Ghana is renowned all over the globe for being a country with rich culture and great festivals. Festivals such as the Homowo of the Gas and the Aboakyere of the Winnebas are among some of the most popular and famous festivals in the sub region and Africa as a whole.
For decades, dating back to the 60s, foreigners from all walks of life, mostly America and Europe, visit Ghana each year with the hope of witnessing some of these gracious and culturally rich festivals.
While these cultural festivals put Ghana on the map and were annual events Ghanaians looked up to, Ghana had no festival to celebrate arts. Artistic works such as painting, portraits, graffiti murals, hand crafted ornaments, street dance and music, local fashion were hardly celebrated until 2011 when the now famous Chale Wote Street Art Festival was launched.
The festival launched in 2011 is aimed at bringing all artists together, from painters to filmmakers and everyone involved in the production of an artistic piece.
The first edition which was hosted by Accra dot ALT and the French Embassy in Ghana took place on the streets of Jamestown, Accra, and saw thousands of artistic young Ghanaians patronize the event to see some of the finest paintings in their lives.
Since then, eight successful editions have taken place with patronage increasing every year as the festival gets bigger and bigger. For this reason, the festival has been extended to a week-long event as opposed to the two-day schedule it had initially began with.
For the younger generation, the Chale Wote festival provides an opportunity for them to express their artistic talents in the form of drawings, photography, dancing, music, fashion and so on. While the older generation have an opportunity to witness the beauty of arts like never before.
The 2019 edition of the festival is scheduled to take place between August 22 and August 29, under the theme Ghana Year of Return: The Chale Wote Art Festival.
The Kundum Festival is regarded as the oldest documented festival in the history of the Gold Coast. The first official documentation of the festival written in the early part of the 17th century by one Dutch voyager by name Bossman, who landed on the coast of Ghana (then Gold Coast). Bossman however believed the festival had been in existence for over a hundred years, in the late part of the 16th century before he chanced upon it to write the first known official document detailing its celebration.
The Festival is celebrated by the people of Ahanta and Nzema in the Central region of Ghana. Unlike most Ghanaian festivals which have specific commencement date and schedules, the Kundum festival does not have such, instead the start of the festival is based on the day the fruit of a certain type of Palm tree become ripe.
According to the people of Ahanta, the festival was instituted after one hunter by name Akpoley went to the forest for hunting and chanced upon a group of dwarfs dancing in well uniformed circular pattern. It is believed that the hunter, Akpoley, hid and observed the dance of the dwarfs, after which he went back to the Ahanta Township and introduced the new found dance to his people. Over time, the dance became associated with expelling evil spirit from the towns and Villages of the Ahanta and Nzema people.
As years went by and modernity set in, the kundum festival underwent several changes and became a festival celebrated to thank God for the abundance of food as well as protection of the people, hence making Kundum both a religious and harvest festival.
The festival lasts for a period of eight days and involves activities like drumming and feasting, as well as sacrifice of animals by the elders of the people. The sacrifice usually involves slaughtering of a fowl in a stool room by a few selected designated people who are normally elders of the town.
Another fowl is also slaughtered in public, at a durbar as a sacrifice to the gods and ancestors of the town, after which the ritual dance discovered by Akpoley is performed by the dancers and women of the town. The rest of the days are spent preparing food, eating and dancing.
The Ahanta and Nzema area receive thousands of guests every year during the celebration of the week –long festival. Most of whom are invited guests and tourists who come from afar to observe the tradition and festival.
The Asafotufiam festival is one of the most well-known festivals in Ghana, celebrated by the people of Ada in the Greater Accra region. The festival derives its name from the Ada word Asafotufiami, which translates into Divisional Firing of Musketry in the Dangme language.
Historically, the Adangmes fought a lot of wars all in a bid to establish a territory for their people. Most famous among these wars include the Katamanso war of 1826, the Glover war of 1876, the invasion by the Anglos in 1770 and the battle of Nonobe in 1750.
The people of Ada managed to withstand all these attacks and survived the wars, leading to the successful establishment and survival of the Ada kingdom.
As the wars became prevalent and frequent, festivals and rituals were put in place to welcome their brave soldiers and war heroes. Some of these rituals included feet washing of the soldiers and firing of muskets to announce their coming back.
In the later years, from the 1900s, the wars came to an end, and with no wars to be fought and attacks by other tribes, the rituals performed to welcome their brave soldiers were abolished as they were no longer needed.
The people however still felt the need to put in place a festival to celebrate their soldiers, ancestors and past chiefs who all contributed to the successful establishment of Ada. This paved the way for the establishment of the Asafotufiam Festival in the 20th century, as a replacement for the welcoming rituals performed for returning soldiers.
Activities to earmark the festival include firing of musketeers, drumming and singing of war songs as well as pouring of libation by the chief priests.
The most important event within the festival is the procession to Kpomkpompaya, the place which served as departing point for warriors going to wars as well as landing point for soldiers returning from wars. At this famous ground, some ritual activities like libation pouring, prayers to ancestors and washing of hands take place.
Today, the Asafotufiam remains the single most important traditional festival for the people of Ada and is held in high esteem by the people. Celebration takes place in the first week of August each year.
The Dipo Rites is arguably one of the most popular yet criticized traditional festival and practice in Ghana, yet one of the most attended event in the country, receiving huge patronage from tourists.
Dipo is celebrated by the people of Odumase Krobo in the Eastern region. The annual event is meant to usher girls who are in their puberty and virgins into womanhood. The practice once performed on a young girl, signifies that she is now a woman and ready for marriage.
The festival is traditionally held in the month of April. When the festival is announced, parents send their qualified girl children to the chief priest of the town. These young girls are then taken through a series of rituals to prove their chastity and qualification for the rites as it is reserved for only girls in their puberty and virgins.
After rituals and tests are conducted to prove the eligibility of a girl to take part in the rites, the process then commences. On the first day of the rituals, the girls have their heads shaved and a piece of cloth tied around their waist to their knee level, while the upper parts of their body remain naked. The girls are then paraded through the entire community.
On the following day, the girls are taken to the chief priest who pours libation, and then proceeds to a ritual bath where the feet of the girls are washed with the blood of goats in the presence of their parents. The ritual bath according to their tradition is meant to drive away evil spirits such as the spirit of barrenness. The girls then proceed on a sacred stone to test their virginity and to see if they are pregnant.
After all these processes, the young girls are housed for a week and educated about womanhood, marriage and the customs and tradition of the people. They are then released back to their parents. The festival climaxes with a huge durbar in the community where the girls get to dress in kente and some beautiful ornaments given to them by their parents. At this point any man present at the durbar and interested in any of the girls can start investigating about the girls’ background and family before making an official approach.
While the festival has had its fair share of criticism from human right groups who argue that the practice was absurd and against the girls privacy, especially as they have to be paraded through the town half naked, the event nevertheless receives huge patronage with so many tourists making their way to Krobo Odumase every April to witness the Dipo Festival.
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.
Festivals in Ghana occur throughout the whole year and are used as a means to remember their ancestors. They are a year-round affair with different regions, ethnic groups and tribes having different celebrations. These rituals and celebrations are an important part of daily life and this can be easily seen by the large gatherings that are seen at festivals.
This festival is held by many ethnic groups in Northern Ghana. Most Muslims and Non-Muslims take part in the celebration. The fire (Bugum) festival is observed by the Muslims to mark the landing of Prophet Noah’s (Nuhu) Ark after the flood. It is celebrated in the night with bundles of grass used as torches.. The Islamists hold the view that following the great flood during the time of Prophet Noah (Nuhu), the Ark landed in the night and torches were lit to enable Prophet Noah (Nuhu) and his people to see whether they were on land. Besides, the Traditionalist are of the view that, one great king lost his son and when night falls a search party had to light torches (flash lights) in order to search for the prince in the night.
It is celebrated by the Mamprusi and all other tribes and groups that have their ancestral linage to the Mamprugu kingdom including the Dagombas, Gonjas, Nanumbas, Frafras, Kusasi and Kumkombas.
ABOAKYIR (Deer hunting)
A hunting expedition by two Asafo groups to catch live antelope in a nearby game reserve. The first group to present its catch to the Chief at a colourful durbar is declared the winner and is highly regarded for bravery. The name ‘’Aboakyer’’ translates as ‘hunting for game or 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 (traditional name given to the people of Winneba). 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.
is celebrated twice a year in June/July and September/October by the chiefs and people of the Akyem Traditional Area. It marks the anniversary of the Akyem Nation, worshipping the ancestral stools and the spirits of those who occupied them. The celebration is also to mark the first yam harvest of the year and to ask for blessings for the coming year. The Ohum festival is celebrated in Akyem Abuakwa in two parts; the Ohumkan and the Ohumkyire.
BAKATUE (Fish Harvesting)
A royal procession of chiefs and stool holders riding in palanquins through principal streets to a sacred shrine where chiefs pour libation and sprinkle sacred food. Pouring of mashed yam and eggs into the Lake (lagoon), followed by scooping with a net, after which permission is given to fishermen to open the fishing season, after a ban. A solemn ‘net casting’ ceremony symbolizes the beginning of a new fishing season. The Festival culminates in a regatta of colourful canoes on the Benya Lagoon and processions. Takes place on the first Tuesday of July in Edina/Elmina, 99 miles west of Accra.
Kundum Festival (Yam Festival)
Kundum Festival (Yam Festival) is celebrated in the Western Regions by the chiefs and people of Sekondi coastal tribes, the Ahantas and Nzemas between July and November. It is celebrated to remember their ancestors and ask for their help and protection. It is also used to purify the whole state and celebrates the goddess of fertility for providing a bumper harvest.
Asafotu-Fiam Festival is an annual warriors festival celebrated by the people of Ada in the Greater Accra region. It takes place from the last week of July to the first weekend of August and commemorates the victories of the warriors in battle and those who fell on the battlefield. Re-enactments of the historic events take place with warriors dressed in traditional battle dress. It culminates in a colourful procession of the Chiefs accompanied by traditional military grounds with drumming, singing and dancing through the streets and onto the durbar grounds.
Ceremonies for this festival include a procession of chiefs through principal streets with all twins in the area dressed purposely for the occasion, with traditional drumming and dancing. At the climax of the festival, from 12 noon to 6pm any woman, no matter their status is expected to accept a hug from a man on the festival street. A special dish is also prepared from ground corn, steamed and mixed with palm oil and eaten with palm nut soup. A month-long festival celebrated in Accra/Ga Traditional Area.
This festival dramatizes the traditional myths and legends of the people and commemorates a period of remembrance and thanksgiving to the gods for their mercies in the past year, and the renewal of family and societies. A week-long celebration climaxes on Friday with a durbar of chiefs crowns the celebration with a procession through the town to the palace amidst drumming and dancing. Celebrated in most Akwapim towns during September and October with the most colourful festivities taking place in Akropong Traditional Area, 90 miles north of Accra, but also taking place in Kumasi, Amanokrom and Aburi in the Eastern Region.
Symbolizes the migration of Anlos from the tyrannical ruler of Notsie in older day Togoland to their present homeland in Ghana. Chiefs dress in colourful traditional dress and sit in state to receive homage from their subjects, dancing, singing and merry-making go on throughout the festival. The main durbar takes place on the first Saturday in November. Anlo Traditional Area, 88 miles east of Accra.
ADAE AND AKWASIDAE (festival of Purifying of the Ashantis’ ancestral stools)
During the festivals, the Kings of Asante worship their ancestral stools and skeletons of the past Kings preserved at the Bantama mausoleum. Kumasi, 168 miles north of Accra.
Hogbetsotso Festival is held on the first Saturday of the month of November every year, to remember and celebrate the exodus of the Anlo people from Notse in Togo to their present location.
The festival is characterized by the centuries-old traditional practices like pouring of libation, cleansing of stools, and general cleaning of the communities as the people believe that the best way to live life was to have a clean environment and a clean spiritual life hence the cleaning of the physical surrounding and cleansing of stools which are used by the elders and chiefs of the towns.
Like most traditional festivals in Ghana, Hogbetsotso concludes with a durbar where the chiefs use the opportunity to remind the people of Anlo to live in peace and harmony just like their ancestors did. The durbar then ends with drumming, traditional dancing and merry-making where people who are at loggerheads are expected to come together and solve their differences as a sign of peacemaking.
Why is Hogbetsotso Festival Celebrated?
Hogbetsotso is held on the first Saturday of November every year, to remember the exodus of the Anlo people from Notse in Togo to their present location.
According to the oral tradition, the people of Anlo once lived in Notsie, a town in present-day Togo. During their time in Notsie, the Anlo people went through maltreatment and were subjected to slavery under the Notsie chief known as King Agorkoli, mainly because they were the minority group in Notsie.
After decades of suffering under the tyrannical rule of Agorkoli, they decided to escape. This they started by regularly pouring water into the mud wall that surrounded the town. With time the wall became very soft, enabling them to break through it and escape from the town. The Journey which is believed to have taken them years finally resulted in their arrival in their present-day home in Volta region, Ghana. It is from this history that the name Hogbetsotso (Ewe language) which translates into ‘Coming from Notsie’ was derived.
The festival serves as a time for sober reflection, for the chiefs and people of Anlo to be reminded of their difficult journey from Notsie and how peaceful coexistence and unity among them made their journey and escape from Notsie possible. Pouring of libation, cleansing of stools, and general cleaning of the communities are some of the major activities that take place in the participating communities.
Bakatue Festival is touted to be one of the oldest festivals in Ghana with celebration going as far back as 1800.
This is evidenced in the fact that Governor Cornelis Nagtglass once cited the festival in an official report.
Originally, the festival was instituted by the Portuguese to celebrate the founding of Elmina during the early days of colonization. However, the festival has over the century, evolved to become a traditional festival of the people and is traditionally celebrated in the first week of the month of July to mark the beginning of the fishing season in the Elmina Township.
The festival is also celebrated to offer thanksgiving and appreciation to the gods for a good fishing year and pray for a better year in the coming fishing season. While times have changed and the people are predominantly Christians today, they still observe the festival and look forward to it every year with great anticipation as they still believe their ancestors and traditional gods play an active role in their lives. They also pray to the ancestors and gods for a good fishing season.
According to the people of Ahanta, Kundum festival was instituted after one hunter by name Akpoley went to the forest for hunting and chanced upon a group of dwarfs dancing in well uniformed circular pattern.
It is believed that the hunter, Akpoley, hid and observed the dance of the dwarfs, after which he went back to the Ahanta Township and introduced the newly found dance to his people. Over time, the dance became associated with expelling evil spirit from the Towns and Villages of the Ahanta and Nzema people.
As years went by and modernity set in, the Kundum Festival underwent several changes and became a festival celebrated to thank God for the abundance of food as well as protection of the people, hence making Kundum both a religious and harvest festival.
Earlier this week, the Akuapem Traditional Council organized a mini event to officially launch the 2019 Odwira Festival as part of preparation towards this year’s festival which promises to be one of the best the country has witnessed in decades.
The official theme of this year’s celebration as revealed by the planning committee is ‘Odwira Unlimited 2019- Okuapeman te ase’ which when translated into the local dialect means ‘The Akuapem Kingdom is alive’.
Queen mother of the Akuapem Traditional area, Nana Afua Nketia Speaking at the launch emphasized the importance of the festival, stating it was an important period for the people of Akuapem to spiritually cleansed themselves and go into a mood of sober reflection.
She also hinted that the celebration will have special activities to welcome African-Americans who ended up in the west due to the slave trade which first took off some 400 years ago. This according to the organisers, it’s to incorporate the festival into the Year of Return programme launched by the government of Ghana.
The Odwira Festival is celebrated by the people of Akropong, Lateh and Amanokrom in the Eastern region Ghana and is generally seen as one of the most important festivals in the country due to its popularity and the high profile dignitaries it attracts every year.
As a yam festival, Odwira is usually celebrated in the month of August or September every year, same months for the harvest of yam. During the festival, foods made from yam abound, and there is something for everyone to enjoy as the people thank their ancestors for bumper harvest and pray to them for protection, peace and unity.
This year’s celebration will commence on 16th September 2019 and come to an end on 22nd September 2019, making it a week-long celebration.