Can reawakening Ghana's clan traditions put the brakes on the country's $350-million bushmeat trade? Absolutely, says CI-Ghana Director Okyeame Ampadu-Agyei
"Traditionally, Ghana's all-powerful clan chiefs prohibited hunting of certain animals, such as elephants, falcons and leopards, that were considered sacred to the clan," explains Okyeame. "However, the prohibition against hunting totems is no longer enforced. Reviving it will go a long way toward realizing sustainable hunting practices and restoring species populations."
That is precisely what CI-Ghana has set out to do. For the past year, the team has met with leaders of Ghana's major clans to make them aware of the extinction crisis facing the country and the role they traditionally played in protecting the country's wildlife.
"We are reminding clan chiefs of the oath they took to protect clan totems, their sacred animals," says Okyeame. "We're also reminding them that if these animals go extinct, that means they are bad chiefs and their ancestors will hold them responsible for the death of their lineage."
The campaign has met with remarkable success. Clan leaders from Ghana's 10 major regions are now united in their opposition to the bushmeat trade and have agreed to vigorously address the issue. In partnership with CI, they are working to document all the country's totems, study and revive cultural practices that have been proven to support conservation and establish wildlife "farms" that allow controlled hunting of certain common game animals as an alternative to hunting in the wild.
Leaders of the Ashanti clan, Ghana's largest, have gone so far as to ban all hunting of totem animals, as well as the use of toxic chemicals, automatic rifles, bush burning for hunting and group hunting. All of these forms of hunting have contributed to species extinction.
Can chiefs enforce such a ban? "No question," responds Okyeame. "The chief is a leader for life and we pledge our allegiance to him. As such, chiefs wield more influence over their subjects than even Ghana's president."