Ghana’s copyright law for folklore hampers cultural growth



Ghana is very protective of its cultural heritage.
Wikimedia Commons

Stephen Collins, University of the West of Scotland

Ghana has a rich folkloric tradition that includes Adinkra symbols, Kente cloth, traditional festivals, music and storytelling. Perhaps one of Ghana’s best known folk characters is Ananse, the spider god and trickster, after whom the Ghanaian storytelling tradition Anansesem is named.

Ghana also has some of the world’s most restrictive laws on the use of its folklore. The country’s 2005 Copyright Act defines folklore as “the literary, artistic and scientific expressions belonging to the cultural heritage of Ghana which are created, preserved and developed by ethnic communities of Ghana or by an unidentified Ghanaian author”.

This suggests that the legislation, which is an update of a 1985 law, applies equally to traditional works where the author is unknown and new works derived from folklore where the author is known.

The rights in these works are “vested in the President on behalf of and in trust for the people of the republic”. These rights are also deemed to exist in perpetuity. This means that works which qualify as folkloric will never fall into the public domain – and will never be free to use.

The 1985 Act only restricted use of Ghana’s folklore by foreigners. The 2005 Act extended this to Ghanaian nationals. In principle, this means that a Ghanaian artist wishing to use Ananse stories, or a musician who wants to rework old folk songs or musical rhythms must first seek approval from the National Folklore Board and pay an undisclosed fee.

This is deeply problematic. Following independence in 1957, many artists have explicitly and habitually drawn on Ghana’s folk traditions to develop today’s creative industries. The 2005 Act means that the current generation of cultural practitioners must either seek permission to use and rework their cultural heritage, or look elsewhere for inspiration.

There is clearly a balance to be struck between safeguarding and access when it comes to the protection of a state’s cultural heritage. However, it is important to acknowledge that while Ghana’s legislation appears to tip towards protection at the expense of access, it restricts growth in the creative industries by discouraging artists from engaging with their national cultural heritage.

History of protection

Ethnomusicologist and musician John Collins has noted that the development of the 2005 Act was partly in response to US singer Paul Simon’s use of a melody taken from the song ‘Yaa Amponsah’ for his 1990 album ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’.

Simon attributed this melody to the Ghanaian musician Jacob Sam and his band the Kumasi Trio. But on further investigation the Ghanaian government asserted that the melody was a work of folklore and so, belonged to the state.

From this, two things are clear. Firstly, in Ghana folklore belongs to the state and not the originating communities that predate the modern state. Secondly, Jacob Sam received no recompense for Simon’s use of the work, with all royalties owed on the work flowing back the government.

There are a number of issues here that set Ghana apart from other African states.

Many states allow for the use of folklore by nationals and if a fee is applicable then it is paid as a royalty based on revenue raised. This is the case in all three states bordering Ghana: Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. Consequently, if an artist in one of these countries reworks folklore but makes no money, then no money is paid for that use. If the work becomes successful then the artist and the rights holder benefit.

However, in Ghana, the law states that payment is paid prior to use and so prior to any profits made. This potentially adds to the cost of production and so discourages use of folklore.

The other issue here is who owns the rights in national heritage. In many countries, such as Kenya, the originating communities retain the rights to their expressions of cultural heritage.

However, in Ghana the rights are vested in the office of the president. This means that any moral or financial benefit that results from uses of folklore flow to the office of the president, rather than being used to support continued safeguarding and growth of cultural heritage within communities.

Guarding against exploitation

Though Ghana’s present regime may appear draconian, there are compelling reasons why such protective measures are required.

Firstly, Ghana’s cultural heritage – its traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions – have been and continue to be exploited by non-Ghanaians in international markets with no beneficial interest flowing either to the state or to the originating community.

To give this some context, Simon’s use of Yaa Amponsah was only one use of Ghana’s cultural heritage in the developing of a new, and commercially successful, work. More recently, there were a number of press reports in Ghana that the Ghana Folklore Board intended to sue the producers of Marvel’s Black Panther for the unauthorised use of kente cloth in some of the characters’ costumes.

The Folklore Board clarified these reports in a press release, saying it did not intend to sue – but rather, wished to discuss attribution. Kente is specifically named as an object of protection under the 2005 Act and the current proliferation of unauthorised cheap kente designs entering global markets from China presents a significant challenge. Attribution, in this case, would ensure that cinema goers across the world would associate kente with Ghana, bringing a traditional craft to a global audience.

The board faces a particularly complex challenge. It must balance safeguarding traditional heritage with allowing creative artists room to reuse and rework elements of that heritage in a way that does not add to the cost or complexity of production.

Though the threat of unfair exploitation is real, equally real is the potential threat to the creative industries and the future development of Ghana’s living heritage if the country’s artists move away from their cultural heritage.The Conversation

Stephen Collins, Lecturer, University of the West of Scotland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian literature’s legacies of cultural appropriation


File 20181016 165900 1z1205e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australian literature has a long history of appropriating and misrepresenting Aboriginal culture.
Tom Williams

Michael R. Griffiths, University of Wollongong

Non-Indigenous Australian writers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they can risk writing about Aboriginal people and culture and getting it wrong. On the other, they can avoid writing about Aboriginal culture and characters, but by doing so, erase Aboriginality from the story they tell.

What such writers are navigating is the risk of cultural appropriation: the often offensive taking of another’s culture. It is particularly problematic when the appropriator is in a dominant or colonising relationship with a culture’s custodians. Australian literature has a long history of appropriating and misrepresenting Aboriginal culture.

Take anthropologist A.P. Elkin and his associate W.E. Harney. These white men collaborated in the 1940s on a book translating Aboriginal songlines into anglophone ballads.

In “Our Dreaming”, a dedicatory poem to the resulting collection Songs of the Songmen, the pair open with a self-aggrandising appropriation. This opening text emphasises their ownership of works that they are merely translating.

Together now we chant the ‘old time’ lays,
Calling to mind camp-fires of bygone days.
We hear the ritual shouts, the stamping feet,
The droning didgeridoos, the waddies’ beat.

An unpublished 1943 revision by Harney, altered by Elkin, even more noticeably emphasises the two authors’ claim on these songlines. The poem is titled “To You My Friend” and the first line reads, “To you my friend I dedicate these lays,” as though Harney is bestowing this culture on Elkin directly.

The pair claim to write:

not of their huts, the bones, the dirt,
Nor the strange far look in a native’s eyes,
As he looks to his country ‘ere he dies.

Rather than this vision of the apparently doomed “native”, Songs of the Songmen would purport to extol the romantic figure of the noble savage. The poem continues:

Tis not of these we muse today:
For the ‘Dreaming’ comes, and we drift away
Into myth and legend where we’ve caught
The simple grandeur of their thought.

The pair’s poetry claims in this way to be able to salvage and recapture the “Dreaming”, represented as no longer accessible to Aboriginal people themselves.

This example shows how appropriation, far from innocent, is bound up with attitudes such as the idea of a “doomed race”. It can also be connected to such projects as assimilation and child removal; Elkin advocated both.

The Jindyworobak group

The most famous literary movement in Australia to be engaged in appropriation formed in the 1930s. They were the Jindyworobak group, their founder Rex Ingamells drawing the word from his friend James Devaney’s book The Vanished Tribes, which included a Woiwurung word list.

Jindyworobak means “to annex” or “to join” in Woiwurung. The practices of its writers were, however, more annexation of Aboriginal culture than any inclusive joining together.

Ingamells’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture came from white translators and not from Aboriginal people themselves. He visited Harney on several occasions. The Jindyworobaks both believed in the myth that Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction and advocated the appropriation of Aboriginal culture.

Another writer who found Harney to be a useful source was Xavier Herbert. Herbert drew on Harney’s notes on the Yanyuwa kinship system (Harney spelled the name Anula) and turned skin names into character names in his 1976 epic Poor Fellow My Country. He had Harney’s permission but not that of the Yanyuwa themselves. Herbert’s novel arguably offers a distorted view of Aboriginal kinship.

Contemporary currents

Some of Les Murray’s verse can be read as inheriting from Jindyworobak and its legacy of appropriation – notably his 1977 Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle, which presents a non-Indigenous family holiday as sacred to the equivalent of an Indigenous song cycle. Murray’s poetry is often innovative, but its progenitor is also famous for positing a near equivalence between non-Indigenous and Indigenous belonging

Murray has lent his name and ability to publications such as Quadrant, whose editors famously denied the existence of a Stolen Generation. Even where the poetry might be compelling for some, Murray’s reputation is nonetheless associated with Quadrant’s dismissal of Aboriginal perspectives on history and self-representation.

This history of appropriation is dispossession, using another’s culture for gain and without their permission. Yet some have been calling recently for Australian literature to return to and revive these legacies.




Read more:
Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing


Critic and poet R.D. Wood has rhetorically asked, in the context of a discussion about the translation of song-cycles, “what might a Jindyworobak project for the 21st century look like?”. Such a project augurs poorly as a means of engagement for non-Indigenous writers.

South African-born, Western Australian poet John Mateer has used Noongar words in poems such as In the Presence of a Severed Head. The Western Australian poet John Kinsella has contextualised Mateer’s poetry thus:

In Kayang and Me, Kim Scott strongly objects to Mateer’s poetic use of Nyungar language at a reading from one of Mateer’s poems when they were both performing at an event in Canada. Scott speaks of the distress he felt at hearing a language that is only just being reconstituted and reclaimed by Nyungar people themselves, being spoken by, as he says, a white South African. There are important issues in this. First, Scott as a Nyungar is in a position to critique what he sees as an inappropriate usage of a language that has been placed under massive pressure by the machinery of colonisation.

On the other hand, his isolating Mateer’s South African origins does not take into consideration that Mateer is, both poetically and in terms of self-identity, as much a part of ‘Western Australia’ as of his birth land.

Mateer in his book Loanwords utilises borrowings and usages from a number of languages in order to reconstitute their original implications, while also building in the agency of new meaning in the language in which they are being deployed. This transnationality is the main drive of his work. Mateer meant no disrespect, I believe, but the issues are at the core of contemporary poetics. What is and is not available to the poet in creating a poetic language that carries its own intactness and its own implications for reading?

As Kinsella also argues, this is exactly where we need to be careful. While such transnational borrowings can enrich the English they emerge in, what is the effect on the speakers of the original language who are still recovering their culture in the face of colonisation?

Kim Scott has said in relation to Mateer’s work:

… there are very few forums for Noongar people to come to terms with the ideas of their ancestors … so it can feel doubly wrong when recent arrivals use those representations for their own purposes.

Others, more globally, have taken umbrage with critiques of appropriation. Kwame Anthony Appiah, for instance, has recently suggested that the idea of cultural ownership is vested in the commodity and not useful for thinking about cultural borrowing. Yet, he does not consider the numerous ways in which Indigenous culture is non-transferable – because it is a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.

Some poets who engage ethically with Aboriginal ways of writing and using language include Phillip Hall and Stuart Cooke. Hall engages with the same Gulf of Carpentaria Indigenous people, the Yanyuwa, from whom Herbert stole, but he does it through a reciprocal and ethical engagement. Hall has permission to write about these relationships. Cooke’s work includes translations of song cycles from the West Kimberley, for instance one written with the permission of George Dyunjgayan.

Non-Indigenous writers, if they wish to engage ethically with Indigenous culture, must learn to respect it as a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.


Michael Griffiths is the author of The Distribution of Settlement: Appropriation and Refusal in Australian Literature and Culture (UWAP).The Conversation

Michael R. Griffiths, Lecturer in English and Writing, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Sermons of the Right Reverend Father in God, and Constant Martyr of Jesus Christ, Hugh Latimer, Some Time Bishop of Worcester – Volume 2


I have been working for some time at getting this work of Hugh Latimer up on the particularbaptist.com website. It was previously up on the site in conventional HTML, but that is no longer the case. With this work (and all current and future projects) I have posted the PDF file to Scribd and embedded the document from there into the website with a Scribd provided widget. The book is not yet complete, but as I add to the work revisions of it will be posted to Scribd and the widget automatically updated. The work is available for download via both the widget and at Scribd.

The page devoted to this work at particularbaptist.com within the site’s library simply known as ‘The Book Room,’ has also been updated and the format for it is the design I will now be using throughout The Book Room as books are added (or links to books at other sites). Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done throughout The Book Room, but work is progressing. The entire library site at particularbaptist.com is being overhauled and updated.

I am currently reading this second volume of sermons by Hugh Latimer as I work on the project. I have included a review on the page in The Book Room and this is what I have said there:

‘This book of sermons is like a trip into the past – a trip back to the English reformation. With this book it is possible to get a feel for the times in which the reformer Hugh Latimer walked. The sermons are of course locked into the period, with references to events well known then (and perhaps not so now) and framed in a manner unknown now.’

‘Though preached many years ago, I have found many of these sermons still profitable to my own walk with God now. They are well worth reading, though it must be said they can sometimes be a little difficult to stay with due to the cultural differences, language of the day, etc. Stick with it and these sermons will warm your heart.’

Visit this work online at:
http://particularbaptist.com/library/latimer_sermons_contents.html