Festivals in Ghana have always been occasions for joy in the West African country. Besides the rich history behind all the events that make them so important for the tribes and communities, they are occasions that bring family and friends together. We invite you to know more about these significant festivals in Ghana and their cultural importance.
5 festivals in Ghana you should know about
Here are five of the most important festivals in Ghana and the people who celebrate them.
The Odwira Festival is celebrated by the people of Akropong-Akuapim, Aburi, Larteh and Mamfe in the Eastern Region of Ghana. This is celebrated annually in the month of September. The festival celebrates a historic victory over the Ashanti in 1826.
The Odwira Festival is a week-long series of traditions and rituals performed to purify the town, the people and most importantly, the ancestral stools of the land. It is also a festival to celebrate the harvest of “new Yams”. It was initiated by the 19th Okuapemhene of Akropong, Nana Addo Dankwa 1 (1811-1835) and was first celebrated in October 1826.
Six weeks prior to the occasion, some activities are forbidden and hefty fines or serious punishment are given to people who violate this ban. Some of these activities include, no loud music, no drumming, no whistling after dark and most of all no eating of yams.
How is it celebrated?
The festival is a seven-day activity, beginning from Monday to Sunday of the week that it is celebrated. Each day has an important activity or ritual is carried out for the occasion. Then, on Friday, which is the peak of the celebrations, a grand durbar is held where many dignitaries including chiefs and queen mothers of other tribes, politicians, business men and other quests are invited to grace the occasion.
On this day, the Okuapemhene and queen mother wear their full traditional regalia and display a lot of gold on their heads, necks, wrists, fingers etc., making it a colorful event.
They are carried by their attendants above everybody in a palanquin (a boat-like chair) and they dance bouncing in the air, whilst there’s drumming and singing going on, on the packed streets. There’s also lot of gun firing by the scary-looking executioners (abrafo).
After a couple of hours, the chief is sent to the gathering square or the durbar grounds to be seated. More drumming, dancing and rituals are performed.
And on Saturday and Sunday, competitions such as football matches, scrabble, among others are organized to entertain the youth. The ‘Krontihene’, one of the influential chiefs, also holds a special durbar on Sunday as part of the Odwira Festival.
Homowo, one of the largest festivals in Ghana
Homowo Festival is celebrated by the GA people of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. The festival is to commemorate the period in their history when there was a serious famine in the land. It is believed that there was a period in the history of the GA Kingdom, when there was a severe famine as a result of no rain which plunged the people into great starvation.
This moved the people to embark on a vicious cycle of food cultivation and their efforts were soon rewarded with a bountiful harvest. They, therefore, celebrate the Homowo, to hoot at hunger and rejoice in their harvest.
A month before the celebration, which is usually in August, there is a ban on drumming and noise making in the Greater Accra Region, as they believe it is a time to show respect to their ancestors who are resting, lest, they invite their anger.
The festival starts when the Dantu priest celebrates his grand custom of feasting and making of concoctions for royal family to sprinkle on them to ward away evil spirits and protect them against diseases.
Other interesting aspects of Homowo
- One interesting aspect of the celebration is the twin’s day. On this day all twins in the town are dressed in white calico, and paraded around town.
- There is a special meal known locally as ‘kpokpoi’—made from maize and palm nut soup— for the celebration.
- The paramount chief of the GA traditional area, the GA Mantse, goes around the town sprinkling the kpokpoi on the ground, a sign of appreciation for the ancestors for keeping the people safe and making them see another year.
There is also a grand durbar of the chiefs and people of the region. The King delivers his annual speech and advises the people to do what is right and live in harmony with one another. The chief priest pours libation and prays for the people. The king sits in state and receives dignitaries amidst drumming and dancing.
Adae Kese, translated to mean ‘big resting place’, is a festival of the Ashanti tribe and one of the most important festivals in Ghana. It glorifies the achievements of the Asante kingdom, hence, celebrated at the Manhyia Palace.
It is the annual culmination festival of the Akan people‘s calendar, the ninth Adae Festival (which occurs every six weeks). Adae Kese ushers in the New Year, with dates ranging between July and October.
The custom of holding this festival came into prominence between 1697 and 1699 when statehood was achieved for the people of Ashanti after the war of independence, the Battle of Feyiase, against the Denkyira. The festival was observed subsequently to the establishment of the Golden Stool (throne) in 1700.
The festival was a time to consecrate the remains of the dead kings; those remains had been kept in a mausoleum at the sacred burial ground of Bantama, a royal suburb of Kumasi. Adae Kese brought a link and a level of faith and solidarity between the living and the ancestral spirits.
The main festival used to be held first at Hemmaa, close to the king’s palace near the location of the ancestral shrine of the kings. The second and more important part of the festival was performed at Bantama, which also was the last burial ground of the Asante kings.
When the festival was announced, by beating of drums, people went into hiding for fear that they may be selected for the human sacrifice. As part of the ritual, sheep sacrifice was also involved. Whether human sacrifice was involved or not is a subject of debate, but the fact is that the African societies considered these rites as a “reunion between the living and the dead.
Every five years, the Adae Kese Festival is hosted by the paramount ruler of the Asante in the capital city of Kumasi, Asanteman, and lasts for two weeks.
The name ‘’Aboakyer’’ translates as ‘hunting for animal’ in Fante dialect as spoken by the people of the Central region. The institution of the festival was to commemorate the migration of Simpafo, a traditional name given to the people of Winneba. The people migrated from the north-eastern African town of Timbuktu in the ancient Western Sudan Empire.
The people believed that a god, who they called Otu, had protected them from all dangers during their migration and to show their appreciation, the people consulted the custodian of the god, a traditional priest, to ask the god for its preferred sacrifice. To their astonishment, the god asked for a human sacrifice, someone from the royal family, it is believed.
This sacrifice went on for some years but was later stopped as the people were no longer interested in human sacrifices. A request was made to the god to change the sacrifice type, as they believed that sacrificing royalty could eventually wipe out the royal family.
The god in return asked for a lion or tiger to be caught alive and presented to it at its shrine. After the presentation, it was to be beheaded as a sacrifice. This was to be done annually in a festival. To mark the festival, the people sought out the wild cat, as had been prescribed.
The people made a second appeal to the god to provide an alternative to the wild cat. That appeal resulted in the decision to accept a mature bushbuck.
The Aboakyir Festival is celebrated on the first Saturday in May. On the first day of the festival, the two Asafo companies (warrior groups) in Winneba take part in a hunting expedition. The first troop to catch a live bushbuck from a game reserve used for this purpose and present it to the chiefs and people at a colorful durbar is declared winner and is highly regarded for bravery.
The bushbuck is sacrificed and this signifies the start of the Aboakyer Festival. The festival is used also to receive a productive harvest and spiritual guidance from their gods for the coming year.
The Hogbetsotso Festival is celebrated by the chiefs and people of Anloga in the Volta Region of Ghana on the first Saturday in the month of November. The name of the festival is derived from the Ewe language and translates as the festival of exodus or “coming from Hogbe, Notsie, a town in Togo.
The Anlo are a group of people from a tribe in the eastern coast of Ghana prior to their settling in their present location. Oral tradition has it that they lived under a wicked king, Togbe Agorkoli, and in order to escape his tyrannical rule they had to create a hole in the mud wall that surrounded their town.
They achieved this by instructing the women to pour all their waste water on one particular place in the wall. Over time the spot became soft, thereby allowing the townspeople to break through the wall and escape. Tradition also holds that, to avoid pursuit and make good their escape, they walked backwards with their faces towards the town so that their footprints appeared to be going into the town.
Ceremonies during the Hogbetsotso Festival
Various ceremonies are held during the festival. They include a peace-making period in which all disputes are ended with the finding of amicable solution. There is also a purification ceremony of the ceremonial stools, where the Ewe believe the ancestral spirits reside, by pouring of libations.
The climax of the Hogbetsotso Festival involves a durbar of the chiefs and peoples of Anlo. The chiefs dress in colourful regalia and receive homage from their subjects at the durbar grounds. Various forms of dancing, singing and merry-making characterize the entire festival.