Experience of a lifetime – The Akuapem 2013 Odwira Festival and Durbar, and Queen Mother Nana Gyekyewa Opokua II Akyeminpimhene of Akropong Akuapem’s 30 years celebration

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The text message I received from William, who I had met once at a meeting, inviting me to the event of the title, did little to reveal what I was to witness over the long weekend of 27th to 29th September. I assumed that I’d just find my way up onto the Akuapem ridge to Akropong as a day tripping tourist, and snatch a few photos as an onlooker. Far from it! I was to be the guest of the Queen Mother, have a costume made up in the gorgeous purple patterned ‘official’ fabric, an ‘access all areas’ photography pass, and a grandstand seat for the Friday Durbar.

The Akuapem tribal grouping was created following a 1733 tribal war, prompted by the cruel treatment of a conquered people by the Akwamus, who were warlords who had fought and defeated people as far as the Ga people near the sea. They were feared far and wide due to the rough treatment the meted out to their conquered neighbours. In January of that year, a meeting of the fetish priests of the Kyrepongs and the Guans living on the Ridge felt they could no longer stand this harsh ‘occupation’, and resolved to join forces with other peoples, seeking help from the might and powerful Akan kingdom of Abuakwa.

After a short by furious and bloody war, the Akwamus were driven westwards towards what is now Togo, but the original peoples, fearing their return, asked Nana Safori and his royals and warriors to come and rule over them as their paramount chiefs, to help ensure their safety. A stone was buried in the centre of the Durbar, as the ‘will and testament’ of the people that they would serve and recognise Nana Safori and all his descendants, until the stone ‘germinates and grows.’ The rationale being, knowing that a stone cannot germinate and grow, that the Abuakwa royals would remain their chiefs forever. Thus the Akan system of chieftancy was introduced and established in Akuapem.

The photos speak for themselves about the three days of events, beginning on the Friday with a riotous parade and assembly of the royals, which was the noisiest, most fantastic and colourful tribal gathering I have ever seen. Well, the ONLY one I have ever seen. The fabrics! The drumming, music, dancing, massive firecrackers and gunshots! It was barely organised mayhem, and I was right in the heart of it. William and his mother Yaa, who are identified in the slideshow, are related in some incredibly complex way to the Queen Mother, who is not a Queen Mum in our sense of the term, being the second wife of a now deceased chief.

The Durbar was followed by a full two days of feasting, music, dancing and entertainment at the Queen Mother’s house, in a stunning location on the Ridge, with amazing views across the lands below, for miles. That this was once all dense rain forest is testament to just how quickly the people we know collectively know as Ghanaians migrated into the forests, starting in about the 1880s. The Akuapem migrated down from the Ridge in waves, clearing the forest, mainly for cocoa growing, with other tribal groups migrating in from other directions, until the forest was reduced to a few small reserves on the margins, and the incredible diversity of flora and fauna was lost, destroyed or eaten. Chocolate lovers, take note! However, the incredible hard work and industry of the people, in response to this opportunity to earn income from cash cropping, should serve to dispel the image of the ‘lazy African’.

As these photos speak more eloquently than any of my words, I will let them do so. However, I will remember this experience for a lifetime, and I am profoundly grateful to William ‘Dynamic’, his mother Yaa, and Queen Mother Nana Gyekyewa Opokua II Akyeminpimhene of Akropong Akwuapem, for making me so absolutely welcome, and enabling me to have this unique experience. I forgive Milliki, the MC, compere and professional entertainer, who made me get up and dance in front of the assembled family and friends of the Queen Mother. This obruni can dance! I got the equivalent of a standing ovation!

The brass band boys were a hoot(!), and I danced with them and other members of the community into the darkness, before retiring to the neighbouring Palm Hill Hotel – 2 nights paid for by the Queen Mother. The first night I discovered there was hot water and had a luxurious shower. The second night there was no water at all, reminding me that I am, indeed, in Africa!

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7 Responses to Experience of a lifetime – The Akuapem 2013 Odwira Festival and Durbar, and Queen Mother Nana Gyekyewa Opokua II Akyeminpimhene of Akropong Akuapem’s 30 years celebration

  1. Jill Weller says:

    Fantastic photos and indeed it does look like the experience of a lifetime. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Laura, you are sooo lucky to have been able to experience this – I am soooo jealous but glad for you. amazing photos, though none of you dancing !

  3. George says:

    What about the killing at the festival on September 27th 2013. Samuel Adade

    • Hi

      Yes I was close by when it happened. It was an accident, or at least the one I saw was. I think there may have been two deaths, one an accident and one deliberate. Lesson: men and guns in crowded places don’t mix. I am not sure about the second killing, I think it was the result of a fight. Men behaving badly.

      ladybirdabroad

  4. sapereaude says:

    Hi Laura,

    I’m Nana Gyekyewa’s grandson; we met at the Nyaadenkyi Villa after the durbar on Friday and again on Saturday. It was wonderful having you there, and I’m glad you had a good time! I was randomly searching her name on the web when I came across your blog post and have a few corrections you might find useful. Her title, Akyempemhene, is a title that Akan kingdoms reserve for the oldest sons of deceased paramount kings; it is a title reserved for such individuals as an honor to the heirs of the deceased king in recognition of the fact that our matrilineal peerage naturally excludes them from ascending to the paramouncy, the Safori stool. In 1944, following a long period where the title was reserved and unclaimed, Nana Gyekyewa Opokua II’s father was nominated to it by Nana Kwadade II, then Okuapemhene and occupant of the Safori stool. His father and 20th occupant of the Safori Stool, was Nana Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo, the first Christian king of the Akuapem people. His work as Post Master delayed his enstoolment, and, regrettably, he passed after a short illness when she was only nine years old. Following his passing the title remained in reserve for a fitting candidate. In 1979, Nana Addo Dankwa III, the reigning Okuapemhene, approached the family to seek a candidate for the title. His family and hers are two of the three families among whom the paramouncy is rotated, and the Akuffo’s insistence on his right of rule against usurpers in his own family endeared them greatly to him. The Akuffo royal house, having been democratized to some extent by their ancestor Frederick William, decided to overlook all the male candidates in the family (not that the titular suffix “hene” is reserved for males and “hemaa” for females) and elect her to the title while refusing to change the suffix to match her gender; if it is a man’s title, they asserted, then this is a woman who has shown herself the equal of any man. She is in reality, therefore, the king tasked with the oversight of the three royal families and with heading the vetting of the next occupant of the Safori stool, rather than a queenmother like the many esteemed ladies you saw at the durbar. Her strength of character, service to the kingdom and counsel to its king have resulted in the decree by the Okuapemhene, unanimously consented to by the lesser kings of the kingdom and the three royal houses, that the title be reserved for perpetuity for her and her descendants.

    I hope you find this insightful.

    Kind Regards,
    Nana Kofi Quakyi

    • Dear Nana

      Thank you so much for your detailed explanation! I found understanding the relations in Ghanaian royal families incomprehensible and you have explained the details. It was truly the experience of a lifetime and I could see the immense respect Akyempemhene elicited from he family and the whole community. I will hold Ghana in a special place in my heart and hope to return one day.

      With best wishes

      ladybirdabroad

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