[FEATURE] Growing Your Extended Family In Ghana

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Tamale is a place where you feel like everyone knows everyone, though that is not the case.  Those you meet will remember your name and cheerfully greet you the next time your paths cross, which could be weeks later.  As a stranger they will be quick to ask you “where are you going?” Or “where are you coming from?”  In America no one cares and if they do they keep it to themselves.  It took me sometime to get used to inheriting extended family members.  In my mind I was like I’m grown. I used to get a little insulted by such questions.  I was used to coming and going as I please in the West, answering to nobody for the most part. I would think to myself, “don’t they see I’m grown! Why are you treating me like I’m a kid”. . Laugh out loud.

In Ghana you are not considered GROWN until you are about 50 years old and even at 50 years old the elders will tell you they just saw you being born yesterday.  Elders are greatly respected here in the North of Ghana. One does not mindlessly babble with an elder here.  There may be some general conversation but the elder usually initiates it. There is an understanding of age difference and age deference. Respecting your elders is not just held to senior citizens though.  For example young men will go to their “bigger brother” for counsel.  The bigger brother being someone who is not their age mate, someone older that they respect. Even down to primary school age this is practiced.

In every neighborhood you will find the neighbors are well acquainted with everybody within the surrounding compounds.  Most often there have been generations that have lived and continue to live in the same place.  If you go outside the city it is the same.  In areas that new houses are going up, the neighbors will come through, introduce themselves, see where they may be of service to you. There is no call before you come round here.  Everyone will drop by unexpectedly; it’s the norm here.  Above all you will find that neighbors will keep watch. To a westerner this can seem invasive but as time passes by you grow to appreciate it.  Your neighbors become your extended family.  For me it has opened my eyes up to the true definition of the word “community” or brotherly love.

Growing up in the south, in the US, we would visit the elder relatives and extended family every week.  Today that is not so common anymore.  We have become much more detached. Our extended family we see only at funerals maybe holidays. Our neighbors we know less and less, maybe the occasional wave every now and then. In the west its very easy to have neighbors whom you do not know, especially if you are in a multi unit building.  Here in Tamale that’s just not possible.Inline image 2

When the community brings you into the fold, as family, it can be pretty cool but it can also be overwhelming, especially for an only child who lived a pretty solitary life in the West.   You get aunties, uncles, nieces and nephews where each one plays his roll to the tee.  The aunties and uncles will keep watch on your comings and goings and the nieces and nephews will announce your departures and arrivals . . . “Auntie bye byyeee!!”… “Titiiiii, good afternoon”.


The little ones will rush to grab your bags or packages eager to carry them in for you or to come to visit you if they think you have treats. The elders will come to check on you if they have not seen you in a while. It has been a very long time since I have experienced this kind of love. It takes me back to my childhood. I remember the look of gratitude an older aunt, uncle or cousin would have when my parents paid them a visit. I wear that same look now when Ma Salima calls for me at the door, after not seeing me for some time.  I also remember getting excited when I knew I was going to see aunt “so and so” because I knew she always carried the peppermint candies.  The sweet innocence of those long lost times are ever present here in Tamale. I imagine this is very similar to what our communities were like in the US when my grandparents were growing up.

When you are in Ghana or back home do you also feel that great sense of community as compared to the western world? Share your experiences below.

Until next time. . .
Ratched Jones


Ghana Writer rached jones- theonlywayisghana

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Email: ratchedjones@gmail.com
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