LINGUIST List 25.1116

Thu Mar 06 2014

The Last Stop in Sub-Saharan Africa

Editor for this issue: Sarah Fox <>

Date: 06-Mar-2014
From: LINGUIST List <>
Subject: The Last Stop in Sub-Saharan Africa
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Region 3 | Sub-Saharan Africa | Fund Drive 2014

On the final leg of our journey through Sub-Saharan Africa, we travel to Ghana, one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, renowned for its beaches and its friendly people. After flying into the capital city of Accra, we are tempted to sprawl out on the beach all day.

Of course, we are interested in greater adventures than avoiding sunburn, so we head to the Makola Market for supplies. Amidst the cacophony, we find almost every item under the sun and barter for some Kenkey, a Ghanaian dish made from fermented corn meal.

Outside the market, we notice some performers playing strange, hourglass drums, which reverberate with a timber almost like human speech. We watch with fascination as the performers squeeze the base just right to mimic the local, tone-based languages on these famous West African “talking drums.”

By the time we pull ourselves away, the brouhaha of Accra has made us long for some peace and quiet, so we leave the bustling capital and head to the city of Cape Coast. There we visit the Cape Coast Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Built for the trade of timber and gold, this fort later became a last stop in the slave trade before crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and it is a truly somber site indeed. We reflect momentarily on the hundreds of languages spoken by the people who passed through here and the impact their voices had on their destinations in the Americas.

From this beautiful coastal city we head inland and make pitstop in a town you almost can’t find on a map: Adamorobe. Here we notice something unique. Aside from being surrounding by conversations in the Akan language, we observe signed communication--between the deaf and hearing alike. Moreover, this language differs from Ghanaian Sign Language, but is actually the last remnants of the local Adamorobe Sign Language.

This village has a long history of deafness, resulting in its own sign language shared among the deaf and hearing communities. The locals are eager to tell us different versions of the origin stories for this high rate of deafness: some recount that the town is presided over by a deaf god, who punishes transgressors with deaf children; others describe a war long past, in which Adamorobe men drank a special elixir that made them fierce in battle, but that resulted in their deafness.

Whatever the origin of the deaf community in Adamorobe, the terminus is clear: as medicine becomes more widely available and as recommendations against the marriage of two deaf partners decrease the number of deaf offspring, Adamorobe Sign Language is disappearing. Although we long to stay and learn more about this fascinating village and their language, we have one last stop for the day.

Far inland, surrounded by evergreen rainforests and hardwood trees, we enter Kakum National Park, the site of Africa's only canopy walkway. As we walk the path, the ground slopes and drops away beneath us, and soon we are suspended 100 feet above the ground with a rare, bird’s eye view of the rainforest.

We could spend all day admiring the colorful flora and fauna of the Kakum canopy walkway, but it’s time to pack up for the next leg of our journey. Although there is still so much more of Sub-Saharan Africa left to explore, we are excited to see where our adventure takes us next!

In the mean time, don't forget to check out the featured linguists (, pictures from our region 3 trips (, and donate (

Page Updated: 06-Mar-2014