August 10, 2016

Today in Africa

In Ghana: The Homowo Festival 

Also referred sometimes by some as Ghana's thanksgiving or passover due to some similarities - the coming together and enjoying a bountiful harvest. Homowo festival is one of the biggest cultural festivals in the West African region today.

Hundreds of years ago, during their migration to the modern day Accra, the Ga people suffered severe famine in the region due to lack of rainfall that nearly ravaged them as people. They embarked on an agricultural restoration project that would eventually yield a bountiful harvest when the region finally saw a record rainfall in which they celebrated. Homowo Festival was born. Homowo, meaning "hooting at hunger" symbolizes a triumph over hunger and an abundance. It is denoted by a homecoming, a period of song and dance following a bountiful harvest in which its reaping is enjoyed by all and marks the beginning of a New Year according to their traditional calendar.

The three month long preparation and celebration goes from May to September, with the actual festival in August. It starts with a series of rituals at the beginning of the rainy season in May when the first crops, namely millet are sown and blessed by the traditional priest in anticipation of a fruitful harvest, there's a 30-day ban of drumming, music or loud noise which is believed to provide the solitude in which the gods need to work so as not to scare away the spirits of the dead, a period of rest for the farmers and fishermen follows in which the soil is sanctified and blessed leading to the festival week, picked by the traditional high priest in August, starting on a Thursday, lasting until Sunday. Two weeks before the festival is marked by song and dance, gift exchange, remembering the dead and settling of all debts and disputes amongst the people.

Thursday of the festival week is marked by a massive return of the Ga people to their homeland from all over the world, these Soobii, or pilgrims are known as the Thursday people, they visit their respective families in preparation of Homowo day. Friday marks the celebration of twins (or triplets, etc), they are covered in clay, and dressed in white clothing to symbolize purity and the high priest blesses them. Multiple births symbolize fertility for this group and therefore Friday is an especially blessed day and folks of multiple births receive special treatment. Friday is also denoted by gift giving, Friday night, Homowo eve is denoted by the firing of guns to warn the people to remain indoors to allow the wandering of the spirits of the dead through the streets.

Homowo day, Saturday is denoted by the preparation of a special dish known as Kpekpei, made of corn meal, palm nut and fish. Everyone would share in one dish, symbolizing the forgoing of age, class and importance and the focusing on oneness. Some Kpekpei is tossed at doorposts and areas of perceived spirit presence. By some suggestions, this is where the similarities lie with the Jewish Passover. Kpekpei and the unleavened bread play similar functions, also the Ga people apply read clay on their door posts to ward off evil spirits the way the Jewish apply sacrificed blood on their door posts to keep their first born son safe. People visited various homes and are welcome regardless of their  social or financial status. The day-long celebration comes to a head during the Homowo dance, a lively and uninhibited activity symbolizing the abandonment of social constraints and class and a "hooting at hunger" as if to say "what hunger, when there's abundance?"

Some sources believe that the term "Homowo" actually means "sleeping over hunger" or fasting, There's a period of fasting just before the feast, a sanctification period if you will. The high priests undergo a period of sacred atonement to usher in the festival and the new year. Regardless of what you actually believe, one thing is sure, this remains one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Ghana today.

Further reading can be found at African Events and Cheza Nami

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