Aboakyere transliterates “animal catching”. The animal in question happens to be a deer. It was first a human sacrifice, and then the gods listened to the cries of the people and made it a leopard which was worse in the loss of human lives, so they settled on a deer. It is believed that this festival is to thank their god Penkye Out for helping their ancestors to get a good settlement. The programme takes place soon after Easter. But the youth begin to learn the asafo songs long before that from their elders. At times open parks, they assemble on canoes along the beaches to learn the art of performing asafo songs. During this time, preparations towards the festival start at the Otuano house with rituals aimed ultimately at consecrating the deity. Two weeks to the due date, there is a special offering of ram, an offering which denotes the opening of the doors of the deity for the festival. This door stays open until a week after the festival.
A week to the festival, the asafo companies consult their shrines for fortification, clearance and early catch. Tuafo invoke the gods Eku and Katawer on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. According to history, Eku sebo was brought in by the Akomfor while Katawer was brought in by Kyeremfo. Dentsefo invoke Sakagya, Efirim (transliterating, ‘you’re out’ which means to be released, or freed) and Kofi in the course of the week. The gods are invoked behind closed doors between noon and sunset.
The Friday preceding the hunt is outstanding for the Aboakyer festival. Tuafo invoke and outdoors Gye mesi (meaning restore, protect), while Dentsefo come out with Sekanba (a small knife). These are postured along selected routes in town to prevent a clash. Tuafo Asafo is supposed to come out between noon and 3pm in the afternoon then Dentsefo will follow. These outdoor performances by the asafo are really exciting as their respective head priests carry their idols in a trance amidst chants of war songs and led by a person playing a pair of special oval shaped handmade bells – nkojow. The asafo members disband at the end of the day to prepare for the actual hunt the next day. There is no asafo drumming during the parading of gods. Scouts are sent to respective hunting grounds to observe the movements of animals and to secure the best hunting site. They are followed by a few others at dawn and the main body at day break.
By 4.00 am on the hunting day, which is a Saturday, the asafo members are awakened by the beating of drums, bugle, rattles and bells to start trooping to their respective meeting places. Asafohenfo, Supis and Kobae are escorted from their homes to their respective asafo bases. While this is ongoing, asafo youth groups parade the streets in readiness for a command of final departure. The singing and playing of asafo musical instruments wakes everyone to come to the road sides as they begin moving out of town to the hunting grounds. This movement is gradual until the appointed time, 5.30 am for Tuafo and 6.00am for Dentsefo. The head Supi of each asafo gives the command for the groups to move out. The asafo depart in groups according to age but all pass in front of the King’s palace where the King and his elders and state linguist are assembled for a final blessing. Just after Abosomba, the priestesses of Otuano, Dawur prama and others sprinkle a herbal concoction on them also to offer another level of protection for a safe and successful hunt. Soon after their departure, the King and his Divisional Chiefs leave the palace in a long procession to the durbar grounds to wait for the arrival of the first catch. This procession is done with all available royal drumming: fontomfrom or bombae, mpintsin, mmensuon and aprede.
When the game of interest is in the grips, a message gets to the people in town within minutes. This welcomed news makes the people jubilate amidst singing and dancing with others chanting. The people then rush to the durbar grounds for a glimpse of the catch. The victorious asafomen carry the animal shoulder high, present it to the King who in turn performs the acceptance rites. The process involves an offer of libation and an impression with the right foot (bare, without sandals) on the animal three times. The victorious side then picks it up from the feet of the King and parades with it to Abosomba. After a while, the priest and some elders of the god Akyeampong (messenger god) all clad in white calico along the waist come with twigs, they spread them out to form a mat, lay the animal on them, and with the stem of a creeping plant, the twigs and animal together are bound firm to enable it to be carried away. On their way, the senior member of the prama (Akyeampong ano) plays the gong requesting a clear path for their passing. With a head pad as support, the catch is carried to the ceremonial Penkye Otu shrine at the ancestral market for the next day’s sacrifice. On their way back to the shrine, the person who led them in wields an ancient cutlass in a fashion that is characteristic of one clearing a bush path as if the animal is being brought from the bush to the shrine. An additional catch by any of the asafo companies only adds to the fun fare. In such situations, all animals are carried by the people of Akyeampong ano (ano when used this way refers to the prama) to the ancestral market but the one for the sacrifice is marked for easy identification.
After noon, it is time to take the king back to the Palace. This is the time for the afternoon procession. By half past one, the asafo now in full regalia; very colourfully decorated, start the procession from the outskirts of town. There is asafo singing, drumming and dancing to Akosuadontoba and Owombir: a free for all dance time. The King rides in palanquin along the procession led by his chiefs in rich regalia. The victorious asafo company, those who first caught the deer, lead in the procession followed by the King and his entourage. Those who are last in the procession is the asafo company which returned last from the hunt. This procession ends at the King’s palace where libation is poured in prayer and a ram is slaughtered to thank all and sundry including the souls of the departed and the deity. The asafo is now dismissed pending the King’s appreciation drinks; the ayekoo nsa which the King gives to the asafo for honouring their vow to present to him a live deer for the placation of the deity, Penkye Otu annually.
THE REAL SACRIFICE
In the afternoon on Sunday, the ancestral market, “Tsetse guaso” is filled to capacity for the sacrifice. The deity and its effigies are arranged under an umbrella. After libation is offered, the Osɔw (priest) and his assistants from Dawur prama slaughter the animal and prepare it. They use parts of the meat and corn dough to produce mpotroba (the special meal) for the deity. All are cooked in a special earthen pot with the fire made by the priestess at Otuano using okisibiriw as firewood. Raw and cooked meat cut into smaller pieces, mpotroba both raw (white) and coloured with red oil are sprinkled all over Penkye, Aboadze and Eyipey areas. This is how the gods around are served. The rest of the meat is shared among the elders of the Otuano family, the Akyeampong ano, Dawur, Kweemu and Akramano families. The head is given to the head of kingmakers of the Otuano family. Some of the people gathered partake in the cooked meat; usually it is not orderly as they scramble for the meat.
EBISATSIR (casting of lot)
The second part of the ceremony is the casting of lot, Ebisatsir, and the god Penkye Otu is used in this exercise. An earthenware pot is placed bottom side up. Two or so palm fronds are folded into a pad and placed on it. The Chief Priest then picks the Tubu after offering libation, runs it around his head three times and then places it on the pad sitting on the inverted pot. A gong is sounded as the people join in chanting for the Tubu to fall on a good side. In a dartboard pattern are five lines drawn with red clay, charcoal, salt, millet (or mixture of small grains – efua pa) and ash/white clay. As he continues to beat the gong amidst incantations, the Tubu rolls over and falls on one of these marks signifying what is to be expected in the course of the year. On the third cast of the lot, the festival rites are said to be over for the public.
When the Tubu falls on the red clay, it signifies a period of bloody conflicts and disasters. The charcoal signifies rain in abundance, ash/white clay signifies peace and prosperity, millet shows there will be bumper food harvest and good fishing season when it falls on salt.
The Priests and Priestesses stay at the shrine for a week and a ram is sacrificed to bid farewell to the deity’s guests (gods) that came to join in the celebration of the festival. A broom is then given to the priestess of Kweemu to sweep the area around the shrine; guaso (market, the place for the festival). Again, the most senior woman at Kweemu starts chewing sponge which she keeps in a raffia basket. It is said that she ties them in the order of full moon to full moon and on the 12th count (on getting the 12th bundle) she sends a message to the King, based on that, the date for the celebration of the festival is announced. However, this customary practice has long been shelved. The date fell soon after the Christian Easter celebrations and made participation very difficult for workers who relied mostly on their monthly salaries to make it to the festival. It was also difficult for prospective foreign tourists to include Aboakyer in their itineraries. Upon advice and pressure from the national tourism authorities, the Traditional Council eventually decided on the first Saturday of May every year as the fixed date for the celebration of one of Ghana’s most popular traditional festivals, Aboakyer.
Reference, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Dada Paulina of blessed memory.
GhanaNation.com Aboakyer festival.