45 year old Mensah Kasapa was born at Nzulezo, a community built on stilts and platforms suspended above the Amanzuri Lake in the Jomoro District of Ghana’s Western Region.
He has lived here long enough to understand the intrigues of life on top of the waters.
The over 550 inhabitants of Nzulezo are predominantly farmers and brewers of local dry gin, known as ‘Akpeteshie’. “It is not profitable to fish in the dry season”, said Mensah, though the inhabitants go fishing during the rainy season.
Life is difficult, he complained, referring to the subsistent agricultural activities of the community.
According to Mensah, the routine journey through the waters to the farmlands takes well over three hours and about an hour to cross over to their raffia palm plantations.
Traditionally, the men go farming, whilst the women sell the gin and farm produce on markets in other towns.
Today, Nzulezo is a major tourist attraction – tourism is profitable and beneficial to the people, who are believed to have migrated as refugees from Mali, led by a Snail God some 400 years ago.
Mensah’s hand crafted miniature canoes sell good to tourists who troop to the enclave to experience the way of life of the people and the water-dominated natural landscape. The lake is healthy with tilapia, catfish, mudfish and crocodiles and monkeys abound in the forest.
Indeed, the isolated Nzulezo is increasingly growing as a paradise for tourists and domestic holiday makers, who mostly cruise through the Amanzuri Lake to visit the village.
Visitors also spend good time in the village of Beyin to learn about Nzema culture and history at the Fort Apollonia Museum.
Fort Apollonia at Beyin in the Jomoro District was the last fort to be founded by the British along the Gold Coast. It is now the home of an eco-museum dedicated to Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the most important figure to come from the Nzema area.
Curator and Manager of the Museum, Samuel Nobah is enthused at the high rate of domestic tourists trooping to the area.
“In combination with Nzulenzo, it attracts a lot of tourists from all over the world, so in a sense we’re able to obtain income; it’s also helping inhabitants, especially the food vendors, hoteliers and restaurant operators to obtain some income from the visitors who come here; and in our records we have the largest number of the local visitors, especially students”, he stated.
Nzulezo, which means ‘surface water’ in the Nzema language, was in 2000 nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The village can be reached only by a canoe; there is a church and a primary school – all children have their boats to commute to other communities to access Junior High School.
But there is no healthcare facility – the Nzulezo community wants government to provide health centre as well as offer incentives for teachers to take up postings to the only primary school in the area.
Mensah has called for a review of the formula for sharing proceeds earned from visitors, stating that “there is no fairness in the arrangement”. “Six communities share proceeds and we only get 12 percent, for me this is unacceptable because we are the ‘Zoo’ that attracts people”, he said.
The Nzulezo community also wants the government to invest in speed boats to ease the burden on tour guides who are challenged in serving the increasing number of visitors, especially during festive occasions.