The about five-kilometre road linking Ekumfi Esuehyia to Ajumako—the capital town of the Ajumako-Enyan-Essiam District Assembly—becomes the busiest stretch in the Central Region every first Tuesday in the month of August. Travelers having a jolly ride along the Western Corridor Road are sure to spend a few minutes in traffic when they get to that section of the road.
It is on this day that thousands of natives of Ajumako-Mando who have travelled from far and near like myself—including Diasporeans—join those at home to witness a week-long beauty of tradition. The travelling youth, packed in buses and cars, amidst honking and “jama”, besiege the road leading to the township in a convoy-like spectacle to the glare, jeers and waves of thrilled onlookers from various towns leading to their town.
This has become more of an annual ritual curtain-raiser to the Akwambo festival so much so that the townspeople, not wanting to kill the vim and fire of the “home-comers”, adequately prepare themselves to welcome their family members, friends and loved ones.
The atmosphere that greets people to the town itself is one of ecstasy; casting my eyes around gave me a fair idea of the excitement and fun that will run throughout the week-long festivity. From one end to another, drinking bars had neatly arranged tables by the roadside and at other vantage points.
Good music blazed incessantly from sound systems mounted by the roadside and in the homes laced with the aromas of good food from the various kitchens. Food sellers were joyous in anticipation of bumper sales with popular food joints including Efua Anahuma’s “Etsiw”—banku cooked without cassava dough—and Hajia Amosa’s “Waakye” joints flocked to the brim.
In the passion and zeal of travelers coupled with the energy and youthful exuberance of those based at home, a feeling of excitement and fun is borne; one that will run through seven days of activity-filled celebrations.
For the lucky ones who happen to be in the town early that fateful Tuesday, they get to join residents of the town to carry out the sacred activity, “Akwambo” or path-clearing—which is the “soul” of the festival.
This is perhaps the most significant part of festival; it is a sacred ritual done in honor of the ancestors of the celebrating towns—in this case Ajumako-Mando. Pathways and roads leading to the town, as well as those that provides access to streams, rivers, farms, shrines, and communal spaces. Unpaved footpaths are weeded and maintained, while paved roads are ritually swept with branches, brooms, and fans made of leaves.
During the sacred activity, communal offerings are made to honor the town’s ancestors on the belief that the ancestral spirits continue to interact with the living by providing protection, good fortune, and blessings in the form of rain and successful harvests. Offerings normally take the form of libations poured on the ground or food items scattered on the water.
The part of the ritual I witnessed was when I joined a team of energetic young men and women chanting war songs amidst drumming and dancing to the very end of the four entry routes to the town.
Some had their bodies smeared in clay, one carried a doll with another carrying its “house” while a few young girls in traditional clothing, carried folded African prints clothes in a tray on their heads. All these people followed a man dressed in masquerade who was leading the procession. The whole setup was made to depict how a chief is paraded through town in a palanquin.
The significance of the festival is not stored in the leadership of the town alone, it is a practice whose relevance has eaten into the hearts and souls of the townspeople who are ever ready to share in its sweet memories and relevance.
A native of the town, Yaa Foriwaa, shared with me her experience and why she thinks Akwambo should be preserved and celebrated as a rich traditional legacy: “It is that time of the year that our ancestors come home to visit. When they come to their various homes to see people in merrymaking and unity, they are happy too, and shower us with blessings.
I think it is also an occasion for family members, home or away, to reunite, network, discuss family issues and forge stronger bonds ahead.”
Kofi Esson Sampson, also from Ajumako-Mando, in reiterating the significance of the festival, added: “It is a year to remember our ancestors; we came to meet this tradition and we are continuing with it. It’s a festival the current generation cannot afford to leave behind.”
According to Esson, the relevance of the festival makes it worth celebrating every year and even called for support to make future celebrations bigger and in grand style: “Currently, the festival is organised with the small resources that the leaders of the town are able to raise. When we get sponsors to support, future celebrations could make more impact and reach places compared to this year’s.”
But it was not only about honouring tradition amidst merrymaking, this year’s week-long festivities witnessed a quiz competition between the three basic schools in the community; there was encouragement and support for the widowed in the town who were visited by the renowned broadcaster Akumaa Mama Zimbi, through her widows project; there was an all-white party that run through the night.
There were a couple of floats from Ajumako-Mando to sister towns such as Onwane, Asaasan and Ajumako—the district capital.
Among the best spectacles was the live band show that pooled both the young and old to forecourt of the Ahmadiyya Mosque to dance off their stress to the sweet tunes of the highlife prodigy, Kofi Nti.
Mbranhen of Ajumako-Mando and Chairman of the Akwambo Planning Committee, Nana Kojo Adabo I, in an interview with the B&FT, started with the phrase “he who does not recognize his roots, does not know where he is going.
In detail by detail, he recounted the need for generations, including those yet unborn to hold on to the rich tradition and rituals of the Akwambo festival.
He said: “The principal relevance of this festival is to remember our ancestors; aside that, it is also an occasion for community reunion. People of the community who have travelled for various reasons come home to remind themselves of tradition.”
Nana Adabo went further to add that celebrating the festival provides opportunities for marriage, as it is easier for people of marriage age can easily find their soulmates in the atmosphere of love and merrymaking.
This year’s Akwambo festival of the people of Ajumako-Mando was on the theme: “Harnessing the potential of the youth for community development” in line with plans of the town’s leadership to mobilise and channel the youthful energies of the people towards innovations and activities that will inure to the development of the community.
To Nana Adabo I, an important aspect of the yearly celebrations has been the fundraising event where monies are solicited to support an identified or selected projects. Over the years, he said, the community has benefited from the fundraiser by way of building school projects and the provision of certain basic social amenities such as access to electricity.
The project that was pegged to this year’s fundraiser was the construction of a community centre and there was a noble reason to that.
“Over the years, we have been able to support the community with day cares, schools and toilet facilities—as and when the need arises—as a way of complementing what will come from government.
This year, our target for raising funds was in aid of our community centre. Each year, we hold the durbar at the market square where some of the youth will have to be directing traffic, which is unsafe.
We want to leave the street-side so we want to construct a community centre where we can hold our durbars in a conducive and safe environment,” Nana Adabo explained.
On his overall assessment, he described this year’s festival as a huge success in terms of the monies raised to support community development, patronage as well as commendations from visitors alike.
The Akwambo festival as celebrated by the people of Gomoa and Agona landmarks in the Central Region—including Ajumako-Mando could best be described as a potpourri of the country’s rich cultural ingredients: good music, scintillating dance moves, traditions worth preserving and also provides a conducive atmosphere for moral healing; one that bonds hearts and honours a unique tradition.