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Ghana. Ancestor veneration

The world vision of the Ashanti community is reflected in the ancestral worship ceremonies which are performed to ask the deceased for protection and in those ceremonies held to pay tribute to the king. Events to reaffirm individuals’ membership to the group. The Adae Kese festival.

The Ashanti tribe, the largest in Ghana, are people of Akan origin, mainly famous for their wealth of gold and their royalty. Since the seventeenth century their cultural and social traditions have been proudly passed from generation to generation. Ancestor worship is deeply rooted among this group which celebrates the deceased with  great ceremonies, the Adae Kese festival being the most important among them.

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The Ashanti calendar consists of nine cycles of 40 days and the Adae is celebrated at the beginning of each cycle. The last of these cycles is known as the Adae Kese or great Adae, which coincides with the New Year celebration.
The private part of the ceremony is celebrated exclusively by the king, accompanied by a small number of  court dignitaries and it takes place in the throne room of the royal palace of Kumasi, which is always locked and guarded. The throne room contains the thrones of all preceding kings, starting with the throne of Osei Tutu the founder of the dynasty. The sacred stool, which is considered the abode of the spirits, is the main object of worship in the ancestor veneration among the Ashanti people.

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The spirits are believed to watch over the living, protect them in times of need or punish them if they do not respect traditions. The Ashanti people believe that spirits, which do not receive the proper worship can turn into enemies and use their negative power to affect people. According to legend, Sikadjua Koffi (the gold stool) descended from heaven on a Friday. The seat placed itself before the monarch Osei Tutu in the presence of his famous sorcerer Konfuo Anokye, who interpreted the scene as a sign that the gods and the ancestors recognised Osei Tutu as their sole representative on earth. The event contributed to demonstrate King Osei Tutu’s divine nature and to place temporal and spiritual power in his hands.

gha 7On the day preceding  Adae, the Dapaa, elaborate preparations are made for the ceremony: the houses and their surroundings are cleaned up meticulously. At dusk, the drummers gather in front of the royal palace of Kumasi to accompany the ceremony songs which are performed until late at night. Since dae means resting place, all work activities and travelling are prohibited on that day, unless they have to do with the ceremony.
Children born on those two days are named after the name of those two days. On the following morning, at dawn, the ritual begins by pouring water from a gourd at the entrance of the throne room, and inviting the spirits to purify their hands in order to attend the party.
The asantehene eats nãme or bananas without salt, since salt is seen to repel spirits. What is left of the ritual meal is offered to the spirits of the dead and it is spread in the patio outside the house; the sound of a bell indicates that they are eating. The service continues with the sacrifice of a sheep whose blood is spread on the front of the king and on the thrones. The queen mother then makes the offering of fufu – a mixture of cassava – she spreads the food and spills some rum or schnapps, a kind of brandy distilled from  grain, potatoes and molasses; the rest of it is shared among those taking part in the ceremony.

Ostentation and Prosperity

While the private ceremony is held in the royal palace, several chiefs of the neighbouring territories, along with nobles and dignitaries wait for the public ceremony to start in a large tent set up in one of the inner yards of the palace where the king, the asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is expected to pass through.

 

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A crowd of  devotees also participate in the public ceremony and they wear traditional dresses adorned with gold jewelry that represent the motif of the solar disk, decorated leather sandals and particular hats coated with gold plates with animal motifs. The atmosphere is magic. The men of higher social standing wear the kente, a cloth worn wrapped around the body and draped over the left shoulder, like a sort of toga. Kente cloth designs vary, with different bright colours, and geometric patterns, each rich in symbolism.
The arrival of the asantehene is announced by the  beat of drums and the blowing of horns. The king goes to the center of the courtyard and sits under a big red umbrella with his feet on a stool, the embalmed head of a lion is placed opposite the stool as a talisman. The king’s feet must never touch the ground or else he would  lose his power. The king wears a kente, symbol of kingship, which is specifically designed for him and richly adorned with jewels and gold pendants. The display of gold jewelry has great symbolic value, it highlights the social status and the wealth and prosperity of the kingdom. However, today, many of the traditional jewels are replaced by others made of silver or golden bronze.

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The king sits just before a narrow corridor, while on the two sides of it are seated men with swords and knives with gilded handles and guards armed with rifles decorated with gold inlaid works; a man waves a fan to the right of the king. The king’s advisers and family members are behind and beside him, some of them are in charge of scaring evil spirits away by using horse hair plumes.
Since the king has divine nature, people can only address him through an intermediary. While the courtiers offer their gifts, some men sing songs about the history of the Ashanti kingdom; they are accompanied by the sound of drums and horns, the latter made from ivory tusks. Suddenly the music stops. The ceremony is over. The king re-enters the throne room to hand some of the offerings he received over to the spirits of ancestors, while all the people go happily back home under their protection.  (A.T.)

 

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