Saturday, January 31, 2009

Strange Things You’ll Find in Living Rooms in Ghana

When it comes to interior decor, I’d give most Ghanaian homes that I’ve visited low points. Each time I sit in our living room, I can tell that someone has made some attempt to decorate and has failed. Our living room used to be very cluttered but even now that there is more space, it is still uninspiring. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, this seems to be a national problem. The list which follows has the ten elements which I feel add nothing to our living rooms.

  1. Fake flowers
  2. Walls painted Duke blue, ochre, or even verdant green. In general, I find that little attention is paid to the way colours are combined
  3. Oil painted walls
  4. Wooden room dividers with china plates displayed in them
  5. Family photos which don’t seem to tell any story- The mother in the wedding dress, the father in his church suit, the children at graduation, baby photos- and are displayed in some odd places. For example the wedding picture will be on the wall, the baby pictures will be on the tv etc.
  6. Centre tables covered with fabric...usually made from lace or cotton
  7. Curtains and draperies which hang from ceiling to the floor and prevent light from streaming in. I like light and fresh air so I see no reason to have windows if you’re going to cover them up. But then again, if your next door neighbour sells kenkey, the air coming in from the window facing that neighbour may not be so fresh.
  8. Wooden decorative elements which look commercial and very kitsch.
  9. I don’t know the name for it, but you’ll find rectangular or oval pieces of fabric hanging on the sofas with matching ones lying on the coffee tables. I used to think these were just for decoration but it also serves to prevent grease from people’s hair from staining the sofas.
  10. Bright corporate calendars hanging on walls. My mother must have a friend who works in a bank because she always gets these bank calendars that are so out of place in our living room.

I’m curious to see what you have to add. What have I left out? If you like any of the things I’ve included in my list, you may make a case for them and I might side with you and decide to get them for my living room.


  1. Oh the little fabric things on the couch is called a chairback. totally forgot about those lol. Talk about TACKY!!!

  2. Esi you are very observant. "Uinspiring" is an understatement in describing our living room in Ghana. I was actually embarassed each time we had guests. If you can imagine mauve or light purple walls and matching chairs(uncomfortable,very unsightly, unprofessionally made)wooden room dividers that was constructed at the time of building 1989 that have like 10 year old dust on them, a huge glass picture of a blond white woman sniffing a rose. Bare terrazzo floors that collects dust too quickly.
    Growing up, the living room was the showcase our house. Our sofas were uncommon. In shape and my moms choice of fabric. I miss our once plush blue and white wall to wall carpet.....I would choose wooden floors now..... and the newly built room dividers.Next time I am in Ghana, I will like to see the kind if living rooms they show on Nigerian movies. Now which neighborhood would I have to trek? Lol.

  3. I'm not sure what they're called when they're on sofa or chair backs, but I believe they're doilies when on the coffee tables. I should know, I used to crochet ardently and decorated my mom's living room with all manner of my unwanted creations, which I would carefully starch and iron. My pet peeve is the wooden dividers displaying the chinaware... oh may I never be sullied with one of those. I'm not sure who started these trends, but they're pretty much consistent. Occasionally there's some cliched wooden sculpture: thinking man, the embracing man and wife... you know, those things littering the arts center. But I think it classifies under "kitsch", so you did mention it.

  4. You forgot to mention the extremly busy carpet patterns and the imposing and or mismatched furnishings...

  5. Esi, the wooden room-dividers sometimes have in them empty boxes of omo, empty cans of milk, milo, ovartin, empty soap boxes and non-working tv and radio sets...

    and it's all for the impression you know... the "the been-tos"...

  6. 1. The big picture of Jesus, or Mary with baby Jesus
    2. "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" and "If God says yes, who can say no?" signs hanging on the wall
    3. The extra TV set, radio, and gramophone player (none of which work) sitting next to the gadgets that work, all on that same room divider with the china and empty wine bottles displayed on it.
    4. The tiny carpet in the center of the room that no one steps on; its just for decorative purposes
    5. Last year's Birthday, Easter, "Good Luck In Your Exams", and Christmas cards draped over strings from wall to wall
    6. The curtain racks mounted on walls with no windows. Well, the boards that cover the racks also serve as display units for those momentous photos you mentioned
    7. The empty photo frames on the coffee tables
    8. It isn't just the corporate calendars; there are also the ones for the Pentecostal Church of the Second Coming (ok, that's made up, but you get my point) with the General Overseer, hie wife and elders pictured. Notice that the bit with the actual calendar on it is so small, you actually have to have your nose touching the calendar to see anything.
    9. The fake fruits and fake bread, next to the fake flowers
    10. Lastly, I don't know about those little pieces of fabric being used to prevent hair grease from getting on the furniture, because i have seen many made of white lace, and i have no idea how much good that does.

  7. I too HATE those room dividers. But the wooden carvings, come on, those are good. That is the make up of African themed decor,no? And I have seen some of them very class-ily used.But what I do not understand is why there is no variety in these carvings. Since nineteen kojohoho Art center people have been making the SAME carvings, aba! They need to move forward. Think how much money that creative person who decided to think out of the box would make? (hint: some entrepreneur make this happen!)

    So for me, the carvings stay but please let us eradicate those hateful wooden room dividers!

  8. It turns out that the only item I am "guilty" of is item 1 but I would not call them "fake flowers". That's too harsh. I think "artificial flowers" is more subtle. Come to think of it, is it really realistic to maintain a live plant in my living room? Well, its not realistic for me and so well-placed artificial flowers come to the rescue.

    Many of the items you listed above are a generational thing. I reckon you are more sophisticated than your mum and so your style will differ from hers. Same way your children might laugh at your style in 20 years' time.

    Such is life. Its a cycle.

  9. oh my goodness, your comments are so funny and so much more fun to read than the blog entry itself. Thanks for making my morning:)

    You're right, Ms. Ahenkorah, some of the carvings aren't so bad but the problem as you pointed out is that they seem to be making the same ones year after year. I fell in love with the unity carving, the one with 5 or 6 people forming a circle but now i'm sick of seeing it because almost every craft store sells it. My main beef with it all is that we all have the same things in our living rooms.It makes one wonder if anyone really puts thought into creating rooms which reflect our spirits. I'm going to have to do a blog entry about Ghanaian architecture because we see the same problem there. Why are we all building and decorating the same way? Where does originality and innovation come in? Someone said many of us don't have much that is unique to us, little original thought, so if someone creates something that's nice, we all rush to copy it instead of being inspired by that which we appreciate to create something else of value.

    @Novisi and $li, lol about the empty boxes, tins and bottles in the room divider.I didn't know about that until my friend blackus called me after reading this to give me the list of the things his grandmother who lived in the village kept in her sideboard-soaps, opened biscuit packets,empty milo tins, the opened tin of quaker oats which she only makes for important guests...all for show

    Oh how could i forget about the electronics which don't work? We used to have a video deck which never worked but it sat on the room divider for years! Maybe we don't want to throw them away because when you take out all the empty milo tins and stuff in the room divider, there won't be much left and when people come to your house, they'll know you don't have anything. But who wants to admit that? Ghanaians are first rate "imprɛsheenists" (people who shee imprɛ, i.e. pretenders. We no have, but we wan pose say we have:)

  10. Haha, funny post and comments! Here are my additions:

    A plastic wall clock above the (for the room) huge TV. Always of the brand Sakura (which is funny, since sakura means "bald" in Twi, right?)
    A fridge or freezer box.
    All the photos/art is hanging just under the ceiling, ie, very high up.

  11. ah, Kajsa, we still have the plastic wall clock! The really funny thing is that I bought that wall clock over six years ago when the old one died and i couldn't stand having another non-working electronic showpiece...funny that i laugh at it now:) Will check which brand it is when i get home tonight. If it is Sakura, then wo yɛ bue (you're awesome).

    bald = sakora, not sakura.


  13. @Kajsa, it turns out ours is a quartz clock.

  14. Very funny! I was wondering though...are people in Ghana still leaving the plastic covers on their sofas? That is something you run across when you visit Little Ghana in places like the Bronx? Kills me every time.

  15. another brilliant article "old" girl. i have had a very good laugh especially the comments were so hysterical. you forgot the global drinks cabinet which were found in the more affluent houses. what i did not understand was the two sets of furniture in the posher houses. another practice was having two halls one was always locked and only opened for visitors only (joe impre) and the other is where general use. what a waste.

  16. Sound familiar thats why I like blogging about interior decoration! Nice post and nice blog!

  17. Don't forget....
    Bare light bulbs :/
    Standing fans

    I'm so loving your blog!

  18. Yeah that curtains hanging on a bare wall thing was a suprise an obroni like me when I went to Ghana to see my Aunty...she was soo proud, thought it looked wonderful! I just thought it was wierd! But I must say her house did not bare most of these monstrosities but I have seen a lot of them to some degree in London.

    Cabinets full of glasses noone ever uses, infact many people with these do not know that the differently shaped glasses all have different alcoholic uses. Imagine my, um, rather chrife mother who has never let alcohol pass her lips since she gave her life to God in 1865 owns brandy glasses and decanters? WHY??!!

    Uh, and fake flowers actually anger me. I HATE them with such a passion, they usually look terrible and after a while they get dirty. There is generally no attempt to make them even slighty realistic looking. Blue, yellow and pink 'roses' are all put together with no thought to the fact that it looks awful by itself, let alone against your flowery decor (think flowery wall paper-small design, flowery carpet which doesn't match it!-large design).

    And I think those living rooms in the Naija films are no better all pomp and uglyiness! Gold and red and oversized chairs urgh!

    When we moved house I sabbotaged my mother...the flowers of Hades were all in some black bags I, uh, ACCIDENTLY threw in the rubbish 'I thought it was the rubbish Ma, it wasn't marked!' hehehe! And you know after a while she went off everything in my how is shades of magnolia with real plants in pots in the most random places! A lesser horror which I will accept with grace.

  19. Ghana is a best country and powerhouse football soccer team.

  20. Just wanted to say, you're s so right! And all those things really drive me crazy! They make for a good laught though! Keep blogging!

  21. If I may add:

    Velvet wall hanging that says "My family is covered in the blood of Jesus"

    and the president's picture OR badly constructed locally printed collages of Presidential candidates/Obama or a combination of both - bought from traffic hawkers.

  22. A picture of a blond Jesus looking expectantly towards the heavens. There is often a dove or a ray of light somewhere in this picture

  23. I skimmed through the list so don't know if anyone adde the provisions cabinet and which also has soap and i think perfumes etc? I don't know where that comes from? lucikly we never had that, but i used to wonder if people used the provisions and replace them or never touch them. In retrosepect I think our living room was quite bare on the walls, you had more pictures stilling on the floor in front of the cabinet which had the tv and the rest were sitting in a space near the ceiling created by the wooden curtain rail board. I'm trying hard to find a suitable name for that.

  24. Nice blog, This is my first time visiting here,it's nice to meet you.


    Kenali dan Kunjungi Objek Wisata di Pandeglang

  25. Esi, ur memory is short. Theirs is not; how can mamaafia throw away that cracked glass she bought at glamour for five cedis(which was then about half of her salary)?. Have u ever seen a white man hide his antiques? U have no sense of the proper ghanaian aesthetic. They are medals of war. Clutter...the young generation call it...can't blame u...u can order anything u want online. Nothing is rare anymore.

  26. I'm laughing my head off cos you are hitting so close to home and I so agree with you. And after years of living outside Ghana in various more "progressive" countries, I still see traits of what you describe in my own living room!!

    I hope your poor mom doesn't read your blog though! ; )