Kwahu Easter: Where Orthodoxy Meets Tradition
One of the most interesting aspects of the Ghanaian culture is the annual traditional festivals and durbars held in most parts of the country. These festivals are undoubtedly very colourful and they appeal to the very heart of the people.
Striking but common features of these festivals include the remembrance of ancestors, purification of the traditional state and a general ambience of family reunion, which comes with lots of eating and drinking.
Festivals such as Odwira of the Akuapems, Homowo of the Ga people, the Ewes' Hogbetsotso, Fetu Afahye and Aboakyer of the people of Cape Coast, the Akwasidae and Adae Kese in the Ashanti region etc. all play an important role in the existence of the people who celebrate them.
Indeed, for these traditional areas, orthodox Muslim or Christian festivals take second stage to the traditional festivals because the histories of these orthodox festivals do not adequately resonate with the psyche of many Ghanaians.
Strangely while almost all parts of the country have succeeded in keeping the essence of their traditional festivals alive to levels that have become important calendar reference points and popular tourist attractions, the people of the Kwahu Mountains in the Eastern region, appear to have totally shed their tradition and adopted Easter, a rather orthodox festival as their traditional festival.
In a typical Ghanaian context, this could understandably be described as an anomaly; but for the people of Kwahu, who relish this annual ritual with the global Christian community, Easter is nothing but a pleasurable paradox.
In Kwahuland, Easter festival is synchronically marked by all the traditional towns on the expansive mountain range in the south-central part of Ghana and situated on the west shore of Lake Volta
There are approximately 12 major towns dotted across the mountain range.
A clearly visible characteristic of all the towns during this period is a general aura of carnival due to the massive influx of both indigenes living elsewhere and visitors who come to the bustling mountain range during Easter to experience the mouth-watering tales from Kwahu Easter.
Visibly evident during Easter is the sudden explosion of commercial activities in these towns, obviously to take advantage of the sudden population surge.
Easter festival has entirely overshadowed the area's ancient traditional festival. Indeed, the traditional festival of the area, 'Yekohwe Afahye' has become so obscure that not many people know it even exists.
The best reference to this traditional festival is locked up in the deepest memories of much older folks. Even for some of these older folks, memories of such a traditional festival are still fuzzy at best.
'We don't have any special traditional festival in Kwahu' stated 85-year-old George Annsong, a former photographer for Accra Brewery who now resides permanently in a town called Obo.
Kingsley Young Opare, a member of the Kwahu Development Association and a development consultant, confirmed this anomaly but quickly indicated that the association is currently trying to convince the traditional authorities in the Kwahu mountain towns to resuscitate the traditional festival to complement the more orthodox Easter.
The grandeur of the celebration of Easter in Kwahu has become legendary on the calendar of popular celebrations in Ghana; millions of people from all over the country and beyond throng the mountains merely to experience this uncharacteristic festival.
'The annual Kwahu Easter Festival has now become an omnibus event where all manner of people travel to the top of the Kwahu Ridge to celebrate,' stated the Kwahu Development Association elucidated in a statement released in late March this year.
'To the real natives of Kwahu, Easter celebration is a moment where families embark on a massive homecoming and this provides an opportunity to reflect on the past and make amends, forging ahead to face the future with unity and love. Families get united after being away for long and the traditional authorities use the opportunity to meet with community members,' it states.
George Annsong recalls his Easter exploits in the 1940s with nostalgia. 'We used to charter a taxi from Accra to Kwahu just to celebrate Easter with lots of eating and drinking,' he said.
'We charter the taxi and it will spend three days with us when we come for Easter, we spend time to visit other towns to enjoy life.'
To date, Kwahus all over the world make it a point to participate in this annual Easter festival.
An innate response
Evidently, Kwahus possess an extremely developed sense of commerce; Indeed, Ghanaians generally regard them as perhaps the most astute businesslike ethnic group in the country. They virtually dominate the retail business in most commercial centres of the country.
They ply their trade with such fervor that little time is spared for leisure. Incidentally the only time conducive enough to catch their breath from the high octane business forays falls within the latter part of the first quarter of every year. Easter thus became a natural rallying point for these street-wise businessmen to celebrate the achievements of the previous year.
Most of the other traditional festivals are held towards the tail end of the year; this is an uncomfortable part of the year for the Kwahu businessmen because at exactly that period most of them would either be taking deliveries of their goods or would be expecting their imports from abroad.
At that time, business would be at its peak and at that time we would be working hard with our business partners,' Kingsley Opare explained.
'During Easter, we don't make a lot of sales,' he said, noting that Easter naturally became a time of vacation for the Kwahu businessmen.
'Kwahus are business folks and so the small interval becomes a vacation for us. We use that small vacation to resolve our differences and to have a reunion,' adds Mr. Annsong.
Essentially, for the Kwahus, Easter has become a period to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
'People really come home to blow money here. We spend time making merry by drinking and enjoying,' said the octogenarian Easter celebrant.
For several decades, this has been the status-quo, George Annsong notes that the intensity of Easter celebration over the decades has remained relatively unchanged; it is usually characterized by the carnival-like euphoria of both the old and young. 'It has always been the same from the beginning,' he recollects.
Potpourri of Activities
One fact remains; yearly, the array of activities lined up for the festival expands considerably. Events have been expanded to include activities such hiking expedition's musical shows, health walk, football matches, street carnivals and paragliding.
In 2005, through an ingenious plan of Ferdinand Ayim, the Special Aide to the then Minister of Tourism, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, a group of paragliding and hang-gliding pilots stormed the country to introduce Ghana to flying without motor.
The Kwahu Paragliding has taken the entire festival to a different height, giving it an international recognition and acceptance.
The Paragliding activity has caught on with both Ghanaians and tourists and it has become a favourite feature of the Kwahu Easter festival. It is also a veritable income earner for the Ghana Tourism Authority.
Patrons of the 15-minute flight currently pay as much as GHC 150 per flight, and on average 300 people take this thrilling flight from the top of the 2,500-metre tall Odweanoma mountain-the highest point of the expansive mountain range.
This year, to forestall petty crime and misdemeanor, over 400 police personnel were conscripted to the area to maintain sanity. In spite of the heavy police presence, almost 35 people were arrested for various offences, including pick-pocketing, prostitution and possession of hard drugs.
Even though, millions of people thronged the Kwahu region during the one-week celebration of Easter giving the region a vibrant commercial outlook that appear to boost the local economy, Kingsley Opare thinks the reality is less than desirable.
Many of the commercial interest during Easter are from either Accra or nearby urban centres.
Several food and beverage companies, telecom companies, leisure companies etc., from Accra and other big cities outwit each other in sales. 'On such occasions, everybody rushes here so we are also here to take advantage of the situation,' says Michael Martey, a sales executive of a company importing Full Moon, a wine produced in Thailand.
The local population tries to make some modest gains during this period in terms of renting out accommodation, providing food and entertainment, but of course these gains pale in comparison to what the big boys make during this period. Besides whatever gains the local economy reaps from Easter is hardly sustainable.
The Kwahu Development Association has recently realized that Easter in Kwahu has become a trademark that needs to be consolidated to transform the livelihood of locals.
'Kwahu is a trademark, it is a brand that we need to galvanize…to expose the area to the world,' said Kingsley Opare. 'That is why they hired me as a consultant.'
Indeed, the association is piecing together a strategic development plan for the entire Kwahu region centred on the goodwill brought about by Easter.
The development plan, which has a 10-year timeline, is currently on the drawing board, but Kingsley Opare envisages that the plans would be implemented in a few years.
'It is not easy, we are having this strategic development plan for an ethnic group…it is a comprehensive work that we need to put together in phases.'
Parts of the plans would include developing sustainable business modules for locals to take advantage of the numerous commercial and tourism opportunities presented by the area even beyond Easter.
By Raphael Ofori-Adeniran
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Raphael Ofori-Adeniran and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.