Footwear in Ghana and Vietnam

It has been observed that with regard to hair, and women’s hair in particular, Ghana and Vietnam have little in common, but when it comes to feet, there is a much greater degree of similarity. Both countries have a long and hard history of toiling on the farm barefoot; both countries make extensive use of rubber beach sandals, otherwise known as flip-flops, or in Ghana as kyale wates, and in both countries it is a religiously observed custom to remove outdoor footwear when entering a residence.

In Ghana, the traditional leather sandal resembles in general form the modern flip-flop, with a rigid platform, wide front cross-strap and central toe string. Once appointed a chief of his village, clan or tribe, a man’s foot was destined never again to touch the ground. This clearly elevated him above his subjects, most of whom went barefoot for most of the time. Chiefs wore special sandals with a platform rather larger than the size of the foot and painted black. To this day, when performing their official duties, chiefs sit upon their stools wearing their traditional long toga-like cloths and wearing their black sandals planted firmly on the ground before them. Neither the chief nor any of his attendants or supplicants is permitted to cross their legs.

In Vietnam, the traditional footwear resembled that of the Chinese shoe, characterised by the upward-pointing toe. There was also a sandal, similar in form to the Ghanaian chief’s sandal, but smaller and made of softer material and seemingly rather more comfortable to wear. However, footwear in old Vietnam, as in Ghana, was the preserve of the rich and powerful, and the poor majority in both countries went barefoot.

In modern times, most of the citizens of both countries share the privilege of wearing shoes. Every type of footwear can be seen in the high-street stores and pounding the city streets. The younger Vietnamese have a strong liking for trainers, with all the global brands and their imitators widely available. In the cities at least, most Vietnamese also wear socks, but in Ghana these accessories are much less in evidence.

It is interesting that the ubiquitous rubber sandals are used rather differently in the two countries. In Ghana, the flip-flop is everyday outdoor wear and is removed when entering a residence. Inside the home, most Ghanaians go barefoot. By contrast, in Vietnam the rubber sandals are kept for indoor wear, and they wait at the door to be put on when the outside shoes are discarded. But they do have one more thing in common: in both Ghana and Vietnam the most popular colour for the sandals is blue.

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