It’s blazing hot as I perch on the back of a motorbike racing dusty red dirt roads in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Kids wave from the shade of huge trees. Here near the border of Burkina Faso, the tradition of painting bright designs across houses continues, and it’s something I wanna see.

Sirigu is the most well-known village.


Woman within her housing compound in Sirigu.

The designs are abstract geometrical and stylised animal figures, either painted on a flat surfaces or molded into relief across walls. It’s the woman’s job to decorate.


Colors are limited to black, red and white. Sourced from natural local materials – like red rock – crushed to powder to make paint.


Rashid’s grandmother’s house – located in another village, had elaborate paintinged walls inside (more below).


Recent floods had wrecked some walls and weathered away paint. And many houses lacked designs; but an NGO has again encouraged the practice, to empower women and retain their culture. Which also attracts visitors, like me.

Designs of Sirigu

Stylised animals:

Cattle: the symbol of wealth.
Python: totem symbol of clan and protection.
Crocodile:totem symbol of saving life of a clan.

Abstract geometrical forms:

Broken calabash: the expression of ever useful.
Male symbols: show masculinity.
Cows: symbols of prosperity ¹


TOP LEFT: Tribal markings, on the face are symbols of identification and beauty. LOWER LEFT: While many people are animist, many – like this male – have converted to Islam (or Christianity) but still retain aspects of the earlier beliefs. TOP RIGHT: Rashid – friend, guide, taxi-motorbike driver around the area. He stands in his Grandmother’s house. LOWER RIGHT: interior shrine – made from plastered mud – in Grannie’s house; another female artist near her work.


Rashid’s grandmother shades beneath a baobab tree as a another villager expresses his curiosity about this foreigner.

Making pots is another traditional craft of Sirigu women. These containers are for water, local beer, food and as cooking pots. Pottery also plays an important role in marriage and funeral celebrations.

At the NGO pottery workshop, the women were surprised, then applauded when they were informed – via Rashid – that my country New Zealand, had a female leader (Prime Minister Helen Clarke, at the time). Sirigu women are very much confined within a patrilineal society.

“The man is the head of the family, who may have one or more wives. The senior wife has the central room of the compound. The other women may have their own rooms joined to the senior room by circular walls.

The head of the family may have other brothers and their wives and children living in the compound.”

“Traditionally women are regarded the property of their husbands after the dowry has been paid. Women cannot own land, but may borrow it for farming purposes.

They cannot take part in decision making for the family or themselves and have no right to their biological children in case of divorce or decease of their husband.” ²


Kids playing under the shade of tree – away from the harsh mid-day sun.


Notes: ¹ + ²  Sirigu cultural info from

Travels in Ghana – 2007

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