Odwira

Odwira

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: September-October; December-January
Where Celebrated: Ghana
Symbols and Customs: Animal Sacrifice, Drumming, Golden Stool, Ivory Trumpet, Twins

ORIGINS

The Akan people of southern Ghana, a West African country located along the Atlantic between Togo and the Ivory Coast, celebrate the festival known as Odwira either in September-October, at the time of the yam harvest, or in December-January, during the planting season. The timing of this important festival, which dates back more than 300 years, varies among the different Akan groups, although the best known observation is probably that of the Ashanti (or Asante), which is held in the autumn.

Odwira serves a number of purposes: It gives people an opportunity to show their gratitude for the yam harvest, to honor their ancestors and renew their family bonds, and to reconfirm their support for their king. The weeklong series of events varies from one location to the next, but it usually begins with a parade in which the king is carried on an elaborately decorated palanquin through the streets, accompanied by DRUMMING and the blowing of IVORY TRUMPETS . Then he sits in state in the town square to receive visits from the chiefs of other villages and the homage paid by local residents. Other events include dancing and drumming, the offering of the new yam to the gods, feasting, and the cleansing of the sacred stools (see ANIMAL SACRIFICE , GOLDEN STOOL ). The Friday before the festival ends is set aside for honoring TWINS .

The idea for the first Odwira celebration is believed to have come from Osei Tutu, the first Ashanti king and founder of the Ashanti nation in the late seventeenth century. It was Osei Tutu who built Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti region, and who established the legend of the Golden Stool to ensure the continuation of the king's power and authority. A special Odwira celebration, more elaborate than the annual observation, takes place three years after a new king has been installed so that everyone can pay homage to the Golden Stool and show their respect for the new king's authority.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Animal Sacrifice

During the cleansing and purification rituals for the sacred stools, which are believed to embody the spirits of the dead male ancestors of the Akan people, it is traditional to sprinkle the stools with the blood of a sheep that has been sacrificed for the purpose. The stools may also be purified with consecrated water from a nearby stream.

Drumming

Drumming is a highly evolved art form among the Akan. Drummers gather in the town square during Odwira to demonstrate their talents-particularly on the fontonfrom drum, which can be six feet tall, making it necessary for the drummer to stand on something that will put him up high enough to reach the top. Drummers also accompany the parades that take place during the festival and play for the king as he sits in state in the town square.

Golden Stool

Ancestor worship is central to the Akan religious beliefs and rituals. When a man reaches the age of maturity, he buys a carved wooden stool, which stands as a symbol of his existence and of his ancestry. When he dies, his stool is placed in a room with the stools of his ancestors. Once a year, during the Odwira festival, these stools are brought out and purified, traditionally with sanctified water and the blood from an ANIMAL SACRIFICE .

The Golden Stool is the most important of all. It represents the spirit or soul of the people as a whole, rather than a particular individual, and is therefore an object of great veneration. When a new king comes into power, tradition dictates that he sit on the stool so that he can make symbolic contact with his people. But his contact with the stool must be only symbolic, for it is believed that if he actually makes physical contact with the stool, it will cause sterility. To avoid this, he is often suspended over the stool.

Ivory Trumpet

The ivory trumpets that are blown during the celebration of Odwira are made from the tusks of elephants, which Africans regard as the king of all the animals. When such a horn is blown, it makes a sound very similar to that made by an elephant, which is considered the highest form of praise by the Akan people.

Twins

The Friday of Odwira week is called the Abam Day-Abam meaning "twins." It is named after the twin rulers Atta Panin and Atta Obuom, who succeeded their mother, Queen Dokua, in the nineteenth century. All twins and their parents dress in white and attend a special ceremony that culminates in the purification of the Abam shrine with holy water.

FURTHER READING

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

Okyeman Cultural Association www.okyeman.com/odwira.htm

Odwira

September
Odwira is a celebration of national identity by the Akan or Asante people of Ghana, once known as the Gold Coast. The festival originated centuries ago as a time for people to assemble after the yam harvest, and was inaccurately called the Yam Festival by non-Africans.
The kingdom of Ashanti, which is now the region of Ashanti, became rich and powerful in the late 1600s under its first ruler, Asantahene ("King") Osei Tutu. He is believed to have initiated the festival with the additional purpose of reinforcing the loyalty of the subjugated chiefs. The nation he built up withstood the British until 1901. He built a palace at Kumasi, and to further strengthen the nation, he and a priest, Okomfo Anokye, introduced the legendary Golden Stool. Supposed to have been brought down from heaven, it was thought to enshrine the nation's soul and became a symbol of the bond between all Ashanti people. Tutu also set down laws for life and religion. Much of this culture still survives.
During Odwira, the national identity is reinforced with purification ceremonies: a priest in each town prepares a purification bundle of certain tree branches and shoots, and in the evening carries it out of town and buries it. The Golden Stool is carried in a procession and placed on a throne without touching the ground. Huge umbrellas to protect participants from the sun add to the color of the procession. Drums and horns provide music.
CONTACTS:
Ministry of Tourism & Diasporan Relations, Ghana Tourist Board
P.O. Box 4386
Accra, Ghana
233-21-222153; fax: 233-21-244611
www.touringghana.com
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Sep 19
EncyRel-1987, vol. 1, p. 167
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 526
HolSymbols-2009, p. 654
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