Sirigu (SWOPA) Still Rising

Posted By : Collins/ 160 0

Sirigu Women Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) has won the Tourist Attraction of the Year for Upper East Region. Under the auspices of the Ghana Tourism Authority, SWOPA, as the community initiative is called, chalked the feat last week at the tourism awards programme held in Bolgatanga.

Focused on traditional art and craft, Sirigu has easily become a destination of choice in the northern half of Ghana. It has attracted all classes of people from around the world. Whilst serving as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan actually found time to pay the SWOPA centre a visit. Furthermore, the Sirigu designs have become so well-known that portions of the Golden Tulip Hotel and Mmofra Place in Accra have been decorated with the design.

For those of us who are familiar with the Sirigu success story as well as the inspirational leadership provided by Madam Melanie Kasise this latest feat is not surprising.

Having had a teaching career spanning nearly four decades, Madam Kasise was eventually faced with the inevitable – retirement. As she went through her old boxes one day, she found her long- forgotten undergrad long essay. Her project work was on reviving the dying wall designs of Sirigu. She brought out the book, dusted it and said no to a boring retirement life. Madam Melanie Kasise has never looked back since.

In 1997, when her colleague retirees were coasting to their last days on earth, Madam Kasise’s new life had just begun. She mobilised 54 local women to form the Sirigu Women Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA). Today, the association has become a vibrant umbrella body with about 300 young and old women. The members learn and practise trade in traditional wall designing, pottery, basketry canvass, painting and Tye and Dye. One exciting aspect is that visitors can also come for workshops in any of these skills.

In addition to arranging walking tours around the community, SWOPA also provides simple but quality tourist services. The compound houses a museum, workshop, restaurant and a traditionally styled 5-room guesthouse. By popular demand from tourists, also a five-bed dormitory caters to group visitors.

It has been my long desire to spend a weekend at the SWOPA Centre. To get to Sirigu, I moved from Bolgatanga, the Upper East capital, connecting through Vea and Zokko. An alternative route is branching off at Kandiga junction on the Bolgatanga-Navrongo Highway and driving for another 17km. I checked into one of the air-conditioned rooms built a la local style. After settling in, I asked one of the SWOPA tour guides to accompany me on an evening stroll. We took a short cut to town. Our walk took us across dry river beds. Dominating our surrounding were giant trees such as Baobab, Dawadawa and Kapok. It was not exactly a lonely walk as we met other folks on foot and on bicycles.

The moon was full and shiny, and everything in sight was bathed in a glorious, bluish
hue. As we walked under trees, the moonlight filtered through branches and leaves
before splashing us. This produced a romantic, neon effect. Indeed, the moonshine combined with the savannah landscape to present an Arabian Night scene.

We found the centre of Sirigu abuzz with activity. It happened to be the evening of a market day. At the main lorry station, heavily loaded trucks were leaving for Kumasi and Accra. They left with some pottery, livestock and Dawadawa. A couple of teenage passengers looked eager to start the journey that will take them away from home. All they carried were a few personal effects bagged in black polythenes. It was easy to predict that, these young men and women are on their way down south to Kumasi or Accra to gamble with destiny.

The day’s market session is nearly over yet die-hard traders do not appear to be packing off. I saw bottled kerosene, local gin, sweets and cigarettes for sale. I also saw bread, grilled meat and fruits. In need of a snack, I settled for some hot koosey. My guide, offered to buy me pito to wash it down with. Excellent idea! But I told him not to bother since the local beer featured prominently in my plans for the next day.

We continued our night walk and encounter a crowd of children at the video centre.
They have queued to watch “London Get Problem”, one of Agya Koo’s video films. Next
to the video house is a mobile phone retail centre which pleasantly surprised me. Eagerly, I made a few calls and signalled Ferreol for the return walk. Back at the SWOPA centre, I was served with a bucket of water for my bath. I had a good night’s sleep, except for one disappointment –

I couldn’t dream of “Arabian Nights” like I had planned to.
To be continued…

By: Kofi Akpabli

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