Performing the Nation and Staging Ethnic Diversity in Ghanaian National-Day Celebrations

Carola Lentz


National-day celebrations provide a unique window into more general questions of nation-building. As in many African nation-states, Ghana’s national unity was, and is still, potentially challenged by competing ethnic and regional loyalties. Nation-building, which strives to integrate the population, must therefore refer back in some way to these identifications. An important occasion to do so is on any of the annually recurring national holidays that seek to evoke experiences of community. The national-day ceremonies stage images of the nation and provide an arena to visibly incorporate and subordinate ethnic and regional loyalties to the nation.

Drawing on fieldwork carried out in 2014 and 2017 (and further years), I will analyze how cultural traditions were presented during Independence Day parades. The article analyzes one “ordinary” celebration, where schoolchildren offer a brief display of different “ethnic” dances before the actual march-past begins. This will be compared with an elaborate dance choreography produced for Ghana’s sixtieth independence anniversary celebration in 2017, which featured adult dance troupes from all the country’s (then) ten regions and incorporated their performance into a story centered on “Mother Ghana.” Taken together, the two events reveal different artistic strategies of staging and, at the same time, containing ethnic and regional diversity on the national stage.

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