Lante Djang-We often celebrates the Homowo first. That is in August. Two weeks later, Ga Mashie people observe the joyous hunger-hooting festival. Osu, La, Teshie, and Nugua follow in that order and others then follow suit. Already Essikado-man have celebrated Kuntum; the Ahantas and Nzemas are still enjoying the Kundum.
Oguaaman are gearing up for the Fetu. Akyem Abuakwas have observed Ohum-kan, waiting to cap it with Ohum-kyire. Soon the Akuapems will celebrate Odwira and Ohum. Shortly after the Hajj, the Dagbana, Nanum and Mampruga will be marking the Bugum, or Fire Festival, in October. Between now and December, majority of Ghana’s festivals are lined up; Oh ho!, the festivals are here! Let’s celebrate; let’s enjoy them; let’s dine and wine, for, God – in His infinite wisdom – gave us the whole country, including the times and seasons. He gave us a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to celebrate and a time to mourn. The only caveat is that we should be mindful of how we spend the Homowo, Kuntum, Kundum, Fetu, Ohum, Odwira, Bugum etc. We should celebrate with the original, traditional and essential motives behind the festivals in mind.
Rationale behind fiestas
From north to south, east to west; Ghana and Africa’s festivals are religious, social and cultural events that often come at the beginning of the food harvest, at the peak of the fish-catch or to mark a heroic past, or a successful self-liberation from oppression in the past. Our festivals all have significances; they have meaning; they have lessons for us. They are not meant for eating and drinking just for the sake of filling the belly with kpokpoi, ertor, yam, millet, rice, pito, palm-wine or akpeteshie. Let us use this season to do an introspection of why our ancestors experienced hunger in the past and how they were able to come out of that starvation. Let us find out how they were able to bond together to successfully ward off external aggression, fight diseases and survive through the lean seasons. Our forebears knew how to salt or smoke fish and meat such that it tied them over the lean season. They knew how to keep grain, yams and cocoyam for months, if not years; and, thus, became self-sustaining. Our forebears separated seed from what they ate and kept multiplying seeds so successfully that they did not need to rely on foreign seed developers or genetically-modified organism foods.
Loss of meaning
We waste much of what we produce in this country. An ‘American tin’ of maize now sells for almost nothing; the same quantity will fetch thrice its current price by next May. Peppers, okra, tomatoes and other seasonings are trodden on in these harvest times; tomatoes are sold in halves while fresh peppers disappear in the lean season. Ply the Graphic Road, the George Bush Highway or any other Accra street noted for congestion, and, you’ll see six or more tubers of fine yam displayed on the stretched arm of muscular boys: you can bargain to giveaway prices. Very soon, oranges will come so cheap that the middlewoman pays five or seven Cedis for a hundred at the farm gate. That is when town and city authorities have a hectic time clearing heaps of rotten citrus at the lorry parks and train stations. Exotic mangoes are more expensive; local ones breed flies as they rot into a quagmire in Accra and other towns.
Famine after feasting
But, after these festivals, after the plenty; hunger and starvation follows aggressively. Just like the story of the Biblical hunger captured in Genesis Chapter 41. But, it is not because of a prolonged drought – as the case was in the Old Testament account. It is because we fail to plan and we plan to fail, even if inadvertently. Silos this nation set out to build at the dawn of her independence have now turned into church auditoriums, private residences and safe havens for snakes and rodents; thanks to short-sighted leaderships. The Atta Mills regime promised to run new silos across the country; by the time of his demise, all that could be pointed to were a few structures at the Afram Plains, Takyiman and the like containing completely rotten maize. Same policy failure. The reason, for some years now, we’ve been missing real bumper fish harvests is not that the government or private companies have built landing sites and cold rooms. It has more to do with the criminal use of small mesh, powerful lamps, pair trawlers and several other unapproved methods to fish – and the resultant drying-up of the fish stock in our side of the Atlantic Ocean. It comes back to the same wrong policies or wrong policy implementation.
So, today, our festivals are a pale shadow of their original selves. Our festivals are a perversion of the traditional observance of victory over hunger, disease and starvation. Some of the activities that come in the name of our Homowo, Odwira, Kuntum, Kundum, Ohum Bugum and Hogbe-tso-tso are a complete mockery, if not a sacrilege.
Ghana Today posits that this nation cannot pilot herself into the torchbearer of continental civilisation by obliterating her own history and culture. I put it out for my opinion that Ghana and Africa cannot progress much by abandoning the way we lived for the culture of the Whiteman hook-line-and-sinker. I urge all of us Ghanaians, as we celebrate these festivities, to ponder over the rationale behind them. I urge all of us to celebrate with meaning and with the view to sustaining our traditional states that compose the only nation we have. Ghana Today is not unaware of the need for change; after all, change is the only permanent thing in the world. Nonetheless, change must not bring contradiction and the reversal of our values.
Eat what you can…
And that brings me to suggestion number two, which goes mainly to this and subsequent governments. Our forebears linked festivals with self-sufficiency, sustainability and reprocreation. If our forebears knew how to salt or smoke fish and meat such that it tied them over the lean season, we should learn how to freeze or at least salt and smoke our fish and meat. If they knew how to keep grain, yams and cocoyam for months, if not years; we should learn how to use our silos and cribs effectively, or how to use our barns in the kitchens to store grains. If your grandparents separated seed from what they ate and kept multiplying seeds so successfully that they did not need to rely on foreign seed developers or genetically-modified organism foods, think twice before you embrace GMOs.
It is my candid opinion that the Akufo-Addo regime had better instituted a food, fish and meat storage regime worthy of its name. For, if the Planting for Foods and Jobs programme is to succeed; if the Free Second-cycle School system is to succeed, efficient food storage will be non-negotiable. If your foods keep rotting in the glut and vanishing in the lean season; if you keep importing rice, sugar and vegetables, there is no way you are going to succeed in feeding the soaring numbers of boys and girls pouring into the public schools. One of the old axioms that drove agro-based industrialisation centuries ago was: Eat What You Can; and Can what You Can’t. Put surpluses into cans for storage. In short, don’t allow what you cannot eat today to go waste for you to grow hungry tomorrow.
Uphold the environment
As we celebrate the various Ghanaian festivals, let’s remember that this is the season to give thanks to God the Creator and Mother Earth, our very anchor and source of resource. Remember our ancestors through whose blood and toil we are living and enjoying the relative comfort available to us. Let us remember that it is incumbent on us to sustain and improve our Bugum, Kundum, Kuntum, Fetu, Odwira, Ohum, Homowo, Hogbe-tso-tsoand others so that the next and subsequent generations will come and have them to celebrate. The way to do it is to sustain the rivers and environment which play crucial roles in our festivals and culture. The way to do it is to accept our Ghanaianess and stop behaving like second-rate foreigners who have nothing to do with African culture. Our surest way of sustaining our festivals is to observe them in truth and in spirit. Afi-oo, afi; Afihyia-pa ooo. Our actual festivals are here!!
…with A. C. Ohene
Today Newspaper (Ghana)