Kumasi in a day: Ashanti palaces and a never-ending market

The teeming masses traveled beneath, more people going about their daily schedules than I could ever imagine.

Comfort, a local Ghanaian guide, had just brought us up to the top of an unnamed tower overlooking Kejetia market. The view was astounding. On one side, we saw a gigantic crowd of Ghanaians heading towards the market for the start of the day’s trading. On the other side was the market itself, an expanse of metal containers arranged into neat blocks continuing as far as the eye could see.

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The people going to market

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See that blurry brown and silver that stretches beyond in the top middle? That’s more shops and stalls than you could ever possibly imagine.

It was a view we would have never seen had it not been for the guide. The tower was unmarked and we never would have known that people off the street could even ascend its tiny winding steps. The tower gave us a great view of our next objective: a full scale traverse through the winding passages of Kejetia Market, the largest open-air market in West Africa.

So with one final glance, we headed back down to the “trading floor.” With over 10,000 registered shops (yes, they actually pay dues and there’s a big bounded book with the name of each one), you can find any product you could ever dream of somewhere in the market. From clothes irons to wholesale quantities of mouthwash, from imported Moroccan dates to expensive colonial-era trade beads, there’s something for every taste, no matter how discerning or specific.

One of the most fun things to do was seeing all of the craftsmen who work right in the market. There are rows beyond rows of people making all types of traditional Ghanaian cloth as well as custom fitted sandals. Everyone was happy to show us what they were working on, stopping their busy schedules (well, actually some were sleeping) for a few minutes to demonstrate the ins and outs of gluing wooden sandal bottoms to the leather or embroidering ornate designs onto dresses.

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The stalls were interminable, but after about two and half hours (counting the numerous stops at shops), we had finally walked across the market, or as least one route through its intricate maze. And thanks to our guide, even though we could hardly keep our directions straight, we managed to emerge out of the market right where we could catch a taxi to our next destination: the Ashantehene Palace complex.

Saying goodbye to our guide Comfort, we headed on to the former residence of three Ashanti (or Asante) kings. They were the rulers of the Ashanti kingdom and had led the fight against the British colonialists during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The former palace has been converted into a museum (the new one is off limits for obvious reasons, the current king lives there year round). It still contains the refrigerator and TV that the kings used, as well as Madame Tussauds sculpted wax statues of each of the former kings. It’s a little offbeat, but the info is top notch for understanding Ashanti history and culture.

Mini history lesson. The people of the various tribes in the surrounding Ashanti region came together in the late 1600s to create a single Ashanti kingdom under one sovereign. This kingdom eventually expanded its borders past the current auspices of Ghana, but diminished in power with the British invasion. It lost all political power with the creation of the state of Ghana in 1957, but still holds ceremonial power in addition to its economic power over the hundreds of millions of dollars of gold mined in the area.

After the palace, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and were back out for our final activity for the day, a 5 minute tro-tro ride to a brass molding workshop. The man there showed us how everything was made, from rings to elephants. The process is drawn out, complex, and I didn’t understand it fully enough to write it out in detail here, but more simply, they use a mixture of charcoal and wax to create a negative of the desired figure which brass can then be poured into. Very interesting and informative (and free).

And that was the adventure of today. A self-guided village “tour” is probably on the schedule tomorrow, but the gold mine tour for Thursday is in trouble because the mine has apparently doesn’t allow tourists to visit anymore. Too bad for that, but if it happens, we’ll probably just a hop a tro-tro back to Accra and hang out there for an extra day before flying home.

Oh, and there’s a pretty cute, chill cat that hangs around the hotel. He was worthy of a picture.

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Hotel kitty wants to travel in Ghana too.

This part of the trip is fun just because we’re planning it minute-by-minute. One moment we might be heading out on a day trip, and the next we might be going on a long journey to another city. It’s the best way to fully enjoy a trip.

Only a few days left. Let’s see what parting words Ghana has to offer.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Kumasi in a day: Ashanti palaces and a never-ending market

  1. Jeanne Michel

    Hi Matt! I’ve been following your posts, you’ve really had quite a summer!! It must be wonderful to have those experiences, and also to make an impact on so many people’s lives. Hope you have a safe trip home!

  2. Loving that market and wishing I could be there, exploring and learning. What a tremendous opportunity and experience! You rock! – Pasca

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