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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Orange Order revival in Africa
Youth members of the Orange Order in Ghana
The Orange Order could have its biggest Twelfth celebrations in a long time - not in Belfast though but in west Africa.

The order is having something of a revival there, according to research conducted by a University of Ulster academic.

The Protestant order celebrates the 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory of Prince William over Catholic King James II every 12 July.

Dr Rachel Naylor, a lecturer in sociology at the Magee campus, says 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 said.

There are currently about 20 Orange lodges in west Africa.

But membership at a number of youth lodges in Ghana is vibrant after years of relative decline during the 1980s.

Return of democracy

Most of Dr Naylor's research to date has been concentrated on Ghana where the revival of Orangeism has coincided with the return of democracy.

Several African members have travelled to the July celebrations in Northern Ireland but the majority of the Ghana lodges mark the Battle of the Boyne with a traditional church service and parade at home.

Like their counterparts in Northern Ireland, male lodge members in Ghana wear suits and collarettes and march behind their lodge's banner.

Belfast Orangemen marching
An Orange Order march in Belfast
Orangewomen wear their collarettes over white dresses.

However, although they march and dress in much the same fashion as in Northern Ireland, it is nonetheless difficult to make comparisons, says Dr Naylor, who believes the political, ethnic and religious context is very different

"The current emphasis in Ghana is very much on the spiritual and social support elements of the Order," she said.

Dr Naylor says whilst there are several theories put forward as to why the Orange Order in the past managed to gain a foothold in Africa, none is yet proven.

They include the possibility that Orangeism was introduced by missionaries in Nigeria or else by members of the British military.

The wider sociological issues raised by Dr Naylor's study will form an element of a new sociology module at the University of Ulster to be launched in the next academic year.

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