Apoo Festival: Celebrating unity and purification in western Ghana

Stories and facts

The Apoo Festival is an annual celebration held in the towns of Techiman and Wenchi in western Ghana. Taking place over a week in March and April, this vibrant festival aims to ritually purify participants of social evils, unite families, and strengthen community bonds through various traditional cultural activities. The term 'apoo' is derived from the root word 'po,' meaning 'to reject.'

The festival holds particular importance for the Bono people, who celebrate it with a rich array of cultural expressions. Techiman, a key city for the Bono people and kingdom, hosts a significant part of the festival. During the Apoo procession, participants exchange insults, proverbs, maxims, songs, and historical recountings of the Bono Kingdom, often directing their words towards the Ashanti, who historically conquered the Bono Empire.

According to oral tradition, the Apoo Festival originated during the reign of Nana Kwakye Ameyaw. As an authoritarian leader, he suppressed free expression among the people of Techiman. In response, they sought guidance from local gods, who instructed them to set aside days to freely express their sentiments, especially towards authorities. This period, known as “Mereko po me haw” or “I am going to say what was on my chest,” became the foundation for the Apoo Festival.

The festival's rituals aim to purify the people and their souls from evil through the airing of grievances. Preparations include women cleaning homes, utensils, and roads to prevent the return of evils. Local priests parade the streets before the festival, performing 'Nnusin-tuo' to destroy malicious charms hidden by evil spirits. Another important preliminary tradition is 'Hyereko,' where women collect white clay from the Aponkosu River to decorate local shrines and use during spiritual communions.

The festival officially begins with drums alerting the community, followed by a grand procession led by the Paramount Chief, village elders, secondary chiefs, and the court. During this procession, participants air grievances and criticize wrongdoings, with even the chief subject to critique. The event fosters reconciliation and the settlement of family feuds.

Early in the festival, the procession visits the grave of the last Bonohene, the traditional leader of the Bono people. Here, the Paramount Chief offers sheep and libations to ancestral spirits, while secondary chiefs and the 'banmuhene' (custodian of the Royal Graveyard) perform additional rituals. The sheep's blood is used in sacred rites, and the cooked meat is shared among elders and townsfolk.

The days following the procession are filled with festivities, including hosting kinsmen and guests, with lavish food and entertainment. Dancing is a vital component, with priests and priestesses donning raffia skirts called 'doso,' adorned with talismans and painted with white clay. They perform incantations to drive away evil spirits before dancing, sometimes holding swords and communicating with spirits through their movements.

On the Great Apoo Friday, elderly women parade through the streets at dawn, shaking rattles and singing traditional Apoo songs, an event nicknamed 'akokobonee' or 'cock-crowing.' People from surrounding villages join the celebrations, donning flamboyant and unusual outfits. The procession is marked by drumming, gongs, and rattles.

After parading through the town, participants gather in front of the 'ahenfie' (palace), where the Paramount Chief and his court take their seats. Greetings are exchanged, refreshments served, and the Chief delivers a speech on the festival's significance, giving thanks to ancestral spirits.

The festival concludes with the High Priest leading a procession to the riverside for customary rites. River water mixed with white clay and adwera leaves is sprinkled on the shrines and people using somme leaves. The shrines return to their sacred grove, and the people, singing Apoo songs, return to town, marking the end of the festival.

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