Woodcarvings in FOASE

Leaving Kumasi towards Sunyani you branch off through a feeder road, all surrounded with forest, bushland and small farms. After 15 km you reach FOASE, an Ashanti town of about 8000 inhabitants. Nearly 2000 of them are engaged into woodcarving, sandpapering and polishing.

The nearness of the forests brought Gyau Apraku to the idea to establish carving in his hometown Foase. This dates back to 1984. He gathered some carvers from Ahwia, also near Kumasi, where a traditional Carving village is located and brought them back to Foase.

By 1989 when Ghana made headway into the Export Industry there were 8 Master Craftmen in Foase. Today the town has seen a significant change, as a lot of Export production is carried out in Foase: Shops for display of carvings sprang-up, electricity has come to Foase, Communication Centers were opened to serve the carvers to get in contact with their buyers, old Family houses were renovated and new houses are under construction and at any corner you will see the palmsheds, where the carvers work. Also nowadays the social network of carving in Foase has changed: It was Apraku's intention to teach the youth in Foase the carving and make it possible for them to earn a living there instead of migrating and hassling in Accra or Kumasi. However the demand for carving, with a significant inflow from the US and their commercial market, was increasing steadily, so that other carvers from other areas, such as Aburi have joined the Foase boys. Many a times carvers come to carry out certain contracts of different products (e.g. masks), finish the contracts and leave again.

This has more or less its reason in three factors:
Wood, from secured sources, like the sawmills from the Timber Centers Sunyani and Kumasi, bring a fast and easy rawmaterial supply.
Foase and their carvers have developed a fine finish of goods, neatly sandpapered and with a polish, called antique polish, which looks attractive and antiquate.
Some of the Foase Masters, including Gyau Apraku have become large Exporters, who also gain contracts for goods which are not traditionally produced in Foase.

The product range in Foase can be called classic:
Akuaba dolls, Fante dolls, Ashanti figures, Okomfu priests and three-headed figures are all of Ghanaian origin. Not only worked into figures of all sizes, but also transferred on artistic creations like combs, candlestands or sidetables, the variety of more then 1000 pieces maintained an unique outlook because of the way all carvings are polished. All carvings are done with OSESE wood, a local fast growing wood normally used for firewood. It is white in complexion and hardly has grains. It is a softwood.

Let me now tell you the story of the Akuabadoll :
A woman who wants a child sees the carver who gives her a doll, which she carries on her back or place under the bed. In the colonial days this even worked with an English Woman. Special features on the Akuaba doll also determine the character of the coming baby and after all Akuaba in Twi means "wellcome". Seeing the quantities of Akuaba dolls leaving Foase, it seems the mystical meaning of this figure is still alive and it can not only be the stylish form with its round head, deep eyebrows the big forehead and the long neck that attracts buyers to Akuaba dolls.

There are several types of Akuaba heads:
- the Akuaba head
- the round face
- the Fante head
- the square face.

The Fante, an Akan group, setteled in the coastal south of Ghana celebrate their festivals with ornaments out of Gold and the women decorate their hair long up, a style called Taekua. The ae in Taekua, is special Akan letter, written as an open E and spelled like a german . The writing is as:

This hairstyle makes the long form of the Fante figure's face, symbolising beauty.

In Foase's carving Industry the woman plays a significant role as well: The carvers - almost 100% man - make the raw piece and incised decorations and contract their wife, sisters, friends and kids for polishing. So mainly woman sandpaper the pieces, put on finishing touch with the sharp knife and then apply the polish, a mixture of red Kola nuts, white clay , mansion polish and shoecream. The pieces however belong to the man, she is just a contractor and is paid her fee, if not she keeps the piece and gives it only back after her being paid. She also trains the younger ones and her children to help her with the work after school. There are already 12 year old boys who hide, when the school teacher goes round the town to ring the bell and call them for afternoon classes, they prefer the polishing work.

The men however undergo a strict training, built on apprentice, carver and master. There are 15-16 year old boys, but also grown -up men who start a carving apprentice under one master. Their payment for a year is "Chop money" and their master trains them the various techniques, but also they already work for contracts. After that the work for one year, before they can call themselves Masters, who train other boys. This organization applies to the whole town and is also regulated in the Foase carvers union's articles to ensure good quality products.

Getrade has started 1991 to work with Apraku, when he had his carvings in his bedroom and the boys in their family house polished them. We saw him growing to become a leader in Foase, which he also supported with a Baptist Priest seminary and he leads the Foase Baptist church these days. He built large carving sheds, huge storage places and a retail shop and can now be called the "big" man in Foase.

Time for us to give a supporting hand to others, who need to build-up and can do that with our medium contracts. Jacob Amankwah, Mohamed Osei David, Emanuel Ampong, Akwesi Yeboah and Emanuel Ankrah, 5 friends and brothers share now their work for Getrade- FPS. Each one has his specialty in carving and three of them have their own workshop already. .Since half a year now they always produce together, come to Accra together to deliver the works, work out their prices together and we hope that in course of time they still will do it and start to fight over individual contracts or moneys. Because we want to initiate with them another Afforestation project, which we could not do formerly with Apraku, who told us there is no land available. When deepened the relation to David + Co. We try that approach again. Still the surroundings of Foase is green, but 20 more years with such high tree consumption volumes will change the road to Foase.