TRADITIONAL FESTIVALS IN GHANA
CATEGORIES AND UNIQUE FESTURES
By: GODWIN YIRENKYI
WHAT do the Homowo Festival of Accra, the Bakatue Festival of Elmina and Fao Festival of Paga have in common in terms of origin? They are harvest festivals.
And what do the Akwantukese Festival of Koforidua, the Akwantutenten Festival of Worawora and the Hogbetsotso Festival of the Anloga, have in common? They are migration festivals.
The celebration of traditional festival are happy occasions for locals and visitors alike and the good thing is that there many of them ; at least about 70 major ones, representing all the different ethnic groups of Ghana.
Meanwhile, it is possible, despite their diversities, to groups the many festivals into different categories such as harvest festivals, migration festivals, purification festivals and war festivals among the rest.
A study of the names, modes of celebration tells much about the origin and the interesting characteristics of Ghanaian festivals as well as their relevance.
In many parts of the world good harvests are a cause for celebration for which days of ceremonies and offerings of the first fruits are made to the ancestors and to the gods by way of saying thanks to the spirits.
Most common among the festivals are the harvest ones. In West Africa most of the harvest festivals usually start in August at the end of the rainy season after the harvest of the main staple crop of an area such as rice, yam, and millet as well as the start of the fishing and hunting seasons. Thus we “Bli – za|” or “Corn – Festival “of the Anyigbe District near Ho, the Rice Festival of the Avatime and Akpafu, all in the Volta Region, the Fordjour Yam Festival of Badu, Wenchi District of Brong Ahafo together with many more held for millet and other grains northern part of Ghana.
The Homowo Festival of the Ga people of Accra is perhaps one of the well known harvest celebrations. Homowo means “hooting at hunger “and the origin is tied to the origin of the Ga people and their migrations to Ghana during which they experienced famine and grew some corn to alleviate it. Later after gaining a bountiful harvest they jeered at hunger and instituted the festival as resemblance.
Among the harvest festivals can be mentioned the Fetu Afahye of Cape Coast which incorporates the yam harvest and the fishing season. The Tingana Festival of Arigu in the Northern Region is another typical fishing harvest event. One can also mention the Bakatue of Elmina which embraces the opening of the Benya Lagoon for fishing after a period of closure apparently to let the fish to breed.
The celebration of the Akwantukese Festival by the people of the New Juaben sent traditional area last week marked the 31st anniversary since the people broke away from Juaben in Ashanti to come and settle in their present abode. Two weeks earlier, the people of Worawora in the northern area of the Volta Region also celebrated their Akwantutenten Festival to recall the exodus of their ancestors from the area around Lake Bosomtwe in Ashanti to their current settlement.
Hogbetsotso, which begins on the Sunday of every N o v e m b e r, is another commemoration of the migration of the Anlo – Ewes from their ancestral town, Notsie, in present day Togo to escape the tyranny of a wicked chief. The migratory aspect of all three festivals is portrayed during the celebration with participants seen carrying their hurriedly assembled possessions.
The Kloyo Sikplemi, a festival of the Krobo people of Somanya in remembrance of their forceful eviction in 1892 by the British colonial government from their ancestral home on top of the Krobo Mountains, together with the Shais from the Shai Hills could be placed among the festivals of migration even though the new settlements were only downhill and not far away from the original habitations. The episodes are recalled in an annual pilgrimage in the form of competitive mountain climbing to the top where one can see artifacts of the early settlers.
The Asafotufiam Festival of Ada best exemplifies the war festivals which are celebrated to remember the past battles and victories of the past. Held on the first Saturday of August each year, the main feature of the “asafo - tufiam”, literally meaning “militia–gun–firing” involves just that: a large scale musketry event to recall the bravery of past ancestors.
The Yaa Asantewaa Festival which was instituted not too long ago at Ejisu, near Kumasi, is used to remember the brave Queen mother who in 1900 led the Ashantis to fight the British in their attempt to capture the sacred golden stool, the embodiment of Ashanti unity.
Two festivals that will interest students of the obnoxious trans – Atlantic Slave Trade which took away millions of able bodied Africans into long bondage in the Americas are the Feok Festival of Sandema in the Builsa District of the East Region and the Kabili Festival of Sankana in the Upper West Region. The significance of these two unique festivals is that they help to illustrate the fact that despite the huge odds against notorious slave traders, our ancestors put up as much resistance as possible.
At times a festival may commemorate more than one event. For example, the Odwira of Akropong and other Akuapem towns in the Eastern Region, is a celebration of war and the new yam harvest .originally created by Okomfo Anokye, Ghana’s legendary cultural hero of the 18th century for the Ashantis after he had helped found the new kingdom, Odwira came to Akuapem, according to tradition, following the capture of the special artifacts used for the ceremony by the Akuapems from the Ashantis during the historic battle of Akatamanso in 1826.
Consequently, the Ashantis stopped celebrating the Odwira and stuck to the adaekese, meaning big- adae, the magnified form of the mini – adae ceremonies which are celebrated every six weeks or forty - seconds’ day by all the Akans categories and unique features of tribes. The ninth Adae marks the end of the traditional yearly calendar.
The war element of Odwira is depicted in the parade of chiefs as they are carried in their palanquins towards the durbar ground, each positioned according to rank and old battle formation such as the vanguard, the right wing, left wing and the centre force or bodyguard of the paramount chief.
The harvest part of Odwira is found in a ceremony of parading a specimen of the new yam harvest through the town on the second day of the week - long festival to signal the eating of the previously banned crop.
The next category of festivals is those that focus on religious purification, like the Apoo Festival of Techiman and other parts of Brong - Ahafo Region. An interesting aspect of the Apoo is how separate days are aside for the men and women to expose and ridicule wrongdoers in the society, high and low, through songs to shed their bad deeds in the out going year.
The Papa Festival of Kumawu is another purification event meant to cleanse the traditional state of all negatives of the past year. It is characterized by a certain ritual, that might have been useful in the olden days to asses bravery among the youth, during which the youth amidst the flailing of whips have to struggle in a tense scramble to cut a piece of meat from a sacrificial cow, all intended, especially in the days of rampant wars to identify bold and courageous individuals fit for battle.
Among the festivals of Ghana are innovative ones showing the long European influence especially in the coastal areas. One is the masquerade Festival of Winneba during which fancy–dressed groups compete in street parades and dancing is one of such event that followed the coming of the Europeans in the 15th century.
Another is the Edina Buronya, meaning Edina –Christmas held on the first Thursday of January by the people of the Elmina to coincide with a Dutch festival but incorporating traditional rituals like invoking the gods and revered ancestors. Other recent innovations are the Kente festivals of Bonwire in Ashanti Region and Agotime in the Volta Region aimed at showcasing the production techniques of the exclusive hand – made textile, Ghana ‘s gift to the world and symbol of excellence in craftsmanship.
The “Aboakyer” or “animal catching” festival of Winneba is easily the most popular festival in Ghana, held on Saturday in May. The highlight of this festival is a competition between two youth groups to capture a live bushbuck antelope for use in a ritual sacrifice. The essence of the festival is to ensure a healthy environment through the protection of the habitat of the ceremonial animal and by extension other local species as well as the natural environment including the water bodies in the area.
“Akwanbo” means “path clearance” and a festival by that name, held in the Agona District of the Central Region and other areas is another purification ritual which symbolizes the sweeping away, or cleansing of past misfortunes as the year ends to usher in a fresh new year.
Among the common benefits can be cited the strengthening of family ties and communal bonds as many people travel back home to meet friends and relations.
Festivals ceremonies have two faces; the private events like visiting the royal mausoleum and purification rituals like the washing of the ancestral stools are restricted to the chiefs and the court functionaries, and the public events like the parading of stool regalia, street processions, and durbar of chiefs, together with events such as musical and dancing competitions.
Space will not allow the mentioning of the remarkable symbolism associated with the many traditional festivals, not to mention specially created ones like the state instituted National Festival of Art and Culture (NAFAC) and the Pan-African Festival of Art and culture (PANAFEST) that are specially organized to showcase aspects of the country’s historical and cultural heritage to the world.
Ghanaian Times Page: 15 Saturday, November 28, 2009