Homowo


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Homowo (Hooting at Hunger Festival)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Ga)
Date of Observation: August-September
Where Celebrated: Ghana
Symbols and Customs: Ban on Drumming, Homowo Dance, Kpekpei, Twins

ORIGINS

The Ga people of Ghana are part of a larger ethnic and religious group known as the Akan. The supreme god in the Akan religion is Nyame. The Ga also call him Homowo

Nyonmo. The Akan also believe in hundreds of lesser deities known as abosom- who inhabit natural objects-and asuman-who inhabit man-made objects. Akan religious practices include the honoring of ancestors and healing rituals.

Among the Ga people, who live along the coast of Ghana and account for about ten percent of the country's population, Homowo is a combination homecoming, harvest festival, and new year's celebration. The word homowo means "hooting [in the sense of jeering or making fun] at hunger," and the festival traces its origin to a legendary famine that befell the area surrounding Accra, now the capital of Ghana, hundreds of years ago. The people's prayers were finally answered with a record rainfall and an abundant harvest, for which the Ga hooted not only for joy but to mock the hunger that had so nearly destroyed them.

Since ancient times people in all parts of the world have honored the changing of the seasons. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

The entire Homowo season lasts a few months, beginning with the opening of the fishing season and the planting of the millet crop in May and ending with the harvest in late September, but the day designated by the chief priests as Homowo Day is usually a Saturday in August (or a Tuesday in some of the smaller towns). Above all, Homowo is a time of homecoming for the Ga people, and the real celebration begins on the Thursday before Homowo Day, when thousands of Ga travel from all over the world to the Accra Plains to visit their families and their homeland. These pilgrims are known as Soobii or "Thursday People," and they bring with them the vegetables and other harvest products that will be used to make the traditional Homowo meal that is shared by both the living and the dead members of each family. Their arrival is celebrated by the crowds of people who gather to welcome them home, and it marks the beginning of a period of peace and harmony during which debts are forgiven, arguments are forgotten, and petty differences are put aside.

Friday is dedicated to honoring TWINS , whose mothers cover their bodies with whitish clay and dress them in white clothing before asking the priests to bless them. Friday night is Homowo Eve, and the firing of guns can often be heard, warning people to stay home because it is widely believed that this is the night when the spirits of the dead wander through the streets. Friday is also the day on which gift-giving takes place. On Saturday or Homowo Day, a traditional Ga dish known as KPEKPEI is prepared in anticipation of the ritual family feast. Local chiefs also sprinkle the kpekpei around doorsteps and other places where the spirits of the departed are likely to gather. People throw open the doors of their houses and let anyone who wants to visit come in, no matter what their social status, and the festival culminates with the boisterous HOMOWO DANCE . Sunday is known as Noowala Day, and it is usually spent making family visits and exchanging warm embraces and new year's greetings.

Although the Homowo celebration lasts a full four weeks in the capital city of Accra, it may last only a few days in some of the smaller towns. Homowo is also observed by Americans of African descent, especially in cities like New York, Houston, and Portland, Oregon.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Ban on Drumming

Traditionally a monthlong ban on drumming, music, and other loud noise is imposed sometime in June, before the celebrations associated with Homowo begin. Nightclubs close down and even the playing of drums in church is forbidden, because it is believed that the gods need silence in order to do their work, and too much noise might frighten the spirits of the departed.

This ban on noise has triggered conflicts in recent years between Ga traditionalists and African Christians, for whom drumming is an integral part of worshipping their God. Many merchants and businesspeople, such as taxi drivers, have complained that the ban on noise and the closing of nightclubs and other establishments during this month triggers a serious drop in business. The ban is still strictly enforced in most areas, but tensions between the Ga and the Christians, particularly in the capital city of Accra, have run high in recent years.

Homowo Dance

The so-called Homowo Dance takes place after the family meal on Homowo Day. It often begins with Ga priests drumming on their knees-a symbolic act representing the "hooting at hunger" that took place many hundreds of years ago-and ends in a free-for-all dance where men and women wear whatever they want (including each other's clothes), bump into one another without fear of causing offense, and sing songs that make fun of otherwise prominent citizens and officials. The idea here is to get rid of all the normal social constraints and differences in status, to mock the very idea of hunger in the midst of abundance, and to show joy and gratitude for the gifts that the gods have bestowed on the Ga people. Homowo

Kpekpei

The traditional Ga food known as kpekpei or kpokpoi is made from steamed, fermented corn meal and palm oil, often with okra or smoked fish added, served with palm soup. It is traditional for everyone in a family to dip into the same bowl or pot of kpekpei at the same time as a symbolic reminder of the fact that distinctions of age, rank, and gender are overlooked during the Homowo celebration.

In addition to being served at the family feast, kpekpei is sprinkled by Ga priests around residential areas and cemeteries as a tribute to the dead ancestors and as a way of symbolically "nourishing" them. In private homes, the head of the family might sprinkle some kpekpei in places where the departed ancestors are likely to find it, especially around the doorways. After this ritual, the dancing, drumming, and hooting that lie at the heart of the Homowo celebration begin.

There is a theory that Homowo is rooted in the Jewish celebration of PASSOVER, and that kpekpei plays a role similar to that of matzoh or unleavened bread. The fact that the Ga often apply red or ochre clay to their doorposts during Homowo to keep evil spirits away, just as the Jews sprinkled blood on their doorways to keep the Angel of Death from harming their firstborn sons, would seem to support this theory.

Twins

The Ga regard all multiple births as a particularly blessed event. Because Homowo is a harvest celebration, twins and triplets, as a symbol of fertility, receive special treatment. After having white clay rubbed on their skin to emphasize their purity, young twins are given a special meal of eggs and yams. Their mothers ask the gods to bless these children and give thanks for the gift of their birth.

FURTHER READING

Freeman, Dave, et al. 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can't Miss. Dallas: Taylor Pub. Co., 1999. Haven, Kendall. New Year's to Kwanzaa: Original Stories of Celebration. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Resources, 1999. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Opoku, A.A. Festivals of Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Ghana Pub. Corp., 1970. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITE

Homowo African Arts & Cultures www.homowo.org/festival.html Library of Congress Wise Guide www.loc.gov/wiseguide/nov02/homowo.html

Homowo

Between August and September
Homowo is a harvest festival of thanks to the gods of the Ga (or Gan) people as well as the mark of the new year. Homowo means "starved gods," and the festival commemorates the good harvest the Ga were given in ancient times. This harvest came after the famine they endured while traveling to their present home in Ghana.
The festival begins on Thursday and those who have moved away are called Soobii, "Thursday people," because that's the day they arrive home for the festival. The following day is the yam festival and the day of twins. All twins who are dressed in white are specially treated all day. Each day there are processions, songs, and dancing until the great day arrives: Homowo, or the Hunger-Hooting Festival and open house.
Most homes have enough food in them for a week during the festival. Fish are abundant in Ghana at this time of year, and palm-nut soup, kpokpoi, or ko, round out the traditional menu. Ko is a kind of grits made with unleavened corn dough and palm oil. The chiefs and elders sprinkle the ko everywhere people have been buried, then go to the prison and personally feed the warders. The following day they visit friends and relatives, reconciling and exchanging New Year's greetings.
CONTACTS:
Ghana Tourist Board
P.O. Box 3106
Accra, Ghana
233-21-222153; fax: 233-21-244611
www.ghana.gov.gh
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Aug 1
FestGhana-1970, p. 52
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 528
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Homowo, the festival of yams, is a staple in the Ghanaian farming calendar.
But if they can be made to work not just in the lab, but on the field and within farmers' budgets and livelihoods--researchers hope that aeroponics could provide a unique way to help safeguard West Africa's 11,000-year history of yam production and make festivals like Homowo bigger than ever.
Addy has been a member of Homowo African Arts and Cultures since 1992.
Still, from autumn through the winter solstice, we celebrate the harvest and brighten the long nights with festivals such as Homowo, Chu Seok, Zhongqiu Jie, Hounen-Odori, Tet Trung Thu, Eid Al-fitr, Diwali, Yalda, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas.
Regional and local government authorities have successfully implemented recommendations of a 2001 Joint Parliamentary Committee to resolve problems in the Ga traditional area surrounding the annual ban on drumming prior to the Ga's Homowo Festival (see Section III).
Homowo (Harvest/Thanksgiving] is a festival of "over-coming hunger" by the Gas.