Sunday, September 16, 2012


Every year the Calvin group spends about 4 days attending this traditional festival.  It is about purification and cleansing at the end of one year and getting ready for the new one.  
In a general sense, the festival celebrates the establishment of the Akuapem people when they secured their home from enemies about 280 years ago.
There is a lot of reverence for the "ancestors," those who were leaders and good people in times past, and who now help maintain the health and prosperity of the city and region.
On Monday, the path from the traditional home of the ancestors into town is cleared.  
On Tuesday, the sacred Odwira, of Odosu, is brought from the traditional home of the ancestors and presented to the current paramount chief.  While the procession is public and announced with drumming and dancing and gunshots, the presentation itself is done in secret.  Only some chosen young men are able to carry the Odosu and know exactly what it is and looks like.  When they actually present it to the chief, they surround themselves with a big cloth so no one can see what goes on.  Once the chief received the Odosu, the festival official begins.
Wednesday is a day of mourning the loss of the ancestors.  Everyone dresses in the dark red and black of mourning.  Chiefs, queen mothers, linguists and elders hold court in the various palaces around town.  We visited about six of them, sat for a while, watched some dancing, and at one placed shared in some Schnapps.  Some of the Schnapps is drunk, but not much of it.  Most is poured on the ground, libation for the ancestors.
On Thursday, there is a procession from the palaces to a ceremonial site where food is presented to the ancestors.  Youngish girls and a few men carry food on their heads to the site.  When the hoist the food on their heads, they are "possessed" by the ancestors.  Their movements are erratic and it looks like they will fall, but others are there to catch them so that they don't fall, because if they fall that would be a bad sign for the coming year.  When the destination is reached, a door is opened and again, only the insiders know exactly what happens inside the door.  But as soon as they put the food down, the food carriers are no long possessed.
Friday is the big day of presentation of the chiefs.  But first, a ram is sacrificed at a sacred tree, the tree that is a sign of the city's strength.  The ram is slaughtered at the trunk of the tree, his blood flowing onto the roots.  A full bottle of Schnapps is also poured onto the roots.  And then we are ready for the big procession.  There is one paramount chief, but there are many subchiefs, all with special assignments (like the chief of security, the chief of discipline, the chief of the town, etc.)  And there are a lot of queen mothers too.  They are paraded into town on litters (what they call palanquins) accompanied by large, loyal groups of followers, big drums and even some bratass bands.  Finally, they all sit in the square, arrayed in all their colorful finery, and not a small amount of gold.  I'm told it's real!  Not much happens after that, as far as I can tell, but they do sit there for quite a while, and people look on appreciatively.  This year, the president of Ghana came and gave a speech, so we all listened to that.  And then, suddenly, it is over and everyone disperses to their own private parties that last into the wee hours of the morning...

Here are some pictures.

The paramount chief.  His feet must not touch the ground or he is no longer chief.
He is very elderly and quite infirm at this point.  But he carried out the functions
required of him.

One set of signal drums.  There are more behind these.
They are very loud, and play out a powerful rhythm.
For each pair of drums, one is male and the other female.  Their female
drum has a higher pitch.  We were told they complement each other.

A presentation to the paramount chief that honors him and shows loyalty.

Visiting a queen mother on the day of mourning.  Chiefs and queen mothers
do not typically speak directly to the people.  For that there is a linguist.
In this case, the man in the striped garment is the linguist and he would relay
to us what the queen mother wanted to say.

Bringing food to the ancestors.

Shooting off guns is the job of the warriors.  It communicates to potential
enemies that the community is well protected.  I have no idea what the
significance of  carrying the cartridge in this questionable way might mean.

Things are not going to end well for this young ram!
Pouring libation at the foot of the tree.

Watching the sacrifice.
The drums as part of the procession.

At least one chief has now been seated.

Another chief being carried in, always under umbrellas.  This one was having fun.
He kept his toy, gold embossed, guns very busy.
This boy wears a special, very powerful, feathered hat.  When he
wears it, no bullet can ever get past him to the chief.
After the boy comes in, it is then safe for the paramount chief.

Royalty is up on the steps.  All the linguists, identified by their staffs, are seated
in rows facing each other and in front of the chiefs and queen mothers.

Watching the festivities at the base of the sacred tree.  Notice some of our students
up by the trunk of the tree.  

Other students stood behind this group of queen mothers.

Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama.  Before he spoke, he had to go round the square
shaking hands with all the royalty.  This took a while.  In the process,
he passed right in front of me.  No handshake for me, however.

And finally, as the day wore on, the paramount chief, finely dressed and highly placed,
but also starting to wear out, struggled to keep his eyes open during the events.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  As you can guess, it's nothing like being there.  You can't put the intense drumming into a picture.  Still, you get a little idea of what happens during the Odwira festival.