October 5, 2010

Odwira: Festivus for the Rest of Us!

I met a fellow American student, Gustav, who invited me to go to the new Yams festival near Aburi with him and some friends.  
I had a blast!  
About 20 of us managed to charter a trotro (van) to take us there from the market.  It was such a beautiful drive; we rode up into the Akuapim Mountains and seeing the expansive Ghanaian terrain stole my breath away.  This area in the Eastern Region is known for their botanical gardens in Aburi, however, we traveled to a neighboring little town called Akropong.  The moment we were unloaded we were hustled into one palace to another.  At the second palace we were introduced to the queen mother (image below) and before we knew it we were sitting beside her.  It was fascinating to watch the dialogue between the visitors and queen mother.  
Next, we went to another palace where a great deal of customs and rituals took place.  We sat, and observed as different individuals came and went and discussed varying things.  I felt as though I was watching a Shakespearean play as all these characters came to and fro speaking in foreign dialects.  The King and Queen sat and observed and interjected the occasional word of wisdom.  
Later, we returned to the first palace and dined on fufu (beaten plaintain in light [spicy!] soup).  One Ghanaian came up to me and asked me if I understood what had occured at the last palace we had visited.  I told him I thought it was a general welcoming of visitors.  He then told me that special permission was granted to us obrornis (white people) for being there.  He continued to say that is was against traditional law for us to be in that palace, but that we were granted permsision.  I felt like such a fool to not have picked up on any of that, but was grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a rare, special day. 
After we had our fill of fufu we emerged into the street and the procession was about to begin.  Drums began to be beaten and Queens and Kings alike were atop these boat-like-chairs.  My ears began to ring as there were guns being shot beside me.  It was quite the commotion- drums beating, people dancing, queens and kings bouncing above our heads and the blistering sun emerging from the end of the rainy season.  
Oh, Africa, how I love thee so. 

I really enjoyed my day spent in Odwira, though I was so unaware of the symbolism behind everything.  After my weekend travels, I found some time to interrogate my program coordinators and get the facts on what I had witnessed.  Apparently, Odwira is a week long festival devoted to a series of traditions.  The purpose of these traditions is to purify the people, town and most importantly, the ancestral stools of the chieves.  
Chieftancy is a really interesting aspect of traditional Ghanaian culture that we have spent a great deal of time studying in our sociology classes.  It was wonderful to get the opportunity to see up close and personally the festivities.  Everyone was so welcoming and I felt an immense pleasure walking along the side of the new chief.  

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