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Okuapeman Odwira 2021: A Melting Point of Rich Culture and Tradition

For nearly 200 years, generations of Akropong, Amanokrom and Aburi have annually celebrated the Odwira festival which was initiated by Nana Addo Dankwa 1 (1811 - 1835), the 19th Okuapehene of Akuapem. Other towns in the 17 Akuapem states also celebrate the Odwira festival. The celebration is linked to the victory of the people of Okuapeman over the then powerful Asante army during the historic battle of Katamansu near Dodowa in 1826.

The Okuapeman Odwira has over the years reintroduced people in and outside Ghana to the rich traditions, art, music, fashion and food that define the Akuapem people. The 2021 edition has promised just that, and even more so, a new paramount chief.

Hinging on the theme “Oneness through our Heritage” this year’s Odwira is expected to commence from the 11th to the 17th of October. In this write-up, I share with you a bit of my experience regarding the Odwira festival.

My first Odwira was special, it was the first time I’d set foot in Akropong. Mum had constantly bemoaned my lack of visit to her hometown which is essentially mine as well, due to the matrilineal clan system. I’d watched her talk with so much delight about the rich history surrounding Akropong and the importance of honouring culture and tradition. 

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She’d gone further to talk about the rites and traditions of the people, how the abontam miensa ( three stones), which was planted during one of the battles, sit right in front of the family house. I recall once, where she said, she and her siblings always had to go stay elsewhere during Odwira because the rituals and traditional rites were scary and terrifying to consume for their age.

Ironically, I wondered why she was on my neck all the time to go witness it. Essentially, I think it’s been worth it. There’s an Akan adage that stipulates as “wo wrɛ fri wo kurom hene kyineɛ a, woyera wɔ dwabɔ ase” which loosely translates as “If you forget your hometown King’s umbrella, you’d get lost at a durbar”

As another odwira is upon us, I explain based on the little experience and knowledge garnered, the unique rites and passages that crown the essence of its celebration.

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I must hasten to add that, my expectation for this year’s celebration is pretty heightened. For the first time in about five years since Nana Addo Dankwa III passed on, Okuapeman may experience a fully dignified celebration, considering the successful enstoolment of a new king, Nana Kwasi Akuffo III.

Odwira simply means to pacify or to spiritually cleanse. For nearly 200 years, generations of Akropong, Amanokrom and Aburi have annually celebrated the Odwira festival which was initiated by Nana Addo Dankwa 1 (1811 – 1835), the 19th Okuapehene of Akuapem. Other towns in the 17 Akuapem states also celebrate the Odwira festival. The celebration is linked to the victory of the people of Okuapeman over the then powerful Asante army during the historic battle of Katamansu near Dodowa in 1826. Odwira is a yam festival. Traditionally, the timing of Odwira also coincides with the harvest season of the new yam when there is an abundance of food; gratitude for the harvest is especially expressed in “feeding” the ancestors”.

This is a period of quiet meditation. For forty days preceding the Odwira festival, there is a ban on all forms of noise making and funerals across Akuapem. Offenders are penalized for going against the order.

In the Akan dispensation, there’s the belief that a chief never dies. Instead, a chief goes ‘to the village. On the Monday of Odwira, the path to this village is cleared. This sacred private event involves the clearing of the ceremonial path from the centre of Akropong, the capital of Okuapeman, to the Royal Mausoleum also known as Amanprobi. The ancient custom is led by the Abrafo (State Executioners) and their chief, the Adumhene. The path clearing symbolises that our ancestors (Nananom), will come and join the celebration of Odwira, at the Okuapehene’s Palace.

Odwira is believed to be a spiritual gift bestowed from the Ancestors of the royal ruling clan. On this day, the Gyaasehene – one of the five Divisional Chiefs of the Akuapem Traditional Area and Administrator of all royal courtiers, summons the Banmuhene (Chief of the Royal Mausoleum and custodian of the Ancestors).

The Gyaasehene officially informs the Banmuhene that the Okuapehene, also known as the Omanhene, is ready to celebrate Odwira. The Banmuhene is tasked by the Gyaasehene to return to the sacred forest, where the Royal Mausoleum is housed, confer with the Ancestors(Nananom) and bring the Odwira from Nananom to the Okuapehene.

Also, on Odwira da Tuesday, representatives of the 7 Stool houses in Akropong outdoor the new harvest of yam. This is done inside the house of Kubri. Before this day and hour, it is forbidden to taste the new yam in any of the Akuapem states. It is also not allowed in the town.

The Okuapehene sits in state and waits on the Baamuhene and his people to bring the blessings of Odwira. It is only when the Baamuhene and his people return with the blessings of the ancestors, that Odwira can be celebrated.

Once the Baamuhene returns, he approaches the Okuapehene, where a ceremonial cloth is placed over their heads and it is believed that only the Baamuhene and the Okuapehene see what the ancestors have presented.

After this, the ban on noise making is lifted.

On this day, the entire Akropong is immersed in a state of communal mourning. The dress code is symbolically black and red as families gather to mourn departed souls.

The Okuapehene visits each of the seven stool houses in Akropong – Aboasa, Asona, Twafo, Benkum, Kyeame and Akrahene to sympathise with them.

Beginning at dawn, the memory of all Ancestors (Nananom) and all citizens from every household in Akropong who have died over the preceding year are honoured. The ancestors (Nananom), for whom the path has been ceremonially cleared for,
are considered to spiritually join the Odwira.

Okuapeman practically believes in the supreme God and while they offer thanksgiving to him, they also affirm their loyalty to the Omanhene – occupant of the Ofori Kuma stool. 

On this day, Okuapehene cloaks himself with colourful and some of the finest robes, he sits in state and receives all who wish to pay homage to him. 
During this period, a young maiden, one of the traditional wives of the omanhene publicly parades through the principal streets of the town as she journeys to present a special dish of “Eto” to her husband.

Later in the day, the custodian of the royal mausoleum – Banmuhene with a procession of his people takes “Eto” to Nsurem – the first sacred resting place of the first omanhene of Okuapeman, to feed the ancestors. Other chiefs from the various stool houses follow suit.

Beginning at 7 in the evening, the Okuapehene and his five divisional chiefs – Gyaasehene, Benkumhene, Nifahene, Adontenhene and Kurontihene, go to the abode of sacred stools to individually re-affirm and swear their loyalty and allegiance to the Ofori Kuma Stool. 

This pivotal ceremony is evident of a united Akuapem Kingdom.

At 10 pm, a curfew is enacted, under the cloak of symbolic darkness. Akropong falls silent as state executioners (Abrafo) take the Stools and regalia of Okuapeman through the deserted streets of Akropong to Ademi mu (a historical river) for the sacred cleansing rituals.
On their return, they present themselves and the cleansed Stools as well as regalia to the Okuapehene. It is believed that, during this rite, it’s forbidden for a citizen not part of the entourage to see them. In this private ceremony, the Okuapehene symbolically strips naked and is wrapped in a sacred strip of cloth and he fires 3 rounds of a musket, signifying the close of the day and ceremony. 

This also signifies that Omanhene has the mandate to host the grand durbar that would follow the next day.

This day essentially climaxes the rites and traditions of the celebration. 
The chiefs, elders and people of Okuapeman congregate at Mpeniase – (the first tree planted on the first day that Akropong became the capital of Okuapeman. The Mpeniase, hence remains a living symbol of the spirit of the Akuapem Traditional Area) to publicly pay homage.

Attended by the Clergy, Government Officials and others, the Okuapehene presents a review of the year and outlines projects and development activities for the new year. The Okuapehene receives goodwill messages from the Government and his people, both at home and abroad. 

The Omanhene presents what is in effect a state of the Kingdom address to Okuapeman. Previous celebrations have shown that this is the day that receives the most visitors. The night is full of activities from concerts to pageant shows. Companies use this opportunity to market their products by sponsoring and hosting specific side events.

Odwira is a melting pot of rich traditions, art, fashion, music, design and food. The cultural adventure shapes expressions and opens up new possibilities.

We love our tradition, protect our own and interpret on all levels what it means to us. If you have admired the people of Akuapem and our unique language, this is your chance to pay us a visit. We are more than proud to welcome you and showcase our traditions for you and the world to experience.

While you're here, we just want to remind you of our commitment to telling the stories that matter the most.Our commitment is to our readers first before anything else.

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