One of the high points of the 2019 Accra Weizo in Ghana was the fam trip to Beyin, a village at the northern fringes of Western Region. Beyin is close to the Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire border, and the host community of Nzulezo, wherein dwells the real rivers people of Ghana. For the trip, we travelled all noon by road from our hotel, Golden Tulip Accra to Cape Coast, through the Takoradi-Sekondi highway, the twin capital of Western Region and to the Jomoro District. But after more than 10 hours on the road, with periodic stops, we arrived the Karela hotel past midnight and quickly retired after a late dinner. Early the next day, most of us struggled out of bed to prepare for the trip to Nzulezo. To access Nzulezo, we must go by boats. Nzulezo, or the “village on water,” is located 90 km west of Takoradi, and 5km north of Beyin. This unique village is built on stilt in the Tandane Lake. Nzulezo is one of the Amasuri Wetlands, a ramsar site and the largest inland swamp forest in Ghana. The Wetland is a habitat for a variety of animals like monkeys, crocodiles, marine turtles and fishes. Nzulezu also represents an outstanding interplay between man and the environment.
Oral history has it that the village was constructed some 500 hundred years ago by migrants from Walata, a city in the ancient Ghana Empire. According to legend their ancestors were guided to this particular spot by a snail. The snail is therefore a totem and revered by the people of Nzulezo. The only other people in the West African Sub-region who live on a stilt village are the Ganvie people of the republic of Benin.
The Nzulezu stilt village has a total population of about 600 people. The main occupations there are farming, fishing and the brewing of local gin Akpeteshi. The village is ruled by the chief and elders who set out rules and regulations to guide behaviour of villagers. The chief presides over criminal offences and other unruly behaviours in the community. Nevertheless, felony crimes are referred to the formal courts system for adjudication. The tribe at Nzulezo are very conservative and do not accept intermarriages with other tribes.
Since the year 2000, the commencements of tourism activities in the Amanzuri wetland, a number of infrastructural developments have been carried out which though have been designed for tourism growth, have turned out to be for public good. These include the construction of 1.4 kilometre of a 2 kilometre canal from Beyin to Nzulezo; a paved landing bay of granite stones, grassed banks and a 140 metre wooden walkway from the main road to the landing bay. In addition, these facilities enhance school attendance and transport of goods from and to the market. The re-construction of the 312 meter main walkway in the stilt village using durable timber and the creation of nature trails in the wetland are other developmental efforts undertaken by the Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ghana Wildlife Society.
Nzulezo has coexisted with nature and is a good example of people living in harmony with nature and their environment since the first inhabitants of the community migrated from Mali in the 15th century, after a war with the Mande people of West Africa over their fertile land and gold. The only way to reach the village is by canoe. Tickets must be purchased from the ticketing office at the end of the long dirt road at Beyin. Life jackets are provided for all sizes, adults and children alike. The canoe trip itself is 45 to 60 minutes in duration and very scenic. After you’re there, you are on foot to get to anywhere you wanted to go. Nzulezo’s main industry is farming. Nearly everything in this village take place on or just above the water-cooking, schooling, recreation, etc. Whenever a new baby is born, it is baptized in the lake, which is believed to be a protection against drowning. By the age of three, all the local children are required to know how to swim. The village has three churches and a school for children. When they get to Junior High they have to travel everyday to the nearest town for further education. The village has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Numerous canoes, each big enough to carry five adults, carry visitors through the mangrove forest and across Lake Tadane to the village every day except Thursdays.
David Blay, or one of several other local tour guides will take you on a tour of the village, enabling you to interact with the locals and allow you to observe their daily activities. The school’s blackboards contain what appear to be daily lessons, with the date written at the top of the blackboard. It’s up to you to decide whether all of the smudges around the date (and the lack of smudges around everything else on the board) suggest that all is not what it seems. These days, you can also get to the village in 30mins or less by a powered commercial canoe that can carry up to 10 people.
The village has a small guest house. A room with one single bed and one double bed cost around 60 cedis (depending on your negotiation skills). The beds are firm, but have mosquito nets. As of now, there are no 24/7 Healthcare Clinic/Hospital in Nzulezo. However, residents are lobbing local authorities to have a health care facility built for them, ferrying patients to Ghana is not a practical alternative these days. The village has a small “spot” bar that serves beer, spirits, and soft drinks. Since tourism in the village started 20 years ago, people of the city travel to Nzulezo just to taste the gin that is indigenous to the place. They feel it is far different and tastes better than other places. The villagers will be pleased if you buy some souvenirs that they hand-carved, for example mini-canoes about 15cm long. Evans Cudjoe, headteacher of the village’s only primary school says new teachers employed by the government don’t come back after their first visit to the village. Cudjoe, a teacher in Nzulezo for ten years believes they won’t have shortage of teachers if the Ghanaian government provide enough incentives to make teachers stay; like slightly higher pay than in the city and modern school supplies to get their work done instead of constantly spending their own money for supplies. Amidst all the recruiting problems, it is nice to know that the village has produced a lady nurse and an undergraduate now. Getting those students to come back and support the village is an easier task than getting the government teachers to come to the village to teach. The residents of Nzulezo are very comfortable with their way of life and it’s not as easy as you may think for them either. They tried to balance their modern way of life with their ancient ways; cooking, traveling, entertainment, life’s enjoyment, one with nature, educating their children in the ancient and modern ways just like it’s done on land in Ghana or anywhere around the world.
The trip organised by GTA in partnership with Accra Weizo, was one of activities lined up by the Ghanaian government to celebrate 2019 as the “Year of Return” in commemoration of the 400th year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African on the American soil in 1619.