Ghana Life: God and Money

Ghanaians express their hopes and beliefs in the mottoes and slogans they display on their public transport vehicles, especially taxis, trotros and mammie wagons. There is no doubt that the most frequently recurring themes are God and money. The two concepts seem to be held in roughly equal regard and the slogans ‘Nyame ne hene’ (God in king) and ‘Sika ne hene’ (Money is king) vie for popularity. However it should not be construed that the two concepts are in any sense in competition but rather that they are closely bound up in the practice of religion.

Many people the world over follow a religion in the hope that it will better their lives, and the improvement they hope for is usually economic. In Ghana, as well as elsewhere, there are churches promising their worshippers a short cut to riches. In pursuit of this dream the followers contribute to the church as much as they can afford and the one person who is certain to drive a luxury car is the founding pastor. It is generally considered that all priests and pastors are wealthy, and many clergymen trained in large international churches break away to found their own commercial enterprises. The result is a multiplicity of churches with a bewildering variety of names.

The traditional fetish religions of Ghana place great value on blood sacrifice as a means of gaining the desired reward. Human sacrifice was replaced by animal sacrifice, and with the coming of Christianity the blood sacrifice of Jesus was enthusiastically embraced. Today, the Pentecostal and evangelical churches recite ‘Yesu mogya nka w’anim,’ let the blood of Jesus splash your face, and ‘Yesu mogya,’ blood of Jesus, is another common trotro message. People with reddened faces expect generous material reward but individuals who gain wealth too rapidly are often accused of having made a pact with the devil.

Those who achieve great wealth or political power quickly are usually suspected of employing occult forces. Many people think that the successful trader, politician or rich person has been helped by black magic, cannibalism or Satan. The popular press in Ghana often reports witchcraft accusations and stories about ‘sika duro’ (money medicine) rituals in which vampires suck the blood of innocent relatives in order to gain riches. Those people who adopted Christianity called for active opposition to this work of the powers of darkness.

In Ghana, the Pentecostal churches were the first to introduce services of exorcism for the purpose of casting out evil spirits. This increased their popularity and they began to draw adherents from the mainstream churches: Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. One by one the mainstream churches were compelled to follow suit to maintain the strength of their congregations. By the end of the twentieth century, services of exorcism were available to any churchgoer who was unfortunate enough to have been seduced by Satan.

In the post-colonial era, people from Ghana and other former colonies have moved to Britain and other Western countries. They have either taken their churches with them or created new ones in their image. This has greatly broadened the choice available to the ardent seeker and helped to ensure that there are alternatives available for everyone who is dissatisfied with their present supplier. However, one is unlikely to see ‘Sika ne hene’ and ‘Nyame ne hene’ painted in large letters on the side of big red double-decker buses, circulating in the City of London; the first would be taken as obvious, and the second relegated to the concern of the immigrants.