Kundum Festival: Celebrating harvest and expelling evil in Ahanta and Nzema communities

Stories and facts

The Kundum festival is a lively cultural celebration observed by the Ahanta and Nzema people in the Western region of Ghana. This festival expresses gratitude to God for the plentiful harvest during the harvest period.

One of the earliest documented accounts of the Kundum festival comes from the 17th century, recorded by the Dutch explorer Bosman who witnessed the festivities during his travels to the Gold Coast.

According to local folklore, the festival's origins trace back to a hunter named Akpoley. While on an expedition, Akpoley encountered dwarves dancing in a circle.

Fascinated by the dance, he brought it back to his community, where it became a central ritual. The dance is believed to expel evil spirits from towns and villages, and it is widely performed in Axim and neighboring areas by the Nzema and later adopted by the Ahantas.

The Kundum festival is both a harvest and religious event. Its commencement is traditionally linked to the ripening of a specific palm tree fruit. The celebration spans four weeks, with the initial three weeks featuring nocturnal drumming and dancing on the outskirts of towns at designated spots known as Siedu or Sienu. Each town within the Ahanta and Nzema paramountcy independently schedules the start of their local festival on a chosen Sunday.

The festival's core activities include dancing, drumming, and feasting. Participants don distinctive attire, footwear, and sometimes masks. Musicians begin the festivities by taking drums to five different shrines on the town's outskirts, where they make requests for the town's welfare and pour rum on the ground as a libation.

In the traditional four-week celebration, drummers practice and prepare in the outskirts during the first three weeks. No drumming or dancing occurs on the Monday of the fourth week. The ritual Kundum fire is lit at the chief’s palace and remains burning throughout the festivities, serving as a focal point and heat source for preparing the main festival meal.

On Tuesday, fowl or sheep sacrifices are made in the sacred stool room, where the stools of departed chiefs and elders are kept. These sacrifices are conducted privately by a select group, followed by a public fowl sacrifice in the courtyard. Singing commences on Tuesday, and by Wednesday, the chief joins the festivities, arriving on a palanquin amidst a parade of singing and drumming.

Each night, communal meals are shared, culminating in a grand feast on the final Sunday. Women, directed by elder women, prepare the food using the Kundum fire. The remainder of the week is devoted to ritualized Kundum dancing, with some dances designated for men, others for women, and some without gender distinctions. The dancing, which concludes in front of the castle in Axim, traditionally aims to drive out evil spirits and ensure another prosperous year for the community.

The Kundum festival remains a significant cultural event, blending gratitude, religious practices, and communal unity, thereby preserving the rich heritage of the Ahanta and Nzema people.

Explore the various festivals celebrated in Ghana below.

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