Awoojoh

Awoojoh

Type of Holiday: Religious (Yoruba)
Date of Observation: Various
Where Celebrated: Sierra Leone
Symbols and Customs: Kola Nuts

ORIGINS

A thanksgiving feast observed in the west African nation of Sierra Leone, Awoojoh honors the spirits of the dead, who are believed to have influence over the fortunes of the living. It may be held at any time of the year, and the guests include not only friends and relatives but, in a small community, the entire village. The day begins with a family visit to the cemetery, where a libation (usually water or liquor) is poured over the relatives' graves, and the dead are invited to join in the thanksgiving celebration. Afterward, everyone returns home to share in a feast. All family quarrels must be settled before the feasting begins.

Preparations for the feast begin days ahead of time. Sheep and chickens are slaughtered, and supplies of rice, beans, plantains, onions, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables are gathered. The most popular dish is "Awoojoh beans," made by simmering cooked beans in fried onion and red palm oil, then adding plantains and sweet potatoes. The centerpiece of the meal, however, is an elaborate stew, one portion of which is set out for the dead ancestors or thrown to the vultures, who are believed to embody the souls of the departed.

Although the practice of holding a thanksgiving feast originated with the Yoruba, who came to Sierra Leone from Nigeria, Christian Creoles and Muslim Akus hold such feasts as well.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Kola Nuts

Kola nuts symbolize the power exercised by the dead over the living. A popular custom on Awoojoh is to split in half two kola nuts, one red and one white, and then throw them up in the air over a dead relative's grave. The pattern in which they fall is believed to carry a message from the ancestors. For example, if two of the pieces fall with the hollow sides up and two with the hollow sides down, it is considered a very favorable message.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.

Awoojoh

Various
A thanksgiving feast in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, the Awoojoh honors the spirits of the dead, who are believed to have influence over the fortunes of the living. It may be held at any time of year, and the guests include not only friends and relatives but, in a small community, the entire village. The day begins with a family visit to the cemetery, where a libation is poured over the relatives' graves and the dead are invited to join in the thanksgiving celebration. Two kola nuts, one red and one white, are split in half and thrown upon the grave, and the pattern in which they fall is believed to carry a message from the ancestors. It is essential for all family quarrels to be settled before the feast begins.
Many popular African dishes—such as fried bean cakes, fried plantains, rice bread, and "Awoojoh beans"—are served, but the highlight of the meal is an elaborate stew, a portion of which is set out for the dead ancestors or thrown to the vultures, who are believed to embody the souls of the departed. Although the practice of holding a thanksgiving feast originated with the Yoruba, who came to Sierra Leone from Nigeria, Christians and Muslims give them as well.
SOURCES:
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 545
HolSymbols-2009, p. 68