If you want Western-style consumption, you'll find it in abundance at the Accra Mall. But thankfully, there are many in West Africa keen to encourage sustainable tourism that is both environmentally and culturally sensitive.
On the way back to the capital from Kumasi, we called into the village of Adonwomase, which is home to a community-based project producing the renowned Kente double and triple weave cloth, crafted with enormous skill and dexterity by local young men, using Ghanaian black and white wool and rayon imported from India. (The empowerment of women is one of the critical issues here, since they are prohibited from the manufacturing process by taboos, and as a result suffer financially as well as in terms of dignity).
Visitors to the project contribute both financially and through buying and promoting the produce. The Adonwomase initiative has received European Union funding and micro-finance assistance and makes a real difference to the local economy overall. It is also part of the Community Based Ecotourism network.
Also in the ancient Ashanti region, located on the Kumasi-Mampong road, is Ntonso Craft Village, which promotes the traditional Adinkra cloth. There you can try your hand at printing, using the wide range of ancient and newer symbols (one for the Peace Corps has recently been created!) and also Calabash carving to produce the imprint stamps that take ink from local trees.
Life and death are intertwined here, as ever. Adinkra means 'farewell' or 'goodbye' in the Twi language of the Akan, and so the beautiful cloths with their symbols representing everything from divine blessing to humility are developed for important occasions, including funerals of family relatives, as a way of signifying sorrow, saying goodbye to the deceased, and passing on the tradition (and craft) to the young. Red and black are the funeral colours; white, cream and multicolours form the cloths for other occasions.
The welcome in both Ntonso and Adonwomase could not have been warmer. There is particular appreciation for those who want to spend time understanding the crafts, the traditions behind them and the significance of all this for the life of the community.
In a fast, globalised system, local cultures and the wisdom on which they are based (as well as the dilemmas they pose), are passed over far too quickly. Life is superficial and forgetful. Ethical tourism is about recovering ethos as well as seeking to contribute to eco-justice as part of the journey and the encounter.
(Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow has been travelling in Ghana over the New Year in 2011)