Karl’s Chronicles. Article 20 Ghana: House of Three Colours
A plump lizard lay just behind a python, all coiled up like rope down at the harbour. In front walked a contented crocodile, tail in the air with a set of comb pronged teeth. Striding around the corner with only a doorway separating him was a well-fed cow, a hide of white marked with black diamonds. His horns pointing towards the heavens almost closed like a pair of sugar-tongs. In the real world, there would be a cloud of dust and a lot of fuss, but here such animals were immortalised by myth, representation and three colours strong. In the small village of Sirigu in the far north of Ghana, some of the women still retain the old tradition of painting the outside of their homes. Encouraged by the homegrown organisation of SWOPA – Sirigu Women’s Organisation For Pottery & Art. Founded in 1997 by Madam Melanie Kasise whose mother was a potter, making them for her own use with a few extra to sell in the market. The monies raised, just like the co-workers today, helped feed and put the children through school. After retiring from a managerial position covering all the Catholic schools in the region, Madam Melanie went onto encourage a woman’s collective. Beginning with thirty women developing artisan skills such as pottery, basket weaving, batik printing and painting. Today there are close to 250 women involved across all projects.
The Grussi women beautified their houses by applying geometric designs and animals in three colours: red (danger), black (dignity) and white (purity). Naturally found in rocks which were smashed down to powder, then mixed with water. The black outline applied first, followed by red then white and finalised by the second coat of black. As the man constructed the property, it fell to the woman to make it presentable. Accomplished in a group with help from neighbouring houses, whose women, having completed one, would then move onto the next. Often the homesteads became competitive, desiring to possess the most beautiful artwork in the village. The geometric patterns, though decorative hold precise meanings, The top band of white crosses and diamonds known as Akuuyana nii evoked leadership, under this was zaalinga, long horizontal white and black lines representing a net. Unity-school komaguritaala nausi, a narrow band of zigzags followed, and finally, skirting the base like jagged white teeth was vlauzaggi symbolising a shard of calabash. A broken piece that could be used elsewhere through improvisation-nothing being wasted. Animals were just as crucial in their representations, often spiritual and highly significant in peoples beliefs. Banga – a lizard, was seen as friendship, the python – inlaafo represented protection, shared by numerous religions the world over. The crocodile eagba– symbolised saviour while a double-headed crocodile shared the same meaning as the English proverb ‘two heads are better than one’. Wealth – maafo was seen in a cow or horse, hope – mooa in a chicken and ziifo, a happy home held sway by a fish.
Outside the compound stood a small shaded bench used by the man to rest, tell stories and meet with visitors. The narrow entrance leads directly into a large animal enclosure with a pair of mud granaries towering in the centre. At the rear, separated by a second wall stood the living quarters. Accessed through a low arch with a high step to tackle just inside and designed as a line of defence against enemy raids. To enter, the enemy would be forced to crawl, made vulnerable and open to attack. Either by being speared or shot with an arrow. He certainly wouldn’t have the advantage of knowing the households position or numbers. But those inside, owing to a better line of sight could ascertain the immediate threat by counting the pairs of legs. The enemy could try and smoke them out, but protection came from two ventilation shafts positioned either end. Accessing the roof allowed the besieged to summon help in a ‘call for arms’.
In 2004, Kofi Anan – former UN Secretary-General visited SWOPA after reading about their progressive and successful program from the internet. A small statue in the gardens honours that event and his passing in 2018. Inside the shop, across several shelves, stand numerous certificates and accolades honouring the achievements of the women’s organisation. The DEVCO Communication Award presented to SWOPA in 2015 aptly mentions:
‘For being a great example of the concrete impact that EU development co-operation can make in key areas such as women’s empowerment, support to the development of the private sector and access to electricity in rural areas’.
Facts: SWOPA – Mob No: +233 050 75 00 405 / 050 33 13 690. www.thecandytrail.com/sirigu-village-painted-houses-ghana/ (not an official website but a link with more information).
Accommodation: A 5-bed dormitory s/c costs 120cd for the entire room. Two bungalows s/c with a/c and breakfast at 65cd each. Two bungalows s/c with fan including breakfast at 50cd each. It’s also possible to sleep on the long flat roof above the dormitory. Entertainment in the form of dancing and music by the Sirigu women and children can be organised for guests.
Meals such as rice, jollof, spaghetti, fried rice, yam chips with chicken, fish or guinea fowl should be pre-ordered and cost around 35cd.
There is an on-site shop selling painted canvases done in the identical designs as the homes themselves. Batiks, elephant grass and reed baskets, leather sandals, pottery including bowls, dishes, small vases, and casserole pots. Postcards, figurines, honey, baobab oil and shea butter. Aside from the honey and oil, everything else is made by the women of Sirigu.
SWOPA also offers workshops in painting/basket weaving/pottery all taught by the local women.
Transport: Reaching Sirigu is straight forward enough. You can take a tro-tro (minivan) from the principal station in Bolgatanga. Ask for Sirigu-Navrongo as there is also a Sirigu on the other-side of Bolgatanga. The 35km, one hour journey, costs 6cd. Ask the driver to drop you off outside the SWOPA compound. You can charter a taxi from the taxi station on Zuarangu road in the south of town. Returning make some time regarding the fill-and-go minivans. Sirigu village lays a further kilometre away from SWOPA, where finding a shared taxi (7cd) should be a faster alternative.