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Men I; Wood

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Hardwoods in the Rain Forest

Cutting and selling the huge hardwoods is a very profitable business. Often the business is organized and operated by European expatriates. Ghana's rain forest hardwoods are now almost all gone. The Sahara desert, man made,* gets closer every year.

Hardwoods in the Rain Forest       

The South Side of the Kwawu Escarpment

The rain forest is a source of many products more than timber. See Herbal Medicine and bush meat.

Tapping Rubber

Because the terrain is mountainous on the Kwawu Escarpment, large hardwoods stand because it is difficult to log them from there compared to the lowlands.

Much scandal is generated as chiefs sell the logging rights without informing the other elders in their courts, or their lineage members. Chiefs are always strapped for cash (they must be generous and hospitable with their many visitors) and are easily tempted.

Al Bartle posing under a large hardwood tree

At the bottom of such a tree, with the flanges, the diameter may be 10 to 15 meters.

The tropical rain forest has a very wide range of species. This makes it impractical to use them for pulp and paper, the process requiring a single species of tree. The Forestry Department of the Government of Ghana is experimenting with growing Canadian lodge pole pine as forest plantation, and has an experimental farm in Kwawu near Obomeng. The tree grows much more rapidly than it does in Canada. A single species tree farm is more appropriate for pulp and paper making. The problem with single species crops is that disease and paracites spread more rapidly.


When they reach Europe or North America, many of these woods will be called "mahogany" although mahogany proper is not indigenous to West Africa.


Huge Rain Forest Hardwoods

The man standing at the right indicates their size.

Rapidly Being Removed

The logs shown above are stored at the coast for international shipment.

Standard Sawmill

Sawmill at Nkawkaw

Sawmill at Nkawkaw

The rain forests contain much more than trees. The big hardwoods shelter the farms and small productive trees (like oil palms) from excess rain and sun, and are the homes to many medicinal herbs and plants. They help protect the naturally thin layer of soil. When the big trees are cut, the soil becomes rapidly depleted of its nutrients, and often becomes lateritized (crusted with a hard layer of iron from the large amount of iron oxide in the original soil).

Bush Sawmill


Portable Sawmill in the Bush

Wood Carving

Several items used by women, such as wooden mortars for pounding fufu and akuaba fertility dolls are carved by men, because working in wood was traditionally for men.

Children of a Wood Carver Learn at Home


Carving by a man of a fufu pounding mortar to be used by a woman

Woodcarving; Akuaba fertility doll


       Carpenter making my shelves in front of where I lived

Carpentry was Taught by Swiss Missionaries

When the Swiss missionaries taught masonry and carpentry in the nineteenth century, they taught the skills to men, not to women. Holding the saw with the teeth away from the carpenter is part of their training. Those carpenters then trained boys and young men, as apprenticeship was already established, especially for blacksmiths. The boys (like the apprentice priests taught by akomfo) spend much of their time doing non job related work, such as cleaning the compound and running errands, and are allowed to do simple carpentry tasks first.

* Four or five thousand years ago, there was a continuous green belt that stretched from what is now Morocco to what isnow Delhi. North Africa was covered mainly with savanna and and forests. The Sahara desert is a creation of mankind, mainly because of two human tools, fire and goats. Domesticaed goats chew grass to the earth level, unlike cows and other herd animals, and that helped destroy the grasses. Slash and burn farming, which razed the bush to the groundin order to make ploughing easier, was the second cause. Over a hundred square miles of West Africa forest and savanna are lost every year as the Sahara desert continues to expand. the destruction of Ghana's rain forest in the second half of the twentieth century added to this devastation.

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