Odwira Festival

Monday, September 25, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Bang.  The gun shot into the air.  Drumbeats accelerated as the procession continued down the street.  The African town of Akropong is settled among mist covered mountains as people joined in the yearly festival.  Crowds huddled by the open gutters.  A single woman took labored steps closer and closer to where I was standing.  Four men stood by grabbing her arms and sides while another balanced the container of food on her head.  Her eyes steadily fixed ahead.  Without warning she suddenly stopped.  The men urged her on pulling and pushing.  She remained fixed.  Suddenly she sprinted ahead almost losing her attendants.  Within the next hour similar groups progressed through the town.  The ceremony was to venerate the ancestors.  The Africans in this area believe that the people carrying food on their heads are possessed by their ancestors as they parade down the street. 
Wednesday after our classes, we left Accra and ventured back to the comfort of the Akrofi-Christaller Institute.  The purpose of this trip was to study and observe the Odwira festival in Akropong.  Odwira means purification and the festival is a week long series of traditions and rituals to purify the community for the next year.  The ethnic groupís calendar is made of nine months of forty days.  The festival begins each year on the last set of the forty days so the festival is actually their New Yearís Celebration.  When the last month begins certain prohibitions enter the town, like a ban on noise making, dancing, funerals, celebrations, and eating yams.  When we were greeted in the town, people will say Afe hyia pa (meaning a good meeting of the year or happy New Year) you would answer Afe nko mmeto yen (Letís enter the New Year) or Afe sesee na ye te ase (may we still be alive by this time next year). 
The festival is from Monday to Sunday.  On Monday men from the town go to where the ancestors are buried and clear the path.  On Tuesday it is the outdooring of new yams.  Basically, a harvest festival.  On Tuesday the ban on eating new yams is lifted.  Wednesday is the day of mourning.  Everyone wears black and red.  They go from house to house to mourn anyone that has passed in the last year or bury anyone that died during the forty day ban on funerals. 
We observed the festivities on Thursday and Friday.  Thursday was the day of feasting.  We started out in the chiefís palace and watched as different kinship groups brought him and the queen mother presents.  The palace is an open building with a courtyard and covered sides.  It is smaller than what the imagination would entail for a palace and serves more like a community hall during the normal week.  Drums beat numerous rhythms that somehow combine perfectly.  The ceremony started with a brief sermon because the Queen Mother is a devote Christian.  This year marked her fortieth anniversary of being Queen Mother so the entire festival was laced with Christian elements.  Someone even brought her a poster of Jesus Christ as a present along with otherís gifts ranging from firewood, vegetables, live goats, and cleaning supplies.  Coca-Cola and Fanta were also popular presents. 
Next was the procession of the possessed that I described above.  On Friday, it was the day of celebration.  Ghanaians really do know how to celebrate!  The main event of the day was when all the sub-chiefs, sub-queen mothers and locals came to celebrate with the principal chief and queen mother (there is a hierarchy). 
Everyone was decked out in gorgeous African fabrics of white or bright colors.  I felt out of place with my fair-freckled skin, red hair, and western style clothes.  A procession began with drumming.  All the chiefs and queen mothers where paraded up and down and up and down and up, ect. the street.  The women were seated on elaborate chairs and the men in boat like chairs.  Their attendants carried them, aggressively bouncing the chairs up and down in celebration.  Each group had its own drum line and some even had brass bands.  The principal queen mother was also accompanied by a hoard of pastors dressed in dark suits and priest collars.  She wanted the Christian community to accompany her on this day.  During all the commotion, the sky opened and it started to down pour.  However, it seems like only the audience noticed as the parade continued till the rain stopped and the sun came out sometime later.  Finally, everyone took their seats, formally greeting each other and the principal chief. 
Afterward the party continued all night.  The previous evenings there was a town wide curfew at 9 and lights had to be out by 10.  On Friday, it was lifted and everyone took full advantage of it.  We could hear the music blaring all night long. 
On Saturday, we left the comfort of the Akofi-Christaller Institute and had another adventure.  We climbed Krobo Mountain and saw beautiful views of the Ghanaian landscape below us as we trekked up the mountain. 

Flexibility

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

By Melissa Rick

In a developing country, everyday activities take longer.  We are learning to be flexible with our time and patient.  Nevertheless, I know that my American schedule that I usually have at home would never work here.  The electricity is shaky, but being without power or water makes for several fun activities.  Another example is that within the three weeks we have stayed here, I have already had one tro-tro and one taxi break down while I was riding in them.
I do not accomplish very much when the power is out (other than immediately going to sleep no matter what time it is).  On Thursday, the power was out for over 24 hours.  We went to an outdoor theatre and waited under the stars talking till they got some power to have the performance.  After about an hour and a half, one light appeared on the stage.  The performers danced African tribal dances.  I am amazed to watch their compulsive movements around the stage. 
I am also learning to be flexible with basic infrastructure that is not in place.  There are often not systems for how things are done (like driving).  The other week I visited the library.  It is a grand building on campus and stills shines of what it was meant to be.  The reference section is an outdated card catalogue.  The drawers of the catalogued are twisted and bent into their various shelves.  The cards are worn thin and yellowed.  The rest of the library is in a similar condition.  I walked up to the second floor to discover piles and piles of unshelved books feet taller than me placed around the floor.  The guardians were two elderly women who volunteer at the library.  They only released a few of the basis books after they joked with us in Twi. 
In Ghana there are many differences some are because it is a third world country; others are in place because of tradition or culture.  The differences donít bother me.  I knew it would be different.  My friends and I talk about how we want to live Here while we are Here.  In other words, we donít want to expect or impose American ways of doing this or that.  That would ruin or at least lessen the cultural lessons and experiences that we are having here.  Who knows?  Perhaps we will learn new and better ways of doing things or better understand why something is a certain way in the developed United States.  I strongly believe that this daily confrontation with a new place helps us appreciate the United States, and know more about ourselves and how our environments have shaped us.
This weekend Stephanie, Justin, Sarah (x2), Deborah, and I ventured into the unknown surroundings outside of Accra to attempt to find the mysterious Boti Falls.  We had a true adventure.  Traveling in a third world country, even one as developed as Ghana, is challenging.  Without signs, one has to rely on the patience and help of others.  To find the right tro-tro or street you just have to ask people on the way.  The same thing happens when we take taxis somewhere.  You get into the cab and tell the driver where you are going.  He wonít tell you that he isnít familiar with that place but will ask other drivers or pedestrians every little bit on the way there. 
To get to the Boti Falls, we headed out of campus to downtown Accra and piled in a tro-tro for the trip.  We had to wait for the tro-tro to fill up before it left but we were finally on our way.  The other passengers in the tro-tro looked like they were going to ceremonies because they were dress in beautiful traditional African clothes.  One family was in all black, most likely for a funeral.  The other in bright colors for a different kind of celebration.  The tro-tro took us to Koforidua (apparently called Kofo for short) through the mountains and small villages.  Mist hung over the mountains.  Kofo is only about 20 to 30 miles outside of Accra but the trip took 1 Ĺ- 2 hours.  We when got to Koforidua we had lunch then Stephanie, Sarah, Justin, and I took a taxi to the Boti Falls, another thirty minute drive.  We had our destination for the entire adventure set on the falls but really we didnít know what to expect.  The travel guides and descriptions hardly adequately described the powerful 30m high falls.  On July 1st every year the Ghanaians from the area have a huge festival.  Our taxi driver said he would go every year.  We could climb on the rocks behind the falls and stand behind them.  After all the unknowns about if we would actually make it to the falls, seeing them was a magnificent reward.
After seeing the falls, our taxi driver lead us on a strenuous fast hike through the mountainís forest.  (a short side note) The people in Ghana are amazing.  They go well out of their way to show you kindness or help you find something.  Our taxi driver spent around five hours with us that day showing around this area where he had grown up.  The hike finally lead us through rocks and caves until we emerged from the forest.  Up ahead there was a strange rock formation called the Umbrella Rock.  It is one rock sitting precariously on top of another.  We climbed up a shady bamboo ladder to the top.  On the top it feels like you are hovering over the mountain and can see the Ghanaian mountains and valleys for miles around. 
In the next few days, we are going to a festival outside of Accra.  The festival is for the veneration of the ancestors.  I am excited to see what a traditional African holiday is like and will have much to write about in the coming weeks.

Philosophical Reflections

Monday, September 18, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

We meet for class in a classroom designated for the Calvin Program, lodged in the Institute for African Studies. The room just barely fits sixteen students and an instructor, but it contains an air conditioner, and reasonably comfortable seating, and it’s nice to have a space we can call our own.

In our “Justice and the Common Good” class we’ve been reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers” and thinking together about what it means to treat people with respect and dignity when we have deep cultural or philosophical differences. It’s been a perfect book to read in Ghana, as many of the examples focus specifically on Ghanaian customs and beliefs. Students find themselves talking through issues with their room mates, or with folks at church, and it has enriched our discussions enormously.

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First experiences in Ghana

Saturday, September 09, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Akwaaba.  That is the word used to greet us where ever we go.  It means welcome.  I have found out that greetings are important to Ghanaians.  Maakye (good morning), Maaha (good afternoon), and Maadwo (good evening).  The Ghanaians are extremely patient and hospitable.  When I do something stupid they will laugh and not get upset at it.

      Names are also important here.  Everyone has a name day.  A name that signifies what day they where born in addition to any other names they might have.  My name day is Akosua.

      I am supposed to have a Ghanaian roommate but she hasn;t shown up yet.  The school here runs very differently than universities in America.  Many of the students won’t even show up till finals and buy the notes.  The larger lecture halls seat around 300 students but there will be 800 students signed up for the class.  Those that don’t show up an hour before the class will have to stand for a couple of hours.  The grading scale is different. A 70%-100% is an A.

      The Calvin students don’t run into the same struggles as the rest of the university students.  We have Ghanaian professors but our classes are just other Calvin students on the program. We started our Twi class, African Drumming and Dance, African Politics and People’s and Culture.      On Saturday, we went into Accra for the first time.  We split up in groups and walked through the largest market imaginable.
It takes up most of the downtown area.  Accra has a population of around three million.  It can be crazy around here.  To get there we took a tro-tro which is basically a passenger size van with 35 people in it.  People are everywhere and it is very crowded. The sound in the market are also different.  People will hiss or smack their lips to get your attention.  Many say hello, hello instead of maakye because they can see we are Americans.

      The country also is experiencing rolling power outages so at some time on three days of the week we won’t have power or water.  When we went up to Akroprong this weekend there was a large storm and the generator worked for only part of the day so we have had several romantic candlelight meals.

      The food is extremely different as well. However, there are not many options.  We usually have rice and they serve a meat with every meal, usually chicken.  The dishes are Jolaff which is like a Spanish rice, Waakye a rice and bean mixture, Kenkye a dough like ball that is served by itself with sauce or in a stew (then it is called Fufou), and Red-Red (which is a bean mixture).  There is an open air market across the street that will make egg sandwiches for breakfast for about 30 cents.      On Sunday we went for our first service at the Legon International Church. It was an amazing service.  A lot of the songs are in Twi but we can still follow along (or at least dance).  The service went by quickly.  I didn?t even realize that it had been 3 hours before it was done.  Ghanaians dress up for church.  Most of the women wear beautiful traditional dresses and some of the men wear a cloth wrapped around their bodies and one shoulder.  We are often singled out because we already stand out so much because of our white skin.  The Ghanaians don?t mean it in a negative or racist way they are just really curious.  I think I will be a lot friendlier and more open after spending time here and greeting everybody.

      After the service we went to the Akofi-Christaller Memorial Center for three days to have a beginning retreat in the mountains.  It wasamazing.  The staff of the center talked to us about Ghanaian customs, religions, and culture.  For example, it is very bad to use your left hand for anything here, like passing money or food or eating.  The left hand is meant for dirty jobs so using it towards anyone is offensive.  It is also offensive to cross your legs in the presence of an elder.  It is a sign of pride and disrespect.

      Tuesday we visited the Voltic Lake and dam that provides electricity for the country.  The reason there is rolling blackouts is because they are worried that they didn?t get enough rain this year so everyone has to conserve electricity.  We also visited a bead factory.  They showed us how they made various beads from recycled bottles and we bought several different kinds.

      We officially started classes this Wednesday.  Please pray for me as I am trying to adjust to this new culture and finish my law school applications.      Some interesting information: 
1.      None of the bathrooms have toilet paper or soap, even in our dorm.
2.      The gutters everywhere are huge open concrete ditches (easy to trip over if you aren’t careful).
3.      Cars have the right of way here. 
4.      When we are walking around in kroprong or Accra, children laugh and yell obruni (white person).

Dei (good-bye)

Melissa

Starting Class

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

Classes begin today. It feels good to begin a regular schedule and begin the work of the semester. (Of course, that’s always easier for the Prof to say than the students!) We spent the weekend up at the Akrofi Christaller Institute in the town of Akropong, and returned to the University of Ghana yesterday about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The Akrofi Christaller Institute (ACI) is located up in the mountains, and the altitude results in much cooler temperatures than we’ve been experiencing here in Accra. It’s a beautiful place. The main buildings were built in the mid-1800s, and restored when the ACI was established. It currently offers advanced theological degrees in a variety of subjects, with a specialization in African religions, so when we ate in the cafeteria and walked around the grounds we got to meet folks from all over the world who’ve come to study. We also enjoyed classes with instructors from the ACI, who introduced us to all sorts of things, from the complexities and importance of greetings in Ghanaian culture, to the intricacies of family relationships and basic ettiquette. We learned we should not pass things to people with the left hand, and we should not cross our legs when in a formal meeting. We learned that owls are considered evil by some groups in Ghana, and that American families with only one mother and father are pretty scrawny—many Ghanaians have a whole handful of fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles. And we ended with a wonderful discussion of Christianity and African traditional religions led by Professor Kwame Bediako, one of the world’s leading experts on religion in Africa. It was a thought-provoking and fascinating discussion.

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