Homowo Festival

Homowo Festival

Date Observed: August
Location: Portland, Oregon

The Homowo Festival held each summer in Portland, Oregon, is named for a traditional harvest festival that takes place in Ghana. In Portland, the event had been celebrated with drumming, dancing, and singing over a weekend in August. In 2005 the festival became a one-day event focusing on one of Africa's ancient traditions: storytelling.

Historical Background

Every year, the Ga people in the west African nation of Ghana observe a thanksgiving festival for the harvest. Centuries ago, the Ga migrated across Africa to the west coast, and during their years of travel they were faced with famines. But they helped one another survive and reached what is now the Accra region. There they settled to grow crops, particularly millet, which they believe the gods ordained because the harvest was so plentiful. The solution to famine allowed the people to laugh at hunger, which is the meaning of the word homowo (hoh-moh-woh) - "hooting at hunger."

Each year, between four and six weeks before the harvest, the Ga people in Accra ban music, and everyone becomes quiet as they pray that their crops will be bountiful. They believe that noise will hurt those who are hungry and may be dying of starvation. When the crop grows, however, the drumming and festivities begin for Homowo.

Creation of the Festival

In 1990 Obo Addy, a master drummer from Ghana, brought the Homowo tradition to Portland, Oregon, where he works as a teacher and performer. Called an American "king" of African music, Addy has performed in numerous shows across the nation and has appeared frequently at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He is artistic director of Homowo African Arts and Culture, a non-profit group that tours the country to share traditional music and dance of Ghana and also to create awareness of African culture through its festival.

Observance

The annual Homowo Festival in Portland takes place in early August. In past years, it included dancing, drumming, and singing by performers from the Homowo African Arts and Culture organization. Food and craft vendors, children's activities, and workshops also have been part of the event. In 2005, however, the festival organizers decided to scale back the festival to a one-day celebration of traditional African storytelling. (See also National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference).

Contact and Web Site

Homowo African Arts & Cultures 4839 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd., Ste. 209 Portland, OR 97211 503-288-3025; fax: 503-331-6688

Further Reading

Kilson, Marion. "Homowo: Celebrating Community in Ga Culture." Online version of a paper presented at the Society for Applied Anthropological Annual Meeting in 1991, published in Sextant: The Journal of Salem State College, 1993. state.edu/sextant/v4n1/kilson.html.
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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).