A year ago around this time, dumsor was in full session and we were still ruing the June 3 flood and fire disaster. Yvonne Nelson’s Dumsor Vigil had ruffled some feathers, and the ripple effects of her campaign were enough to cause the June disaster, according to the Ga Traditional Council.
Regardless, the annual Homowo Festival of the Gas was in the mix. A year ago today, the steamy ambiance of the festival could be felt, not because of the occasional tension of the ban on noise making and the little infractions that characterise which chief performs what, but the festival was simply around with just a sniff.
Some have suggested that if the various Ga communities gave the same attention that they give to enforcing the ban on noise making to promoting Homowo, the festival would be one of the most patronised in the country considering the fact that Accra, undoubtedly is one of the richest heritage destinations in Ghana
The importance of the Homowo festival to the Ga people cannot be overemphasised. It marks the beginning of the traditional year and the harvesting of a staple food. It is a period when people remember and mourn those who had died during the year. Besides, it reviews the past year’s mistakes and plans for the future, and helps to uphold and continue the tradition.
The festival also gives the youth the opportunity to know themselves as well as educate the youth about their tradition. Religiously, the festival is a period of purification. The chiefs and traditional priests perform the customary purification of the land to strengthen everyone spiritually and socially in order to face the coming year successfully.
The word ‘Homowo’ means, “hooting at hunger” is actually celebrated in memory of bumper harvest, which saved the Ga people from a famine they had experienced when they first settled in Ga land.
This festival is a harvest festival, which marks the beginning or harvesting of maize (corn) and fish. Before the festival takes place, a ban is placed on any form of noise making. On the first Monday in May to the first Thursday in June, when the ban is lifted. Before the ban, the chief priests and priestesses clear some specific areas that have been designated for the growing of millet or corn (Nmaadumo), which lasts for thirty days. The Gas in Nungua are the first to celebrate the festival and this occurs on the first Saturday in July every year. This is followed by the Lante Jan We on the fourth Saturday in July every year. Those of Ga mashie celebrate theirs on the second Saturday in August.
Two days before the celebration, on Saturday (that is Thursday), the Gas who had left home to other areas in Ghana due to their occupation come home for the celebration. Since it is a harvest festival, those who are coming from afar (the Soobii) bring along foodstuffs (maize, palm nuts, and firewood), while those at home, especially those along the coast, buy fresh fish from the shore which is smoked and allowed to dry up for about a week.
The Twin Festival
The day prior to the celebration, the twin festival is celebrated. This is a celebration, which involves much singing. Twins are much revered among the Gas because they believe that twins are always a blessing from the gods. On the Friday morning, the twins’ wake up, bath and put on their clothing that has been specially sown for the occasion. The horns of the first ram, which is used for the first ritual, are kept as a contact and dwelling place for the souls of the twins.
On the morning of the festival, they perform what is known as abawobaa. Here, leaves such as nyanyara, gbo, hiatsobaa and other assorted herbs, are mixed together in a basin made of wood and filled with seawater and ordinary water. This water is used to wash the horns (kodjii). The kodjii are then rubbed with white clay (ayilo) and the white clothing covering them is also changed. Before the water is used for bathing the horns, there is some pouring of libation and the blood of the lamb is poured into the water. Afterwards, the water is put on the floor and anyone who needs something will put some money (coin) into the water and paper under the bowl and bath with some of the water in the bowl and put his or her petitions before the gods.
The first food the twins eat in the morning on this day is mashed yam and boiled eggs (oto). Also, the chicken or goat that was killed will be used to prepare some light soup with fufu which would be dished out to twins and everyone around. Then in the afternoon, there is the pouring of libation (nkpai) and the twins again change their clothing into another nice one. A family member then carries the water basin (sese) and pours it away. In Asere, the water is taken into the Korle naa, previously ‘Galoway’ – present day Agbogloshi. But those who are not near the sea pour the water at a refuse dump. Most of the time, the spirit of the twins possesses the one who carries the basin until he comes back home and washes his face. A party is then thrown for the twins.
Rituals at Okai Koi
Again, before the festival day, all the chiefs and wulomei go to Okai Koi in Ofankor, where they believe is the death place of Okaikoi, once a king of the Gas. Here, they perform some rites in his memory. When they are returning, they gather at the same ‘Galoway’, where the twin water is poured. This is where they see the Asafobii (warriors), Adowafoi, and Bintimfoi and other members of the community. Then, they make a famous procession from there through some principal streets of Gamashie area and end at the Asere Mantse palace at Agbon. During the procession, the three groups sing and there is firing of guns by the Asafobii. This is to show the superiority of the king.
Sprinkling of Kpokpoi
On the actual day for the Homowo festival, that is, the Saturday, the women start cooking at dawn. The Odehe (those from the royal houses) for instance, cook overnight in order to finish on time and carry the meal to the king’s palace early in the morning. The king and his people then move out to sprinkle the food in various houses and particular junctions along the way in the area. The chief and his people are accompanied with an atumpan drummer who drums as some women sing along side. Normally, it is those who belong to the royal family or a particular clan who have their houses sprinkled with the kpoikpoi (the festival food). The chief is not supposed to sprinkle the kpoikpoi in a house that does not belong to the group. Going against this rule may cause conflicts between both parties.
During the sprinkling, the chief and his people fetch some of the meal in each house they enter and add it to theirs for sprinkling in other houses ahead. The sprinkling is purposely to feed the ancestors. This is because of their belief in life after death. The chief and his entourage then return to the palace after this exercise.
Apart from the Chief, some individuals also do the sprinkling. The elder of a particular house may choose to sprinkle kpoikpoi in each door in his own house. After the sprinkling, some drops of locally brewed gin made of fermented maize (nmedan) are poured on the doorposts, and then everyone comes together to eat from one bowl. Those who may not be part of the family or children around who cannot eat with the elders are served separately. To the Gas, the eating of kpoikpoi in one bowl is a way of showing their oneness.
Then, on the next day, which is a Sunday, there is a family gathering in the family houses in the morning. Normally, the purpose of this gathering is, first of all, to remember the dead. Secondly, there is an exchange of greetings among the various families who attended the festival. The elders bless the younger ones. Then lastly, there is some sort of reconciliation.
The celebration of the Homowo festival continues after this day for about a month. During this period, the Gas enjoy themselves through singing, dancing, eating and drinking.