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INTRODUCTION

African Indigenous Religion, like other world religions, is the way of life of Africans since it permeates into their daily activities as well as their social lives; and the Ga of Ghana are no exception. In view of this, my focus in this discourse shall be on the religious belief system and cultural practices of the Ga people. Here, I shall examine the doctrine of the Kpele cult – the religion of the Ga people, as well as their cultural norms and practices.

 KPELE: RELIGION OF THE GA PEOPLE

The contemporary Ga, who speaks a Kwa dialect: one of the sub-languages of the Niger-Congo language family, are an ethnically and culturally diversified people. According to Kilson, “Their cultural heterogeneity arises from a variety of factors which include penetrable natural boundaries; the entrepreneurial role of the Ga in prehistoric and historic times; the Akwamu domination of Ga society during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the location of the centre of colonial and later national authority and international commercial activities of Accra.”

These she attributed to the fact that the Ga perceived their cultural heritage as unique and distinct from other Ghanaian cultures. Even though, much of contemporary Ga culture may owe its richness to contacts with other African nationals: and not to say the least, to that of Europeans during the past three centuries. These contacts, they assume not to be limited to the exchange of ideas and customs, but also believed that the impacts of these interactions are reflected conspicuously, in their political and religious institutions.

This view is also shared by Field (1937), who was of the opinion that the polytheistic nature of Ga religion and their habit of toleration, and consideration for other people’s gods gave impetus to such amalgamations. To support these assertions, Kilson further argued that with respect to religious institutions, three of the four major traditional cults practiced by contemporary Ga are non-Ga in origin.

For example, “me is an Adangbe cult, otu and akong are Akan cults. Kpele, the fourth cult is believed to be the indigenous Ga religious system.” A religious system, whose level of linguistic usage has been influenced by the mixture of Akan, Adangbe and Guan words, which appear in the liturgies of both the eastern and western Ga people.

DOCTRINE OF THE KPELE RELIGION

Kpele is an ancient religion that the Ga kroŋ considers as the religion of their ancestors: a religious belief system, which fundamental theology and doctrine is the systematic conception of the ordering of the universe. A doctrine, which Kilson opined, validates the cult’s activities insofar as certain rituals are thought to be necessary to maintain and restore orderly relations within the universe.

Indeed, the fundamental concept of the Kpele doctrine has the taxonomy of the hierarchy of beings made up of a Supreme Being, divine beings, human beings, animals and plant as its principal teaching. These groups of beings according to Kilson are classified, based on their four distinctive characteristics that set them apart for one another, namely: creative/created, immortal/mortal, rational/irrational, and mobile/immobile.

THE SUPREME BEING

In her analysis of the classification of the above named characteristics of beings as found in the Kpele doctrine, Kilson argued that the creative powers of the Supreme Being distinguishes it from all other classes of beings, while the perceived immortality of the gods or divine beings differentiates them from all other creations. Moreover, the rationality of human beings sets them apart from both plants and animal, and the mobility of animals distinguishes them from plants.

Thus, at the apex of the Ga religious belief system is the Supreme Being: a personified creative life force that the Ga has termed Ataa Naa Nyongmọ. An indication of the importance that the Ga attaches to the attributes of this personified life giving force: for in daily usage, Ataa is a term that means father, provider or protector based on the context in which it is being applied. In this context, however, the usage of the term has a different connotation.

Since indigenous exegesis of the name Ataa Naa Nyongmọ has been interpreted to mean taolọ naanọ nyoongmọ (seeker, eternal, nocturnal being). A notion considered by the Ga, which suggests that Ataa Naa Nyongmọ is an eternal, nocturnal being; creator of the universe, who seeks and care for all his creations.

However, another aspect of the exegetical commentary indicates that Ataa Naa Nyongmọ nurture his creations through the provision of sustenance from the bounties of the earth, as a mother does for her offspring. Thus, in Kpele thought, the bisexual nature of the Supreme Being is acknowledged in the belief that Ataa Naa Nyongmọ not only created the universe in the distance past, but also continues to be the source of all forms of life in the present.

This conception is expressed in the following Kpele song:

Nyongmọ Adu AkwaGod

Lε dzi okua agbo lε;  He is the great farmer.  

Lε ebọ dzeng;  He created the world; 

Ni eha anyieọ mliŋ ahi.  And He gave it to them to live in.

As lyrics of the above Kpele song imply, the Ga believe that human beings not only depend on Ataa Naa Nyongmọ for their existence, but also for their means of sustenance and the perpetuation of life on earth.

DIVINE BEINGS

The second aspect of the doctrine of the Kpele religion is the belief in divine beings or spirits of nature (dzemànwọdzi). According to Kpele teachings, these are sky-dwelling spirits associated with certain topographical features such as the ocean, lagoons, rivers, mountains, etc: which are thought to be the natural habitation or places of descent for these dzemànwọdzi. Of course, these terrestrial beings not only manifest themselves in these topographical features, but also more often than not, do manifest themselves in human forms or may speak directly to the people through mediums such as Wọŋtśεmεi (traditional priests and priestesses).

Consequently, the Ga regard the dzemànwọdzi as intercessors or mediators between humanity and Ataa Naa Nyongmọ for the protection and blessing of the living, and the future generation of the Ga people. Whereas, the dzemànwọdzi are believed to be the most important intermediaries in the affairs of the Ga, ancestral shades on the other hand, equally play an important role in the lives of their descendants by liaising between them and the dzemànwọdzi when the need arise.

Field (1937), researching into the religious belief system of the Ga was of the opinion that an idea common in West Africa, but foreign to them is the worship of fetish, and that the typical Ga high priests (Wọlọmεi) have no fetishes (wọdziŋ) in their shrines (gbatsui) and therefore are not fetish priests. She emphasized that these Wọlọmεi are servants of the dzemànwọdzi who interpret the will of these divine beings, through the medium of wọŋyei to the people.

Moreover, she tried to differentiate between a fetish (wọŋ) and a deity (dzemànwọŋ), by giving the definition of the latter as understood by the Ga people. In her opinion, the word that the Ga translate into a deity is dzemànwọŋ (divine being or spirit of nature that moves around the world and the towns) and therefore concluded that a wọŋ “is anything that can work but not be seen and include smaller beings of specialized and limited activity associated with medicines and magic”.

While a dzemànwọŋ on the other hand, is regarded as a powerful type of intelligent wọŋ (deity) not only specialized in its activities, but also equally omnipotent and omniscient though not limited to any particular locality. For these and other reasons, the Wọlọmεi do believe that direct communication with the Supreme Being is not possible since He is Invisible, Omnipotent as well as Immortal.

This in their opinion, can only be achieved through the mediation or intercession of the dzemànwọdzi (deities/spirits of nature) believed to be intermediaries or messengers of God with earthly features. For example, deities such as Sakumọ (Tema), Sakumọ fio (Accra), Kọrle (Accra), Klọte (Osu), are residents of rivers and lakes; Gbọbu (Nungua) in a hallowed grove, while Nai and Trotroe (Accra) are spirits of the sea.

Thus, as illustrated in the Ga belief in the Supreme Being – Ataa Naanọ Nyongmọ/Atta Naa Nyongmọ; Creator of the world, Invisible, Omnipotent and Immortal, there are about similar beliefs expressed in the intercession of the dzemànwọdzi who are regarded as Nyongmọ tsulọi (messengers of God), and in this case are referred to anthropomorphically as Klewi. Thus indicating the mysterious relationship between God and humanity, as expressed in the following Kpele song:

Atẹ Nyampong baana;  Father God will see;

Klewi baana.  Klewi will see.

This is an assertion that has been given credence by Reindorf (1897) who had earlier on argued that, “The Ga worship must be of foreign origin. As there is no African nation or tribe ever known to have advanced in their religious views as the Akrahs, one is inclined to suppose that the Jewish system of worship has been earlier on introduced or imitated from the people who came out first to this coast.”

On these bases, the Kpele worship of the Supreme Being through the intercession of the dzemànwọdzi as indicated earlier on by both Kilson and Field may be compared to the angels of God, which appeared to Moses, Abraham, Joshua and other leaders of the Israelites.

In corroborating these assertions, Henderson-Quartey noted that the Ga sharing of similar religious beliefs and cultural practices with the Hebrews could be traced to the Semitic people. Especially, Jews and Arabs in their encounter with most Africans believed to have originated from the southern Sudan and the Niger plateau region.

He further argued that traditional Ga religion and culture fundamentally differs from the Fante, Twi and many others systems in Ghana. This is because investigations conducted into Ga religious belief system and cultural practices from oral sources have revealed some similarities between the two cultures and religious traditions.

Prominent among some European researchers who conducted these investigations were scholars/authors such as Bosman, Barbot and Cruickshank. Their findings have confirmed as well as commented on the semblances between Ga religious beliefs and cultural practices, and that of the pre-Christian Jews.

ANCESTRAL SHADES

In order to understand and fully appreciate the role of the ancestral shades in the Kpele doctrine, one needs to examine the concept of a human being (gbọmọ adesa) from the Ga perspective. According to Kilson, the Ga believe that all persons (adesai) have two aspects of humanity namely, the corporeal and the spiritual: and that in the mortal life of everyone, the soul (susuma) inhabits the body (gbọmọ tśo) except during sleep, when it leaves the body and travels about without being limited by time or space.

However, at physiological death, the soul (susuma) is believe to remain in the body for three days, after which it vacates or abandons the body to wander about, until burial and the performance of final funeral rites (faafo). It is therefore, at this stage, that the souls of the deceased persons achieve their ultimate social status as ancestral shades (sisai/nsamantanŋi), in the underworld or “dead person’s world” (gbohii adzeng).

Nevertheless, the Ga firmly believe that the ancestral shades continue after death to show much concern in the affairs of their living descendants, due to the blood relationship which a person derives from both parents at birth and which affiliate one with individuals and groups (we kui) in the Ga society

As a result, ancestral shades may sometimes manifest themselves to the living in human forms or through dreams. Moreover, their spiritual presence may sometimes be invoked to assist the living during periods of crisis or calamities. On this basis, the role of the ancestral shades in the Kpele doctrine cannot be underestimated, since they not only act as guardians of the welfare of their living kith and kin, but also serve as the custodians of Ga culture. A culture firmly established by the founding fathers of the Ga State.

This latter aspect of the Ga belief is particularly relevant to the Kpele religious system for the fact that it is the embodiment of Ga traditions, which achieves its authority through the enactment of customs established by their predecessors. Thus, the role of ancestral shades as embodied in Ga customs and traditions in general; and the Kpele worship in particular, are expressed in the verbal form of Kpele ritual prayers in the following words:

Tśwa, tśwa, tśwa.   Hail, hail, hail.

Manye aba!   Let happiness come.

Wọgbèi kome?   Are our voices one?

Ngmεnε ashi mέ?    What is today?

Ngmεnε ashi họgba.   Today is Sunday.  

Niimεi ahọgba.   Grandfathers Sunday.   

Naamεi ahọgba.   Grandmothers Sunday.

This form of prayer expresses the importance that the ancestors attached to the unity of the Ga people and some specific days of the week during their existence on earth. Days set aside for the benefit of both humanity and nature in the form of rejuvenation after human activities, and for the regeneration and reproduction of flora and fauna. As well as, unity that translates into harmony, cohesion, peace and tranquillity for the development of the Ga State.

Others can be found in Kpele ritual songs, which express the importance of Ga cultural practices to the contemporary generation of Ga people as seen in the lyrics of this song:

Ataamέi shi ha wọ.   Ancestors left it to us.

Tśεmέi shi ha wọ.    Fathers left it to us.

Thus, the belief in the role of the ancestors as founders and custodians of Ga culture and Kpele religious belief system as substantiated in the above Kpele song, is the authority for contemporary Kpele rites: based on the precedents that they have established in the Kpele religion and Ga cultural practices of the distant past.

HUMANITY, ANIMALS AND PLANTS

Finally, the Kpele doctrine teaches that though animals and plants like human beings may wither and die, humanity is quite different from these two species; since human beings have the capacity to reason, hence the Ga expression (dzwεŋnmọ dzi gbọmọ) meaning “the mind is the person”. This is deduced from the fact that, the rationality of humanity enables them to coordinate their social and moral existence: especially, their sexuality on which the procreation of humanity depends for the survival of the human race on earth.

In view of this, the Kpele doctrine has utilized the concept of the taxonomy in the hierarchy of beings in explaining the relationship between the Supreme Being, divine beings, humanity, animals and plants. A relationship based on the dependency of each class of beings within the hierarchy, to promote peace and harmony within the universe.

Furthermore, this explains the Ga belief that all creations depend on the Supreme Being (Taolọ naanọ nyoongmọ/Ataa Naa Nyongmọ) for their existence, sustenance and security. Hence, the Ga axioms, Nyongmọ gbeọ ni wọ yeọ (God slaughters and we eat), Nyongmọ dzi wala tśε (God is the owner of life), Nyongmọ dzi wọ hiε nọ kamọ (God is our hope), etc.

TAXONOMY AND FORM IN KPELE RITUALS

Having said that, I wish to state categorically that with regard to all religious faiths the world over there are some basic principles and practices which are fundamental; and therefore, such rites or rituals are obligatory to their followers or adherents. Hence, African Indigenous Religion, which is an integral part in the lives of the people is no exception to this rule. Rather, such practices are the main features found in the religious observations of most African communities throughout the continent.

Indeed, since the fundamental aim of the Ga religion is to harmonize the relationship between the Supreme Being and humanity through the intercession of divine beings and ancestral shades, Kpele rituals are performed by cult groups, each of which is responsible for the performance of the rituals associated with a specific dzemànwọdzi (deity).

Of course, cognatic kin units (we kui) associated with the dzemànwọŋ (deity) of a particular Kpele cult determines membership into the group. However, these are restricted to the Gamεi kroŋ (true Ga) families of the Ga society who are the custodians of these dzemànwọdzi, and whose prerogative is to perform, as well as observe all rituals and worships associated with the cult as for example, in the case of Kpakpatsewe Royal Family and the Gua deity.

According to Kilson (1970), although theoretically, all members of such cognatic groups are automatic members of these Kpele cults, responsibilities for the performance of rituals are entrusted to two categories of ritual specialists: a Wọlọmọ (high priest) and a wọŋ yoo (female medium). Indeed, in the Ga customs and traditions just like the Hebrews, the priesthood is a hereditary office where a person is selected by the elders of a particular household (We) or in some cases by the dzemànwọdzi themselves.

Besides, since the office of a Wọlọmọ is a lifetime occupation, due diligence is done by these elders in selecting a chaste and an unmarried young man after a thorough vetting and examination of the proposed candidate. As already discussed in the taxonomy of the hierarchy of beings, at the apex of Kpele doctrine is the Supreme Being who is creative, immortal, rational and mobile: the source of life and controller of the natural processes in the universe of his creations.

In view of these attributes and other reasons, the Ga believe that contact cannot directly be made with Him. Rather, relationship between Him and humanity must be channeled through the mediation of the dzemànwọdzi and ancestral shades. Consequently, humanity may appeal directly to the dzemànwọdzi and thereby to the Supreme Being through libation during prayers.

While at the same time, ancestral shades may act or serve as intermediaries between their living descendants and the dzemànwọdzi in the time of crisis or calamities. Although, animals and plants formed part of the taxonomical hierarchy of beings in the Kpele doctrine, not much exegetical commentaries have been made about them. Except for the anthropomorphic utilization of these non-human classes of beings as analogues of human existence in some of the Kpele songs, as for example stated in one of the songs “wuọ nuu looflọ shishi” meaning, a domestic fowl does not understand a wild bird.

LIBATION IN KPELE RITUALS

The act of offering prayer through libation has been an integral part of the African culture, and since religion as already stated is the way of life of African, libation play an important role in the daily activities of the people. As a result, libation forms the core of Kpele rituals since it is the vehicle through which both the dzemànwọdzi and ancestral shades are summoned during prayers and worship, to serve as mediums for the supplications offered to the Supreme Being.

Kilson in her analysis of the ritual act of libation among the Ga stated that “Libation involves two actions: one verbal, the other non-verbal. These actions according to her are performed sequentially; a priest prays before he libates. Sometimes a number of such sequences of ritual actions may comprise a single act of libation.” She further posited that, libation prayer consisted of three successive elements which are the invocation of divine beings and ancestral shades; explanation for the summons; and supplications to the divine beings.

Even though, the form and approach to libation prayer is constant, the length, content and context may vary depending on the intentions or reasons for the invocations and supplications as well as the ritual knowledge of the supplicant. Consequently, the performance of certain rituals and prayers are the prerogative of ritual specialists who are conversant with the rules of these acts.

Libation prayers among the Ga, therefore, elucidate certain ideas about the Kpele doctrine, which recur in every prayer irrespective of the supplicant or occasion. This is reflected in the summons and invocations of the three categories of immortal beings by the supplicant to come to the aid of the community or individual; among whom are, Ataa Naanọ Nyongmọ, dzemànwọdzi and sisai/nsamantanŋi. This in my view is based on the taxonomical structure of the hierarchy of beings as discussed earlier on.

An assertion corroborated by Kilson in her differentiation of the method and approach adopted by ritual officiants (Wọlọmεi, Mantsεmεi, Wekuu Nkpai, etc), when gods and ancestors are invoked; as against when the Supreme Being and other major deities are summoned during libation prayer and worship.Thus, in Kpele religious thought, libation prayers contained three formal elements namely: invocation, prayer or supplication and libation.

VERBAL FORM OF LIBATION PRAYER

The first part of the libation prayer which is verbal, comprise of the invocation of the Supreme Being through the appellations of His various attributes such as His bisexuality (Ataa, Naa i.e. Father, Mother). His role as Creator of the universe, Provider for the needs of His creations, Sustainer of life and the only One who gives Divine guidance to humanity through His messengers (dzemànwọdzi). These ideas are explicitly expressed in the following Kpele prayer text:

Ofe Nyongmọ nibọ ngwei kε shikpong kε shikpong nọ tśei kε tεi, fai kε godzii, nudzii kε nibii krokomεi. Sεε mliŋ ni ebọ adesai, ni eto adsai adeng kε tsọ nonọ ni eha Ga hu bọfo…………..

Tśε Nyongmọ Mãwu, nọni ogblenaa lε no dzi nọni wọbaa nye wọtsu. Nọni ofèè ko daŋ lε, wọ nyeng he noko wọ fè, ni nọni otshiko taŋ lε, wọnye henii wọtsu.

This translates as follows:

Almighty God who created the sky and earth and on earth trees and stones, rivers and mountains, valleys and other things. Afterwards He created human beings and He put all things into the hands of men and through this He also gave Ga a messenger (i.e. Sakumọ)………..

Father God, what you have opened that is what we will be able to perform. What you have not done before, we cannot do anything about it, and what you have not mentioned, we cannot perform.

The second category of beings invoked in the course of the prayer are the dzemànwọdzi (divine beings) which is illustrated in the second part of the prayer as can be observed in the following supplication:

Nii/Nuumo Sakumọ;  Grandfather/old man Sakumọ;

Klọọte kotobridza akotobri;  Great, great Sakumọ;

Odai wọmu oye;   Sakumọ, it is good you are present;

Afite osaa;  They destroy and you repair;

Abuo Tete ke tśei;  when Sakumọ is called, he answers;

Ọnyanku afle;  one whom one calls when in danger;

Oku ama Nkran.  you kill for Ga;

Tete yee, tete yee;   Sakumọ senior, yes; Sakumọ junior, yes;

Angula sro, Ashanti sro.   Ewe fear you, Ashanti fear you.

These appellations showed the awe and reverence that the Ga hold for the immortal beings i.e. the deities. While believing that Ataa Naanọ Nyongmọ assists humanity, especially the Ga, through the dzemànwọdzi when the need arise. Indeed, the maintenance and restoration of harmonious relationship between immortal beings and humanity depend to some extent on the performance of rituals whereby the latter reaffirm their subordinate status in the taxonomical structure of the hierarchy of beings as well as acknowledge their dependence on the super-ordinate beings.

NON-VERBAL FORM OF LIBATION PRAYER

In the non-verbal aspect of the libation prayer, water, corn wine (nŋmaa daa) or alcoholic beverages play an important role in summoning the dzemànwọdzi and sisai/nsamantanŋi as a means of establishing contractual relationship between mortal men and immortals spirits. Through this act, the Ga believe that immortal spirits can be manipulated to perform the tasks that has been addressed to them, for the onward transmission to the Supreme Being.

While at the same time, it is believed that by accepting the offering of the above named items, immortal spirits not only sanction the actions of the Ga, but also acknowledge their responsibilities towards them. Libation, therefore, in Kpele rituals is a sacrificial act and communion, which seeks to emphasize the taxonomy of the hierarchy of beings in order to validate and ensure the success of the rites, which are performed.

Here, instead of sacrificial animals and in some cases human beings that are immolated for the propitiation of immortal beings, the offering of water, nŋmaa daa and liquor are symbolically annihilated by being poured on the ground. Thus, libation emphasizes the communion between the taxonomical structures of the hierarchy of beings; both mortal and immortal, whose cooperation is essential for the existence and prosperity of humanity.

TWIN CULTS AND WORSHIP AMONG THE GA

Furtherance to the taxonomical structure of the hierarchy of beings in the Kpele doctrine, Kilson in researching into the phenomenon of twin births among the Ga, was of the view that the Ga believe twins (haadzii) are human beings associated with certain sky dwelling spirits. In order to fully comprehend and appreciate the Ga belief about twin births, one needs to analyse the Kpele doctrine to grasp its fundamental teachings: the taxonomical conception of the hierarchy of beings.

A doctrine, which teaches that both mortal and immortal beings, depends on one another for the harmonization of the universe, and the prosperity of humankind. In this regard, twin births among the Ga are seen as desirable anomalies, which resulted from the parents’ unusual reproductive powers and at the same time; a gift from the Supreme Being.

Expatiating further on this phenomenon, Kilson averred, “the Ga believed that for every pair of human twins born on earth, there are corresponding pair of spirits in sky, which are the bush cow (wuo) spirits.” This belief may be attributed to the conception of the hierarchy of beings in the Kpele doctrine, due to the fact that next to human beings, animals play an important role in the survival of humankind on earth since they serve as food and beasts of burden.

To the Ga, therefore, although the bush cow spirits are sky dwelling beings they sometimes descend to the earth and become localized in human beings, other animals and plants; either by their own volition or through human intention. Indeed, the belief of the existential nature of the bush cow spirit explains in large measures the rituals surrounding twin births in Ga culture. The bush cow, a ferocious and wild forest dwelling animal that attack other creatures and objects with its horns.

This animal is believed to be gregarious, travel in groups and enjoy bathing in ponds. Above all, its spirits is believed to cleanse the yam (yεlε) crops, of any inherent mystical dangers. Thus, the birth of human twins or multiple births are a source of joy among the Ga who believe that there is strength in numbers.

Moreover, such births are believed to be gifts from the Supreme Being, which must be handled with all the care that it deserves. For these, and other reasons as explained earlier on, elders of the patriarchal family consult a medium of a Kpele cult who invoke the twins spirits to determine whether they wished to be worshipped or not.

When the latter is determined, arrangements are made for the construction of a twins’ shrine (kodziŋ) which are kept in their home. This shrine consists of a small hand woven raffia purse (flọtọ), a pair of bush cow horns (kodziŋ), a bottle of Schnapps, a small ceramic plate and a piece of kaolin (ayεlọ), which are all kept in a tray or wooden bowl (tsese) and covered with white cloth. The most important objects in the shrine according to Kilson, is the pair of bush cow horns that are procured for the twins. Since as human beings, they lack the natural horns of their counterparts: the bush cow spirits.

Furthermore, it is belief of the Ga that since the spiritual powers of the terrestrial twin spirits are localized in the bush cow horns, mortal twins equally derive and exert their powers (hewalε) through the replicated horns. Consequently, twins are feared among the Ga because, when angry, they may beat their horns to invoke and thereby localize the twin spirits in the horns and through these spirits to cause sickness; if not death, to those who have incurred their wrath.

On the contrary, Field (1937) having researched into the rites performed during childhood of special children among the Ga earlier on, held an entirely different view from that of Kilson. In analyzing her findings she posited that, the cult of twins which is one of the yam-eating cults are connected with animal worship, and that twins are supposed to have ‘the same spirit’ as the wuo, a very savage kind of wild cow.

She contended that, “When the twins are a week old, in addition to their ordinary naming ceremony, each receives a little clay pot which is embedded in a little clay platform outside the house.  Offerings of herbs, rum, cowries, money, are put into these pots, and chickens are killed and the blood sprinkled on them…When the twins are a few months old, and had evidently ‘come to stay’, the pots are exchanged for a pair of wuo horns.”

However, in my opinion, even though there may be variations in the findings of both researchers, the performance of certain religio-cultural rites may vary depending on the locality as can be seen in the celebration of the annual Họmọwọ festival among the various Ga groups. For example, while the Wọ Sagba of Ga Mashie and Osu celebrate the Họmọwọ with the satirical Oshii dzo as a side attraction, the Wọ Doku of La and Teshie have the Kpã Shimọ or La Kpã Yo Kpèèmọ with śakamọ the ceremonial embracing of the opposite sex as a special feature of the celebration.

On the other hand, while the Wọ Krowor of Nungua performs the Obeneshimọ after the Họmọwọ celebration, the Wọ Kpele of Tema performs the Kpeledzo before the annual agricultural harvest festival of the Ga society. Again, we do agree with Field on her assertion that twin cults are basically, yam-eating cults, associated with animal worshipping tribes such as the who were believed to be the shikwέbii of La, Tema, Nungua and Kpone. These aboriginal tribes were worshippers of the snake, leopard and hyena who were assimilated by the Adangbe and Lashbii.

Consequently, it is not surprising that the Ga adopted the twin cult and worship as part of their cultural heritage due to their consideration and tolerance for other people’s religious beliefs and practices that preserves human life and dignity. Hence the Ga axiom, Ablé kuu aba kuma wọ: literally meaning, “let a good and abundant harvest of corn be our lot.”

In other words, all manner of persons are acceptable to, and welcomed by the Ga as neighbours, provided they live in peace with them. Of course, the Ga consider themselves as affable people with open heart that embraces everyone irrespective of race, colour, gender, religion or creed without any form of discrimination.

This can be seen from the composition of the various Ga communities in the Greater Accra region. Hence, the twin worship ceremony formed the prelude to the celebration of the annual Họmọwọ festival after the lifting of the ban on drumming and noise making in all the major Ga towns, especially, Ga Mashie. Thus, though twins may be notoriously capricious and difficult to nurture, their parents are always proud of them. Additionally, they are regarded as divine beings that never bring misfortune to their families when treated with tender care and loving kindness, but rather, blessings and prosperity.

GA CULTURAL PRACTICES (RITES OF PASSAGE)

The supposed Hebraic origin of Ga religious beliefs and cultural practices are illustrated by some rites of passage practices among which are the kpojiemọ (naming ceremony) performed on the eight day for all newly born babies irrespective of gender, and the circumcision of the male child (hii aniŋ/ketia) after the kpojiemọ rituals (Gen. 17: 9-14).

Amartey (1991) corroborated these assertions when he noted that the Ga group, who were exposed to the Israelites in the land of Goshen due to their common habitation and social status, assimilated some aspects of their culture through intermarriages and acculturation. Moreover, he discussed the patriarchal naming of the Ga kroŋ and argued that this system is based on the family or clan names for easy identification, in addition to the inheritance and succession, as found in the Ga social organizational structures.

However, Kilson (1974) in analyzing the Ga customs and traditional ceremonial rites of passage observed, “The aim of the cycle of life crisis ceremonies is based on the physiological development of the human organism……each ceremony defines an individual as a member of a bio-social category and failure to observe a ceremony entails mystical and practical sanction.”

She further argued that five major ritual ceremonies marked the social transitions during the life span of every Ga person, who live up to adulthood. These ceremonies, which comprise of kpodziemọ (naming rite) among others, transforms an eight-day-old child from a biological fetal nonentity into a Ga person. Based on this, an infant who dies before the naming ceremony is performed is not considered a social being and for this reason, its mother does not achieve the respected social status of motherhood, which reflects in the use of a family/clan name: for example, Kpakpanye.

Another ceremony that she laid much emphasis on is the hiianii (men’s thing) – the circumcision of all male children, which has to be performed at any time after the kpodziemọ, and or before the age ten. This ritual masculinizes the boys and at the same time, differentiates the Ga from other ethnic groups on the West Coast of Africa.

Other rites of passage ceremonies in her estimation are the physiological puberty rites (dzengniŋ) performed for both genders, and which marked the transition from immaturity to maturity. The performance of which signify the purification and preparation for the assumption of the adulthood role of marriage, parentage and other social responsibilities.

Without which a person may be branded ‘immoral and stupid’ thereby being denied ancestral status after death. One other important bio-social transition to Kilson is that of marriage, which constitutes a major change in the process of maturation for both men and women in the Ga customs and traditional life cycle.

Indeed, the institution of a first marriage is contracted by two sets of ceremonies namely: shibimọ (betrothal) and yoo kpèèmọ (wedding) rites. On the issue of betrothal, Kilson observed that “It involve the transfer of goods from the groom’s kin to the bride’s family, which establishes the groom’s exclusive rights to the bride’s sexuality and his kindred’s right to her reproductive capacity.” Thus, the formal wedding, which entails a week of merriment and feasting, transfers the bride to the groom’s family and ends with a blessing at the shrine of Nai: the senior Kpele deity in Accra, at the Nai We.

However, as it is with all human existence and life transitions, the funerary rites marked the end of all rites of passage. In the Ga customs and traditions, certain conceptions of humanity are relevant in the life of every person. In accordance with that, the Ga believes that a person has two aspects of humanity namely: a body and a soul.

In view of this, while the body is believed to have only temporary existence; the susuma (soul) has eternal life, though its association with the body is limited. Thus, it is believed that every soul has a predetermined length of human existence, and when it leaves the body, it wanders about ‘nobody knows where’ until the performance of the final funeral rites (faafo) has been completed.

This aspect of the Ga funerary observation according to Henderson-Quartey has the semblance to that of the Hebrews practices. He observed that at death and mourning, burial rituals such as kotśa gbamọ (separation of sponge) which signifies the separation of the dead from the living as against that performed by the Jewish special group; the Hevra Kaddishah (Sacred Society), formed part of the Ga cultural practices.

These rituals are strong indications of the belief in the after-life. For, to both the Ga and the Jews, death is the separation of the body from its life giving force: the soul, and the continuation of life in the hereafter. Thus, the after-death treatment of the body is a strong indication not only in the belief of the sanctity of life, but also in the equality of all humanity and the mutual responsibility entrusted to all families and friends in times of bereavements.

KPELE AGRICULTURAL RITES AND FESTIVALS

One of the major occupations among the Ga is agriculture, since it plays an important role in their livelihood, as no family is without agricultural or fishing interest in one or any of the villages of the six Ga coastal towns stretching from Langma to Tema. Again, as part of the Ga religious system as can be seen from the analysis of the Kpele doctrine of the taxonomy of the hierarchy of beings, even though animals and plants formed part of the subordinate beings, their role in the harmonization of the universe cannot be overemphasized.

On these bases, periodic, occasional, and calendrical rites as well as festivals are performed on behalf of the entire Ga community by the various Kpele cults as a means of harmonizing the relationship between the super-ordinate beings and humanity. Among these rites are the weekly rituals performed by the various Wọlọmεi on the days of the week that are sacred to their family deities.

In addition to these, are other annual rituals such as the nŋmaa yeli (eating of millet) festivities to celebrate each deity, annual nshor bulemọ (purification of the sea) by the Wọlọmεi of the various Ga coastal towns assisted by the Wolεiatśεi (chief fishermen). Again, rituals to close the Sakumọ, Tśεmu and Korle lagoons to fishing in order to replenish the fish stock as well as protect the fish fingerlings from extinction, thereby preventing the depletion of marine life in these water bodies.

While on the other hand, the opening of these water bodies to fishing ensure that there is enough fish for the celebration of the Họmọwọ festival. However, all these activities serve as a prelude to the Nŋmaa dumọ (cultivation of millet) by the various quarters in both Ga Mashie and Tema communities prior to the celebration of both Kpeledzo and Họmọwọ festivals.

GA HỌMỌWỌ FESTIVAL

The institution of the Jewish Passover according to Henderson-Quartey has some similarities with the Ga Họmọwọ festival. These are manifested in the way and manner in which both the Jews and the Ga count the yearly calendar of twelve moons for the commencement of religious rituals and festivals.

For example, the counting of the number of nyanyara garlands used in purification rites from the first Monday after the Họmọwọ celebration, and subsequent Mondays throughout the year by the Dantu Wọlọmọ of Lante-Djan We clan. Hence, the method through which the Wọlọmọ announce the days of the Kpele religious rites; and most importantly, the commencement of the Ga Họmọwọ festival.

He further argued that unlike other festivals in Ghana, the Ga Họmọwọ portray the sense and significance in which the celebration of the Roshanah and the Yom Kippur by the Jews does. The significance of which is meant to fulfill the commandments of God by bringing all the people into the experiences of their ancestors and the gathering of kith and kin together. Moreover, the need to face up to past mistakes and to let go of resentments against one another, and a time for reconciliation by giving a genuine chance of a fresh start in family relationships and neighbourliness.

Finally, to appreciate each other’s need as well as role in the harmonization, progress, and development of the family in particular, and the Ga community in general; through the ŋgọwala greetings offered to the family and members of the Ga community, a day after the Họmọwọ celebration (Ex.12:19).

However, Amartey on the other hand has argued that, the only festival, which the Ga-speaking immigrants do then celebrate, is yihoo gbi (the day of Passover). A festival that they adopted from their encounter with the Israelites. This, he strongly believes have been substituted with an agricultural harvest festival – the Họmọwọ. The celebration of which the Ga groups may have instituted due to hunger they suffered from famine, during their long journey from their place of origin to their present locations in the then Gold Coast.

Besides, Field also alluded to the fact that the Kpeledzo festival is another annual agricultural harvest celebration of the Kpele cult assimilated by the Ga of Teshie, Nungua and Tema into their cultural practices. While, in places like Ga Mashie, Osu and La, elements of Kpeledzo such as Kpele ha manbii ŋgọwala greetings (Kpele offering of life to the people) have also been incorporated into the annual Họmọwọ festival celebration.

Although these religio-cultural practices vary in both scale and magnitude in respect to the number of participants and complexities of the rituals, they are system-maintaining or redressive acts, which are considered essential for maintaining harmonious relationship between the super-ordinate and subordinate beings as already stated.

Thus, the success of Kpele rituals and worship depends on a number of dramatic forms which include songs, dance, music, prayers, libation and sacrifice all aimed at achieving orderly and harmonious relationship between the taxonomical structure of the hierarchy of beings in the universe.

In conclusion, the religion of the Ga people just like its language have undergone a lot of changes even though originally, its was supposed to be monotheistic in nature; as per their association and intermarriages with the Israelites in the land of Goshen in Egypt. And although they may have acquired the cultural traits of other ethnic groups, they have still retained their belief in the Supreme Being as can be seen in most of their cultural practices and rites of passage.       

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Field, M. J. Religion and Medicine of the Ga People, 1937

Field, M. J. Social Organization of the Ga People, 1940.

Greenburg, The Languages of Africa, 1966.

Henderson-Quartey, David K. The Ga of Ghana, London: 2001.

Kilson, M. African Urban Kinsman, 1974.

Kilson, M. “Taxonomy and Form in Ga Rituals” Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 3, Fasc. 1, 1970.

Kilson, M. Kpele Lala: Ga Religious Songs and Symbols, 1971. 

Kilson, M.“Libation in Ga Rituals”, Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 2, Fasc.3. 1969.

Kilson, M.“Twin Belief and Ceremony in Ga Culture”, Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 5, Fasc. 3, 1973.

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