More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken in Ghana. In view of these linguistic and associated cultural differences, and, as a result of the country's colonial past, English has become Ghana's official language. It is used for all government affairs, large-scale business transactions, educational instruction, and in national radio and television broadcasts. In fact, the Constitution of 1969 required that members of parliament speak, read, and understand English. In an effort to increase "grassroots participation" in government and to encourage non-English speakers to run for elective office, however, the 1992 Consultative Assembly on the Constitution recommended that the ability to communicate in English no longer be required of future members of parliament. In the mid-1980s, the Ministry of Education also encouraged teachers to use local languages for instruction during the first six years of formal education. These changes, however, have not lessened the importance of English in Ghanaian society.
Although Fante-Twi (a major Akan language), Ga, and Ewe are the most important Kwa languages spoken in the south, three subdivisions of the Gur branch-Mole-Dagbane, Grusi, and Gurma dominate the northern region. Hausa, a language of northern Nigeria which spread throughout West Africa through trade, is also understood by some inhabitants in the northeastern part of the country. In northwestern Ghana, among the Dagari-speaking people and around frontier towns in western Brong-Ahafo, various dialects of the Mande language are spoken. Akan, Ewe, Ga, Nzema, Dagbane, and Hausa are the country's principal indigenous languages and are used in radio and television programming.
The literary tradition of northern Ghana has its roots in Islam, while the literature of the south was influenced by Christian missionaries. As a result of European influence, a number of Ghanaian groups have developed writing systems based on Latin script, and several indigenous languages have produced a rich body of literature. The principal written Ghanaian languages are the Twi dialects of Asante, Akwapim, and Fante. Other written languages are Nzema, Ewe, Dagbane, Ga, and Kasena (a Grusi language). Most publications in the country, however, are written in English.
The presence of Christian missionaries on the coast of Ghana has been dated to the arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. It was the Basel/Presbyterian and Wesleyan/Methodist missionaries, however, who, in the 19th Century, laid the foundation for the Christian church in Ghana. Beginning their conversions in the coastal area and among the Akwapim, these missionaries established schools as "nurseries of the church" in which an educated African class was trained. Almost all major secondary schools today, especially exclusively boys and girls’ schools, are mission- or church-related institutions. Although churches continue to influence the development of education in the country, church schools have been opened to all since the state assumed financial responsibility for formal instruction under the Education Act of 1960.
Various Christian denominations are well represented in Ghana. The Volta Region has a high concentration of Evangelical Presbyterians. Many Akwapim are Presbyterians, and the Methodist denomination is strongly represented among the Fante. The Roman Catholic Church is fairly well represented in Central Region and Ashanti Region. Although no official figures exist to reflect regional distribution of the various denominations, it is generally agreed that the southern part of the nation is more Christian, while the north is more Islamic.
The unifying organization of Christians in the country is the Ghana Christian Council, founded in 1929. Representing the Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zionist, Christian Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran and Baptist churches, and the Society of Friends, the council serves as the link with the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies. The National Catholic Secretariat, established in 1960, also coordinates the different in-country dioceses. These Christian organisations, concerned primarily with the spiritual affairs of their congregations, have occasionally acted in circumstances described by the government as political. Such was the case in 1991 when both the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Ghana Christian Council called on the military government of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to return the country to constitutional rule. The Roman Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Standard, was often critical of government policies.
In the north, Islam predominates. Islam is based on what Muslims believe are the divine revelations received in 17th Century Arabia by the Prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about 610. His condemnation of the polytheistic practices of the people of Mecca caused him to become an outcast. In 622 Muhammad was invited to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with him. The move, or Hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic Era and the Islamic calendar, as well as the inauguration of Islam as a powerful force in history. In Medina, Muhammad continued his preaching, ultimately defeated his detractors in battle, and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of most Arabs before his death in 632.
The spread of Islam into West Africa, beginning with ancient Ghana in the 9th Century, was mainly the result of the commercial activities of North African Muslims The empires of both Mali and Songhai that followed ancient Ghana in the Western Sudan adopted the religion. Islam made its entry into the northern territories of modern Ghana around the 15th Century. Mande or Wangara traders and clerics carried the religion into the area. The north-eastern sector of the country was also influenced by Muslims who escaped the Hausa jihads of northern Nigeria in the early 19th Century.
Most Ghanaian Muslims are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law. Sufism, involving the organisation of mystical brotherhoods (Tariq) for the purification and spread of Islam, is not widespread in Ghana. The Tijaniyah and the Qadiriyah brotherhoods, however, are represented. The Ahmadiyah, a Shia sect originating in 19th Century India, is the only non-Sunni order in the country.
Despite the spread of Islamism (popularly known as Islamic fundamentalism) in the Middle East, North Africa, and even in Nigeria since the mid-1970’s Ghanaian Muslims and Christians have had excellent relations. Guided by the authority of the Muslim Representative Council, religious, social, and economic matters affecting Muslims have often been redressed through negotiations. The Muslim Council has also been responsible for arranging pilgrimages to Mecca for believers who can afford the journey. In spite of these achievements, the council has not succeeded in taking initiatives for the upgrading of Islamic schools beyond the provision of basic Quranic instruction. This may explain the economic and technological gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Ghanaian Ahmadiyah Movement, which has established a number of vocational training centres, hospitals, and some secondary schools, is an exception.
For all Ghanaian ethnic groups, the spirit world is considered to be as real as the world of the living. The dual worlds of the mundane and the sacred are linked by a network of mutual relationships and responsibilities. The action of the living, for example, can affect the gods or spirits of the departed, while the support of family or "tribal" ancestors ensures prosperity of the lineage or state. Neglect, it is believed, might spell doom.
Veneration of departed ancestors is a major characteristic of all traditional religions. The ancestors are believed to be the most immediate link with the spiritual world, and they are thought to be constantly near, observing every thought and action of the living. Some ancestors may even be reincarnated to replenish the lineage. Barrenness is, therefore, considered a great misfortune because it prevents ancestors from returning to life.
To ensure that a natural balance is maintained between the world of the sacred and that of the profane, the roles of the chief within the state, family elders in relation to the lineage, and the priest within society, are crucial. The religious functions, especially of chiefs and lineage heads, are clearly demonstrated during such periods as the Odwira of the Akan, the Homowo of the Ga-Adangbe, or the Aboakyir of the Efutu (coastal Guan), when the people are organized in activities that renew and strengthen relations with their ancestors. Such activities include the making of sacrifices and the pouring of libations.
The religious activities of chiefs and lineage heads are generally limited to the more routine biweekly and annual festivities, but traditional priests--given their association with specific shrines--are regarded as specialized practitioners through whom the spirits of the gods may grant directions. Priests undergo vigorous training in the arts of medicine, divination, and other related disciplines and are, therefore, consulted on a more regular basis by the public. Because many diseases are believed to have spiritual causes, traditional priests sometimes act as doctors or herbalists. Shrine visitation is strongest among the uneducated and in rural communities. This fact, however, does not necessarily suggest that the educated Ghanaian has totally abandoned tradition; some educated and mission-trained individuals do consult traditional oracles in times of crisis.