Oguaa Fetu Afahye Festival, Cultural Pride of the Cape Coast
Purifying the New Year
There is more to Cape Coast than the haunting memories of African sons and daughters stored in slave castles before being sardine-packed in slave ships across the Atlantic off to the Americas. Yes, it is pretty much a relaxed community, but Cape Coast comes pretty much alive for the celebration of Oguaa Fetu Afahye Festival.
According to tradition, a plague once ravaged the Oguaa community – Cape Coast was founded as a fishing community by a man, Oguaa who gave his name to the place. Such was the devastating effect of the plague that the people called on their gods before the plague stopped and the land was cleansed. The word fetu is a contraction of ‘efin tu’ in the local dialect which means clearing the dirt.
Oguaa Fetu Afahye festival is therefore a commemoration of that purification which saved the land from the plague and a show of gratitude to the 77 gods of the Oguaa Traditional Area.
Before the start of the Fetu Afahye celebrations, the Omanhene (paramount chief of the Oguaa) spends a week in confinement to confer with the gods. A ban is placed on drumming, dancing, noise making and merriment within the municipality, while fishing in the Fosu Lagoon is forbidden at this period.
A cleansing ritual is offered at the lagoon by the Amissafo (guardians of the lagoon) for the gods to ward off bad omen, while also entreating for abundance of fish and bumper harvest of food crop. A day is set aside for general cleaning of the environment. This day is known as Amuntumadeze (Health Day) and all the people tidy and spruce up the community.
Bakatue: Open the Lagoon!
On the last Monday in August, the festival proper starts as the people observe a vigil at the Fosu Lagoon where the priests and priestesses invoke the gods with drumming and dancing through the night. Ritual activities continue the following day at the Fosu shrine, followed by regatta on the lagoon after libation is offered by the Omanhene.
The Omanhene officially opens the lagoon by casting his net thrice into the waters. If his net catches a lot of fish, it is seen as a sign of bumper harvest in the coming year. Once this is done, the lagoon is open to the public to fish in. Muskets are fired into the air as the celebrations kick off with dancing, drumming and merrymaking around the community.
Wednesday is usually reserved for welcoming the natives who have traveled down to attend the festival, while socialization, conflict resolution and merrymaking continues. Another vigil takes place on Thursday night, this time at Nana Paprat Shrine with rituals and dancing (Adammba). It continues to the next day when a bull is slaughtered by the Omanhene for purification, after addressing the people.
The grand day of the Fetu Afahye festival falls on the first Saturday in September as a procession takes place around the community with dancing and merrymaking. Fetu Afahye marks the beginning of a new year for the Oguaa people of Cape Coast. The festival closes with an interdenominational service at the Chapel Square. What a way to end!
Cape Coast is the capital of the Central Region, in southern Ghana. It’s known for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. Overlooking the Gulf of Guinea, Cape Coast Castle is a large whitewashed fort built by the Swedish in the 17th century. It was later used by the British as a holding prison for slaves. Inside, the Castle Museum has exhibits on pre-colonial local history, the slave trade and traditional crafts.