How to dress for church in Tamale

I know. I know. You may never come to Tamale and so you will never need to know how to dress for church there. So classify this as entertainment.

How to dress for church in Tamale

Worship team in church in Tamale seen from the pews

I am sitting in church in the city of Tamale (pronounced TAH-mah-lay). There are three worship team singers, all women. The lead singer has on a western-style black and white dress. The other two women are wearing outfits of brightly colored African cloth. The floor-length outfit of the woman on the right is by far the more common variation, while the shorter version is taking style elements from Western office wear. So, ladies, if you come from the USA to visit me in Ghana, you can dress in your standard church dress. Or you can have a Ghanaian outfit made. Sorry, no slacks.

Ed trying on smock at the smock shop

The dress of the men on the platform is more varied. First, we have the man on the left with a back suit, white shirt and red tie. He is the preacher for the day. The man immediately behind the women is wearing traditional clothing for northern Ghana.  It is called a “smock”. It is made from hand-woven and hand-dyed cloth. It is traditional, but most definitely not low-class. It can be worn to any dress-up occasion. I really like the way Ghanaians value their culture.

GILLBT board chair in his 50th Anniversary celebration cloth

Lastly, we have the man in the white kaftan and hat. In some areas this kind of man’s outfit is associated with Islam, but in lots of places it is standard fare for everyone, and Christians wear it too. In addition to white, it can be made of the same colorful cotton the women wear, as you see in the photo on the right.

So, if you guys come visit me, you can bring your suit and tie. However, I will wear nice slacks and a nice shirt,  a combination quite common in the congregation, along with suits (rare), smocks (about 20%), some kind of kaftan (about 40%). The nice shirt can be a dress shirt, or it can be made of the colorful cloth the women wear, perhaps with some nice embroidery or cuff links.

Come to Ghana and experience the blending of traditions.

If you liked this, you might also like Cloth and Meaning, Yugu-yugu, or Heart Language.


Sitting outside the cantina in Tamale

Tamale staff sitting outside the cantina at coffee break

This is coffee break at the GILLBT* Center in Tamale. The staff get coffee or tea (mostly the later) inside. They then forgo the tables and chairs inside to sit outside on the foundation and sidewalk to talk. Mind you, these are not gardeners or simple laborers. There are a number of BAs and even MAs in this group. But they have no complexes about doing things their Ghanaian way. Some even wear traditional Ghanaian clothes.

One of the first things I learned about Africa is that people here live outside. Houses are for sleeping, storing stuff, and taking shelter from rain. Our neighbors in Ouagadougou would bring their chairs out to the edge of the street in front of their houses to sit, talk and gab with passer’s by. A lot like small town America used to be, but in that case people sat on their porches.

In some places in Congo, people built palaver huts under which people sit to talk (see below). Everyone brings a low stool. In fact, the stools are about the same height as the sidewalk the guys are sitting on in the  photo.  Sitting outside to talk about important matters is also very Old Testament:

“Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:23 English Standard Version).

This and many other cultural similarities made the Old Testament popular among Africa Christians. My wife must be a very virtuous woman because at coffee break in Tamale, her husband is known at the door of the GILLBT “Cantina” when he sits among the senior staff.

Palaver hut outside Isiro, DR Congo

Palaver hut outside Isiro, DR Congo


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*GILLBT, for Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation. A Ghanaian organization doing just was its name says: Linguistics, Literacy, Bible translation in the languages of Ghana. It has translated the Bible into more Ghana languages than any other organization, in addition to making over 500,000 literate through its literacy programs. Dayle and I are assigned to it to help with planning and mobilizing more resources from within Ghana (Ed) and managing a Guest House (Dayle).

Tamale – Kumasi by STC

The State Transport Company bus terminal in Tamale is a large open building with bays for four Greyhound-type buses. There are even unintelligible loudspeaker announcements about departures to remind me of a great Bill Cosby routine.

Traditional leather goods

Traditional leather goods

I see a stand selling leather, wood, and other curios. I pull out my camera only to be reprimanded, nicely, by a small group of young men who say that I should ask first. They then grant permission before I ask. They are right to be sensitive about the way their continent is portrayed which is sometimes exploited. I think I got a nice photo of traditional northern Ghana crafts.

An older woman passenger is handing out tracts in English. She talks to me about Jesus telling me that I need to be saved by the blood of Jesus. I assure her that I agree.

Inside STC bus

Inside STC bus

We board in an orderly procedure with no jostling or pushing. Instead of the expected four seats with an aisle, there are only three. I am going business class! There is, however, something missing: there is no toilette.

When the bus started, the tract lady rises and prays out loud for a safe trip, committing us all into Jesus’ hands.

I am now watching a Gospel music video of a Ghanaian group doing Rock of Ages very tastefully (in my opinion) but to non-traditional accompaniment – keyboard, drums, bass guitar, and electric guitar. They blend from that into Peace Like a River with reggae overtones. Yes, the bus is equipped with two video monitors. The medley is going on for some time moving from hymn to hymn.

After an hour, knowing that the trip will be 5 or 6 hours, the lack of a toilette has me a bit preoccupied. We stop beside the road to let out two passengers and two others make a dash for a little outside toilette. I don’t need encouragement to follow.

Three cell phone towers in village

A different village along the same road with three cell phone towers

Having done a bunch of classic hymns, the same Gospel group goes on to I Have Found a Friend in Jesus. Then, There is Power in the Blood with reggae overtones, done to video clips of an Anglican-ish communion, wafers and all.

Oh! Did I mention that I am traveling on a bus of The State Transport Company which is wholly government-owned?

Next up is one of my personal favorite groups, Ladysmith Black Mambazo doing a mixture of Gospel and other in their great southern-African style.

We pass through a little burg of mostly mud and thatch buildings with five, count them, five cell phone towers. To prove it I take my phone on the Internet and post that last sentence as my Facebook status.

We have an abrupt and radical shift in our entertainment programming. I am now being subject to videos of the “sport” of professional wrestling. (My apologies to any fans.)

Used auto parts for sale beside Kumasi street

Used auto parts for sale beside Kumasi street

In Kumasi, which is known as vehicle repair and rebuild central, we go through a part of town where everyone is selling some variety of used car parts. It’s like a big used parts yard spread out along both sides of the road with dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of individual shops. One stand had nothing but used jacks, another just rear-view mirrors, several had rows of motors, and so on for blocks and blocks. It was a great trip. I plan to do it again