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Conserving the Traditional Architecture of the Asantes

Traditional buildings constructed with local materials and traditional plans are found in all the regions of Ghana. Though the architectural forms differ from region to region, the problems of their maintenance and repair are very similar. The group of Asante traditional shrines has a strong symbolic, social, religious, and historical value. Each shrine represents the memory of the village and links the community to the strong Asante traditions. The construction dates of the shrines are unknown, but it is believed that they were probably built in the nineteenth century. Some of the shrines are still in use and have a strong educative and research value, as they help visitors understand the crucial role of the fetish priests in Asante society. The shrines are directly related to the history of the region. These buildings were all sacred shrines, housing powerful deities and fetish priests/priestesses who were consulted by both local inhabitants and foreigners. Most of the buildings today are still used as shrines and the Ejisu Besease shrine houses a museum. Some of the shrines also have an economical value for the communities through tourism. Visitors pay guides to locate and visit the shrines. This financial impact is not evenly spread on all shrines. Some remote shrines do not receive tourists.

The Asante traditional buildings fall under the jurisdiction of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB). The Monuments Division is the outfit that monitors the sites and oversees all conservation issues. Management of the sites is shared by GMMB and the custodians living in the villages, but GMMB has the legal authority to approve physical interventions at the sites. In 1980, the Asante traditional buildings were inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

Successful conservation activities have been carried out on some of the Asante traditional buildings. The most recent conservation work was executed on the Ejisu Besease traditional building from August to November 2012. A rainstorm affected the roof system of the Ejisu Besease shrine and financial resources were committed through the institution’s internally generated fund and the Ghana government’s monthly subvention. The conservation program was carried out with the involvement of community members who provided labor and some local construction materials.

The first roof restoration of Ejisu Besease shrine was executed in 1998 by CRATerre ENSAG and GMMB, followed by restoration works by GMMB in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

Regarding the conservation of traditional buildings, it has been the policy of the board to retain the authenticity of the structures, especially the existing roof structures. The steep pitch and use of thatch today as roof covering is reasonably maintainable and conveys the original manifestation of these buildings. This traditional technique is also more satisfactory from an environmental, social, and cultural point of view because it can be implemented without imported materials. For the restoration of the roof, only the nails and binding wires were not locally sourced.

The value of these properties of the past are recognized and their future must be guaranteed. Today serious efforts are being made to conserve Asante traditional architecture.

The Asante traditional buildings were included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch. This will give an opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of safeguarding this fragile and important heritage. It will also provide an opportunity to raise funds, give the local community a sense of ownership, and also reunite the stakeholders living around their heritage. The GMMB is willing to implement a conservation strategy but to kick-start such a policy, there is need for support, because available resources are insufficient. This strategy would involve the local stakeholders more and the youth would also be sensitized and trained in each village to take proper care of the shrines.