I’m standing at an empty parking lot, watching as dark human figures cart trolleys from the market across the street. Some people take boxes out of cars and taxis. When light falls on the town, the parking lot is filled with stalls and tables barely able to contain the weight of the one item everyone sells here; beads. Next to some tables are grass mats with piles of beads in strings and bundles or loose pieces. Groups of women sit together stringing the beads. “Welcome to history,” a merchant says. His name is Kwame. He sells glass and ceramic beads. Like most beads here, they are hand made from the beginning to the end when there are cut and hand –painted; making each bead as unique as a finger print.
Kwame’s table also as a string of beads each the size of a baby’s fist from Mauritiana, there’s an ivory coloured necklace from Mali, Masai bead work from East Africa and cowrie shells. There are beads from every part of Ghana and other parts of West Africa and sold by merchants from all around West Africa. The sheer variety of the wares is astounding; some look like spikes, others like discs and shells. There are oval and rectangular beads and wooden beads carved like traditional masks. The variety of textures, shapes and colours are astounding. At one stall, when I ask about how much large brass bangles cost I am told, “You can’t afford them.” They date back to the days of the Songhai and Ghana empires and belonged to royalty. They have been in the merchant’s family for centuries, passed down from generation to generation. “They are only for exhibition” he says. This is what makes this market a great experience. People are not just here shopping or selling beads. Bead merchants and buyers from around the region have been meeting in this town where signs are hand-painted and markets play music at ear-splitting volume every Thursday since 1928.
I have travelled around 24 African countries, each as obsessed with beads as the next. People wear beads on wrists, necks, waists, heads and ankles. They inherit them from grandparents or get them as presents from friends and lovers. No where are they celebrated as much as in Koforudua, at a parking lot that’s one of Africa’s most unlikely heritage sites.