On another day, Flippa’s looks would give him away, but it is 11 o’clock on a Sunday night – and the party is in full gear. Sweaty revelers in worrisome outfits are busy flailing to sounds of our time: Take Over, If, Christy, Mama Boss Papa, Too Risky. Liquor has replaced drinking water, and cigarette smoke curls up into thick blue skies as a burnt offering.
But for the white Nikes on his feet, everything else which makes his outfit is black: a crisp t–shirt, ripped skinny jeans folded twice at the helms, and a sizeable shooting weapon he conceals on his right side. He navigates the multitude like a shadow, and is shielded by the very crowd which also contains his target.
Anita Mensah, our Judas, walks briskly ahead of us. She possesses eyes the shape of a frog’s, and her artificial braids which extend past her shoulder unto her back, looks at least a few weeks old. Occasionally she would stop, to warn us about the Waakye being sold here, or to kiss the cheek of an acquaintance she has just stumbled upon, or to point at something she thinks will make for a great photograph. It is easy for me to lose her in the crowd, or Flippa, who walks by my side, shooting away on his weapon – a gorgeous Canon he acquired only months ago.
“This has been the situation on the streets of Obomeng and surrounding areas since Good Friday,” she yells into my ear in an exhausted voice when I finally catch up with her. Yelling is the only way to communicate at a place like this. The music, which changes after every four feet, is deafening, and one is strongly advised against using a phone as it may be snatched by thieves. Every inch on either side of the street is taken up by a pub/night club, a food joint, a stall, dancers, parked cars, large speakers, police personnel, something!
I am fascinated by all the lights, and when she tells me that there were even bigger crowds yesterday and the day before, I am astounded. She notices the widening of my eyes and the O of my mouth, smiles and turns to walk. I catch myself and shut my mouth. Flippa takes a few more shots of a man with shrunken limbs who has attracted a small crowd with his shocking dance moves, and the DJ blasting out music behind him, and we all stop to buy pork a few paces ahead.
Where else can I compare this with? Maybe the Osu Oxford Street, maybe James Town during the Chale Wote Festival – except on a larger scale. Mensah likens this to nights in Las Vegas. The same rules apply: the town is awake at all times, and vice is prevalent because of the illusion that it’s a dependable “hideaway”. Finally, what happens in Kwahu (of course) stays in Kwahu…well except this essay.
Back in Accra – and days before the ‘pilgrimage’ – the Neoplan Lorry Park at the Nkrumah Circle in Ghana’s Central Business District recorded a similar sea of heads. A man picks up his fallen yoghurt, a woman walks briskly by the side of a young man drenched in so much alcohol; there is booze here and there. Easter, too is here. Kwahu is here. All over the station, there is fleet-footed mobile money activity; demand for everything Kwahu has gone up, supply is being met; something more than a regular scene is playing out. Of course it is Easter here, shaped by a three-hour traveling adventure that also involves a sudden intense fear of what lies ahead – climbing the ‘Kwahu Mountains’.
Easter in Kwahu is a phenomenon, and attracts thousands from across the country and beyond every year. The general narrative we picked around is this: it is a time set aside for natives to return home after long periods away due to work. Many families hold meetings, or engage in significant activities as weddings, etc.That may be so, but today, the annual ritual has taken on an enormous commercial scale. Kwahus are famous for their hard work and rare talent for industry. Many renowned traders in Kantamanto, spare parts dealers at Abossey Okai, and pharmaceutical distributers at Drug Lane, Okaishie, all trace their roots to these Eastern mountains.
Preparations for the April event commence as early as December of the previous year, especially with accommodation, as it is virtually impossible to make hotel reservations even in March, for they would have all have been taken up.
When the period nears, everybody gears up, and radio adverts typically start/end with a single refrain: “Kwahu ooooooo Kwahu!”
Like one taxi driver tells me with a broad smile, the weekend is all about fun. There’s paragliding on the mountains at Atibie, a string of concerts and jam sessions at popular spots, and music blasting from every household. This year, like previous years, top acts as Stonebwoy, Yaa Pono, Atom, Amakye Dede, Ofori Amponsah, and Bisa KDei all took to such places as the Obomeng High Street, and Nyarkoaba Nyako Hotel to thrill the many patrons present to great performances.
A beautiful town encircled by mountains, Kwahu offers brilliant landscapes especially at dawn, when mist hovers upon the hills like a canopy. The breeze is savoury by day, but bitingly cold at night. Fruits hang low on trees: cocoa, pear, pawpaw, oranges, banana can be plucked by merely stretching out a curious hand. Mansions (like tiger nuts) abound, serving as vacation homes and only being really occupied in April. It is important to reiterate the point about the sizes of these houses. Several times, I ask if they belong to chiefs or ordinary citizens. One such edifice, belonging to a certain Mr. Twum, is big enough to accommodate H.E Nana Akufo Addo and his entire presidential detail for the whole weekend. “Sɛ oyɛ sikani,” a dark middle-aged man says of this Twum, a proud glint in the corner of his eye. “He is a rich man,” he repeats with an extra confidence in his gentle voice, and adds: “There are many rich men in Kwahu.” I nod in agreement. On our way up Mr. Sammy Siaw’s house, our taxi driver points at buildings of business magnates: “This house belongs to Sikkens“, “this one belongs to Twum’s brother“, “that one is for the owner of SAMODAK“…
I am told that there is a subtle sense of competition among the people of these parts particularly with erecting family houses. Everyone looks to be the talk of the town when the debate comes up (and it does frequently). The fact that these buildings can match real estate anywhere in the world lends credence to this claim too.
Mr. Siaw’s house serves as our lodge while we are in Kwahu, and his son Kyere -Siaw, is very hospitable. The place is regular as compared to the ones we drive past to get here, but offers many rooms, a large cemented compound, pear and banana trees inside, and cocoa outside. Founder of Sammy and Sons (a spare parts dealership in Abosey Okai), he put up the house in 1986. The furniture in the parlour of the flat allocated to us is antique, but has been well-preserved over the years. In the corner of the parlour rests Mr. Sammy Siaw. He looks like an important person –the way he’s sitting. He wears a well-kempt afro, a serious look, and ahenemma on his feet. Though this beautifully framed photo of Mr. Sammy Siaw is in black-and-white, there is a striking presence about it…as though it has not been twenty years since he passed away. From a young age, Kyere – Siaw has visited this house during Easter, and that tradition has remained with him even after his father’s death.
Neighbourliness freely emanates from the Kwahu mountains, for we are happy recipients of this virtue from everybody –not just Kyere-Siaw. Monday morning is bright, and we set out into the very streets that welcomed us the night before. Smiling faces meet us everywhere we turn –from young people and older folk alike. We are offered water by strangers, and eager hands of warmth line up to assist us: with directions, interviews…
Again, everyone bears copious amounts of the history of the place beneath their cuticles. This acute sense of history is dying off in many parts of the country, but not in Kwahu. There’s widespread modernity, but the ethics and heritage upon which the town was founded are very much intact, and it is charming to behold. Music still blasts from a few speakers, but Obomeng is significantly quieter now. Canopies which have served as roofing for the five hundred make-shift pubs these past three days are swiftly being furled and loaded unto the buckets of waiting pickups. Plastic chairs and tables, sound systems, crates of empty glass bottles, lighting equipment and other party hardware are going too. Why is everybody leaving so hurriedly? Where are the throngs which shoved past us just last night? Apparently, to the beaches of Accra, for one last holiday act before being hauled back into the daunting realities of day jobs which come with the dawn of Tuesday, April 18.
When Tuesday arrives, Kwahu will resume it’s calmness, and the enormous mansions will only be occupied by old women taking care of older women. Kyere-Siaw will return to his McCarthy Hill residence, and his father will be left in the privacy of an empty sitting room till strangers besiege it in a year’s time.
The Easter period leaves Nkawkaw and its environs richer –and poorer. Business of any nature flourishes, and the reputation of the people extend farther and wider every year. That is good. That is very good. At the same time, associated vices are an inevitable byproduct of Kwahu oooo Kwahu. Elders lament the sinful clothes on display, and how easily casual coitus can be arranged. “Please mind your valuables. If possible, don’t carry your laptop”, “Thieves there are greatly skilled –they move in teams and are well- coordinated”, “keep your hands in your pocket at all times”, “do not wear earphones, they entice miscreants”, I was cautioned severely before I set foot in Kwahu. Being a nervous traveler, I pondered long over these phrases, and decided on the most trusted cliché of all in times like this: “better safe than sorry”. Brothers and sisters, I am happy to say I have returned in a single piece. But short Ofori bought brand new Adidas sneakers from a suspicious-looking youth for a suspiciously measly GHC 20, SK with the good voice was robbed of everything but his underwear, and Akutuase, I am told, witnesses brawls all the time.
Ultimately, Easter in Kwahu is a feast of collective national pride. The entire globe acknowledges the period as one to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Still, Kwahu has managed to make an exceptionally attractive brand from it, and its people have distinguished themselves as dependable custodians of this colossal pleasure experience –so that, no matter where one is in the world, he still looks forward to that trip up the mountains. Football brings the word’s attention to us. Our music an democracy make us a destination of international focus. And the experiences we curate with Easter jollification in Kwahu add to this, making us very much a Jerusalem too. A Mecca. Paris!
More images courtesy Eben Yanks/ ENEWSGH: