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. 

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