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.