This month I travelled back home to Ghana to witness a traditional Akan festival – The Eluo (el-wu-wo) (Yam) Festival in Sefwi (Seh-wi) in the Western Region of Ghana, which historically celebrates the beginning of Harvest. This year marked the first time the festival has been celebrated in 15 years.
Last year, my Dad became a Chief in our hometown of Sefwi Ahwiam – I wrote all about it in my post “The Role of Traditional Governance in Africa Today” and considered how traditional leaders may successfully lobby the interests of rural populations.
Sefwi-Wiawso, Western Ghana
(The view behind my Dad’s childhood home in Sefwi Wiawso.)
Firstly though, a bit about the region of Sefwi itself. Sefwi (Seh-wi) is one of many traditional areas located in the Western Region of Ghana. There are in fact about 48 languages spoken in Ghana, with Sefwi being the common dialect spoken in the area, although most people can speak the Asante language of Twi.
Traditional councils and customary laws are upheld under Ghanaian Constitutional law*. Sefwi-Wiawso (Seh-wi Your-su) is one of many of Ghana’s traditional councils operating alongside the democratic government and is made up of over 100 towns and villages.
Sefwi is said to be home to some of the country’s best cocoa farmers. Due to its large green landscapes and fertile soils (the Western Region has the highest rainfall in the country), the land serves as a food basket for Ghana. As well as cocoa, produce ranging from plantain to cashew nuts and coconuts to yam grow in abundance which also makes for some amazing views!
(Family cocoa farm in Sefwi-Wiawso)
An interesting fact about Sefwi is that it is home to Ghana’s only Jewish Community!
Eluo Festival 2017
The Eluo (el-wu-wo) Festival itself is celebrated by the Sefwi-Wiawso Traditional Council and consists of 3 parts over 3 days. The festival was historically celebrated to mark the beginning of harvest and the way that traditional leaders would manage and distribute produce amongst the people in order to prevent hunger, (traditionally no one is permitted to eat yam before the festival begins.)
In modern times the festival represents more of a symbol and celebration of tradition. Under King Katakyie Kwasi Bumagama II – the current Omanhene (King) of the Sefwi Wiawso Traditional Area, the theme for this year’s festival was “Fostering unity among Sefwis for accelerated socio-economic development.” It brought together both traditional and contemporary elements of Ghanaian culture.
Day One – Odwira
Akan tradition is incredibly symbolic with much homage paid to the Ancestors. Once harvested, some of the yam is offered up to the Ancestors to show appreciation for a good harvest before being shared amongst the people.
(Black and red attire as homage to the dead and warrior mars of clay representing victory)
The first day of the festival is dedicated to the Ancestors. It begins in the morning with a symbolic ceremony where a Chief goes to the river to catch a crab. Only once a crab is caught can the festival begin. It is then presented to the King as a symbol of victory and hung around his neck which marks the official start of the festival. Customary rites then begin at the palace with all attendees in mourning cloth (black and red) with some painting their faces black, in memory of the dead. Other symbols such as clay marks faces symbolise victory at war.
(Offering symbols of the harvest to the ancestors in the palace)
(Traditional dances form part of the customary rites. Queen Mothers performing the ‘Adowa’)
After completion of the customary rites inside the palace, all attendees took their seats outside to pay homage to the King.
Day Two – Palanquin Celebration
The second day of the Festival marked the main part of the celebration.
It began with the King going back to the same river where the crab was caught the previous day to wash – this symbolises the washing of bad spirits. He was then placed in a palanquin (a box) to be carried through the principal streets 3 times. All chiefs followed, carried in their own palanquins and paraded by their people. Thousands gathered on the streets to witness the parade and cheer on their respective Chiefs and King to drumming, trumpets and traditional songs/ chants.
Each Chief is shaded by an umbrella that represents their respective stools (area of governance). These umbrellas are usually adorned with Adinkra symbols – visual symbols that represent sayings/proverbs.
Celebrations including traditional dance, drumming and horns lasted throughout the day. After completing the parade the King and his Chiefs retired to the palace and offered yam to the ancestors.
Ghanaian Traditional dance “Adowa”
Day 3 – The Grand Durbar
On this day, the King, Chiefs and people came together to meet and discuss issues and concerns. Invited guests included President Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana whose representatives attended on his behalf. This was a chance for the Chiefs as representatives of people in their traditional rural areas to put their requests to the President and central government. It was also an opportunity to showcase our tradition to visitors.
‘Stool carriers’ carrying the stools each representing Kings that occupied them. Stools in Ghanaian tradition symbolises royalty.
Although the traditional part of the festival consisted of three days, celebrations lasted for about seven days and included modern activities and festivities. For instance, the day I arrived the ‘Miss Eluo’ pageant was underway, which showcased the talents of local girls and brought together hundreds of young people. Celebrations also included an Inter Schools Quiz Competition, an inter-town football gala and other sports as well as street parties (with a performance from Ghanaian artist/ comedian Kwaw Kese) and ended with a Thanksgiving Service in the local Church on Sunday.
These elements were a great way to engage the young in ancient traditional celebrations and to foster a sense of local pride and unity.
Plans for the future
As well as celebrating cultural tradition the Festival marked a new era of development for the area. As discussed in my previous article, generally, traditional leaders work to support democratic governments particularly in the realm of development where they may lobby for the needs of the rural population. In the current Ghanaian government’s manifesto, it was promised that focus would be placed on the development of rural areas such as Sefwi in order to curtail increasing centralisation in the country which has been said to have left rural areas behind. One of the hopes of many people in Sefwi is for the government to approve the splitting up of the Western region and for Sefwi-Wiawso to become the regional capital of a new region: Western- North.
Currently many believe the region is too large, consisting of a vast number of tribes (including Fante and Nzema) and a total of 22 districts with not much decentralisation from the current capital of Sekondi-Takoradi. This has made it difficult to liaise with the central government due to distance and cultural differences. The hope is that the Festival sparks this conversation and the impetus for development in the area.
The king hopes that with sufficient funding, the festival may be celebrated every 2 years and that development in the area will be championed.
*According to the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, “The institution of chieftaincy, together with its traditional councils as established by customary law and usage, is…guaranteed”.
It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience for me to witness this beautiful display of my culture…
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