Seeking to explore the historical link between West Africa and the Americas and Europe, or just wanting to explore a culture that has held firmly to traditions despite outside encroachment, or just the desire to relax on sun dappled beach, then the Central Region of Ghana is the ideal location.
The Central Region is one of Ghana’s ten administrative regions. Historically part of the Western Region until 1970 when it was carved out just before the 1970 Population Census. The region occupies an area of about 9,826 square kilometers making it the third smallest region after Greater Accra and Upper East. This is the region where Europeans first made contact with Ghana. It shares boundaries with the Western Region on the west, Ashanti and Eastern Regions on the north, and Greater Accra Region on the east. On the south is the Atlantic Ocean (Gulf of Guinea) coastline. The region is famous for its ancient forts, castles and its beautiful coconut palm shaded beaches. There are fascinating fishing villages, historic towns and natural attractions. The region has two Universities – University of Cape Coast and the University of Education at Winneba, together with several historically prestigious high schools including Mfantsipim School, St. Augustine’s College, Wesley Girls High School, Adisadel College and Holy Child that have produced some of Ghana’s most prominent citizens.
CENTRAL REGION SPORTS AND RECREATION
The Central region has a multi-use stadium , Cape Coast Sports Stadium with capacity for 15, 0000. It is used mostly for football (soccer) matches and is the home stadium for the ‘Abontua Bontua boys’ –Cape Coast Mysterious Ebusua Dwarfs football team.
CENTRAL REGION EMPLOYMENT
Agriculture is the main occupation for the people of the Central region, together with a significant number employed in fishing and salt mining. Their main crops are pineapple, coconut, Palm Plantation and Citrus.
CAPITAL CITY-CAPE COAST (OGUAA)
Cape Coast is the capital of the Central Region. The traditional name of Cape Coast, ‘Oguaa’, which is still in use today is derived from the Fante word ‘gua’ meaning market. During the period of Portuguese colonization, Oguaa was named Cabo Carso (short Cape) later the English changed the name to Cape Coast which was also the capital of the Gold Coast (Ghana) until 1877, when the capital was moved to Accra.
Local legend says that an early king of the Fetu ethnic group tasked his subjects to produce his favorite delicacy, crabs in large quantities. In search of this delicacy to please their king the subjects came upon a sheltered bay at the beach, protected by rock outcrops and by small running water filled with fishes. Here, they found sufficient quantities of crabs. Some of the subjects later settled in the area where the crabs were found and called the area ‘Kotoworaba’ (crab hamlet), now known as ‘Kotokuraba’ As time went by, a market developed at Kotokuraba where many other products were traded among buyers and sellers in addition to the crab catching occupation. As larger numbers of traders converged at the area to sell and buy wares, the name of the settlement became Oguaa. (market) But the name ‘Kotokuraba’ has survived today as the biggest market in Cape Coast.
GEOGRAPHY AND LOCATION
The region can be broadly divided into two: the coast, which consists of plains with isolated hills and occasional cliffs characterized by sandy beaches and marsh in one area, and the hinterland, where the land rises more than 250 meters above sea level.
The Region lies within the dry equatorial zone. The months with the most rainfall are May-June and September-October while the drier periods occur from December to February and August. The average monthly temperature ranges from 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the coolest month (August) to about 86 degrees Fahrenheit in the hottest months (March-April).
CULTURE, FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS
The Central Region’s culture is depicted through many traditional, colorful festivals spread throughout the year. These annual festivals serve a variety of purposes including purification of the Stools (Thrones), cleansing communities of evils, ancestral veneration and supplications to the deities for prosperity, unity and other desires. The major highlights of most festivals are drumming, dancing, firing of musketry and durbars where Chiefs of varying degrees , adorned in rich Kente cloth and bedecked in gold, are paraded through the town in palanquins, shaded by huge and colorful parasols (umbrellas). Some of the most well known festivals are:
Bakatue Festival: (Elmina)
Bakatue is translated to mean “opening up of the Benya Lagoon into the sea”. Bakatue symbolizes the beginning of the fishing season, which is the main livelihood of the people of Elmina. It is celebrated annually in Elmina on the first Tuesday in July and originated centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. The ceremonies include a durbar of chiefs, a colorful regatta of canoes on the Benya Lagoon and processions. A solemn “net casting” ceremony symbolizes the beginning of a new fishing season, and the catch is offered to the deities of the traditional area.
Edina Buronya Festival (Elmina)
this is the native version of Christmas which is exclusively celebrated by the people of Elmina (Edina) on the first Thursday of the New Year. The festival was influenced as a counter to an event celebrated by Portuguese settlers who celebrated a similar event every January. For the people of Elmina, Edina Bronyo is a period of purification, making sacrifices to the gods, remembrance of the dead, and the welcoming of a new year. Families pour libations and invite friends to participate in dining and merry-making.
Fetu Afahye Festival (Cape Coast)
Celebrated on the first Saturday of September by communities in the Cape Coast Traditional Area (Fetu). It includes a durbar of chiefs and processions of Asafo Companies (traditional warrior groups) and numerous social organizations. Every member of the group is adorned in resplendent and colorful clothes, thus maintaining the grandeur of the festival which when translated means “adorning of new clothes”. A procession of the 7 “Asafo Companies” in their unique costumes depicts a fusion of the Fante and European cultures, (typically, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and British, which have been sustained over many centuries). Customary rites include the slaughter of a cow to please the 77 deities in the area to obtain their blessings.
Odambea Festival (Saltpond)
“Odambea” is celebrated on the last Saturday of August by the “Nkusukum” chiefs and people of the Saltpond Traditional Area. This event commemorates the migration of the Nkusukum people centuries ago from Techiman, more than 300 miles away to their present settlement. “Odambea” means “fortified link”, a name resulting from the role played by the “Nkusukum” people in keeping the migrant groups in touch with each other following their exodus from Techiman. A special feature of the festival is the re-enactment of the ancient life styles of the Nkusukum people.
Aboakyir (Deer) Festival (Winneba)
Aboakyir” means, “game hunting”. This popular festival is celebrated by the people of Winneba on the first Saturday of May. In Winneba. The festival begins with a competitive hunt between the two traditional warrior groups in a nearby game reserve, each group tries to catch an antelope live. Oboakvir originally involved the capturing a leopard barehanded, the toll on human life eventually became too challenging so prohibitive that the deity to which the leopard was sacrificed was beseeched to accept the less dangerous substitute, and the leopard was replaced by an antelope.
It is an adventurous event to test the strength, bravery, determination and intuition of the two rival groups. The winner presents the catch to the Paramount Chief who sits in state with sub-chiefs and subjects. Then antelope is sacrificed as an invocation for good harvest and a bountiful fishing season. A durbar and procession of chiefs and warrior groups in their colorful regalia is the highlight of the celebrations.
Brass bands, dancing, drumming and folklore performances make the event unforgettable.
Pan-African Historic Festival is a major biennial event of cultural forums for Africans and people of African descent as well as friends of the continent committed to the noble cause of Pan Africanism. Generally celebrated the last week of July and culminates with the celebration of emancipation day in early August.
The venues for Panafest are the historical towns of Cape Coast and Elmina. The festival is a celebration of African cultural values, history and civilization. This consists of: performances and workshops in theatre, drama, music, cinema, poetry, colloquia and lectures.Colourful traditional durbar of chiefs and people, tours/excursions to places of interest such as the slave castle dungeons.Panafest brings together participants from all over the world.
TOURISM ATTRACTIONS IN THE CENTRAL REGION
SLAVE CASTLES AND FORTS
Three of the castles designated as World Heritage Monuments by the World Heritage Foundation under UNESCO are in the Cape Coast/Elmina area. The Castles are Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle and Fort St. Jago.
Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast Castle was built as small trading lodge which was expanded until it became a fortification by various European powers that occupied it at a particular period. In 1637 the lodge was occupied by the Dutch until 1652 when it was captured by the Swedes, who name it Fort Carolusburg. For some time the native people and various European powers fought for and gained possession of the fort. In 1664, after a battle, the fort was captured by the British and re-named Cape Coast Castle. The Castle served as the seat of the British administration in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) until the administration was moved to Christianborg Castle in Accra in 1877. The historic bond between the British settlers and the Fante Confederation. Was signed in Cape Coast castle in 1844.
Like nearly all ancient fortifications in Ghana, Cape Coast Castle played a significant role in the gold and slave trades. A result of European settlement Christianity and the establishment of a formal education system was established in Ghana in the Castle Schools.
Visitors to Cape Coast Castle are encouraged to seek out the following places in this once dismal building: Dalzell Tower, the slave dungeons, “Palaver Hall” and the cannons and mortars used to defend the Castle.
West African Historical Museum
The Museum is located inside Cape Coast Castle and contains a growing collection of art and cultural objects from various parts of West Africa including ceremonial drums, old muskets, shackles and other instruments used in this lucrative for some but brutal for others industry.
Approximately 6 miles west of Cape Coast is the township of Elmina, the first point of contact between Europeans and the people of Ghana. A visit to Elmina Castle is both memorable and moving, for within those walls significant events took place which contributed to the shaping of the history of the world. In 1471, a Portuguese expedition led by Don Diego d’ Azambuja arrived in Elmina. Due to the enormous amount of gold and ivory they found on arrival, they named the area “Mina de Ouro” – the gold mine. Elmina soon became the centre of a thriving trade in gold, ivory and humans, which were exchanged for cloth, beads, brass bracelets and other relatively cheap goods brought by the Portuguese. In 1482, the Portuguese built St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle). This vast rectangular 97,000 sq ft fortification is the earliest known European structure in the tropics. As the immensely profitable trade in gold and slaves at Elmina increased, it began to attract the attention of other European nations, and a struggle for control of the Castle began. In 1637, after two previously unsuccessful attempts, the Dutch captured Elmina Castle and it remained in their control for the next 274 years.
Fort St. Jago
Fort St. Jago is within walking distance of Elmina Castle. It is from this vantage point that the Dutch launched their successful land attack on Elmina Castle. Unlike other area forts, St. Jago was not used for trading activities. Its primary purpose was to provide military protection to the Castle and to serve as a disciplinary institution for European criminals and other undesirables. convicts and malcontents. When you visit take your camera and enough films so you may get professional quality photographs of Elmina Township.
In the centre of town, near the “Posuban” Shrine (you will recognize it by the life-size statues) is the Dutch Cemetery.
Built in the 19th century, it contains the graves of many former residents of Elmina Castle and of important local citizens. A mausoleum in the centre of the Cemetery was reserved for the tombs of the Castle’s Governors.
NATURAL ATTRACTIONS IN CENTRAL REGION
Beach lovers are assured of a relaxing experience on the Region’s beaches. There are 12-hours of sunshine nearly every day (especially from January – June and October – December) and surf that varies from absolute calm to sizeable waves. Some of the more popular beaches in the Central Region include the following:
Between the villages of Ankwanda and Brenu Akyinim, about 15 minutes drive from Elmina, is a 2 mile stretch of palm-fringed, virgin beach where the water is clean, clear and perfect for swimming.
There is also a peaceful lagoon nearby which is the winter home of hundreds of migratory birds. To reach Brenu Beach, travel 6 miles west of Elmina on the Accra-Takoradi Highway, follow the signs and you will be taken to this slightly secluded beach.
An hour’s drive west of Accra will take you to Sir Charles Beach Resort. In addition to the hotel there is a restaurant that is popular with expatriates and tourists. The resort has a hotel and restaurant and is a favorite spot among international tourists. The 2 mile stretch of beach adjacent to the hotel has calm, clear water that is ideal for swimming.
About 19 miles from Accra, the village of Gomoa Fetteh is secluded away from the masses is an undisturbed beach perfect for family, or large group outing. The beach has much for you to write hoe about not the least of which is the usually calm clear waters perfect for swimming.
Kakum and Assin Atandanso Nature Reserve
19 miles north of Cape Coast, on the Dunkwa-On-Offin Road at Abrafo, is the newly established 350 sq km nature park. The reserve was formed to protect one of the last vestiges of Ghana’s rapidly-vanishing tropical rain forest and the rare wildlife existing here. If you care about preservation of the environment then you will love and l appreciate the importance of the Kakum and Assin Atandanso Nature Reserve.
Since 1992 there is an established tour which takes nature lovers deep into the 350 sq km reserve to discover the habitats of some of the worlds rare and most endangered wildlife species, including the nearly extinct Mona Monkey, Bongos, Royals Antelopes, Duikers, Forest Elephants, Giant Forest Hogs, Honey Badgers, African Civet Cats and Forest Buffalos.
CRAFTS VILLAGES IN CENTRAL REGION
You will enjoy discovering the villages and the craftsmen who produce many of the items you will want to take home as souvenirs of your visit to the Central Region.
Bamboo Orchestra at Mesomagor
The youth at the village of Masomagor have revived a traditional art, by performing with bamboo percussion instruments to music and dance. It is worth taking a look at their performance. This village is close to the Kakum National Park.
Winneba, located on the main road to the township, the artisans here are famous for their unusual and beautifully crafted dishes, vases, decorated tiles, ashtrays, dinner sets and many other items.
Gomoa-Otsew-Jukwa, located about 3 miles from Winneba on the way to Cape Coast. This is a village of pottery makers who produce unglazed black and terracotta pots and bowls, vases and decorative household items of varying colors and sizes and shapes.
Enyam Maim, located 4 miles from Mankessim, the highly-skilled craftsmen of the village produce carved wooden handicrafts in the form of a variety of objects including fish, animals, fruits, vegetables and decorative staffs.
Ajumako Oware, located 19 miles from Mankessim, the village is the home of renowned master craftsmen who specialize in carved royal regalia – stools, linguistic staffs, and walking sticks, swords of state and clan totems among other ceremonial items. The symbolic, traditional hieroglyphs in these carvings are very similar to those of ancient Egypt. Duakwa and Mensah Krom located 6 miles from Agona Swedru (en route to Akim Oda where you will see the largest tree in West Africa) are a host of carvers who specialize in making traditional stools and ceremonial staffs.
HISTORICAL TOWNS AND THEIR ATTRACTIONS
Traditionally known as ‘Simpa’; Winneba is located 56 miles from Cape Coast. This historic settlement was once the country’s cargo port during the colonial era and still remains a fishing harbor today. Here you will find fisher men repairing fishing boats, their nets and small stands laden with brilliantly colored fruits and vegetables,
13 miles north, off the Accra-Takoradi Highway at the Winneba Junction is the bustling, commercial metropolis of Agona Swedru. A stroll down the main street reveals an endless variety of small shops and stores complete with different types of merchandise. The town is well known for its lively brass band groups which perform during community celebrations.
These twin-fishing villages, 12 miles room Cape Coast on the Accra-Takoradi Highway, were once important trading centres for the English, and the Dutch. In Abandze, you can visit the site of Fort Amsterdam, which was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. The late, great, American jazz musician Louise Armstrong traced his ancestry to this settlement.
Located 28 miles from Cape Coast, Mankessim was the birthplace of the “Fante” people. The town’s rich history is told in the form of statues and imaginative fold-art on the facade of the impressive “Posuban” shrine in the centre of town.
Mankessim is a major commercial centre, its market, the largest in the Region, sells items ranging from grocery to clothing and traditional tools used to craft items. The best time to visit is on market days – Tuesday and Thursday.
indigenously known as “Akyemfo” this historic town is located about 19 miles from Cape Coast. It played an important role in Ghana’s move struggle for independence.
A lively and colorful “Odambea” festival is celebrated in Saltpond on the last Saturday of August each year.
A unique attraction, unique to the “Fante” communities along the southern part of Ghana is the “Posuban”. “Posuban” is a combination of English and Fante words; “posu” meaning post and “ban” meaning fortification. They are the religious centres of the Fante military organization of warriors known as “ASAFO”. “Sa” means war, and the suffix “Fo” combines to mean warriors.
“Posuban” shrines are fanciful buildings, lavishly decorated with fold-art, emblems, and a remarkable array of life-size statuettes. Each ornament unfolds the history, victories in battle and the general military experiences of the Fantes. These shrines are usually located on sites where an important enemy was slain or a famous battle was fought.
These shrines abound in the Fanteland; there are about a hundred in the region. Apart from those mentioned here other important Posuban are located in Anomabu, 6 miles east of Cape Coast; Gomoa Otsew, 56 miles west of Accra; Apam, 60 miles west of Accra.
A private drive takes approximately 2 hours 30 minutes from Accra.
Inter-urban and long-distance transport services are reliable, take a little longer but get you there safely.
WHERE TO STAY
Throughout the Central region, there are welcoming hotels ranging from the 3- stars’ like Elmina Beach Resort, Elmina Bay Resort and Coconut Grove Beach Resort to budget properties like Hans Cottage Motel, Stumble Inn and many others spread along the l beaches that will satisfy most budget.
Do not leave the Central Region without enjoying the main dishes of the Fantes. ‘Fante Dorkuno’ (Kenkey with fish and gravy or Fante- Fante (Palm oil stew with small fresh fish)