Aboakyer Festival: Migration remembered through bushbuck hunting
The Aboakyer festival is celebrated by the people of Winneba in the Central region of Ghana. It is one of the most unique festivals in Africa, involving the hunting and capturing of a Bushbuck as part of the rituals of the festivals. This practice is embedded right in the name of the festival Aboakyer, which translates into ‘Hunting for animals’.
The festival regarded as one of the oldest in Ghana is celebrated to remember the Migration of the people of Winneba from Timbuktu in the North-Eastern part of Africa to their present home in Ghana.
According to ancient Winneba legend, the people were led by two brothers during their migration from far away Timkuktu to present day Ghana and were protected by a god known as Otu throughout their long journey. Upon arrival, a traditional priest who acted as a link between the god and the people of Winneba asked the god what the people could do to show appreciation. Otu is believed to have asked for an annual sacrifice of someone from the royal family.
This became the annual practice during the celebration and remembrance of the journey every year, but the people later got tired of sacrificing human lives as they believed they were gradually losing all members of the royal family. They then consulted the god to plead to him for a change in sacrifice. Their request was granted as the god asked them to present a live wildcat to the shrine as a sacrifice every year during the festival.
The hunting for wildcats also resulted in the loss of human lives as most of the hunters were killed by the hunted wildcats. The people were compelled to make a second appeal to the god, who this time around requested that they presented a matured Bushbuck as sacrifice.
The festival takes place in the month of May, the first Saturday of the month to be precise. During the festival, two warrior groups known locally as Asafo Group go out on a hunting expedition to catch a live Bushbuck. The hunting is done in a special game reserve, which has been set up solely for this purpose. The Asafo group that catches a Bushbuck first presents it to the chief and town people at a colourful durbar and is declared the winner. The animal is then slaughtered as a sacrifice to the god to show their appreciation for the protection it offered them centuries ago on their journey to Ghana.
This history had been passed on from one generation to another in the form of oral tradition largely due to the unavailability of written document at the time until the arrival of Europeans.
While the story has stood the test of time and grown to become one of the famous stories behind a festival in Ghana, its authenticity cannot be guaranteed due to the lack of scientific or archaeological evidence to back the story.