Ghana

The Homowo Festival in Ghana; Ridiculing Hunger with Celebration

Figure 1:Ghana; Located in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea and in between Cote d'Ivoire and Togo.  Divided into admininistrative devisions, or states.  Accra is located in the southern region.  Image from www.ghanatourism.gov

 

Abstract

    In a country that has faced many governmental strains and unstability, Ghana has remained one of the wealthier and more productive countries in West Africa . This is in part due to many natural resources, but I believe it is also because of a very close knit population. Ghana has many tribes, and even though the Ga is not the largest, it contributes largely to the unification of the southern regions of Ghana . This is exemplified most by the Homowo festival, which occurs over of time from the rainy season in may, until the harvest in August. The celebration is one of abundance; in food, fertility, relationships, and kindness. It translates to “making fun of hunger.” In reality, the Homowo festival rejoices that the Ga's no longer have to endure hard times of famine and hunger that their ancestors once faced. In a way this is similar to Richard Lee's account of the !Kung Bushmen in the Kalahari. “In short, I was a perfect target for the charge of arrogance and for the Bushmen tactic of enforcing humility.” Even though the !Kung ridicule Lee on his purchase of the ox, it is way to keep them humble and grateful. So as the Ga are not really, “ridiculing” hunger, it is a way to show their gratefulness and appreciation, by making fun of it. The Homowo festival is made up of many rituals that includes the ban on noise in June, the Yam festival which requires children to return to the homes of their fathers, the “Thursday People,” where the harvest food is brought into the streets for all to enjoy. This is followed by a memorial service for the deceased and a celebration for the twins born during the year. The next day, Saturday, is the Homowo day, where large quantities of food is cooked, and celebrating occurs in the streets all day and all night. After this celebration, the Ga new year begins.

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Figure 2: Celebration in the streets during the, "Thursday People," ritual of the Homowo Festival  Image from www.ghanatourism.gov Figure 3: Cooking, song and dance, are the most common activities during the "Thursday People."  Image from www.ghanatourism.gov

Introduction

     In a harsh environment, facing years of hardship and famine, the Ga people of the Southern Accra Plains have survived and flourished. In a long and intricate festival, the Ga people prove they can endure hunger and literally make fun of it.. The Homowo festival not only ties the Ga people closer together, but it reveres the past, present, and future, starts relationships, remembers the deceased, and celebrates the abundance of food.

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Context of Ghana

     Ghana , like many other African countries, began under the control of Britain and was the first sub Saharan country to gain its independence in 1957. Until 1981, there were many upheavals and governmental strains and eventually political parties were banned. However, a new constitution was created, which restored multiparty politics in 1992 as a constitutional democracy. Ghana was presided over my Lt. Jerry Rawlings for two consecutive terms, but was prevented from running for a third term in 2000. His successor was John Kufour, who won in a fair presidential election. 

     Ghana is a low plain country with a dissected plateau in the south central area and its climate is mostly tropical. In the southeast, along the coast the climate is warm and dry, in the southwest, hot and humid and it is hot and dry in the north. Ghana is also home to Lake Volta , the largest artificial lake in the world.

    The population of Ghana has reach 20,757,032, but one must also factor in the high mortality rate due to the spread of AIDS. This is noted by a higher infant mortality rate and lower population growth rates. Only 3.7% of the population is over the age of 65.

    The ethnicity of Ghana is overwhelmingly black African which assumes 98.5% of the total population. There are many tribes in Ghana , the largest being Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe, and Ga, which is 3% of the population. Christianity is the prevailing religion, with 63.5% of the total population, followed by Muslim and indigenous beliefs. Most of the people of Ghana speak English, which is the official language, but African languages are also very common, and vary among different tribes.

     Thanks to many natural resources, Ghana has over twice the per capita output of the poorer countries in West Africa . Even with this advantage, Ghana remains dependant on international financial assistance. Cocoa , timber, and gold are the major sources of exchange with foreign countries. Agriculture provides 35% of the Gross National Product and employs 60% of the working population

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Origins of The Homowo Festival

     The Homowo festival translates to “making fun of hunger.” Through a long oral history (the actual date is not known), the festival began a very long time ago when it was believed that the rains stopped and the sea closed its gates. A horrible famine spread throughout the southern Accra Plain, also known as the Traditional area, which was the home to the Ga people. As the harvest finally arrived and food was once again plentiful, the people were so overjoyed that they rejoiced with a festival that ridiculed hunger.

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Performance

      The festival begins with the planting of crops before the rainy season in May and continues through August. There is no set time for the festival to end, and is determined by the Chief Priests after they confer with the Lagoon Oracles. At an undetermined date in June, a total ban on noise is placed throughout the state, and fishing is restricted to only certain days. In the beginning of August, the celebration begins with the Yam festival, to honor the Spirits, which are the protectors of the Ga people. All Ga's are required by law to return to the home of their father for the celebration. The central celebration occurs when all of the Ga people who live outside the state return.             

    Thousands of people accumulate in Ga cities. On a special day referred to as “Thursday People,” when the populations swell, Ga's gather in the streets with their freshly harvested food. This is a time for new relationships, music, dance, food, and especially a time for meeting and catching up. At daybreak on Friday, a Memorial Service is held for those who died during the previous year. Often crying is heard is such volume, that it is described as sounding like thunder. Later that day, there is birthday celebration for all of the twins in Ga, which are treasured and viewed as being blessed people.

    The actual Homowo Day occurs on Saturday. Food is cooked in extremely large quantities, and feasting begins. A special dish known as “kpekpele,” is cooked by steaming fermented corn meal and is also eaten with a traditional palm soup and smoked fish. The Ga sub chiefs go to prescribed locations and sprinkle kpekpele in each city. This is then mimicked by the head of each family. Afterwards, the dancing and drumming continues and there is an overall sense of hospitality. The celebrations continue throughout Saturday night and into Sunday, which is the Ga New Year.

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Artifact

Image located at www.oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet/ontheline/explore/journey/ghana/homowo.htm

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for [name of celebration]

     Unlike many lesser known celebrations, the Homowo Festival is growing stronger every year. More Ga's make the journey back to the Accra Plain to participate in the festivities. In fact, residents of Ghana who are not even Ga's travel to see the festival, and because of the Ga's kind disposition, these visitors are invited to participate, try the foods, and even stay in the Ga's homes. The Homowo festival has even been brought to the United States.  For fifteen years, Portland, Oregon has been celebrating the festival, brought to America by Ghanaian master drummer, Oddo Addy. This two day celebration has even been growing in the United States , attracting hundreds of volunteers and participants.

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Conclusion

      The Homowo festival is a celebration of abundance. It emphasizes the abundance of food that the Ga's have, and remembers the hardship that their ancestors one faced. Abundant fertility is also celebrated; the twins born during the year have their own individual festival where they are blessed. An abundance of kindness is the most noticeable aspect of the festival. Relationships form between young Ga's, friendships begin, old friends reunite, and even outside visitors are welcomed and treated like family. The Homowo festival is long and involves many rituals and ceremonies, but it nevertheless fails to unite the Ga's year after year. Indirectly, this has helped Ghana maintain one its largest tribes, and uphold the same customs and beliefs that Ga's once practiced hundreds of years ago.

 

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Internet References Cited

  • Tweedie, Penny. Harvest Festival . 20 Oct. 2004
    <http://oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet/ontheline/explore/journey/ghana/homowo.htm>.
  • Audio Clip
  • Quartey-Papafio.  Homowo Festival 17 Oct. 2004 <http://ghanaweb.com/ghanahomepage/tribes/homowo_festival.html>

  • Homowo African Arts and Cultures.  Comp. Obo Addy, and Susan Addy.  10 Nov. 2004  <http://homowo.org/festival.html>

  • Homowo Festival in Accra.  Ghana Department of Tourism. 22 Oct. 2004<http://ghanatourism.gov.gh/regioins/highlight_detail.asp?id=&rdid=29>

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Lee, Richard B. "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari."  Anthropology  (2003):31-34.

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