Village Life: Construction and Shelter

This begins a series of descriptions about life in the village; more specifically life in Kamega, a village in the Bawku West District of the Upper East Region in northern Ghana. I tried to begin with a central description of agriculture, but this piece was too big to chew. Please forgive the rambling posts and the sometimes mundane content.

In Kamega, people have the freedom to build wherever they please, provided that they own the land or they have permission from the landlord. Like all labor, building is a gendered activity that is usually carried out by a group of men, oftentimes a party of friends and family members.

Building takes place during the dry season when farming has finished and the heavy rains have stopped. Men use hoes and shovels to unearth dirt and clay that is mixed with water and cement. This building material will form the floors and walls of the new structure. The men start by clearing out and leveling the floor space, and then they build the walls from the ground up, caking on new layers of the clay-cement mixture.

Most structures being built are compound houses where a single family or an entire extended family can live. These houses consist of a central, open-air yard surrounded by rectangular and round rooms that are connected by a wall. If multiple families or multiple wives (yes, polygamy is practiced) share the same compound, then each family or each wife will have their/her own yard. Walls divide one yard from the next; while at the same time, enclosing the entire compound house to unite the different yards.

Each room in the compound house serves a different purpose. Some compound houses have stalls off of the main entrance where cattle sleep or manure is collected. Round rooms near the entrance of the yard usually house small livestock like chickens, guinea fowls and goats. Within the wall, people hollow out little nooks for chickens to lay their eggs. Rectangular rooms with tall rectangular entrance are often bedrooms. Some will have windows on the walls facing the back of the house. Round rooms with tall rectangular openings serve as pantries, storage rooms or indoor kitchens. Small square stalls with a rectangular openings are bath areas.

At one point in time, every room was roofed by bundles of grasses woven together. Now, many families save up money to invest in zinc to roof the rectangular bedrooms. Unlike the grass roofs that need to be replaced every year or two, zinc lasts for several years and provides better protection against the weather. Round rooms are still roofed with grasses, and during the dry season, people go to the bush to cut huge bundles of grass that they carry back on their heads or bicycles. The process of collecting, weaving and installing the grass roof is time and labor intensive.

There are several other buildings in the village: schools, churches, stalls were seamstresses work and vendors sell, and a grinding mill. Schools and churches tend to be constructed from blocks of cement to form large, rectangular buildings. In these projects, large numbers of women volunteer to assist the construction of their church.

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