Cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence

Teaching ideas

Print out A3 copies of the whole cloth and smaller images of some of the details. Ask students to suggest what the object is and why they think it was made. Students should do some initial research to refine their findings including where Ghana is, the date and background to the independence of Ghana and what role Kwame Nkrumah played – the BBC articles in For the classroom would be good starting points for building up the context.

Look closely at the coat-of-arms and make a list of all the motifs and components, then draw students’ attention to Nkrumah’s clothing without explaining kente at this stage. Divide the list in two: African features and European features. Explain that these are symbols and ask for suggestions for what each may mean. Introduce the two coins from For the classroom and add their symbols to the list. Watch the extracts from the Lost Kingdoms of Africa video in For the classroom, asking the students to list any symbols of Ghanaian identity they can see or recognise from the cloth and coins. Use the lists and their observations to launch an enquiry into what role these objects played in the cultures of Ghana. The outcome might be an annotated timeline exploring the symbols from pre-colonial times to today. Which is the oldest symbol? Where did the symbols come from? Have their meanings changed over time? How are the symbols used in Ghana today?

Compare the use of symbols on the Ghanaian objects with the banknotes from the Republic of Congo and from South Africa – see For the classroom. The Republic of Congo note shows a Kuba carving and cowrie shells. The post-1994 South African note shows wildlife. What explanations can the students suggest for the differences in choice of motif?

Show students the clip of the Akwasidae Festival in the Lost Kingdoms of Africa video. Analyse the comment made by the historian of the Asante Royal Palace: “We dwell upon our history to improve upon our future.” What aspects of the history of the region do the students feel is being dwelt upon? Why do they think these stand out? How does the past help the future? Couple these discussions with an overview of the pre-colonial and colonial periods in the region. The issue could be complicated by discussing the use of Osu Castle on the coat-of-arms. Explain that there has been some disagreement over the use of a place associated with the slave trade to symbolise the new country. What would be the arguments on both sides about this?

How do students think the cloth was used? Was it a flag or banner? Was it used inside or outside? Why does it have a repeating pattern? Explain that cloths like this were usually made into clothing to be worn at rallies or other important political events. What message would it give to wear an outfit made of this cloth? Use the other cloths in A bigger picture to explore how textiles can play a part in promoting identity, commemorating and responding to national, continental and world events. Ask students to do more research and prepare a guidebook or exhibition on African textiles, their history, meanings and uses, and how they have been used to send political messages.

Kwame Nkrumah is depicted on the cloth wearing traditional kente cloth. Use the link in For the classroom to explore the exhibition on kente at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art looking at how kente is made and worn and what it means. Why is Nkrumah depicted wearing it? What does it say about his character and intentions?

Use the cloth and the historian’s comment in the Lost Kingdoms of Africa video to start an enquiry into the history of the relationship between this part of West Africa and Europe: with the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes and finally the British. Such an enquiry would also take in the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which could be linked to the impact of European demands for slaves on the existing slaving activities of the Asante and to the presence of the slave fort on the coat-of-arms. These resources include an object file on the Akan drum, which originated from this region of West Africa and was taken to North America on a slave ship.

Ghana’s progress towards independence could be compared with that of India and related more generally to the dismantling of the British and other European empires in the wake of World War II. What were the pressures that led to the rise of nationalism and the demand for independence, and where did they originate?

The four cartoons in For the classroom provide excellent starting points for the discussion of different issues arising from the independence of Ghana and from its early years as an independent state. The cartoons refer to: the opportunities and responsibilities of independence, a contrast between British decolonisation and the apparent growth of a Soviet empire, what is perceived as increasing left-wing authoritarianism on the part of Nkrumah’s government and Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism. The cartoons could lead into a study of what happened in Ghana after 1960; students could be invited to use the British Cartoon Archive to select cartoons to represent key moments in that subsequent history.

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Cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence