On May 31st 2018, our co-founder and intrepid adventurer, Bee Friedmann, packed her backpack, said goodbye to her beloved shop dog, Wolf and travelled solo to Ghana in search of culture, crafts and baskets (of course!). Here are her Ghana highlights.
What was your favourite thing about Ghana?
I loved the capital Accra - The Ghanaians are super friendly and especially proud. Everywhere you go women wear extravagant frocks - the men are equally vibrant sporting African print shirts in hot pinks and peacock blues!
What was the biggest challenge when finding new beautiful things for Artisans & Adventurers?
The heat! Ghana has 2 seasons - HOT AND HOTTER! With temperatures soaring to 39 degrees, basket buying can be quite tiring but exciting none the less!
Did you meet any special artisans you would like to mention?
The woman basket weavers I met were great fun. Their faces were stern when we first met but after a while they got used to me and softened. The group gave me the name 'Tampoka' which in Fra Fra (the local language) means 'Woman of the Hills', they have heard that there are lush green hills in England.
What is your favourite item that you have brought back from Ghana?
Our new brass wall hooks in the shape of African masks, lizards and crocodiles great for any room in the house. They are made out of brass using a precision wax casting method. My luggage weighed 90kgs coming home, and there is still more to come!
How would you describe the rural places and people you visited?
The upper east region of Ghana is the most poverty-stricken, in spite of this, the kids are extremely curious and the locals are always smiling. It was my first trip to West Africa and visiting rural groups in this region opened a new cultural door to me. Unfortunately, a lot of deforestation has taken place to make way for farming so the round mud huts sit in a hot and barren landscape.
Which artisan charities did you meet that Artisans & Adventurers will be working with in the future?
In Kumasi, I stayed in a lovely little hostel called Tumi Founded by Milou. Next to the Hostel, you can find the TUMI Ghana’s Women Empowerment Centre. They are a NON-Profit organisation that helps underprivileged young women. Due to several reasons such as poverty and early motherhood, girls often don't have the chance to go to school long enough to learn employable skills. This leaves them financially dependent on parents and boyfriends. TUMI offers vocational training in sewing and hair dressing, in addition to providing free access to birth control methods and sex education), enabling the young women to earn their own income, leaving them feeling confident and powerful! Here I met designer and sewing teacher Antoinette who is going to be making us wonderful ties out of the local very colourful Kente fabric.
Another fantastic organisation we will be working with is Trade Aid, a charity founded by Nicholas Apokerah. They help the local community who are mainly subsistence farmers. Their mission is to help and provide market access to small scale producers in the agricultural and craft sectors. Trade Aid help create and manage viable business enterprises around indigenous livelihoods for sustained poverty reduction and wealth creation. Nicholas had noticed that most of the rice sold was imported, which didn’t make sense to him as rice could grow well in this region and is a good cash crop, he then got to the task of raising the funds to build a rice processing plant. Now the local farmers bring their harvested rice to the processing plant where it is prepared to be sold in bags bearing the proud brand name 'Bolga Rice'.
How are Artisans & Adventurers customers making a difference to Ghanaian crafts people?
Buying products from us, from the places we travel to, impacts in two major ways. Firstly, the sales help support the income of rural families who mostly rely on subsistence farming, but when the rains come late or crops fail there is still an income from basket weaving to fall back on. Secondly, it keeps traditional crafts like weaving and brass casting alive, allowing skills to continue to be passed down through generations.
What shocked you the most?
The extreme amount of litter! Plastic is found clogging drains, caught on trees, it’s everywhere you go. Ghana has a long way to go to make it a tourist paradise and it is really missing a trick because the beaches are beautiful - palm trees line soft white sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean is a cool respite from the heat. However, at a closer glance, the beaches and ocean are strung with plastic bottles and bags, it is also not uncommon to come across a pile of human waste. Rwanda banned plastic bags in February 2014, and Kenya in August 2017. This has had a hugely positive impact on the landscape. I hope Ghana are not far behind in doing the same.
Where was your favourite place you visited?
Sirugu, which lies under the Burkino Faso Border. It is hot, dry and barren, but there is a gentle pace of life and the local people are so welcoming. I even spent time helping a group of ladies apply mud to their house - working on the roof with them in the cool breeze made me feel part of the landscape and the people. We spoke no common language but I think they found me funny and we laughed a lot as they bossed me about on how to do it properly. There is a very old tradition of painting houses here in bold stripes and animals. I stayed at SWOPA [www.swopa.org] an eco-lodge and arts and culture hub.
What have you learnt from Ghana that you can relate to your business in England?
The importance of family and working with people you love and respect - I would say our Team at Artisans & Adventurers is like a family and without their support and help the trip would not have been possible. Hard work is another factor. People in these remote areas work all the time - life is not easy for the vast majority of the world and understanding that we are lucky to live how we do, makes me more determined to make our business succeed.
What Ghanaian inspirations will you bring to any future designs?
The use of colour - working with the mask carvers in Accra on the traditional masks and giving them a contemporary twist using bright colours. Although these masks have ceremonial roots they makers are very excited that we are giving them a modern makeover and so far, the results are stunning. I am really excited to see all of Amy Fleuriot's designs come to life!
I also love the vibrant Kente cloth - its geometric design is unique and we are using some of the fabric I found for our new range of Dog Collars and leads for sister brand Hiro + Wolf.
What was the weirdest thing you saw being made?
A human sculpture with nails stuck through it called ‘fetishes’. They were seen as protective figures and used to destroy evil spirits, prevent or cure illnesses, repel bad deeds, solemnise contracts or oath-taking, and decide arguments. A diviner or holy person would activate the statue. They were so effective because people believed in them. I saw these being reproduced in the Accra Market. My father had been given one once, whilst working in the Belgin Congo - it frightened the life out of me!
What was your favourite meal in Ghana?
Ghana is not easy as a vegetarian. Basically, if it has four legs and fur it is food. The chef at one hotel noticed I had eaten nothing but chips and eggs, so he suggested he made me a ground peanut nut stew with vegetables (usually made with meat). It was totally delicious and definitely the best meal I had! Jollof rice is also fantastic! The Ghanians are fond of spice and chilli and they use it liberally. I also discovered a wonderful dish called ‘Palarva’ made out of a local leaf but could easily be made of spinach.
Best way to get around?
In the big cities, you can use Uber! You can also travel by local mini buses called Tro Tro’s, they are safe and easy, and only depart when they are full to capacity! It’s a great way to meet the locals. Distances between cities can be vast, so I flew using Africa World Airlines, as you expect many flights were cancelled and changed.
What essential item should you pack?
A sun hat, mozzie spray and bite cream!
Can’t leave Ghana without doing what first?
Visiting the coffin makers in Accra!
Discover our new Ghanaian collections in store and online in our 'Home & Living' section.