Saturday, May 26, 2007
Pomp and Pageantry of Akwasidae
From: KINGSLEY E. HOPE, Kumasi
O every African, festivals hold a special place in everyday life. They are occasions for re-union, remembrance and merry-making.
Festivals are also occasions of mixed feelings as the dead are remembered through organized rituals and mourning.
The rituals are performed by social groups under clan heads who are responsible to contact the dead to invoke their blessings for the people.
Many have heard of and witnessed Akwasidae festival of the Akans, but why the festival is called ‘Adae’ is little known to them.
In Akan “adae” means rest place, so to bother you a bit, Akwadae is observed with a visit by the chief and some of his elders to the stool-house (Royal Mausoleum) where past chiefs had been buried to invoke their blessings for the people.
During such moments, a sheep is slaughtered and some of the blood sprinkled on the stools, which is accompanied by pouring libation amidst drumming.
Akwasidae takes place in a 40-day cycle and in some years it is observed eight times and in others nine times.
The rituals at the royal mausoleum can also be performed by the keeper of the mausoleum called the Banmuhene.
Adae festival is very important to the Asantes and other Akan speaking people.
In basic terms it is a religious festival to remember past leaders and heroes who in the Catholic religion could be called saints.
There are two types of adae festival: Awukudae (Wednesday) and Akwasidae (Sunday). These days are considered sacred days of the week, originally, the Akan ‘adae’ fell on Wednesdays.
The Akwasidae which came to be celebrated in addition to the Awukudae was of late origin. It may be observed that the period between the Akwasidae and the following Awukudae and the following Awukudae is 24 days inclusive and between the Awukudae and the next Akwasidae or an Awukudae and the subsequent Awukudae.
To celebrate the Akwasidae, elderly women versed in traditional songs, would go to the palace continue, towards the evening of Saturday called Memenedae Dapaa, to sing, memorial songs until late in the night.
Drums are beaten and horns sounded to welcome the festival amidst dancing and merry making. In the early hours of the morning the drums are resumed to rouse the dead kings and their elders from their sleep to partake in the festival.
Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., the queen mother with some elders would go to the palace of the paramount chief to greet and wish him well.
The paramount chief dressed in his mourning costume would ride in a palanquin to the mausoleum. With the exception of the paramount chief and the Banmuhene, no one is allowed to enter wearing sandals. What really happens inside the mausoleum?
In there, the stools are placed on a raised dais and the paramount chief, divisional chiefs and elders in order of precedence, go in and pay homage to the dead kings. Food in the form of mashed yam which has been prepared in the mausoleum is offered together with strong drinks to the dead kings.
A sheep is slaughtered and the blood which is drained into a bowl used to smear the stools with pieces of meat including the lungs placed on the stools while the fat is spread over the centre support of the stools.
The belief is that the blood revitalizes the stools and the ancestral spirits, and the lungs; a symbol of breath of life serves the purpose of giving new life to the stools. Concluding the ceremony in the mausoleum the paramount chief orders drinks to be served to all present who later depart leaving the stools and the ancestors to eat and drink what had been served them.
After the rituals in the morning, a ground durbar is held at the fore court of the Manhyia Palace where the Asantehene sits in state for his people to pay him homage.
As early as 7 a.m. preparations for the event had begun and by 10 a.m. the forecourt is filled to capacity by traditional rulers and the general public.
The arrival of the Asantehene at the durbar grounds is heralded by a retinue of courtiers led by a man carrying a brasspan containing talisman and herbs believed to drive away evil spirits.
Others carry the traditional sandals of silver and gold keys (the Nsafoahene).
The key, in folklore, signifies that when the Asantehene is out of the palace all doors are shut.
The Asantehene emerges holding a traditional sword in one hand and a whisk in another and dances to traditional music and steps out of the palanquin.
As the procession passes, he bows gently to the chiefs and other subjects to acknowledge their presence.
During Akwasidae, traditional rulers usually wear mourning clothes (Kuntunkuni) but with this year coinciding with the birthday of the occupant of the golden stool, they wore kente among others including Otumfuo himself who was dressed in a beautiful kente to match the occasion.
The gold ornaments he wore that day made it difficult for him at times to lift his hand.
Only the Bantamahene, Baffour Asare Owusu Amankwatia V, was dressed in a traditional mourning cloth. This, according to tradition followed the revolt and subsequent capture of the Bantamahene during the days of King Osei Tutu.
As he was freed he became the best ally of Osei Tutu and since then any occupant of the Bantama stool has to be in perpetual mourning.
Sitting in state, he combined the celebration of the Akwasidae and his birthday with pomp and pageantry characterized with traditional drumming and dancing which showcased the rich culture of Ashanti.
The Spectator - Saturday, May 26, 2007 Page: 19