One cannot live in Ghana for long without hearing about or being invited to an outdooring ceremony. If you go to one, you might see a scene like this:

The Ashanti chief, adorned with gold bracelets, rings and chains, closed his eyes, bent his head down and chanted a prayer to the health and fortune of the squirming 3-month-old boy before him. Nana Adu Adjei, a 57-year-old Ghanaian, had donned his green, yellow and royal purple kente cloth for an ”outdooring”.

But you don’t need to be in Ghana. The scene described above took place in New York City and was reported in the New York Times.

Among many peoples of Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa, a baby is kept indoors until he or she is eight days old. The baby is then brought outdoors for the first time in a ceremony called an “outdooring”. It is the occasion for a party with friends and family. In many cases the baby receives its names at this ceremony and in some cases, male children are circumcised.

A word like “outdooring” is a Ghana-ism. It was born out of the contact of the English language with cultural realities for which English has no words. The word “christening” really doesn’t fit.

English is the official language of Ghana which inherited it from the colonial period when Ghana, then the Gold Coast, was a British colony. But there are over 60 languages spoken in Ghana, and very few Ghanaians speak English as their first language. They learn English in school, use it in government business, but speak their own languages in their families and in their communities. They continue to follow their many helpful traditions even when they profess a world religion such as Christianity.

English does not have words for many of the things that they hold dear, or just want to talk about. So they have invented new English words, or they sometimes use standard English words, but with new meanings.

Culture is a powerful force – so strong that a local culture can bend a world language like English to fits its needs, rather like gravity can bend light. When that happens, some mistakenly say that Ghanaians are not speaking English correctly. As I am writing, my impoverished spell checker has mounted a campaign against “outdooring”, suggesting that I replace it with “outpouring”. That Ashanti chief in his traditional regalia could teach it a thing or two about a proud part of Ghanaian culture.