The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Architecture in Northern Ghana

by Fred T. Smith
Kent State University

Women painting the exterior of a Frafra home, northern Ghana. Photo by Fred T. Smith, 1973.


The painting of walls, especially those near the entryway, is a cooperative effort. The senior wife of the compound head supervises the work and other co-wives participate in various ways, depending on their skill. A finely painted wall clearly represents a statement of female unity and support for the entire family, male and female. Women use these wall designs to communicate information about their social status and the status of the male compound owner. Therefore, when done well, the painted walls can reflect positively on the male owner, a fact that helps to explain the incorporation into the wall design of male prestige items, such as a walking stick or woven cloth strips worn by men.