No one is quite sure when it started, but Ghana’s Asafotufiami Festival has become one of the country’s most important celebrations. Set in Ada, outside of the capital of Accra, Asafotufiami celebrates a tribal victory against an enemy clan hundreds of years ago. These days, even the president gets an invite.
Lasting a full week, the commemoration has changed a lot. The first Asafotufiamis were smaller affairs, taking place in okohwim, a holy forest. Now the Ada people come from far and wide to a location used for the last 45 years; a place more central and easier to reach. They come to remember, reflect, but most of all celebrate their ancestry.
“It gives us our identity,” says Nene Gorkelu, a local Adan. “[It] gives us richer fulfillment as to who we are and from where we derive our spiritual strength… It helps us also to move ahead, plan and develop out respective families or clans.”
Integral to Asafotufiami are battle re-enactments between old tribes and kingdoms.
“We come here to assemble and exchange greeting,” says Gorkelu from the ‘battlefield’. “Then we fire musketries, we pour libation to honor our ancestors who fought for us and therefore by doing so, we are more empowered by them spiritually.”
Gorkelu is a ‘war captain’, or Asafouatse — a position that these days is mainly ceremonial, but harks back to an earlier era.
“I have to come to my stool room to perform,” he says, “pay obeisance to my ancestor and then ask them to empower me, to go on the mock battlefield.”
The festival has evolved to encompass a variety of other events. It now features feasts, parades and costumes; a regatta and dance — newer events intended to draw a younger crowd.
“I think these events need to be organized, because it helps to transmit the culture of the older generations to the younger generation,” says Maky Nagertey, 23, a runner-up of the Miss Ada beauty pageant, which occurs in the lead up to Asafotufiami.
Speaking from Lolonya Cope beach, after the symbolic battle, Nagertey touches upon the essential truth of the festival: that it brings a dispersed people together.
“I have a proverb in my local dialect,” she explains, “that a tree without roots is like a town without a culture.
“Without the youths, there is no culture in 20, 30 years to come… I would say it’s very important for our parents to impart the knowledge onto us, to tell us the importance of the festival… and when it’s time, we need to come home.”