A GNA feature by Patricia Akpene Tegbe
Accra, April 05, GNA - Life, Sages say is full of surprises! Human beings have explored, are exploring and will continue to explore as far as they continued to exist. Such explorations invariably yield discoveries, which more often than not add so much difference, pleasant flavours and sweet memories to our lives.
"I was quite hesitant to visit and participate in the Vakpo Wortoe- Kpeto and Borborbor festival. My initial notion was that, the caves would be no different from the numerous others that I have visited over the years. Contrary to my expectation, the differences were crystal clear! First the caves were complex. There were a considerable number of caves and rock shelters naturally arranged and positioned like platoons of the military. The second issue that I admired most was the topography- it really provided a refreshing experience! The unique cultural performances, especially the Borborbor dance added so much glamour to the whole celebration," said a participant at this year's Vakpo- Wortoe - Kpetoe and Borborbor Festival held recently to mark Black African History Month celebrations at Vakpo in the Kpando District of the Volta Region.
Another said, "I think this is a good and refreshing exercise for those of us who would not voluntarily train. Initially, my legs wobbled and I was panting when we began to climb the mountain, but somewhere along the line, everything became normal. I wish I could come here every weekend or at lease once every month to enjoy the unique atmosphere that exits here."
Yet another said, "I must confess that I never knew a place like this exists here in Ghana. I have travelled extensively seeking pleasure. I can say with all confidence that the Vakpo caves indeed have lots to offer. It was indeed thrilling to be on top of the mountain- the fresh breeze and of course the scenery, oh my God, was marvellous."
The three-day celebration brought together all the 'Balimefiawo' and their subjects, who brightened the celebrations with pump and pageantry. It was unique and appealing to behold Chiefs, Queen Mothers and their subjects clad in their traditional smocks, the official attire for the grand durbar held at the caves side. One could not contain but must burst with rib cracking laughter at the sight of those old women dressed in their old school uniforms and their heaped artificial buttocks. It was pleasant to witness beautiful damsels traditionally dressed to display their rich cultural heritage.
The sketch performed by the Future Leaders Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO), established by Mama Ayawo 1V a Queen Mother of Vakpo would go into the annals of the Caves festival as unique.
They displayed and educated the gathering on puberty rites and traditional marriage. The performances by the participants from the Centre for Savannah Arts, also an NGO, held those present spellbound from start to finish. They staged a sketch on the slave trade depicting the inhuman activities that took place.
Also present were the various cultural troupes in the catchment area including Have New Gahanna Borborbor Group, which held the durbar spellbound with their splendid performances. Artefacts of all shapes and designs were among the exhibits. Tourists and other visitors who came from far and near were also treated to local dishes of the people of Balime which included Ayi Kple, Akpledze, Tsimenukoe, Daklitsoe and Zorklale among other dishes.
fig. 1: Entrances to two of the Vakpo Caves fig. 2: The Paramount Chief and elders of
= Vakpo at the Caves
The cave and rock-shelter complex of Vakpo is found about 800 meters above sea-level in a massive rock outcrop that extends about 400 meters along the Akwapim-Togo Mountains in the Kpando District of Ghana. The site is found in the Northern Ewe area of the Volta Region of Ghana, which some historians have referred to as Krepi.
It is located on an ancient route that extends at least 300 kilometers from the Northern Ghana through Salaga and Kete Krachi to the ports in Southern Ghana, such as Akuse and Keta. This route is among several "slave routes" that were identified in 2003 during a UNESCO sponsored "Slave Routes Project" in Ghana. It probably existed and served a variety of functions during the slave trade and after.
The chronology of the route is yet to be determined, but oral information obtained from a number of Northern Ewe communities suggested that German and British colonial administrators used the route actively in the 19th and 20th centuries and organized the planting of mango trees along it to provide shade. The remains of these trees are found today. Various traders in cattle, herbal medicine, cloth and other goods, who travelled southwards from the Savannah Regions of Ghana and elsewhere until the early 1970s, also used the route actively.
Lack of proper apparatus, the presence of insects and local rumours about the existence of large reptiles in the caves deterred visitors (archaeologists) from exploring the internal dimensions and contents of the caves and rock-shelters in detail.
A rudimentary survey undertook revealed, however, that each of the caves has a fairly large chamber from where a few corridors branched off. Local hunters claim that one of the corridors is more than 500 meters long and has pools of water at various sections. There is an accumulation of silt and guano on the floor of the chambers of the caves. After asking volunteers to sit comfortably in them, it was estimated that the chambers of three of the caves could collectively accommodate at least 150 people at a time. The average breadth of entrances to the caves is 60 centimetres, while the average height is 50 centimetres. At the entrance of one of the caves are several rubbles.
One of the caves was located in 1999 following information given to an Archaeologist, Dr Kodzo Gavua, a Lecturer at the University of Ghana and a proud citizen of the area in 1996 by Mr Simon, Cha Adza-Yao of Vakpo. Togbe Ben Akorli, Head of the Akorli Family of Dutanyigbe-Vakpo, the custodians of the site, assisted him. The chiefs and people of Vakpo have since 2001 organized annual ceremonies to mark Emancipation Day and African History Month. These celebrations have always attracted more than 3,000 pilgrims.
But for three shackles and two chains that some elders of Vakpo claimed to have found near the caves, no artefacts have been retrieved from the site so far. The site is sacred to the people of Vakpo, who consider it as a shrine that houses important deities and ancestral spirits.
Its history, compiled by the Vakpo Area Traditional Council, claims that the caves served as a refuge where children, women and royal paraphernalia were hidden away from slave raiders. According to the story, men used the rubbles at the entrance of WK 1 to seal the cave after women and children had gone in. Other accounts obtained from local informants suggest that before the caves became refuge for people fleeing slave raiders, they had been resorts and warehouses where traders and slave dealers, who travelled southwards from northern Ghana with cargo, took rest.
The world is witnessing increasing numbers of tourists, who are moving around the globe in search of interesting experiences. Certain tourist destinations are experiencing a boom in tourists' visitation and subsequent increasing revenue because of the uniqueness of their festivals.
Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Minister of Tourism and the Modernisation of the Capital City, who was the special guest of honour at the three-day celebration, observed that festivals such as the Vakpo-Wortoe-Kpeto and Borborbor Festival formed a very important part of Ghanaian culture, saying: "Our culture is one of the strong pillars supporting the tourism industry. Besides a few who visit for leisure and adventure, a significant number of tourists come to Ghana for our rich culture."
He said the Ministry had developed programmes and activities to increase tourist visitation to Ghana from about half a million tourists to one million and to increase the tourism receipts from about five hundred million dollars to 1.5 billion dollars by the year 2007.
It is very crucial that communities such as Vakpo that have natural, historical or cultural attractions develop such attractions to help sustain the tourist industry. It is against this backdrop that the people of Vakpo should be commended for taking the initiative to develop this event, namely the Vakpo Worte- Kpeto and Borborbor Festival. The organisers should try and make this festival a regular event because it has the potential of attracting both domestic and international tourists.
The tourist product we have here will satisfy both tourists who are interested in culture as well as those in the Diaspora who are seeking their roots. The complexities of five caves, which are symbols of the resilience of the people of Vakpo area during the period of the Slave Trade tie into the National Slave Route Project and also support the Joseph Project.
Togbega Gbogbolulu V, Paramount Chief of the Vakpo Traditional Council, in his address, entreated Ghanaians to "redeem our sinking traditional culture as a matter of urgency".
Culture he noted was the source of our unique identity and there was the need to hold it sacred and to pass it on to generations.
"It is rather unfortunate that the influx of foreign culture and practices have dominated our land in recent times. It behoves us as traditional rulers and as parents to ensure that we hold sacred our values and inculcate them into our children", he advised.
Togbega lamented that formal education was not improving in the region. He observed that, Ho Polytechnic was the highest educational institution in the entire Volta Region and, therefore, appealed to the government, religious bodies, NGOs and other related and interested parties to consider establishing a university in the Region to boost education.
There were solidarity messages from Mr Pius Adanuti, Kpando District Chief Executive, some officials from the National Commission on Culture and other related organisations.
In a quiz competition organised for the various second cycle institutions in the district to mark the celebrations, Kpando Technical Institute (KpanTech) came first with Vakpo Secondary Technical being the first runner up.