CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN GHANA.
The previous chapter explores three traditional festivals celebrated in Ghana bringing out their intricate and minute details to aid in the study objective. This present chapter analyses how cultural diversity as illustrated in the festivals if well managed could contribute to sustainable development in the communities studied. The degree of diversity inherent in these festivals may go on to prove their wide array of significance in the effort to achieve a sustained development.
Festivals are linked directly to some deities with whom the people sympathize with. In practice, festivals have diverse aspects that would be discussed in four ways to prove that they could be streamlined for development purposes. The commonalities involved are;
The relationship between nature and the African people
Reiteration of taboos and values
Indirect attraction of different people to these festival
4.2 The Relationship between Nature and the African people
The relationship between Africans and nature is apparent in the life of every African. The African is mainly “cosmotheandric” (the term means that African man relates with the environment, the people around him and God) hence his relationship with God and nature is something that cannot be forgone. Now, these traditional festivals are all linked to the Supreme Being and nature in one way or the other ranging from vegetation to waterbodies as well as the core aspect of food. The institution of festivals dates back to the existence of mankind hence it has been a way to channel appreciation to all the great natural phenomenon that is shown in all three traditional festivals. The most apparent phenomenon is that of the ‘Land’. Lands have great significance in all the three festivals as much respect is deemed them in the African setting. The study realized that these three festivals has a place for the sacredness of some lands which are not to be tempered with as a result of the reverence the communities that celebrate these festivals attach to them. Very significant roles are represented in these lands which are highly associated with these festivals. For instance in the Brong-Ahafo region, Techiman to be precise, there is the ‘Amanfo Mu’ which is a sacred grove believed to be a spiritually protected piece of land that is not supposed to be tempered with. Upon interviewing a resident of Techiman, it was found out that the piece of land is the exact spot where Nana Akumfi Ameyaw (the chief who instituted the Apoo festival) was buried. Out of a deeper respect and reverence for the historical chief, the spot is shielded with walls and a gate believed to be watched over by the ancestors who directly deal with anyone who would dare to temper with that piece of land. Respect for the legacy of this chief has made the spot sacred and seen as a haven for the ancestors of the community in general. The people of Techiman are known to be very superstitious people because they hold on to the fact that nature has its way of progressing therefore respect is deemed the land as a natural phenomenon. An informant hinted that under no circumstance is anyone supposed to get passed the gate that closes the entire tract of land. The land has become a sacred resting place for the ancestors and as such, the festival of Apoo is celebrated to mark the remembrance of the iconic chief and what he stood for when he instituted the festival. Sacred groves are tracts of virgin forest with rich diversity, which have been protected by the local people for centuries for their cultural and religious beliefs and taboos. The Homowo festival also holds the land in high esteem because the whole festival is centered on it. The issue of famine sprung up and the only avenue available to overcome it was the land which was tilled and planted on. Prayers and libation to the ancestors was carried out after which they had a bountiful harvest. This is a clear indication of how these people have a deeper relationship with God and nature. The issue of biodiversity sets in here because as a results of these festivals, a wide array of ideals help in protecting these lands as well as the animals on them as a natural resource. Biodiversity underlines the variety of plants and animal life in the environment. It is considered to be very important and desirable to human life. It forms the various kinds of ecosystems that are critical to the wellbeing of mankind. People have the ability to influence biodiversity either negatively or positively therefore if it is influenced negatively, it could create very bad repercussions to human beings themselves. The biodiversity card played by these festivals are very important because it allows for the lands to retain their natural state without any interference. Upon interviewing some people in these areas, it was realized that reality is both material and physical for the traditional Ghanaian and by virtue of this belief, they do not look at the environment as a mere space but as a divine phenomenon. Therefore, they honor the environment with due respect. For instance, Agya Asare from the town of wamfie informed me that in every situation, he directly calls for the help of the earth to show his respect and allegiance to what he calls “Asaase Yaa” which means mother earth. He recounted that the idea stemed from history where refusal to do this caused great misfortunes for his people. Nii-noi Nortey from Teshie also says that the environment is very sacred to the Ga people which is evident in the ban of noise making during the period of Homowo. He says that the spirits of the earth come to live with the people therefore noise pollution would force them to believe that their help and intervention are not needed in anyway which would cause their absence.
4.3 Ancestral veneration
Ancestors are a prime part of the African traditional fabric and as such play a pivotal role in the African cosmos. Mbiti defines ancestors as the departed ones who are dead and are believed to be living in the minds of those who knew them when they were alive. They are seen as always present and influence the affairs of people in the African community. As a result of this, people venerate them to ask for protection, blessing and help in times of need. The Ghanaian traditional religion acknowledges a lot of spiritual beings, including the Supreme Being, the earth goddess, the lesser gods (abosom), the ancestors, and a host of other spirits and deities. The ancestors are perhaps the most significant spiritual forces in this culture aside the Supreme Being. Each lineage or clan reveres its important deceased members (ancestors) both individually and collectively. They are believed to exist in the afterlife and are in charge of helping or destroying their descendants, who must pray to them through the observation of virtuous lives devoid of crimes or sin. Ancestral beliefs are also built into political rites, as the ancestors of the royal lineage, especially deceased kings and chiefs, serve as major foci for general public observance.
Ancestors are people that are believed to be agents of law enforcement or traditional police. These “people” are very much involved in the affairs of a traditional African community and are believed to be charged with the power to punish and reward by the Supreme Being hence pleasing them is ideal to traditional African community. An elderly man who is said to be an informant on the matters of ancestry in Techiman called Nana Agyei Berefour said that during every typical Ghanaian traditional festival and especially the Apoo, ancestors come and stay with the people. Prior to their arrival, conscious efforts are made to ensure that the environment is preserved enough in the best way possible so that it can properly facilitate the blessings and rewards from the ancestors before and during the period of the festival. The view of this elderly man shows that the people clearly believe in the existence of the ancestors. They strongly believe that ancestors are security agents charged by the Supreme Being to protect, guide, bless and punish hence buttresses the point of Dickson’s argument that ancestors are policemen. Indirectly, the presence of the ancestors during the period of these festivals makes development happen through the people as a result of ancestral veneration. The belief in ancestral spirits is a part and parcel of the people in these areas. Therefore, they consciously try not to go against the rules and regulations set by the ancestors of the land. The chief of Bantama, Baffour Owusu Amankwatia VI referred to ancestors as principals. He believes that these “people” are figures who sit at the helm of affairs on earth taking instructions from the upper body hence the Supreme Being. He says that the words of the ancestors are directly determined by the people just as the decisions of a principal of a school is determined by the conducts of his pupils. This is all because the people believe that the ancestors are still with them and can strike them with different afflictions if they go against their instructions.
4.4 Reiteration of Taboos and Values
The African value system is very wide and quite insightful. In the view of O’sullivan and Jackson, festivals bring out the taboos and values that are intricate. During festivals, light is thrown on the values and taboos embedded in the practice as a whole. Learning more about these festivals reveal the silent values that are embedded in the processes of traditional festivals especially the three involved in the study. All the three festivals are value oriented festivals as and when public education takes effect as part of the process involved in the festival. African Cultural Values have been discussed by many other African writers. One can summarize their views into eight African Cultural Values which includes; Sense of community life, Sense of good human relations, Sense of the sacredness of life, Sense of hospitality, Sense of the sacred and of religion, Sense of time, Sense of respect for authority and the elders, Sense of language and proverbs.
In the Adae festival, no one except the ‘Banmuhene’ (the chief for the sacred place) is allowed to go into the ‘Banmu’ (a sacred place where royals are buried) with sandal. This on a more educational note serves as a tool to realize the hierarchy of respect involved in the Akan traditional leadership system. Through these festivals, the core values of respect, patience, love, togetherness, care etc. are given to the people through public education which is done with respect to the particular festival. The Homowo festival teaches the value of hard work underlining indirectly that until a person works very hard for self-development, he/she would not be fulfilled. This is inspired by the main reason or motivation behind the celebration of the festival. Here, environmental education is given on how to correctly till the land in order to gain a bountiful harvest. The Adae festival emphasizes the ideals of love and care as it becomes mandatory during the celebrations of the festival to gift the needy in the society. It teaches to love the next person as one would love himself. The Apoo festival on the other hand highlights the importance of speaking out on the wrongdoings of other people thereby providing a mechanism of solving or correcting such wrong doings.
Etymologically, taboos means something that is forbidden. Gyekye explains it as a sort of prohibition encompassing certain times, places, actions, events and people but only for some religious reason. The Akan dialect views taboos as “Akyiwade” (anything that is prohibited). Prohibitions such as murder, incest, suicide etc. are all taboos in African traditional thought.
Taboos are also very much enforced through these festivals. During the Adae, people are supposed to rest from work which stems from the fact that people must leave work so as to allow the ancestors bless and protect the community in their endeavors. Hence when a taboo is broken, it demands a certain kind of punishment from the ancestors. This may be the obvious reason why people are to stop work during this period. But, a deeper meaning is given that the natural state of the community where people work as farmers as their main line of work needs to rest in order to replenish its vital nutrients which would facilitate the availability of lands to help in the production of plants and animals. These three festivals has a core value of creating peaceful coexistence between the people and nature. This kind of education becomes intrinsic as it becomes part and parcel of the lives of the people. It facilitates obedience and respect for traditional authorities that would in the long run produce a greater force to allow development to occur. This fact is in agreement with the idea that is painted by Crespi and Richards that traditional festivals improve the integration in a society through living in the accepted norms and values of the communities.
Again, in the eligible towns of the Ga municipality that celebrate the Homowo festival, it is a taboo to make incessant noise in the environment during the observation. It is believed that this act of noise making detaches the people from the ancestors which would adversely cause a weakened structure of protection for the people. This brings about the avoidance of noise making and noise pollution in the environment. The water bodies are also associated with the gods or abosom especially in the Ga municipality where the people must ensure cleanliness of these water bodies during the period of observance. The people are mandated to keep these water bodies clean and pure because it is the dwelling place of some of the gods. Anyone who will go contrary to this rule will be punished by the gods.
4.5 indirect attraction of people to host communities
Traditional festivals are a colourful and joyful manifestation of attitudes in practice that may attract different people from different walks of life who would love to experience these festivals for various reasons of religious, academic and social essence. The communities that host these festivals become the face for them. These festivals under radar serve as an identity booster for their host communities in Ghana. Traditionally, festivals are as the result of the cultural identity of the spaces where they occur. There have been the use of festivals for marketing tool in the development of tourist spaces over the years. For instance the Apoo festival is peculiar to the communities of Techiman and Wamfie. As a result, these communities are hosts for the vibrant and insightful festival. A young informant said that before the celebrations commence, the youth are tasked with the responsibility to prepare the venues. This brought the realization that there is always the conscious effort to be perfect in the arrangements of the festivals. This is not only for ancestral purposes but also for the purpose of identity. This stems from the general outlook of the community based on the people who come to experience these festivals. For the purpose of uplifting the image of the community, a lot of preparations are done so as to facilitate visitors into these communities. During the Adaekese this year, different people from different races came to witness and in order to create a strong societal image, preparations were made to ensure smooth running of the festival. Some wealthy people in these host communities may come on board to help with the environmental cleanliness among other developmental activities in these communities. This is a fact that agrees with the idea of Janiskee when he suggests that festivals facilitates the enhancement of the environment on a wide range of factors. These factors are the enhancements of soil fertility, Humidity and beautification. Quinn suggests that during the period of festivals, avenues for the creation of infrastructure and amenities become the norm basically as a result of the conscious effort to create and maintain a good societal image.
All of these aspects of the three traditional festivals have the ability to have a positive dynamic effect on the societal progress of the host communities that would go a long way to breed development for these communities. With that said, the traditional councils as well as the people in these communities believe that the attraction of the people is as a result of the active participation of the ancestors. Nii-noi Nortey believes that the reasons that account for the attraction is directly sourced from the many blessings that are given them by the ancestors during these times of celebrations.
It is very important to note that although there are aspects of possible development in these festivals, its effect cannot be realized if adaptive measures are not put in place to help streamline its benefits to achieve development. In order to achieve a sustained development through the various aspects of these festivals, some mechanisms need to be put in place. Realistically, traditional festivals such as Homowo, Adae, and Apoo are entirely focused on the promotion of ideals of environmental and human sustainability in the Ghanaian society. Gallopin suggests that for real development to be sustained all the arenas of sustainability thus, human, environmental and social should be put together in an agenda to build a sustained development in a country. The African traditional religion as manifested through the three festivals under study focuses on the types of sustainability. Moreover, subjecting these festivals to Gallopin’s idea of systems approach, there’s a very high chance of ensuring sustainable development in the country just by following this directive. Now, the mechanisms of the festivals themselves are apparent but it is up to us to make it a framework to achieve a sustained development. Speaking to the Techiman town council, it was pointed out that for these festivals to be more development centered, there should be some proactive measures taken by the ministry of culture and tourism to ensure a controlled level of support. It can be fiscal or human resource provision. The council hinted that they are in dire need of money from sponsors and other people who have interest in this field. They however pointed out that every Ghanaian especially the traditional people should be very much involved in the processes and mechanisms involved in these celebrations entirely.
Cudnyargues that festivals are a series of entertaining rituals which some of the respondents hinted on by saying that on these occasions, they perform some roles that reenact the historical happenings under which the festival is instituted. The study sees this as a very important tool to realise the full potential of these performances as a money boosting area which may aid the communities involved to improve on their communal living on a more general level.
The traditions, values and indigenous knowledge systems of the communities are a part and parcel of their lives from which they cannot alienate themselves. As a way to help boost appreciation of this religion and its worth, public education by the media on the various historical backgrounds of certain festivals in Ghana could be carried out. Without a strenuous effort, the festivals would be publicized to the world which would definitely enhance development.
Gadzekpo argues that, festivals are periods where there is the abundance of economic activities that are highly beneficial in terms of finance for local craftsmen and other food vendors. He added that, traditional festivals ensure and improve tourism; because the patronage of these festivals by foreigners is to witness the array of artistic manifestations and the rich dynamic culture of the society. This ensures that the society in question gain some kind of honor and recognition. According to the author, the foreigners purchase many of these sold items from the locals, giving them advantage of income for the society and enhancement of the societal image. His explanations suggests the various economic benefits that a society stands to gain from the celebration of traditional festivals. With this importance highlighted, it is worth noting that these foreigners come to Ghana willing to learn and explore the culture of the people hence giving the culture its value. Strategies could be adopted to ensure that the foreigners are well taken care of considering the accommodation as well as their safety so as to let them know how hospitable Ghana is. This could be done by individuals who may invest in the tourism industry of Ghana and also by organizations that are interested in this field. African traditional religion would be a great tool to show the vibrant and buoyancy of the Ghanaian culture directly because of the beliefs and practices involved in the religion. The rich and dynamic culture of traditional Ghana especially in that of the festivals, enhance growth and development.