14 Mar Larabanga, Ghana
My decision to go to Larabanga was based almost entirely on the need to contradict disbelief. When I heard about the 8th century mud mosques, I asked a question that any logical person would: How is that possible? I even looked at photos, but it wasn’t sufficient. I refused to believe that a mud structure could survive that long.
A playful display
Larabanga is a smaller than any dot on the map I’ve ever seen. Northern Ghana with its relentless dry, dusty weather begged the question of how it was possible to even make mud, but I arrived at the end of the dry season, knowing the rains were just around the corner despite the fact I couldn’t yet taste the moisture in the air.
A family house
When I stepped off the crowded bus there, I was quickly swooped up by some playing children who led me to their home, actually a community house with an open fire pit in the center for cooking. I got to know them and their family before posing the question I had come to ask: who would take me to see the mosques and (more importantly) who would explain how it had been preserved for centuries?
Getting to know the family The mud and stick mosque
The conservative Muslim community is wary of women, especially ones who want to get close to the mosques. I knew I had my work cut out for me. When I did get around to asking the first word out of the older boy’s mouth was, “No women allowed.”
“I don’t want to go inside,” I assured him. “I just want to see it.”
My answer seemed to satisfy him and he led me and my friends to see the inexplicable constructions. As we got closer it became obvious to me, the protruding poles weren’t ornamental. They functioned like a trellis to climb the structure without damaging it. The young guy gestured to them, explaining how the fresh mud was spread over it from the top down every year. I couldn’t help but wonder if the structure could even be considered the same after so much time renewing it, transforming it with new layers of dirt.
I noticed a tiny door on the side that looked like only a child could fit through. Walking over to it clearly made the guy nervous. “No women allowed,” he called after me. About that time I realized it was the front door, the only door, and anyone who entered would have to do so on their knees.
No women allowed