Did you know that Ghana hosts more than 70 festivals every year? If you think about it, that’s more than one per week. Traditional festivals in Ghana are used for a variety of things, such as marking the beginning of the harvest season or paying homage to ancestors.
Today, we’ll walk you through some of the different kinds of festivals and holidays, which will offer us a comprehensive view of Ghanian culture.
Celebrated by the Akan people of western Africa, Adae means “resting place” and is celebrated to invoke and venerate ancestors. Food and libation are offered to the ancestors by the traditional rulers, called ahene. On this day, work is forbidden. Now, it’s important to note that the Akan calendar year is divided into nine cycles of around 42 days each. The Adae festival is celebrated locally twice per cycle. The last one of the year, called the Adae Kese (Great Aede), is celebrated by the larger community. Because the ancestors have a greater presence on these days, political and personal disputes are often brought to the table and addressed publicly before the ahene.
Many years ago, an uncharacteristic dry season led to a period of famine in the Accra region. When the rains returned, the festival of Homowo was instated. It is traditionally celebrated during the month of May. For the Ga people, homo means hunger and wo means hoot, the whole word meaning “to hoot at hunger.” The festival begins with the planting of maize, which is followed by a period of silence to avoid disturbing the gods. The celebrations go on for several days, culminating in the sprinkling of kpokpoi, a traditional cornmeal dish. At this time, songs and praises are offered up to the gods to secure another successful harvest season.
Every first Tuesday in July, the Elmina people of Ghana’s Central Region gather to celebrate the Bakatue festival to mark the beginning of the fishing season. For the Elmina people, Tuesday is the day of the sea god, which means fishermen often abstain from going out into the sea on these days. Festival preparations begin the Monday prior, with a royal procession kicking off the events on Tuesday morning. Nets are cast into the sea and all caught fish is offered up to the gods in gratitude for another good season.
The Aboakyer festival, meaning “hunting for game” festival, is celebrated in the Central Region of Ghana by the Winneba people. The festival takes place on the first Saturday in May and commemorates the migration of the Winneba people from Timbuktu to Ghana. To thank the gods for having protected their people, a type of wild cat called bushbuck is offered up as sacrifice. Through this rite, the Winneba people also hope to obtain spiritual guidance and the promise of a productive harvest.
Celebrated in the Volta region by the people of Anlo, Hogbetsotso celebrates the exodus from Togo to Ghana. The festival has been celebrated for the past 40 years every first Saturday of November. The story goes that the Anlo people lived under a tyrannical rule and trapped inside mud walls. In order to escape, the women were instructed to pour their wastewater in a specific area of the wall until it eventually softened. Now able to break the wall, the Anlo people escaped, but walked backwards to avoid being followed by their footprints.
In Cape Coast, people come together every first Saturday in September celebrate Fetu Afahye to keep the town free of epidemics. Prior to the festival, the chief called Omanhen is confined for a week. During his confinement, the Omanhen is to ask for guidance from the ancestors. The day of the celebration, the Omanhen returns and asks for the 77 gods in the Oguaa state for blessings.
Celebrated every sixth Sunday, Akwasidae is a day for the Manhya Palace of the Ashanti Kingdom to open its doors to the public. The event is seen as an opportunity for the community to come together. Music and dancing fill the streets, making for a vibrant celebration.
As you can see, traditional festivals in Ghana have all sorts of uses, from honoring the gods to marking the beginning of the fishing season. The sheer number of festivals celebrated ensures that, no matter when you visit, there will always be something going on!