Pedagogies and Politics of “Culture”

Chiefly Authority, the State, and the Teaching of Cultural Traditions in Ghana
  • Cati Coe


In southern Ghana, as this poem, recited as part of a school cultural competition, declaims, it is through elders that one learns forms of knowledge—appropriate speech and elders’ matters—that are marked as cultural. The poem hints that a child gains access to these skills through dedicated copresence with elders while staying at home doing housework. Furthermore, the verb kyerε. translated here as “to teach,” means also “to show”; the verb sua, commonly translated as “to learn,” originally meant, “to imitate.”1 Cultural education by elders in southern Ghana takes place through informal, daily interaction, emphasizing performance and activity through demonstration and imitation, rather than verbal instruction or inner awareness. This is knowledge how to rather than knowledge of. Thus, two systems of education exist side by side in southern Ghana; both an informal education connected to a gerontocratic social order, in which elders are the custodians of the most prestigious knowledge, and formal schooling linked to the rise of the modern nation-state, the training of experts (teachers), and the creation of a new elite. The history of schooling in Ghana has in some ways been about the relationship between these two realms of a child’s experience, with those concerned with schools and the state attempting at various times, sometimes simultaneously, to denigrate and appropriate the power associated with traditional social order and the education associated with it.


International Monetary Fund Educational Reform Cultural Knowledge Cultural Policy National Competition 
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© E. Thomas Ewing 2005

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  • Cati Coe

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