Monday, October 17, 2011

akropong excursion

This past week we returned to Akropong for the Odwira festival. 
Here is a little plot summary to get you to read the whole thing since it is really long again:  the festival involved a parade of possessed girls carrying food on their head to offer to the ancestors at the sacred cemetery.  I am not making that up.
We arrived Tuesday morning for the opening ceremony of the festival.  We were ushered into the King’s palace- that never gets old. It is so cool.  We were sat down before all the people arrived.  Thank goodness we got a seat because once the drumming started to call the people from the town into the room it was so packed we could barely see anything.  The chiefs then filed into each of their seats and then the king was walked in.  And by walked in I mean he was so old someone had to hold on to him and carry him to his seat.  Then a few people danced for the king and chiefs and then the executioners came in which marked the beginning of the festival.  After they did their thing (not even sure what it was) the king and chiefs left and then the people went out to party and have a good time in the street.
Wednesday is the day of mourning in the town to remember all those who have past away.  Everyone wears black and white and they get together with their whole families and party all day long.  We visited a few homes to see some dancing, meet some chiefs, and see a lot of alcohol intake.  It was a pretty fun day to see everyone celebrating together.  For this festival everyone’s relatives come home so the town is packed and just so full of life. 
Thursday is the craziest day I have ever seen.  We split into smaller groups and spread out over the town to get different glimpses of the girls walking from the palace to the ancestor grounds.  I was at the start by the palace so I saw it from beginning to end which was really cool.  After waiting for what seemed like forever we could see umbrellas coming down the street, heard a few gun shots, and heard drumming so we knew something was about to start.  Then one of the possessed girls ran into the crowd causing everyone to try and run out of her way and fall all over each other.  Kate and I looked at each other at this point and realized it was going to be a crazy day.  Each girl had a man holding an umbrella over her, two men carrying her/helping her walk, was wearing all white, and carrying food on her head.  White clothes symbolize joy and celebration and red and black symbolize sadness.  Some of the girls also had drummers following them or guys shooting guns off.  It was loud. A few of the girls also had family members walking behind them and somehow the three of us at the palace got swept into walking with them down the street.  It is hard to follow a possessed girl by the way.  Who was being carried by drunken men.  They would stagger a lot and suddenly run in a different direction.  Occasionally they would just stop and then the men would pour schnapps on their feet as a libation and then if the ancestors approved it would allow the girls to walk again.  The ancestor’s grounds are surrounded by a wall and a man guarding it with a knife so only certain people can enter – and he was not afraid to use that knife.  So a few important men would carry the food in that the women brought and the women would just keep running around outside in the crowd.  Then one of the higher up chiefs came out from the door carrying a large bowl of maize and sprinkled it up and down the streets to purify the town.  The entire town followed him back to the palace.  We managed to get into the palace before the crowd – somehow.  And we were able to get seats.  Then the drumming started again and the chiefs and the king entered to their seats.  Then the chief who was sprinkling the maize entered with one of the possessed girls and came up the king.  The chief then took the food that the girl was carrying and placed it on the king’s lap three times, then he took the girl who we were told was fully possessed at this time and placed her on the kings lap three times.  Supposedly this removes the possession from the girl and she was returned back to normal.  So bizarre. That marked the end of that part of the festival and before we even knew what was happening the chief exited and then the king and then we headed back to our rooms.  On Thursday night there is a curfew in the town and all lights have to be out so that the chiefs can bring their stools out at night to be washed.
Cultural Lesson on Chieftaincy and Stools in Ghana:  Each ethnic group in Ghana is different but here is a general understanding of chiefs.  Each household has a chief (similar to a grandfather in the States).  Then each town has a chief that represents all of the household chiefs.  Then each region has a chief that represents the town chiefs and etc.  In Akropong, the ethnic group is Ashanti and they have a King that represents a few of the region chiefs.  The chiefs have much less power than they used to however because the state has made a few laws against chieftaincy.  For example, a chief can no longer punish someone for a crime – the state handles that. 
Now for the stools.  Symbolism is huge in Ghana.  Having a stool is a marking that you are a chief.  The president’s home in Ghana is actually shaped like a stool.  You can look up Ghanaian stool to see what they look like if you want.  Anyway, the stools are a bit sacred here so when they are washed during the festival no one is allowed to see it happen.  Each ethnic group has stools made out of different material but overall it is the same.
Back to the festival… so Friday is the day of the durbar.  Each year the festival has a lesson to go along with it and this year the lesson was moral restoration. This occurs by a few of the chiefs and other important people giving speeches.  Of course, it is much more dramatic at a Ghanaian festival.  The morning started by a sheep being slaughtered and then having the head and intestines hung in a tree.  Ew is all I have to say on that.  Then there is a parade with the chiefs being carried up and down the street with drummers and guns surrounding them and they are dressed up in all their gold jewelry and they make their way to their chairs at the front of the plaza.  So dramatic but so exciting to watch.  After that the police pushed everyone out of the plaza (literally) so that it was open for the chiefs to see the speeches.  We were caught in the middle of this and it was terrifying but somehow we managed to make our way out and they let us sit in the plaza.  While we were there, the chief from Adenkrebi where we did our homestays recognized us (not the hardest thing to do we stand out A LOT) so we were called up to greet each of the chiefs.  Our experiences are our of this world over here.  After that the speeches began about having good morals, especially during the 2012 election which a lot of people think isn’t going to go well.  Good thing we wont be here for that. 
We left Akropong Saturday morning for a hike in Shia Hills.  We stopped by baboons.  I hid because they are evil and I am scarred from my experiences from them in Kenya.  And baboons are just ugly.  Then we made our way to a mountain that looks like it is a 90 degree angle up so of course we climbed it.  It was strenuous for sure but the view at the top was amazing.  Lame comparison but I don’t have pictures right now so imagine Lion King and standing on Pride Rock and looking out – that was the view we saw.  It was amazing.  Then we saw where people used to live up there in a cave.  Which was actually two rocks that fell together and left a very tiny opening in between.  We crawled through and shimmied out on the other side.  On our stomachs – it was that tiny.  Then we made our way back down the mountain and finally headed back to Accra.
It has been a crazy two weeks of traveling and I leave again this weekend for an 8 day trip.  So far the experiences have been great and I hope they continue for the next trip.  October has been flying by so fast and by the time I am back from this next trip it will be November.  Insane. 
As always, I love and miss you all so much.  Thank you for all of you who are sending your support, it means the world to me. 

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