This is one of the more unique tourist sites in Ghana; among its peers of castles, and eco-villages. Part of this is the unique landscape, and part of it is just experiencing the difficulties that present themselves to these people who have chosen (may not have been much of a choice) to live very differently than other people in Ghana. With all the difficulties these people still have, they have carved a life for themselves out of this beautiful natural area and are working to preserve it with the help of visitors and recognition.
The whole experience of visiting this village is more of a Journey and adventure than others that can casually be visited elsewhere in the country. It starts by first getting out to this remote area of the Western Region. You will probably arrive too late in the village of Beyin to go see Nzulezu in the same day so it requires a stay in Beyin. Then in the morning you will arrange the canoe and guide at the visitors center in Beyin. From there you will go out to the main road and across to where the canoe will take off to the stilt village. Depending on the time of year this area may look very different at different times. In the rainy season this whole area is a flooded wetland area. In the dry season it is either beginning to dry up or it has and consists of an area of tall grass with a ditch cut through the middle heading off in a straight line in the distance. From where the planked walkway ends is where you will board the canoe. Again depending on the season the route you will take is a little different in the rainy season it is more of a straight line route to the village. During the dry season you will canoe down the long ditch that was dug out as a canal a few years back to aid in the transportation from the village in the dry season so people would not have to canoe and walk.
After the canal ends and you enter the lake body you will begin to see a little more wildlife in terms of birds but once again depending on the season you will either be in an open body lake or still traveling a channel cut through marsh grass. You will also see the traditional ways of fishing on the lake. The lake is fragmented with lush areas of jungle that you will canoe through, the water is very dark by the amount of vegetation in it, and because of this it makes the most amazing reflections. When going through the jungle areas it almost feels like you are entering a green cave because of the reflection in the water. Once you have reached the open water of the main there is just a leisurely paddle along the tree line the rest of the way to the village. If you are lucky you will have a guide that enjoys racing the canoe with others going on the trip or serenade you with reggae and other songs.
Approaching the village is when you can get some of the greatest pictures. This is once again aided by the calmness of the dark water which creates the most amazing mirror effects. After tying up the canoe and stepping onto the planks that form the streets of this village you will be taken of a little tour of the village, including the guest house, the church, a little stand selling some souvenirs and then you will be taken to the chief. After meet the chief (or his deputy if he is not around) you will take a seat and listen to him tell the story of the village.
The story goes something like this; a long time ago the people of the village lived in what is now Mali and were part of the ancient Empire of Ghana. They had an enemy that continued to harass them and demand their food and resources; they were no longer able to fight so they met with their oracle to try to find a solution. The oracle instructed them to follow the giant snail to a safe place to live. About 40 households made the journey and they first settled in an area of central Ghana which is now the Brong Ahafo region. But this did not last long because they continued to be persued by their enemies so they moved on once again. They followed the snail to where a large river enters the ocean, near modern day Shama on the coast of Ghana. They believed they would be safe here. But once again that did not last long before their foes caught up to them once again. This time the snail took them to a place they would be safe forever, and this is when they took to some rafts and set out onto the Amusuri wet lands where they built Nzulezu which means surface of the water. They were safe for some time, but one day they saw that their enemies were coming across the lake, so they called upon the snail. The snail split the water and the boats of their enemies fell in the water came back over on top of them. The people of Nzulezu from then on have lived without the fear of their enemies. They have a shrine to the snail and continue to celebrate their escape.
After the story the chief will tell you about the school that they have in the village very close to where you are sitting and listening to the story, he then appeals to the visitors for funds for the school. Most people seem to be very put off by this and resent it. I did not find that it was pushy or inappropriate, and donated a small amount of money. I have heard a lot of complaints by visitors about Nzulezu, some people have described it as more of a spectacle than an experience and have a general distaste for this site. I think it is all about going into it with an open mind, and the willingness to learn or think about things from others perspectives. Part of this I think is that the villagers in Nzulezu do not get super excited about visitors like people elsewhere in Ghana, they tend to do their own thing and let the visitors be, this is seen as being unfriendly and rude by a lot of people, but I think it is just that the novelty of visitors has worn off and they are not transfixed by them like other places in Ghana. So the issue is more with how people are interpreting it. It also has to do with what they expect because most literature about his site sites that the people are not very friendly, so if you go there and see that they are uninterested because of what has been read it is interpreted that way.
Unlike some of the sites in Ghana visitors going to Nzulezu have a strong chance of actually helping the people there preserve their unique way of life with the small amounts of money they are providing for guiding, some crafts and the school. Tourism could definitely be an alternative to young people leaving to look for better jobs in the city to never return.
When I visited the site, I definitely noticed that the people were not as excited about visitors, I did not take this to the extreme though that I have heard that they are actually unwelcoming and do not want the visitors. When we got close to the school where the kids were playing in a shallow part of the water that would become a football field for a short time in the dry season they actually became quite playful and wanted their pictures taken. They were also very excited to show us a leech they found. The majority of the grownups were taking an afternoon nap. You have to remember that the time you are visiting will probably be the warmest part of the day and the village may be a little quitter because of this. These people work hard and must canoe to their field on the other side of the lake so often the majority of the people living in the villager aren’t even there.