The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Architecture in Northern Ghana

by Fred T. Smith
Kent State University

Frafra compound, northern Ghana. Photo by Fred T. Smith, 1973.


The Frafra, a Voltaic people residing in northeastern Ghana, consist of three culturally and linguistically related ethnic groups: Gurensi, Tallensi, and Nabdam. For all three groups, the primary socio-cultural unit is the traditional homestead or compound, yiri. The Frafra practice subsistence farming based on the permanent cultivation of land immediately surrounding these residential compounds. A Frafra compound consists of a number of round structures or rooms joined by high exterior walls and by both high and low interior walls. Typically, the ground plan of a small compound is circular, but as it grows, it becomes increasingly ovoid. A compound expands and contracts with the family unit and clearly constitutes a spatial reflection of the specific family social organization at any given time.