Ghana Jollof
Ghana Jollof

Building comprehensive register on GH intangible cultural heritage: The case of Ghana Jollof

The Senegalese version of Jollof rice was officially recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity in December 2021.

This in a way according to some, may put an end to the ongoing debate over Jollof rice’s origins and solidifying the West African nation’s claim as the true home of the rice delicacy.


Though many expected that UNESCO’s recognition of Senegal as the true home of jollof which is locally known there as Ceebujën will put an end to the long-standing jollof rice dispute between Ghana and Nigeria, it appears that is a mirage.

Already, conversations about the global appeal of Ghana jollof is gaining steam with relevant stakeholders in the tourism industry such as the National Commission on Culture (NCC) shaping the direction of the discussion.

The Director of Policy Planning, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation at the National Commission on Culture (NCC), Richardson Commey Fio, is advocating for the submission of Ghana Jollof to UNESCO for consideration as a component of intangible traditional legacy.

In an interaction with the Daily Graphic, Mr Commey Fio pointed out that for a country that has a healthy obsession over its traditional foods and eager to promote and preserve them for future generations, it was crucial that stakeholders put in place plans to submit the traditional Ghana Jollof to UNESCO.

The NCC Director expressed his fears about Ghana losing out big on the great fortunes the country stood to gain with such a recognition.

“Ghana prides itself as a country that values its traditional staples like Fufu, Banku, and Ampesi, among others. Our rice has developed into a modern delicacy which has gained global appeal and still maintains its enchantment of giving people a sense of identification and belonging and we must at all cost project it.

“Fortunately, Ghana as a state, party to the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, can equally start a process to submit Ghana Jollof as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity,” he said.

Ghana Jollof

The Ghanaian jollof, a traditional rice dish, is a much-loved festive food that is frequently served at weddings, parties, and other large gatherings. It is a vibrantly coloured red or orange meal with wonderful spice and rich and saucy beef (or other meat), fish and even eggs.

For a long time, Ghana and Nigeria have debated who has the best jollof styles in (usually lighthearted) fashion.

The argument is carried out on social media platforms, where both sides frequently post memes that contrast two similarly themed images, one of which is noticeably more attractive, depending on who created and shared the meme, one side will be tagged as "Nigerian jollof" and the other side as "Ghanaian jollof."

According to a publication by Business Insider Africa, jollof has become a source of pride and cultural identity for the Senegalese.

This certification by UNESCO is expected to positively impact the economy, particularly in tourism, agriculture, fishing and catering in the country.

The latest development should be a wakeup call to both countries, particularly Ghana to take the right steps to develop a thorough record for such perceived traditional legacies.

Touching on how both countries can make gains from this development, Mr Commey Fio reiterated the need for the two countries to document their traditional staples into an extensive register for future generations.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

He said Ghana currently has a large number of these intangible cultural heritages, including oral traditions, songs, knowledge of natural spaces, healing traditions, foods, holidays, beliefs, cultural practices, skills for making handicrafts, techniques for farming and raising cattle, traditional navigational knowledge, and cooking techniques, but there are only a few efforts being made to preserve them.

The NCC Director called for a coordinated effort from all appropriate institutions, particularly a commitment of resources to register all of these traditional inheritance.

“Building a comprehensive inventory and register on Ghana’s Intangible Cultural Heritage must be one of the major priorities of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. This is because, listing such assets for UNESCO recognition will go a long way to contribute to the growth of the economy of Ghana by directly boosting tourism, trade, agriculture, create employment as well as increasing internal and external knowledge exchange,” he noted.

Road to Discovery

Mr. Commey Fio posited that to create a solid cultural inheritance, it will be necessary to identify the elements that serve the foundation of the populace's sense of pride and cultural identity.

The majority of them, according to him, had not yet been identified, but there were dozens of them in Ghana that were worth documenting.

He also emphasised the importance of institutional mandate fulfillment and financial commitment to guarantee Ghana's place on the world map.

“This is to say that, listing of a country’s intangible cultural asset for UNESCO recognition requires time and resources. It requires research, first of all, and a committed support from government through relevant ministries and agencies to follow through the process to get the intangible asset listed and recognised.

“The good news is that, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has obtained financial assistance from UNESCO for strengthening capacities to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage towards sustainable development,” he added.

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