The Posuban Shrines of Elmina

Posuban shrines are a regular feature of the Fante region of Ghana’s central coast. Any town, almost regardless of size, will possess at least a few such shrines, which are often decorated with cryptic symbols or statues. We managed to find four elaborate examples in Elmina, although there were almost certainly more hiding in the town’s back streets.

Elmina Shrines

Every Fante town in Ghana is home to a number of “companies”: citizen groups that once wielded enormous influence over local affairs, and acted as fierce militias. Today, they don’t have quite the same fighting power, but the companies have remained active in the cultural life of their towns. Larger Fante can have over a dozen, numbered in order of their establishment (and usually, but not always, their influence).

In Elmina, a quick walk around the old town will bring you past four Posuban shrines, which are immediately recognizable for the bizarre statues that inhabit them. These shrines act mostly as storehouses for the various companies; once they were munition lagers, though now they more likely contain costumes and celebratory paraphernalia.

Starting at Lagoon Street and heading north along Benya, we first encountered Posuban #5, which features a ship flanked by a couple very-caucasian looking dudes. Just a couple houses further, we found Posuban #2. Here, a group of rambunctious kids were playing, and to be honest, they were more fun to watch than the blue-robed statue holding … a pepper shaker? I’m not sure, and there was nobody around to quiz about symbology. At the end of Benya Street, is perhaps the most curious of the shrines: Posuban #4, which features life-size representations of Adam and Eve, apparently in paradise. Finally, taking a right along Dutch Cemetery Road will bring you to Posuban #1, which is guarded by a couple lions, and sports a curious dome on its roof.

As long as you’re on Dutch Cemetery Road, you might as well turn around and head toward the west, where you’ll encounter… you guessed it! An old Dutch Cemetery. Overgrown and ancient, this is an evocative place, although it’s questionable whether you’ll be able to gain entrance. The only beings we saw in the cemetery were a few goats who’d managed to figure out how to get over the fence, hunting for that sweet, sweet cemetery grass. While we were at the entrance, a goat came right up to us, nudged at the locked gate, stared at us and bleated plaintively. I honestly didn’t know goats were capable of interacting with people like that.

And as long as you’re at the cemetery already, you might as well scale the adjacent flight of steps, which leads to St. Joseph’s Cathedral (you might be noticing that this “quick and easy”, one-block tour is becoming a test of endurance). At the top, you’ll find a set of busts of all the cathedral’s deans, along with an amazing view over both Elmina, and the salt fields found inland.

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