Significance of Ghanaian Festivals
Significance of Ghanaian Festivals
2. To offer thanks to the Supreme God for His care and protection, and to offer thanks to the ancestors and the spirits for their protection during the past year.
3. To remember and mourn those who had died during the year.
4. To mark the beginning of harvesting of a staple food, e.g., yam or rice, and the beginning of a new agricultural year.
5. To perform the customary purification of the land and the people by the chiefs and the traditional priests. This purification is to strengthen them spiritually and socially to enable them to face the coming year successfully.
6. To renew the people’s loyalties to their chiefs by paying homage to them.
7. To settle family disputes, quarrels, or misunderstandings.
8. To review the past year’s activities and to resolve to correct past mistakes and plan for the future.
9. To give the youth the opportunity to know one another and in some cases choose their life partners.
10. To continue the traditions.
11. To teach the youth about their traditions.
We shall now see how some festivals are celebrated.
(a) The Akuapem Odwira Festival
i. Preparation for the Festival
‘Odwira’ is an Akan word which means purification. Therefore, the Odwira festival is a period of cleansing and purification. Before the festival, a period of forty days is declared for meditation and rest. Do you remember we said in Book 2 that there are nine ‘Adae’ on the Akan traditional calendar? The period for meditation and rest is declared at the end of the eighth (8th) Adae. This period is known as ‘Adaebutuw’. During ‘Adaebutuw’ all the ancestors are expected to rest and are not to be disturbed in any way.
All those who have religious functions to perform during the festival period must enter into meditation for the whole of the ninth traditional month. This means they will meditate for forty days. The forty days’ meditation will enable them to prepare themselves spiritually so that they can perform their religious functions well.
ii. The Festival Period
The Odwira celebration lasts for a week. It starts on a Monday and ends on a Sunday. Special rituals are performed on each day. We shall discuss briefly what happens on each day.
The path leading to the royal mausoleum is cleared. The purpose of clearing this path is to enable the ancestors who are believed to join the celebrations to travel home safely.
This day is an important day in the festival week. Before the Odwira festiva, Akuapem citizens are not allowed to eat new yams they have harvested from their farms. Therefore, it is on this day that the ban on the eating of the new yam is lifted.
Another important activity for this day is the fetching of the sacred ‘Odwira’ symbol from the royal mausoleum. This is done early in the morning by the ‘Adumhene’ (Chief Executioner) and ‘Abrafo’ (State Executioners). They go to the mausoleum with a sheep and a drink. They bring the Odwira which is in the form of a prepared sacred mixture and present it to the ‘Okuapehene’ (Paramount Chief of Akuapem) in the afternoon. After the presentation, the ban on singing, drumming, and dancing and all forms of noise making is lifted. Drumming and dancing start at the chief’s palace.
This is a day for remembering relatives especially those who died during the past year. The day is marked by wailing, drinking, and drumming. People put on mourning clothes and fast throughout the day. The chief sits in state and receives condolences and greetings from people. In the afternoon, the chief in turn goes round to greet and offer condolences to all stool occupants.
This is a day of general feasting. In almost every house, delicious meals are prepared. People are free to visit any home, including the chief’s palace, to eat. The day is not a feasting day for the living only; the ancestors are fed.
In the afternoon, bowls of mashed yam (some mixed with palm oil, some not) and boiled eggs are carried in a procession from the chief’s palace to the ancestors at a shrine called ‘nsorem’. This is a palace where, it is believed, most of the ancestors were buried.
The most important ceremony takes place in the evening soon after nightfall. The Black Stools are taken to the stream for the ceremonial cleansing. The purification that gives the festival its name ‘Odwira’ is then performed. This ritual symbolizes the cleansing of the traditional area and the people. This is one of the few occasions when the Black Stools are taken out of the stool house. Before the stools are taken out, the gong is beaten to warn people to stay indoors. This is because it is a taboo to see the Black Stool. The end of the ceremony is marked by firing of musketry. After this, the chiefs go to the stool room to renew their allegiance to the Paramount Stool.
The highlight of the festival is a grand durbar of chiefs on this day. The ceremony starts around noon. The Okuapehene, the queen mother and senior chiefs of Akuapem are carried in state palanquins for a parade through the principal streets of Akropong. They are accompanied by drumming, dancing, firing of musketry and a lot of merrymaking.
At the durbar, the senior state linguist pours libation for the prosperity of the state. The state executioner too recites the state’s pledge to the omanhene. The omanhene then delivers his welcome speech and outlines his programs to the people. In this speech he wishes the people well.
The durbar lasts until late in the evening amidst drumming and dancing.
Another durbar is held at Amanokrom which is the seat of the ‘Gyaase’ division of the Akuapem Traditional Area.
This day is set aside for the ‘Krontihene’ of Akuapem to hold his special durbar as part of the Odwira festival.
The Damba festival which was originally a traditional festival is now a traditional and religious festival because it is combined with the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed. It is, therefore, celebrated by both Muslims and non-Muslims in the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana, especially among the Dagomba, the Wala, the Gonja, and the Nanumba. The main aim of celebrating this festival is to remember the birth and naming of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W.). It is an annual affair which falls on the twelfth day of Rabii-Al-Awwal, which is the month the Prophet was born.
During this period, the people including all the elders and sub-chiefs gather in front of the chief’s palace to drum and dance. After they have danced for some time and all are seated, the Imam and the chief linguist take the drummers into the palace, and they lead the chief and his wives out in a procession to the dancing ground. When the chief and his group appear they are met with shouts of joy and jubilation. Everybody rushes to meet them. As soon as the chief is seated, the drummers start the Damba beat. This is the start of the celebration. Whilst the Damba beat is being performed, the chief would occasionally take the floor and dance to the beat. When this happens, all present become happy and rush to present money to the drummers. While the dancing is going on, gifts of money presented to the drummers are passed through the chief. Similarly, when other dancers too take the floor the money given to them goes to the drummers.
In the evening, amidst drumming and dancing, a long procession starts from the chief’s house to the outskirts of the town where the festival is rounded off.
The word ‘Homowo’ means ‘hooting at hunger’. It is celebrated by the people of the Ga-Adangme traditional area. It is to remind them of their victory over a great famine which they experienced in the olden days. The Ga-Adangme traditional area is Ga Mashi (Accra), Osu, Labadie (La), Teshie, Nungua, Kpone, Prampram, Ningo, and Tema.
The Glidzi Festival is celebrated by the people of Adaklu traditional area in the Volta Region. This festival is celebrated to commemorate the migration of the Adaklu people with other Ewe groups from Notsie to their present home. The festival is normally celebrated once every two years.
Nowadays, there are changes in some aspects of our traditional festivals. For instance, ‘Soobii’ or ‘Dzubii’ no longer travel on foot to Accra for the Homowo celebration and they are not met at the outskirts of Accra.
We have already seen that festivals are special occasions when every one tries to return home. Chiefs and traditional councils, therefore, take this opportunity to mobilize their people for development projects. In most cases, the activities for the durbar include fund-raising. Contributions are made by all citizens especially those who are away most of the time. Important government officials are invited and the chiefs take the opportunity to submit requests for the provision of social amenities. The government officials in turn explain certain important government policies and programs to the people.