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Iliad of Homowo. Critical News, 17th August 2014

Posted by Business in Ghana on August 17, 2014

Sydney Casely-Hayford, sydney@bizghana.com

I am musing behind a bottle of Guinness downtown Palladium, where this year’s Homowo festival is “cholera-ing” enthusiasm. The giddy euphoria of previous years is all but drained by the prospects of an “ebola” gathering; many have made excuses of other commitments, but those of us who have braved the fuel hikes and high cost of a carton of beer, know the real reasons are not too far from the dipping economy.

Bored, yet waiting for the traditional kpokpoi and palm nut soup, for which we have tried to select enough fattened fish to give the festivities some respect, my mind goes to myths and stories and for some reason I wonder what is the real story of Homowo.

I think of the Greek Homer’s Iliad, in which Paris’ love for Helen of Troy (nee Sparta) sparked a ten-year war between the Greeks and Troy and the Trojan horse became an entrenched figure of speech.

Achilles’ heel and eventual rout of Troy is a captivating story of love, avarice, megalomania, allegiance, pride and honor of the Gods, converging into sensitive and touching lessons of mind and brawn, tinged with shiploads of cunning.

The memory came so vividly I scanned my mind for anything similar in Ga State. I can say much for Okomfo Anokye and the Golden Stool, but my search for Gamashie is bridged after the story of Tackie Tawiah and the man who performed the first fishing act after the Korle Priest in 1918, a brother of Obili Kwaku, the ex-Ga Mantse called Ayi Kofi. These days the Ayi Kofi I hear of is a land guard.

Earlier on Citifm’s “The Big Issue”, I canted wrong history when I said Rawlings had overthrown the Acheampong Government, but an avid listener had deflected me to General Akuffo’s SMCII as the toppled body. Thanks Paapa, much appreciated.

That homily was about JJ Rawling’s address to the students of University of Education Winneba and Pastor Mensah Otabil’s (when will he become a bishop? I think the NDC attack his comments not because he says the right things, but because he is just a regular pastor. They must feel safe that he does not command much “bishop” power) corruption and criticism of our leaders and where we are headed.

But it was the chief of Tamale, Naa-Dakpema Dawuni Alhassan asking for the banishment of the women who were filmed in a leaked sex tape recorded in Tamale that got my goat. Check out his picture from this article. Doesn’t it say it all?

Anyway, here is an extract from Papafio’s Iliad of how we celebrate Homowo.

The Native Ga year starts from Sunday, the day following the feast, which must be on a Saturday. The reckoning of the year is made either by days or weeks from the first day set down by the Dantu Priest as the first day of the Native Year.

The celebration usually takes place in August, rarely in July or September. It is believed that the whole of Accra celebrated the Homowo Festival in 1888 as late as the 27th or 29th of September.’

The first day of the Ga year is reckoned from the first Monday after the Saturday feast.

On this day the Dantu Priest celebrates his Grand Custom by feasting and making certain concoctions of leaves in a native bowl, out of which all the adherents and the family of the Damte Dsanwe people take drops of water with the leaves and sprinkle themselves with the water. The Damte Dsanwe people will also visit each other throughout this day

No one is allowed to demand a debt till after the Homowo or Harvest Festival. No summons will be taken against anyone before any Mantse and no oath sworn will be entertained by any Stool holder till the Homowo season is over.

No one is to make or lay any claim against any person or persons till the celebration days of the Harvest Festival are over.

It is stated that when some years ago a man brought about a Civil case on Sunday, 14th day of the Native Year, he was executed by the order of the Native Authorities of the whole town of Accra, drowned in the sea, his act considered punishable as a crime under the Native-Law and Custom, viz., the infringement of this proclamation or oath.

On the 12th day, Friday, the day before the Saturday on which all the Accra people celebrate the Homowo, the sons-in-law make presents of pieces of firewood to their father-in-law for the customary yearly gift, and daughters-in-law make presents of bundles of firewood to their mothers-in-law according to custom for yearly gift.

These presents are symbols of service annually performed for their fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law in days gone by. On this day also, good and intimate friends make gifts of pieces of firewood to their friends.

On this day alone people go to Akpade Gonno at Mkpono on the western slope of the hill, on which is situated Amankorobi, the burial place of the late Ga Mantse Tackie Tawia.

On this day every year the Korle Priest puts down palm leaves or “Gofi” at three points on the road leading into the Korle Lagoon, thereby closing the road and stopping people from going to fish in the waters. Nobody is allowed to pass by on that road until the “Gofi” is taken away.

Before putting “Gofi” down the-Korle Priest offers prayers thus:

“Nmene soha ne aba tsi ona, ni aba tsi ona ne,
nu dsio yo dsio ni eba dse nwane ni eba ko ya ni efo ye ottili le,
lo eba wu ye omli le, 
kedsi egbo le dsee moko hesaneko;
ble mole ledientse esumo egbele”

This translates into English as

“Today Friday I come to stop people from fishing in you,
and if anyone contrary to this injunction were to come to fish privately,
or have his bath here,
he is to die: this will be nobody’s fault but his own.”

The Korle Lagoon is closed for fishing on the eighth week after the Ga general Homowo: this occurred on October 11 in 1918.

The Lagoon is opened again on the Friday immediately preceding New Year’s Eve.

Fishing is now resumed for a period of four, five or six weeks. It is then closed for the ceremony of clearing the ground for Guinea Corn.

A week later it is opened and Priest and people go round the town.

The Priest now collects the tolls of fish from those who fish in the stream or lagoon. Three weeks later the Guinea Corn is planted and the fishing season ends until the corn is established, say four weeks later, when the fishing grounds are thrown open once more.

There is a sort of quarry near which women who died of childbirth were taken and left on the ground exposed to the elements on the order of or according to the rule of the Oyeadu Fetish.

In this is found a sort of red swish, which the people used to bring to town both on this twelfth day and the preceding Thursday; water is put into it, and with this liquid the doors and gate fronts are plastered. This is the day when the Abam Custom comes to an end and all the family Yam Customs are performed for the last.

The 13th day, Saturday, is the great day for Akras; on this day, the great feast takes place for which they prepare palm soup and kpokpoi.

The following day, Sunday, visits are paid on this day after the Harvest Festival day.

People used to get up early in the morning and start crying for those who have died and gone, some of whom they do not know, even by name. This is the day for Ngowura, when people go from house to house to their friends and relatives wishing them good luck, prosperity and long life in the New Year. This is the day when all long-standing disputes are settled and put aside and the parties have a good drink over it all.

And that is the main thrust of the Homowo festival and some of its religio-cultural aspects captured in the detailed Iliad of A B Quartey-Papafio. I have borrowed extensively without an edit, for the purpose.

And the real reasons why we don’t see Homowo in this way anymore? I think since the Mayors of Accra allowed the Korle Lagoon to silt and stink the whole of the James Town area, it has become a bit of a challenge to go wash yourself in the filth and come out to eat kpokpoi. No need for a “Gofi” leaf to close the road, the lagoon blocks its own routes, permanently silted from fishing.

So a week after Numo Blafo told us Accra would be completely clean in three days? We have Jospong Group in the fray, his mayor henchman in tow, Accra still just as grimy.

Fetu Afahye is on the way to another year; the significance of that festival and the pending Kundum of the Nzema people are also in the river, so to speak.

Ghana, Aha a ye de papa. Alius valde week advenio. Another great week to come!

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