5 pm – Monday, February 16- Dr. Frank Anderson presents to the MichiGhana-Net Student Group

5:00-6:00 pm | 1080 S. University, Ann Arbor 48109 | International Institute Gallery School of Social Work | Room 1644

It’s an honor to have Dr. Anderson speak with us. He has extensive research experience in Ghana in maternal health and mortality. He is the director of the Global Initiatives program in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and engages with several committees regarding maternal health including the Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Michigan Maternal Accident Committee.

For more information on MichiGhana-Net : https://maizepages.umich.edu/organization/michighana/about

3 pm – Thursday, February 19, 2015 -Sanyu Amimo Mojola: Love, Money and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS

500 S. State Street |  LSA Building Room 4154 | Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Sponsored by the Department of Sociology

Sanyu A Mojola is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research examines social structural processes underlying health disparities in a variety of settings including Kenya, South Africa, and Washington DC. Her current work uses mixed methods to examine gender disparities in HIV rates among African youth, the HIV epidemic among older adults in rural South Africa, and the HIV epidemic among African Americans in Washington DC. Her methodological specialty is combining qualitative methods (such as focus group and life history interviews) with quantitative methods (survey analysis) to answer research questions. She has published a book entitled Love, Money and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS (University of California Press) which explores the question of how modern women in developing countries experience sexuality and love. She draws on interview, ethnographic, and survey data from her native country of Kenya to examine how young African women, who suffer disproportionate rates of HIV infection compared to young African men, navigate their relationships, schooling, employment, and finances in the context of economic inequality and a devastating HIV epidemic.  She has published articles in Signs, Social Science and Medicine, Studies in Family Planning, andPopulation and Development Review. Mojola received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where her dissertation was awarded the 2009 Richard Saller Dissertation Prize for the dissertation considered to be the most distinguished piece of scholarship across the Social Science Division of the University of Chicago in a given year.

Tuesday, February 17,2015 “Songs for Khwesi” with Refilwe Nkomo and special guest Antonio David Lyons

4:30-5:30 p.m. 5511 Haven Hall (DAAS Lemuel Johnson Center)

Please join us for a special performance of a work-in-progress choreopoem by visiting artist Refilwe Nkomo which will be followed by a discussion/dialogue. The piece deals with the issues surrounding the South African case of President Jacob Zuma accused of rape by “Khwesi” a young woman who tested positive for HIV, that ended with an acquittal for Zuma. We will discuss violence against women and men’s roles in preventing rape culture. The discussion will be facilitated by Refilwe Nkomo, who has worked with NGOs in South Africa focusing on gender and health,  and Antonio David Lyons, who is performing “We Are Here” across campus throughout the month. http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category/letters/33434

Final Discussions and Writing a Declaration

Yesterday was our last intensive day of site visits. Today’s sessions in Legon marked the culmination of the week’s visits and workshop’s goal to write a declaration about Ghana’s archaeology and cultural heritage sties. Our activities today were held at the University of Ghana’s (UGL) International House. Workshop organizers, Ray Silverman (University of Michigan, History of Art) and Kodzo Gavua (University of Ghana, Archaeology and Heritage Studies), led the discussions for the morning and afternoon sessions.

In the morning, three graduate students from the University of Michigan (Andrew Gurstelle, Travis Williams. and Allison Martino), summarized the week’s activities and began making connections between the site visits and some of the critical questions we began discussion at the start of the workshop. Next, William Gblerkpor continued yesterday’s discussion with a short presentation about the dissertation research he conducted at Krobo mountain. Following, the current director of the Ghana National Museum, Zagba Nahr Oyortey, shared his insights about the relationships between archaeology and museums, and his anticipated plans for new partnerships and future collaboration. We ended the morning session with campus visits to the bookshop and the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies. Workshop participants visited the department’s archaeology museum, which currently features an exhibition on Ghana’s glass beads organized by Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo, workshop participant and lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Ghana.

After our break for lunch, we resumed our discussion with an intensive afternoon session to address major issues arising from our site visits. Some of the themes emerging from our discussion included: integrative approaches and attention to local community engagement, alternative museum spaces and conceptualizing museum as process, education and modes of communication, management practices, and the roles of heritage sites in cultivating social cohesion. The conversation then shifted to focusing on the goals and objectives for the declaration.

A five-person committee was formed to draft the declaration in the afternoon. After the committee met to draft the declaration, the session resumed as they presented the document to the group. The workshop participants then worked together to refine the declaration. By the close of the day’s activities, the participants successfully produced a declaration about Ghana’s archaeology and cultural heritage sites. It will soon be disseminated to important individuals and institutions in Ghana. The declaration represents the culmination of the workshop’s week-long activities and site visits, and participants hope that its recommendations will make a significant contribution to Ghana’s heritage sites.

To celebrate the workshop’s successes and our last evening in Ghana, we went to Chez Afrique, a popular restaurant in East Legon, for a dinner filled with delicious Ghanaian entrees and live music to enjoy on the outdoor patio. Tomorrow, the visiting participants from the UK, South Africa and the United States will return home. The completed declaration represents a significant accomplishment from the workshop. But the conversations with one another arising from our site visits were equally valuable experiences as workshop participants look ahead to future collaboration and continued discussion about the critical issues surrounding archaeology and cultural heritage sites in Ghana.

*Blog entry by Allison Martino, University of Michigan

Parks, Beads, and Coffins: Visiting Heritage Sites in Ghana’s Eastern Region

After visiting Elmina and other heritage sites in Ghana’s central region, the workshop participants returned to Accra. On Thursday, our last day of site visits, we traveled to Ghana’s eastern region and visited Shai Hills resource reserve, Krobo mountain, the Cedi bead factory in Odumase, and a “fancy” coffin workshop in Akuse.

Shai Hills Resource Reserve

Our first stop on Thursday morning was to the Shai Hills Resource Reserve. Located northeast of Accra, the site became a reserve a few years after Ghana’s independence from Great Britain in 1962. Ghana’s forestry commission currently manages the reserve. A family of baboons greeted us at the entrance area near the roadside. Many families of baboons make their home at the reserve, along with monkeys, antelopes, ostriches, and other animals. A guide from the reserve introduced workshop participants to the site at a reception area and joined us for our tour.


Shai Hills consists of grasslands, quarries, and hills where the Dangme organized settlements around the foothills and hilltops. We drove through the park, stopping in an open area near one of the hills where William Gblerkpor, lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Ghana, shared more about the site’s archaeological importance: the site’s history dates to at least the 14th century; radio carbon tests suggests that the site dates to the 11th century. The Dangme first built settlements around the foothills. But during the 1300s, the settlements expanded upward on the hilltops where some terrace structures remain. The archaeological record at the site indicates a continuity of ceramic traditions used at the court or for puberty rites, in addition to burials and shrines dedicated to the gods. In 1892, the settlements were relocated from these ancient sites to an area 8km away, but some rites continued to be held at the ancient sites.

Next, we visited an area of the reserve that features a large open-air building. The World Bank built this structure as a “museum” in the mid-1990s. But the building has to yet to be realized as a functioning museum or to serve any other purpose. Instead, it is unfortunately an example of an unsuccessful heritage site. In its current state, the building is in poor condition from not serving any function other than a home to some of the animals living in the reserve. Consequently, this sparked an important conversation among participants about the factors and decisions that have resulted in the building’s current state. Additionally, it led to discussion about the site’s potential and possible ways to start using the building. This discussion centered on three important issues: first, this building exemplifies a common problem when outside companies take action without local involvement. Second, it also indicates the problem of maintenance at heritage sites when business plans are not made or upheld. For example, the World Bank did not seek local collaboration to build the structure or to develop a management plan, which prevented the community from using the space after it was constructed. Lastly, the building’s open-air plan and layout raises important conceptual issues regarding its intended function as a “museum.”

Krobo Mountain

After leaving Shai Hills, the workshop participants continued north to visit Krobo mountain. But en route to Krobo, maintenance problems with the bus returned and we were forced again to make impromptu arrangements. Luckily, two tro-tro buses came by that were nearly empty with only a few passengers. Tro-tros are refurbished minivans that are independently run and form the main bus system and the most affordable transportation option for Ghanaians. Instead of waiting for the bus to be repaired before we continued, we requested to have the tro-tros take us to Krobo mountain before they resume their normal route. After leaving our bus behind and boarding the tro-tros, we continued our journey to krobo mountain.


Arriving at Krobo mountain, we drove into the park along a winding gravel road. We soon reached an open clearing at the base of the mountain. William Gblerkpor introduced us to Krobo Mountain, the primary site of his PhD dissertation field research. Some of the workshop participants then hiked up the mountain to view the terraces that William described in his discussion of the site’s archaeological record. But the mid-day heat and steep, rocky terrain kept other participants from joining the hike, as they opted to explore the area surrounding the base of the mountain.

Cedi Bead Factory in Odumase

Our bus was still being repaired when we completed our visit at Krobo mountain. So we continued our travels in the tro-tro buses to Odumase, a town in Krobo known for glass bead making. Odumase features a large market selling glass beads and a bead festival (since 2009) that draws customers and visitors from throughout the country and abroad. Glass beads are important objects in Ghana’s archaeological record and have a long history as trade commodities in exchanges between Africa and Europe. In Krobo society, beads are important family heirlooms as they symbolize status and are often used in dipo puberty rites for girls entering womanhood.


During our visit to Odumase, we stopped at the Cedi Bead Factory to meet bead maker Cedi. He learned the trade at a young age from his family, and has since continued the family business. Cedi is actively involved in the economic and cultural dimensions of Krobo’s bead making industry: he serves as president of the Manya Korbo Bead Association and is a founding member of the Ghana Bead Society. During our visit, Cedi explained the processes involved to make glass beads. He demonstrated how to make five different types of beads: recycled antique beads, recycled transparent beads, recycled glass powder beads, glazed painted beads, and bodom beads.

The Royal Senchi Hotel

Following, we took a break for lunch at the Royal Senchi Hotel, a luxury hotel recently built in 2011 along the Volta River near Somanya and Denkyenyam. The hotel’s serene environment and upscale appeal as one of only a few four-star hotels in Ghana sharply contrasts daily life outside the hotel’s entrance gate. Its architectural design suggests broader reference to “African” design and its interior décor seeks to celebrate Ghana’s heritage as it features adinkra symbols, woven kente cloths, carved Akan wood stools, and wall hangings referencing akua’ba dolls. While we enjoyed the gourmet buffet lunch, we also discussed important issues that the hotel raises regarding heritage tourism in Ghana, including: the “invisible boundary” that separates access and involvement from the local community, and how heritage is visualized and commodified through reference to Ghanaian and African cultural practices.


“Fancy” Coffin workshop in Akuse

Following our lunch, we stopped at Cedi’s bead shop located separately from the bead factory along the roadside before traveling to our last site visit: a “fancy” coffin workshop in Akuse, a small town near Odumase-Krobo. “Fancy” coffins, sometimes referred to as “fantasy” coffins, are painted wood caskets carved to depict the deceased’s occupation or aspirations. At the “fancy” coffin workshop, participants had the opportunity to speak individually with the carpenters to learn more about the trade and view examples of their work on display. For example, some of the completed “fancy” coffins on display included: a bible, car and taxi, and a two-story white painted house. Other popular examples include cocoa pods and sugarcane for farmers, cameras for photographers, airplanes and other animals. Funerals are important religious and social events in Ghana, but the expensive costs associated with “fancy” coffins limits their use to elite families. The workshop we visited also manufactures plain wood caskets, a more affordable option for local customers.

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“Fancy” coffins have also garnered international recognition for their creativity and imaginative designs. Consequently, these objects have gained additional roles as they are displayed in museum exhibitions and attract tourist visitors to their workshop. In addition to Akuse, “fancy coffin” workshops are especially prevalent along Accra’s coastal towns of Teshie and Nungua (notable carpenters include Kane Kwei and Paa Joe).

After visiting Akuse, we concluded our site visits for the day and returned to Legon. The range of our visits today – from natural, environmental heritage sites at Shai Hill and Krobo, to artistic cultural heritage practices at Odumase and Akuse, and lunch at the new Royal Senchi hotel – provided workshop participants with dynamic experiences to consider how heritage manifests in different forms.

*Blog entry by Allison Martino, University of Michigan

From Forest to Fort

The workshop participants began the day by leaving the beach of Elmina for the tropical rainforest of Kakum, a national park overseen by the Heritage Conservation Trust and the Forestry Commission. The park itself is larger than three hundred square kilometers, and serves as a sanctuary for countless species of flora and fauna, including the endangered forest elephant. Though we were not fortunate enough to lay eyes upon such rare animals, we nevertheless enjoyed walking through the undergrowth of the now protected ecosystem. Before the creation of the park, the landscape was deforested—the species now populating the forest constitute a regenerating forest. Our guide was careful to point out interesting plant species throughout the tour, including an ebony tree.

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Left: Workshop participants walk along a forest path in Kakum.  Right: We gather around an example of new growth springing up from a forested stump. 


The highlight of our trip to Kakum, however, was definitely the canopy walk, which consisted of a series of rope bridges suspended up to 35 meters above the forest floor. Many of the workshop participants had their phobias of heights tested on the sky bridge, but all who tried its walkways were laughing and smiling by the end. The canopy walk afforded a magnificent view of the rainforest below, a much different view than might have been seen a century ago before logging and hunting were sanctioned in the now protected area.   The trip to Kakum served to remind the workshop’s participants of the multiplicity of the concept of heritage. Though our workshop was initiated with the cultural heritage in mind, we were keen to see how heritage could also include natural resources.

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Workshop participants scale the ropes of the canopy walk. 


We set out from Kakum in hopes of reaching Assin Manso to observe the tourist sites set up around a “slave route” narrative involving the crossing of a river delimiting the Asante heartland and the final bath of enslaved people. Unfortunately, our bus was not cooperating, and we were left temporarily stranded on the side of road. The automotive detainment inspired an impromptu archaeological survey of the surrounding area, and we managed to find a single potsherd in a nearby agricultural field. When we had exhausted that endeavor, we were then treated to a show of the juggling capabilities of some of the workshop’s participants.   Fortunately for us, the bus had broken down within site of a local mechanic’s garage, and he was able to have the bus up and running in a relatively short amount of time.


Workshop participants entertain each other while waiting for the bus to be repaired. 

Our bus troubles, however, made us improvise our plans for the afternoon, and we decided to check out a nearby fort. Unlike Elmina, this fort, Fort Amsterdam, has very little supporting heritage infrastructure. The site had some work done in the 1970s to rebuild collapsed portion, but it has not be restored, there is no museum display, little signage, and no regular staff. However, the potent slavery narrative is just as present. Fort Amsterdam was the first British castle on the Gold Coast. It was built near the Koramantse village, which eventually overtook and destroyed the fort. The participants were struck by how the same narrative reverberated differently in the structures. We discussed how the polished structure of Elmina lent itself to a fuller exploration of African heritage involving European trade, outside of the slave trade. This contrasted with Fort Amsterdam, where the spectre of slavery loomed larger—in both the narrative and the architecture.

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Left: View of Fort Amsterdam, looking southeast.  Right: Workshop participants listening to our guide narrate his rendition of the fort’s history. 


We returned to Accra, looking forward to tomorrow and our tour of sites that related more strongly to Ghanaian cultural heritage.

Elmina: Tour/Counter-Tour

Though yesterday’s presentations and discussions served to provide background and incite consideration of the workshop’s themes, we were all eager to set out and explore the issues on the ground as they relate to local heritage sites. Thus, we headed west and south from Accra, towards the coastal town of Elmina and it’s rich cultural heritage.

Our visit to Elmina began at Elmina Castle (or St. George’s Castle), a large fortification initially constructed by the Portuguese in 1482 (making it one of the oldest European settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa).   The Dutch took the fortification by force from the Portuguese in the first half of the 17th century, who subsequently ceded the fort to the British in the late 19th century.   Though initially built as a trading hub for material commodities such as gold, the fortification ultimately served as an administrative center for the sale and shipment of human beings. Nearly 100,000 slaves disembarked their home continent from Elmina, and it is this legacy of bondage that looms large in the historical narrative told to visitors at the site today.

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Left: Workshop participants gather outside Elmina Castle’s walls for the tour.  Right: A cannon lays pointing from the castle’s walls into the present town of Elmina; note Fort Jago on the hill in the distance. 

Local surgeon and history enthusiast, Dr. Anthony Anan-prah, graciously provided us a guided tour of the castle and its grounds. The doctor’s tour, though entertaining, was largely characterized by a sort of shock-and-awe approach to the legacy of slavery at the site; dark tales of cramped, dirty dungeons and promiscuous governors permeate the narrative given by tour guides at the site. Though these tales no doubt have a basis in the reality of the past (if not at Elmina Castle proper, then certainly in similar places), their exact veracity is challenged by historical documents regarding the fort’s occupation, as well by as the material evidence and architecture of the fort itself. One of the workshop’s participants, Dr. Mark Horton, deftly provided a counter-narrative of the castle’s heritage as presented by our guides, an interesting juxtaposition to the story presented by Dr. Anan-prah. For example, a small, gated door that exits the sea side of the fort was presented by our tour guide as the “Gate of No Return” of the castle.   Through this door, slaves were marched from the keep’s dungeons to the beach and then to the slave ships waiting anchored in the water beyond for transport across the Atlantic Ocean. The door, however, lies roughly three to four meters above the ground surface, with no visible remnants of a staircase or any other means of descent to the sand below.   Furthermore, a drainage system of the castle clearly empties from this passageway, suggesting the door is nothing more than an exit for the structure’s rainwater.

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Left: Drs. Anthony Anan-prah (far right) and Mark Horton (far left) stand in front of a brick compass constructed during the Dutch occupation of the fort.  Right: Workshop participants listen as Dr. Anan-prah gives his tour of the fortification’s courtyard.  

After lunch, Dr. Anan-prah led a guided walking tour of the town of Elmina and some of the town’s sites of significant cultural heritage.   He began by describing the layout of the town, the streets of which follow a loosely gridded pattern that corresponds to the boundaries of former plantations in the area. Over the bridge, just beyond the castle, we came to the Bridge House. Built by the Dutch in the 17th century, the house exhibits typical architectural motifs common in the Netherlands and its colonies at the time. Today, the Bridge House is owned an operated by the Coconut Grove Beach Resort, and visitors may rent rooms to stay overnight within its aged walls.

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Left: Workshop participants walk down a steet of Elmina; note the rock structure to the right is part of the Bridge House.  Right: A view of the lagoon and part of Elmina castle from the bridge connecting the fort to the town. 

Next, we were led by Dr. Anan-prah to three of the seven Asafo club houses in Elmina. The Asafo were once a seven-part military organization that served as the de facto force of the local people in the town. Though the martial responsibilities of the Asafo companies have long been abandoned, to this day they remain important organizations of cultural and political practice and belief for the people of Elmina. Each company has its own associated iconography, and their clubhouses serve as material reminders of this rich cultural heritage. Dr. Anan-prah also led us by the Dutch cemetery in town, in which many Dutch colonists (including governors) were buried.

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Left: Asafo post #5, Abese Comany’s clubhouse.  Right: Workshop participants climb the hill towards St. Joseph’s basilica; note the Dutch cemetery in the foreground of the town.

Lastly, we visited St. Joseph’s Minor Basilica and the small museum now housed in the former Catholic boys school building on the basilica’s grounds. The basilica sits upon a hill, and offers a commanding view of the Fort Jago (another fort built by the Dutch in Elmina in the 17th century) and the surrounding town. According to Dr. Anan-prah, St. Joseph’s is the oldest Catholic church still in use in the entire country (built 1892). The Catholic Church Museum just across the courtyard from the basilica was began as a hobby by Dr. Anan-prah, but has since grown into an extensive repository for cultural resources related to Elmina and especially St. Joseph’s. These include a scaled replica of many of the important buildings in town, as well as significant historical records from the church dating back into the 1800s. Dr. Anan-prah conveyed that the church complex sits upon the former grounds of yet another fort in the town, Fort Schomerus, the remains of which were not readily visible on the heavily developed hillside.

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Left: Miniature exhibit of Elmina’s buildings in the Catholic Church Museum.  Right:  A view of Elmina from St. Joseph’s hill; note Fort Jago and Castle Elmina (more distantly) in the background to the right of the frame. 

During the night’s closing discussion, many of the workshop’s participants remarked on the juxtaposition of the two tours we received in Elmina. First, we were told the narrative that all visitors to Elmina Castle are given—a shock-inducing narrative of bondage and horror, the details of which remain historically unsubstantiated but emotionally compelling. The first tour was marked by a literal and figurative segregation of spaces and bodies; few local people of Elmina have cause to venture within its walls, and tourists visiting the castle can avoid spending any time whatsoever among the pulsing throngs of daily life in the town. The second tour, however, felt much different in connecting the place to its people. Local residents on the streets remarked that tourists never ventured far from the castle to explore the other rich cultural heritage sites of Elmina.

Overall, the trip to Elmina provided us a wonderful context within which to view the issues our workshop seeks to address.  The contested narratives the town’s heritage are readily apparent in the spaces we traversed, and we look forward to visiting more sites before the week is done.


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