Thursday, October 11, 2007
REPACKAGING OUR TRADITIONAL FESTIVALS FOR TOURISM DEVELOPMENT
By: FRANK KOFIGAH
It is a fact that Ghana, a country located midway along the Gulf of Guinea’s coast of West Africa, with a population of twenty million people including the immediate past Secretary General of United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, boasts of a wide range of highly diversified tourist products.
The country at the “centre of the world” is marked by a cultural heritage and landscape that are unique in many ways. She retains a delightful blend of old and new because Ghana is a country where past and present live side by side. Parts of the country are evocative of the ancient Ghana Empire: some are reminiscent of the colonial epoch, whilst come represent the present era.
Each of the ten administrative regions has a character and mood of its own. From the flat undulating arid northernly savannah regions through the high moist semi-deciduous forested regions of the centre to the generally low lying coconut cladded coastal belt of the Atlantic Ocean to south, one comes face to face with a people to whom culture means a lot.
Various aspects of Ghanaian performing arts can be enjoyed almost everywhere in the country. One festival follows another, each important and significant in the lives of the people who celebrate them. To those who observe and participate, it is intriguing and full of mysticism and exorcism of highest caliber.
Accra, the capital, is a cosmopolitan entity extra-ordinaire: indeed a conglomeration of several settlements of varying sizes, and where people from all walks of life, ethnic groupings and races mingle, with each group harmoniously retaining its charm, tradition and customs. Although Ghana’s culture and people are of diverse origin, it’s the sum total that makes it so uniquely Ghanaian – a true “potpourri” of black African culture.
This article takes a look at the typical traditional festival celebration in Ghana, with the aim of bringing into the fore, what could be done to enhance the touristic value of festivals for tourism purposes.
The basic assumption here is that, the traditional Ghanaian festival which exerts much “pull effect” on visitors is gradually losing its charm due to, among others, modernity. Consequently the trend emerging is but extremely unfortunate – a situation where festivals, from a decade ago, began to assume political dimensions to the extent that one is attending a political rally or a non-partisan traditional festival.
All is not lost yet, and as such there are some areas that can be worked on to bring out the best of our traditional festivals.
In the end, one expects the festivals to be repackaged in a manner to suit the needs of tourists-both domestic and international. The gray areas are discussed here.
Most of the festivals do not have exact period for celebration and this cannot help tour operators or tourists to plan with any scientific accuracy.
A case in point is where the custodians of the cultural heritage have to resort to oracles of divination to determine when to celebrate the festival or where in some cases, the appearance of the new moon plays a major role in determining when to observe a particular ritual in a festival.
Almost all the festivals are crowned with a grand durbar of chiefs and their subjects. Usually there is a procession of chiefs, often carried in palanquins (or riding on a horse) amid drumming and dancing. Incidentally the grand durbar has now become what is generally referred to as the festival.
The durbar is supposed to showcase the rich culture of the traditional area celebrating the festival expresses in terms of drumming, dancing, signing and general merry making. Sadly to state that these very important cultural values are being eroded gradually. Generally, there are so many speakers making various, often very long and boring speeches, mostly in English and later translated into the local dialect. It appears the speeches are meant for radio listeners and television watchers, sometimes the translations are poorly done.
The dressing by function performers is changing fast. One often sees people in jerseys depicting products of industrial or manufacturing concerns; similarly, the entire durbar ground can be decorated with flags from that industrial or manufacturing concern.
Some of the dances are so highly choreographed that one cannot tell what the performers are really doing. Every movement can be anticipated, making the dance very boring. Then the time allotted for performance is often very short. Whilst a speaker could spend 10-15 minutes for a speech, most dancing groups are given 3-5 minutes.
Incidentally traditional drumming doesn’t just begin with simple “1,2,3”. In some cases the master drummer, using drum language, must seek permission from the Almighty God, the lesser gods, ancestors, departed master drummers and existing master drummers. This alone can take up to five minutes. Similarly, master singers and dancers may have to repeat the same.
In Ghana, due to our cultural heritages, we often get up for the visitors to sit down. The trend now is for the inhabitants of places where the festivals are held to struggle for seats, leaving the visitors stranded. It will be a move in the right direction if some seats are left for visitors and tourists. Again “segregation” whereby places are earmarked for visitors only should be discouraged since visitors like to be part of the game, and not mere spectators.
One unfortunate event, even though the intention is clear, is causing some form of embarrassment to visitors and tourists. The trend now is for some organizers to be going round with bowls collecting monies in what is referred to as appeal for funds. In some cases people are made to dance their way to “donate.” This is foreign to traditional Ghanaian culture.
Whilst everybody knows of the need to appeal for funds, a better forum could be used for that or better still, a way could be found for people to “donate” freely without marring the trend of the festivals.
THE WAY FORWARD
I suggest that we cut down the number of speakers. For example, the chief or the paramount chief of the traditional area could make a very brief welcoming speech. The political head of the region, in this case the Regional Minister, replies. A third speech, from either the Head of State or his representative would be necessary.
Every festival should have an aim for celebration, a few cultural displays apart from the normal drumming, singing and dancing should occupy some of the time devoted for the celebration. For example, for the festival of Exodus, enactment of the event will go a long way to add more tourist value to the festivals. Children, especially school children, should be encouraged to perform cultural dances, et cetera.
Traditional dress code should be applied here. It serves very little purpose if traditional performers appear in ‘T’ shirts with all sorts of logos. What really enthralls the visitor to take many pictures is the colours of our traditional outfits. Let’s not forget that tourists would like to buy what they want and not what others have for sale. And research by the Ghana Tourist Board has revealed that most tourists to Ghana prefer the festivals and things very Ghanaian.
There should be exhibitions. For example for the people of Agotime Traditional Area, an exhibition of kente and kente products forms a significant aspect of the Kente festival celebration.
There is the need to provide movable modern toilet facilities to cater for the so many visitors who normally throng festival grounds. And there should be a mechanism in place to see to environmental sanitation issues in general and waste management in particular. Villages or towns hosting the celebration should be kept clean and decorated with various flags (apart from political flags).
It should be possible that a durbar starts in the early part of the morning and by the time the weather is hot, the main celebration is over.
The caterers should prepare local dishes and drinkables for sale to tourists, serving them into a very hygienic manner.
Traditional games and sports should form part of the festival celebrations and, as has been the case, a “Miss ….. Festival” crowned. It is suggested that the judges look for traditional beauties.
“Mr. …… Festival” the most handsome man or boy, should likewise be crowned to complement what the ladies do.
The Ghanaian Times Thursday, October 11, 2007 Page: 9