Still Marching – Africa’s Orange Order
Youth members of the Orange Order in Ghana pictured with their adult helpers at Keta. In front is the Grand Superintendent of Juniors of the Grand Lodge of Ghana, Togbi Subo II, who is also a chief of the Anlo Traditional area. “Pride of Keta” was the first Orange lodge to be founded in Ghana, in the early twentieth century.
The Orange Order is still going strong in west Africa in spite of facing many economic and political barriers, according to research conducted by a University of Ulster academic.
Dr Rachel Naylor, a lecturer in sociology at the Magee campus, says that the level of interest and commitment to the Orange Order in parts of Ghana and Togo might come as a surprise to people living in Northern Ireland.
“Although numerically small, those involved are highly committed and the level of interest is certainly significant,” she adds.
There are currently about 20 Orange lodges in west Africa and membership at a number of youth lodges in Ghana is increasing, which seems to augur well for the future of the Order in that area. The revival in Orangeism has coincided with the return of democracy to Ghana.
There were hopes that a similar environment for growth might exist in Togo following recent elections but the results of the poll led to violence and the exodus of thousands of refugees to neighbouring states.
Dr Naylor’s research into the nature and significance of the Orange Order in west Africa is supported by the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies.
She says that whilst there are several theories put forward as to why the Orange Order managed to gain a foothold initially in Nigeria and then in Togo and Ghana, none is yet proven. As a result of ongoing political instability in Togo, most of her research to date has been concentrated on Ghana.
While several African members have participated in the July Twelfth celebrations in Northern Ireland - and this would be an aspiration for others - the majority of the Ghana lodges mark the Battle of the Boyne with a traditional church service and parade in their own area.
Like their counterparts in Northern Ireland, male lodge members in Ghana wear suits and collarettes and march behind their lodge’s banner. Orangewomen wear their collarettes atop white dresses.
However, although they march and dress in much the same fashion as the Northern Ireland brethren, it is nonetheless difficult to make comparisons, says Dr Naylor, as the political, ethnic and religious context is so different.
“The current emphasis in Ghana is very much on the spiritual and social support elements of the Order.”
The Nigerian lodges died out in the 1960s. Economic crisis coupled with a lack of democracy have taken their toll on the membership level of organisations in both Ghana and Togo. The upsurge in the popularity of charismatic churches and the fall in numbers attending “orthodox” Protestant churches in Ghana have also had a knock-on effect.
As a result, membership levels seem to have fallen off since the Orange Orders in both Ghana and Togo attained independent Grand Lodge status in 1985, although the Ghana lodges are now making a comeback.
The wider sociological issues raised by this study will form an element of a new sociology module to be launched in the new academic year, Africa in Transition. According to Dr Naylor, who will be delivering the module, there is currently a high level of interest in sub-Saharan Africa among academics, development agencies and politicians and so this is particularly timely.
Dr Naylor first visited West Africa as a Cambridge undergraduate and these early visits sparked an abiding interest in the continent. She is an active member of the African Studies Association of Ireland and organised their recent conference at Magee.