Ghana-Caribbean Links image

Know More About GCA

Ghana-Caribbean Links

Ghana-Caribbean Links
by Dr. Clifford Campbell

The history of the Caribbean factor in Ghana is one that goes back to mid-19th century, over 160 years. It is rich, colourful and indeed it is even possible to argue that from the diaspora, the Caribbean provided the most influences and contributions to Ghana. The Caribbean factor is present to some extent in all spheres of Ghanaian life.


Caribbean involvement in Ghana began in 1843 with the arrival of black missionaries from Jamaica and Antigua under the auspices of the Basel missionary society.

As a consequence, Presbyterianism in Ghana incorporates many Moravian elements. At Aburi, the missionaries built the Jamaican well at the time the only source of pure water in the area. They also introduced stone into local architecture and new plants from the Caribbean like coffee, Coco, Tobacco, Coco-Yam. In fact, Tetteh Quashie, considered father of Ghana’s Coco industry, was trained as a blacksmith by the Basel missionaries, hence his familiarity with Coco. Later, when Tetteh Quashie encountered a better variety of Cocoa in Femando Po, he was able to recognise its potential.

The Royal palm (same that line the entrance of the botanical gardens) came from the West Indies (According to Branford Griffiths then Governor), Rastafarianism in is relatively new and finding adherents here in Ghana.


As an off-shoot of missionary work. West Indians were involved in education from the early stage. A missionary named Mullings for example was responsible for the literacy program in Kychi, and actually taught JB Danquah’s father who later became a catechist. Lennox Ballah (Trinidad & Tobago) taught at Apam secondary school and one of its earliest teachers. Ian Hall (Guyana) who was one of the first black persons to graduate from oxford University, England music school taught music and French at Achimota school after independence. He later served as Nkrumah’s French Translator.

Neville Dawes (Jamaica) taught English at the college of commerce in Kumasi. This college was later moved to Achimota and became the foundation school for the school of business at the University of Ghana (from awoonor interview). Dawes made tremendous contributions to teaching, writing, theatre, and was also an active member of Nkrumah’s CPP Party.

Uriel Valentine Campbell (Jamaica) taught law at the University of Ghana. Edward Kamau Braithwaite (Barbados) poet, taught literature in Ghana.


The earliest recorded presence of the Caribbean in government was of the West Indies soldiers, brought here by Britain to fight in the 1863 and 1874 campaigns against the Ashante (These troops were to have other far-reaching effects later) Colonial records also show a West Indian DC for Akuse between 1882 and 1895. Post-Independence, George Padmore (Jamaica), for more than a decade was Nkrumah’s advisor, and Marcus Garvey (Jamaica) had a profound ideological influence on Nkrumah who cites Garvey as his single greatest influence. The name of Ghana’s shipping line (now defunct) The Black Star Line, as well as the Black Star in Ghana’s flag are testament to their common vision for Africa.

Nkrumah’s pioneering role in promoting Pan –Africanism in Africa owes much to the influence and support of Garvey & Padmore. Roy Watts (Trinidad & Tobago) helped to pioneer the television wing of the GBC. T.RAS Makonnen (Guy) because the managing Director of Ghana’s state hotel. The world-renowned economist Sir Arthur Lewis (St Lucia) economist. Advised Nkrumah on economic policy between 1957-1963. He subsequently returned to the Caribbean after Nkrumah’s overthrow and went on in 1970-1974 to set up the Caribbean Development Bank.


Stewart McNeil (T&T) published poems in Nkrumah’s Paper called the Evening News. Rex Nettleford (Jamaica) served as cultural advisor to the Ghanaian government in 1962. Highlife owned much of its features to Caribbean factors: African-American and Caribbean soldiers and stevedores introduced genres like Calypso and Meringue to the Guinea Coast. This was amplified by the West Indian troops like the West Indian Rifles stationed at Cape Coast Castle in the mid-1800s that had a regimental band. Later these melodies found themselves incorporated or modified by emerging local bands resembling popular ensembles from America and the Caribbean.

While these bands played western standards, they also played original compositions. The term “Highlife” was a sobriquet given to these indigenous songs played by such early dance bands like the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies and the Accra Orchestra. Collins in his book “Jazz feedback in Africa” point out the association with black Caribbean soldiers could possibly explain why Caribbean type masquerades (backed by local brass bands) became popular in the coastal Fante areas of Ghana and still perform there during Christmas and Easter seasons. This is similar to the John Canoe parades in the Caribbean.

Kofi Ghanaba (Our divine drummer) introduced the congas, a Cuban instrument, to highlife. Gombe, the square framed drum has been traced back to Maroon communities in Jamaica (Accompong). Apart from influencing highlife, Calypso plays a significant role as a form of expression in Ghana. Paraphs none more so than with Kitchener’s song about Ghanaian independence and the impending visit of the queen in 1957. Reggae music is now an established medium of musical expression here as evidenced in its embrace by a lot of gospel artist.


Dr Hoyte from the West Indies worked in Suhum (and use to be the doctor for the one of my professor’s father). Arguably, the most noteworthy contribution to Ghana by a single individual from the Caribbean was that made by Dr Cicely Williams, who discovered and named the disease Kwashiorkor, while working in Ga communities in Accra.


Year of Return Image

Those of us from with Caribbean roots or links can consider ourselves as custodians of a proud and meaningful heritage. A heritage, that was essential to the development of Ghana’s history and certainly, aspects of the county’s cultural character. Of much more importance though, is the reality that most of these factors have blended seamlessly into the Ghanaian landscape, indicating an acceptance and blending of our cultures and work of our people. This speaks to the important and obvious spirit of Pan-Africanism. I think Osagyefo would be quite pleased.