt out the wax, leaving behind a mold of the figure. After the baked clay had hardened, and any firing cracks had been sealed with clay, copper and zinc would be melted in a crucible to form bronze, and using sticks the crucible would lifted and carefully poured into the holes left by the tendrils. Once cooled down the ball would be gently cracked and a charcoal-covered figurine would emerge. A little buffing and voila, a shiny new goldweight would roll out of the assembly line.

Besides their intended use as measuring weights, these goldweights eventually became the currency of the land, and were used in payment of fines, bride dowries, and as the fare that a deceased person might need in their way to the spirit world. Goldweights were also used in collecting tolls from those who used the trade routes, levies imposed in times of war, and as fees paid by European ships anchoring off the coast, or ground rents for European forts and castles. In addition they were used to pay tolls levied on elephant hunters, gold miners, and finders of treasure troves.

Tomorrow we are taking a two day outing to the Western Region and the beach, so I might have a few good stories to share afterward.

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