ON an August afternoon in Ghana's capital, Accra, another easygoing day passes beneath the sub-Saharan sun. Children caper down dusty streets of the Jamestown sector, squealing with delight as metal hoops bump and roll beside them. Elderly women hang the wash and exchange gossip, while young girls sit on doorstoops, painstakingly plaiting one another's hair.
For the people of the Ga tribe, it is a very special day - particularly for members of the Lante Dzan We clan.
On this August weekend, they will set into motion a month-long ``thanksgiving'' - the harvest festival, Ga Homowo.
Several tribes in Ghana have similar events. Their ceremonies and rituals vary, but the purpose is the same:
To remember lean times, to be thankful for present blessings, and to pray for future abundance.
Journey by land and sea
There are no written documents to account for the origin of Homowo. But according to traditional stories, the Gas emigrated from the Middle East and descended through the Sahara to Benin City, in Nigeria. They settled there for a time before relocating in Accra, sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries.
The movement was conducted in small groups, who traveled by sea to the shores of Ghana. Apparently the first to arrive were the people of the Lante Dzan We clan.
Legend has it that the Gas had only a bit of corn and palm oil when they landed, which women ground and mixed together to make kpokpoi. After the men caught fish, the clan enjoyed its first meal after landing - kpokpoi and fish soup.
The immigrants planted millet and corn with seeds they had brought with them. Then they endured a long, lean waiting period while the crops ripened.
When at last they were harvested, there was great feasting and giving thanks to their gods - the first celebration of what became the homo yi womo, meaning ``hooting at hunger.''
Holiday cheer fills ancestral home
The festival's opening activities take place in the compound of Nii Dantu IV, the ancestral home of the Lante Dzan We clan. Here the ritual food of kpokpoi is prepared.
Throughout the household there is boisterous activity until the elders, dressed in traditional robes, call the assemblage to order. In a separate area, women and girls sing and dance as they pound corn, chop vegetables, and stir pot-bellied caldrons of fish stew.
Children, impelled by holiday spirits, scurry around the legs of grown-ups like rambunctious puppies underfoot.
Soon a clan elder calls the household to order and addresses the assemblage with greetings and stories about the festival.
Then the priests, priestesses, and other elders perform ceremonies in a shrine behind closed doors.
After the secret ceremonies, the women place the festival meal of kpokpoi and fish soup before the priests and elders. The chief priest begins the purification ceremony, tossing the cornmeal upon clan members, and chanting traditional songs that tell of joy, peace in homes, and the dignity of labor.
With the onset of the sprinkling, pandemonium breaks out as the crowd bursts from the compound and forms a procession, led by the priests and elders. Everyone marches through the Jamestown streets, chanting, clapping, and throwing the ritual food.
Relatives gather from afar
Two weeks following the opening activities by the Lante Dzan We clan, the Soobii custom is observed throughout Accra.
``Soobii,'' meaning ``people arriving on Thursday (Soo),'' celebrates the arrival of family members living outside Accra, who come to their ancestral homes to take part in the Homowo festivities.
Although in the past the Soobii arrived on foot, now they come in lavishly decorated lorries that rumble into the city in convoys. They are greeted at the edge of town by relatives, carrying headloads of farm produce covered with white cloth to indicate victory over famine.
Drumming, singing, and dancing show joy over the harvest. Parades of relatives accompany the lorries to their respective compounds, and the sounds of celebration are heard well into the night.
Blessing of twins
Following Soobii Thursday is the celebration of the Rite of Yam festival on Friday, which centers on the twins of Accra.
In Africa, twins are regarded as being very special and are believed to live in a different world from ordinary people. On the Rite of Yam, festivities are held in all homes harboring twins.
Friday morning the twins are dressed in matching new clothes and are expected to act alike throughout the day.
Priests and elders perform various rites to bring blessings on the twins and their households. Following the twins' ritual, everyone enjoys a feast of palm nut soup, fufu (plaintain and cassava), kenkey (fried corn dough), chicken, rice, and fish.
Toward sunset, the sounds of drumming and singing echo in the streets of Accra as parades pass through each neighborhood. Spectators line the streets to cheer for the most beautifully dressed set of twins. A day of feasting and dancing
Before dawn on Homowo Saturday, the women of every Ga household in Accra begin the preparation of the festal food.
Young girls and elders work together, stirring cornmeal into boiling water, turning dough, while a sister or mother pounds it with a pestle, mixing oil with palm nuts.
The women chat happily among themselves, while men rise late in the morning and exchange gossip as they smoke their pipes.
By midday the food is ready, but the feast does not begin until some of the kpokpoi has been sprinkled around the doorsteps and immediate vicinity of the house.
After the men begin to eat, the women gather in another part of the household to partake of the feast. Sitting on the ground around a low wooden table, they laugh and tell jokes, relishing their rare moment of relaxation.
Just as individual family elders must perform their duties this day, the mantesemei, or chiefs, do the same in each community under their authority. Accompanied by a band of singers and drummers, each chief marches through the streets sprinkling kpokpoi.
Late in the afternoon, the chiefs gather in the courtyard of the Jamestown Palace for the traditional dance, oshi joo. Dancers perform to the beat of two traditional oshi joo drums, then dance in a procession through Accra.
Old hurts put aside
The Noowala Hamo ceremony on Sunday marks the end of Homowo week in Accra. From the early hours of the morning to late evening, relatives, friends, and neighbors take the opportunity to make amends.
Traditionally this is the last day that family members have to reach the ancestral household and is a time when old hurts are to be put aside.
With harmony having returned to households, relatives and other visitors leave early on Monday to return to their homes.