Without knowing exactly how, we find ourselves in a mess of those very African ones.
Frank, driver of the Tourism Authority of the Ghana, he had been instructed to drop us off at a strategic place on the parade but, at party time, the Cape Coast coastline was all over the place.
Despite the driver's desperate pleas, head out of the window or unceremoniously blowing the horn, ambushed by the crowd following the procession, the tinted-glass sedan barely moved.
Frank looks back in despair. I knew that it was anything but normal to leave us, there, without the guidance of our hosts, that day, to our own celebration.
We contemplate it for a moment. We do what we had to do. we were in Ghana for the first time. We had no idea what it would mean to get involved, with cameras around our necks, in such a euphoric mob.
Even so, we left the car refrigerated and dived into the river of people going down Kotokuraba Rd.
Delivered to the Frenzy of Fetu Afahye
During a first stretch, we progressed in a damp and sweaty grip. Soon, we approached the area of the course where many of the spectators had lined up on the side of the road. Many of the actors in the parade were already behind.
The vision of a bench shared by elders in gaudy traditional robes suggested it was a privileged place to stop. We catch our breath.
We soaked in the tropical sweat that drenched us. We looked for a harmless space and we were left to enjoy the frenzy, sometimes protocol, sometimes popular and gentile that flowed through that congested artery of the city, located 150km to the west of Accra capital.
Reclined on plastic chairs, protected from the cruel sun by a large scarlet sun hat with drooping brims, the elders of the Oguaa region (Cape Coast) enjoy successive shows with subdued enthusiasm.
Ecstatic Subjects Praising Tribal Chiefs
Character clans arise from upstream of the procession. Arriving in front of the stand, they exhibit their dances, rhythms, costumes, their traditional visuals and arts. They twirl the standard-bearing dancers of their regions.
And warriors are presented with tribal strings and necklaces dangling from muscled and bulging naked torsos over fringed vernacular skirts.
These massive warriors, with the air befitting of few friends, hold spears in both hands. They seem to support austerity and its excessive military weight.
Musicians also parade, players of large drums raised above the crowd by sacrificed chargers.
And duos or trios of trumpets and trombones that metalize the atmosphere with strange hypnotic melodies. Among the extras and performers, the casual popular participants continued, many of them equally or more motivated to shine.
Some danced for us in a deep trance, enraptured by the rhythm of the drums and the supernatural appeal of the gods. Others responded to the promptings of the unexpected duo of machine-at-arms outsiders.
They stopped. They stared at us, surprised and hesitant. Then, moved by the alcohol and the communal adrenaline of the event, they would rehearse the stylish poses of the stars of the occasion.
A Mystic and Ceremonial Festival
The Fetu Afahye festival has much more to say than the ostentation we found there. It starts, in fact, in a very contrasting way.
Its ceremonial opens weeks earlier, when Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, the Supreme Chief of the Oguua region, indulges in a week of confinement and conferences with the gods. During this period, dancing, drumming, noise and general festivity are prohibited in Cape Coast municipality.
The Fosu Lagoon, which tucks inland as a providential extension of the Gulf of Guinea and secures the natives with easy food, has fishing banned.
Your guardians (friendlies) carry out a purification ritual with the aim of scaring away evil spirits, praying for an abundance of fish and favorable harvests.
A particular date, Amuntumadeze, is set aside for the community to clean up its environment: collect garbage, unclog gutters, paint building facades and anything else that can contribute to the sanitation and beautification of the streets.
This concern comes from the trauma that the population of Oguua will have suffered even before the colonial period, when a withering plague decimated a good part of its inhabitants and they, in despair, prayed to the gods as never before.
The Religious Reaction to a Serious Disaster
The name of the event gained its origin there. “Fetu” is an adaptation of “finally you” which translates in the Fante dialect as “getting rid of dirt” or “getting rid of evil”.
A few days after the Amuntumadeze, the people flock to the lagoon where, at night, the priests and priestesses invoke the gods, accompanied by popular dances to the sound of drums.
Other rituals take place at a local shrine. Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II offers a drink to the gods and officially reopens the pond, casting a net three times himself. If the net catches a lot of fish, this is a sign of plentiful fishing and harvests in the coming year.
As the week draws to a close, more natives arrive from the Cape Coast area but also from far-flung parts of the country. Ghana.
The chiefs of Oguua welcome them, after which they meet in a diplomatic durbar with the purpose of resolving disputes that have been dragging on.
This is followed by a ceremony of summoning the ancestral spirits, the Bakatue ritual which involves solemn musket firing.
Finally, the sacrifice of a bull by Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II himself in honor of Nana Paprata – one of the pivotal Earth gods – validates the festive celebrations and the semi-crazy Saturday parade we continued to immerse ourselves in.
Back to the Restless Mob of Kotokuraba Road
We advanced and retreated on Kotokuraba Rd. in breathless pursuit of the procession's most eccentric motifs.
A huge open-mouthed black whale puppet is pushed by participants from one of the asafos, the military organizations of the Ghanaian fante ethnic subgroup that contribute to the security and peace of the traditional area of Oguua: the Bentsir, the Anaafo, the Ntsin, the Nkum, Abrofomba, Akrampa and Amanful.
The migration on wheels of that replica of a cetacean down the street exposed to the Cape Coast community, the strength of the military company that adopted it as a symbol and the historical concept that, no matter how much technological evolution man reaches, the natural world will always be more powerful than the human.
The procession is also animated by the gaudy passages of chiefs from different Ghanaian regions. They appear wrapped in exuberant noble costumes: crowns, bracelets, huge gold rings, lustrous fabrics and other equally or more showy adornments.
They greet the people from the top of their sovereignty, lying on shaped palanquins somewhere between sofas and bathtubs, which dozens of subjects hold in the air.
The populace exalts with the proximity of the leaders. They call out the diminutives of their long dynastic names and wave handkerchiefs or t-shirts rolled back in gratitude.
All this commotion reaches a very audible peak with the arrival on stage of the current Omanhen Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, as it is supposed, sumptuous and majestic in double, and, for parading at home and being the supreme, much more praised than his peers.
Cape Coast chiefs have not always been able to expose their power in this way, control their destiny and that of their people, or provide them with the beloved Fetu Afahye.
Missionaries vs Local Beliefs, A Lasting Confrontation
From the end of the XNUMXth century, the European colonial powers succeeded in controlling this part of the African coast of the Gulf of Guinea, in the gold trade and, soon, in slaves that they rushed to exploit.
In 1482, the Portuguese founded the fort of Saint George of Mina, just over 10 km from where we were and, at the same time, its profitable colony of the Gold Coast.
Over the centuries, other forts and entrepots followed, some from less-expected and notorious occupying nations in Africa, such as Sweden and Denmark.
During this period of intense European rivalry, Cape Coast colonial authorities began to regard Fetu Afahye as something of a Black Christmas, an evil traditional celebration that compromised Christian values brought over from the Old World. They banned him for a long time.
The festival would only resume after the contestation of several leaders and priests of the Traditional Region of Oguua. In 1948, just nine years before the Ghanaian declaration of independence from British rule.
Towards the other end of Kotokuraba Rd.
The Fetu Afahye's sabbatical procession proceeded without pause or leniency.
At one point, with the sensation of vertigo given by a troupe of acrobats on stilts, who walked above the passers-by and stopped to chat with the spectators on the highest balconies along the route.
We were approaching the southern end of the road, Chapel Square and the Chief's Palace where the parade was supposed to end. Before that, he even crossed a square that became an ephemeral street party animated by a stall that played loud music and seduced casual dancers to stardom.
There we were amazed by a fishmonger who writhed with incredible African grace without ever dropping the tray balanced on her head.
The procession reaches the ultimate intricacies. We wind down Royal Lane and arrive at Victoria Park, the pre-determined site for the new Durbar, the official closing celebration that brings the chiefs together again.
The End of the Festival gives way to the Celebration of the Night
The action gives way to a thorough protocol full of diplomacy and voiceover. Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II circulates with pomp, receiving greetings and greetings from visitors. Then he sits down and welcomes the guest speaker.
Omanhen and his chiefs return the guest speaker's congratulations, and then the supreme chief of Ouguua inaugurates what is the most highly regarded of speeches.
The verbal battle still has a final response from the guest speaker. Finally – much to the relief of many of those present – the Asafo companies take the lead and, with their acrobatics, close the Durbar.
The crowd flocks to the different nighttime party spots scattered around. A more patient nucleus precedes the bohemian pilgrimage to Cape Coast Castle, another of the strong slavers erected by Europeans on the coast of the Ghana, this one by the Swedish opportunists. We join this pilgrimage.
After we have already visited the de Saint George of Mina, we learned, there, how dramatic the period of the slave trade that devastated the Ghanaian nation proved to be. From the top of its walls, we are dazzled by the color and vigor of the traditional fishing fleet that fills much of the sand of the adjoining inlet.
Inland, from the city's coastline to its core, Cape Coast rejoiced in spirituality and freedom. And he got inebriated at the time of the closing of his Fetu Afahye.
More information about the Fetu Afahye Festival, on the respective page of Wikipedia.