- Barbara Eyeson
Oguaa Fetu Afahye - Black Christmas
The Oguaa Fetu Afahye festival was first celebrated in the 17th century (1800-1) during the reign of king Amankwaah.
Cape Coast actually celebrates the Yam festival (Ahobaa) which the Omanhen observes on the last Tuesday of July before his confinement. Before 1964, the annual Fetu Afahye festival was paraded by the Seven Asafo Companies in the Oguaa state in which they turn out in procession.
Cape coast developed to be the principal town politically and commercially which became the center for Traditional Fetu Celebration and was the capital town of Efutu. The most widely and regularly celebrated of these festivals was the Yam festival (Ahobaa), which with the settlement of the Fetu king at Cape Coast, was observed as Oguaa Fetu Afahye, that is, the principal yearly festival of the people of Efutu where the capital town was Oguaa. According to historians, because of the luxury and huge amount of money, energy, and time expended on the festival period the neighboring European men referred to it as “BLACK CHRISTMAS”. On the 4th of September 1865 during the 4th of the celebration of Oguaa Fetu Afahye combined forces of Bentsir Asafo (No. 1) and Anaafo (No. 2) and some English soldiers had a disturbance at Low Town (Anaafo) for lack of accommodation of the castle.
The following year, 1866, fearing another observance of Ahobaa or Fetu might make bad blood between the natives and the Europeans, the chiefs and the people decided to call off the celebration that year. This brought about the ‘termination of this festival’ that about two generations of varying degrees were made to revive the festival.
In 1932, the fight between Bentsir (No. 1) Asafo and Ntsin (No. 3) also brought the colonial Government to ban the festival until 1939 when the ban was relaxed a bit to enable Asafo Companies to turn out annually. So, for over 30 years Oguaa or Cape Coast was not having any traditional festivals to observe.
The meaning of the word ‘Asafo’- Asafo Atsikuw (Asafo companies) is a military organization that means Asa – fo – translated means ‘war people or people who defended the town and country in times of war.
A school of thought suggests that the festival started way back before 1865 until it was banned from 1866 to 1932 then resumed in 1962. In 1962, the initiative having been made to resuscitate the traditional festival by the 7 Asafo Companies headed by Tufuhen Nana Kwame Edu III, the Oguaa Traditional Council, and above all Osaberima Kwadwo Mbrah V of blessed memory, Omanhen of Oguaa Traditional Area. The political climate at the time of the great revival was the Conventions Peoples’ Party (C.P.P) with the then District Commissioner, the late R.E.E. Acquah spearheading the affairs of the district.
Preparation for the festival occurs in the last week of August. During this period, the Oguaa Traditional area receives a lot of visitors from all works of life as well as people from different parts of the country or outside the country who are natives of Oguaa state. The actual celebration follows on the 1st of September.
Prior to the actual celebration of the festival, the Omanhen is confined for a week. During this period of confinement, he meditates and asked for wisdom from the creator (Aboadzi) and ancestors. At the end of Omahen’s confinement, he appears in public and goes to the stool house to pour libation seeking blessing from the seventy-seven gods of Oguaa state. They believe that these seventy-seven gods of Oguaa state steer the affair of Oguaa traditional area.
It is also noted that before the festival, all sorts of drumming festivities and drumming sounds are banned as tradition demands as well as fishing in the “Fosu” lagoon, lying between The Government Central Hospital and stretching to a place called Aquarium to ensure a quiet and peaceful environment. It is believed that this done to allow the spirits of Oguaa state to take over and lead the planners of the festival. This is usually observed before the first of September.
The custodians of the “Fosu” Lagoon (Amissafo) of Oguaa Traditional Area also pour libation at the estuary of the Lagoon to invoke the spirit of their ancestors to eradicate any bad omen that may befall visitors involved in the festival. The aim of pouring libation is also to call for a bumper harvest of fish and crops. In all, they call for prosperity.
Another important event worth observing is the “Amuntumadeze” which means health day. This is a day when both the old and the young make effort in cleaning the environment such as guttering of waste, cleaning choked gutters, and painting of all buildings in the area with the aim of beautifying the environment before the actual grand durbar of “Bakatue”
A vigil is observed at the “Fosu” Lagoon near its shrine every last Monday of August. A large number of people gather at the shrine to have a glimpse of the display of the priests and priestesses of the traditional area. This is normally done at night till the next morning. During this night, the drumming and dancing of both the priest and the priestesses would be observed and also invocate the spirit of their ancestors to be able to tell what would happen in the next year which irrevocably comes true. The next Tuesday also sees a whole lot of activities such as carrying out rituals at the FUSO shrine and finally in the daytime regatta and canoe riding on the lagoon (FOSU lagoon) is observed after the Omanhen’s libation at the estuary.
A religious ceremony is held at night in front of Nana Paprata shrine on Thursday night with accompanying rituals and dancing (“Adammba”) to summon spirits of their ancestors to enable the priests and priestesses to soothsay. This ceremony normally lasts up to the next morning. The main aim of this ceremony is to cleanse the Ogua traditional Area of any bad spirits. During this same period, a bull is always needed to purify the Ogua Traditional Area.
Prior to this purification, the bull is sent to Nana Tabir’s shrine to cleanse for sacrifice on the ultimate day. This bull is then later sacrificed at Papratam (durbar grounds for Ogua Traditional Area). It is mostly identified as the silk cotton tree where the Omanhen, on the climax day sits in state with his divisional and sub-chiefs as well as the council of elders flanked.
At the meeting, the Omanhen addresses the people and visitors of Ogua Traditional Area recounting events of the past. After the state address, the Omanhen walks towards the entrance flank by his sub-chiefs and divisional chiefs to Tabir’s shrine where the cow is tired on the limbs. He then pours libation and performs various rituals to call on their forefathers to intervene in Ogua state. At this juncture, the Omanhen takes a dagger to slaughter the cow for the gods.
Fetu festival reaches its climax after the Omanhen’s sacrifice on Saturday, the 1st of September. This particular day gains a unique and attentive audience as a result of the Asafo band procession. They usually parade themselves along the street of Cape Coast from Kotokuraba through Chapel Square to the chief palace. People from all parts of the country visit Cape Coast to observe this festival. Durber of chiefs is held on this day to deliberate on issues affecting Ogua Traditional Area as well as the seven Asafo companies to also contribute to the security aspect of Ogua Traditional Area. One unique characteristic of this particular day is that it is marked by drumming, dancing, and pouring of libation to usher the state in a peaceful and prosperous new year.
After the festive days are over, the grand ceremony is on Sunday where a joint service of all Christian denominations is held at Chapel Square to offer thanks to God for helping the Ogua Traditional Area to have a peaceful festival.
The Omanhen and his divisional chiefs as well as elders attend the church occasion and take an opportunity to announce the day for next year’s celebration.