Tradition has preserved for Edinaman and its generations a marvellously rich Annual Festival which is second to none, captioned “Bakatue”. This festival has remained much treasured and constitutes the priceless cultural heritage of its citizens.
Bakatue is a festival of the people of Elmina township and its traditional area, a geographical stool land more appropriately referred to as “EDINAMAN”.
Bakatue falls on the first Tuesday of July (the month of Ayewoho) each year. It is celebrated in honour of the founder of the central town Elmina, the headquarters to Edina Traditional Area.
Origin Of Bakatue Festival
“Bakatue” translated means “the opening of the lagoon” or the “Draining of the Lagoon”. It is celebrated to commemorate the founding of the town, Elmina by the Europeans. It is also celebrated to invoke the deity, Nana Benya’s continuous protection of the state and its people.
The term “Bakatue” is contradictory in its literal meaning, that is, The opening up of the lagoon. It has puzzled many in view of the obvious fact that unlike stagnant lagoon which needs to be dug and opened up by artificial means when inundated. Benya naturally flows into the sea. The lagoon is veritably an arm of the sea and at high tide it runs four miles inland to “Anwiwdo” which is supposed to be the source of Benya. The term Bakatue therefore is only ironically applied and no Implements are necessary or employed to effect the opening into the sea as it is a tidal lagoon.
The founder, Kwa Amankwa is reported to have migrated from the Savana Based Walata Empire, settled at Techiman for some time, moved to Eguafo and thence to Elmina, where in search of drinking water and accidentally discovered a streamlet, exclaiming “Be-enya which expression means” I have found or got”.
To commemorate the discovery, a hut was erected where the emigrants refreshed. Kwa Amankwa bowed and worshipped and in the solemn silence there suddenly appeared before him a god animate of the Lagoon now called river Benya. The self-manifesting deity made human company with Amankwa for eight days, a period at the expiration of which a covenant was concluded between man and god.
The sayings of the covenant are:
1. That a Shrine was to be constructed by Amankwa in honour of Nana Benya which was to be the consecrated abode of the tutelary deity and from which Nana Benya would be invoked in times of need.
.2. That schedule was to be worked out from the phases of the moon which stipulated that the first Tuesday of the month of July of each calendar year shall be observed as a festival day in commemoration of this man-deity meeting.
3. That the Omanhen, Divisional Chiefs, Sub Chiefs, stool holders, Asafo elders Priests and Priestesses and the entire citizenry would present the sacred food (mixture of yam, palm oil and eggs) to the god of the River on the founder’s day.
Circumstances beyond control has brought about a change of location of the shrine to the spot where it stands at present, but the god is still very much alive and vibrant with the terms of the covenant “that in this shrine I shall meet you, at least once a year and there, you can invoke me in times of need”.
This once a year meeting has withstood the test of time and though Benya has been met and consulted without ceremony in times of need, whenever this meeting is executed with ceremony, the result is the Bakatue Festival. There have been Occasions when the usual funfair has not accompanied this ritualistic meeting. At such times such as during war, civil strife or chieftaincy disputes, the meeting has been restricted to only the high-priest (Benya Komfo) and his immediate deputies ‘as Well as “Birifikyewfo” on behalf of or with the reigning monarch or the regent as the case might be.
Tuesday is of great significance, historically to Elmina. It is set aside and consecrated to the tutelary deity and consequently observed as a sacred day of rest. The day is married to various engagements in war with states, which were hostile particularly the last Edina Fante war which was fought on Tuesday, 26 May, 1868. When linked with Bakatue Festival it is a day of great Jubilation as the people of Edinaman celebrate the commemoration of the founding of Elmina by Kwa Amankwa. The festival day Tuesday is synclosised with the opening harvest and the ushering of new crops into the markets.
Six weeks mark the Ceremonial rites for the observance of the festival. A state proclamation is made by means of gong gong (the traditional stool – to – people information giving) by which;
Net fishing in the’lagoon during the period is prohibited
Cleansing rites and purification of widows are enforced
The dead must not be laid in state nor see the sunset of their fataI day
Sale of fresh herring In the market ceases
Newly harvested crops are neither to be exposed nor eaten
Funeral obsequies drumming, social enjoyment and other forms of noise making during the period are proscribed.
WEEK 1: PURIFICATION OF WIDOWS AND CAPPING OF SHRINE
lt is customary for the citizenry to enter into a new era in ‘a state of purity. Consequently, tradition requires widow to cleanse themselves by terminating .widowhood during the period.
The willful neglect of this expensive obligation may force a defaulter to go into banishment, as non performance of the purification rite is sacrilegious. The Sacred _ Shrine has a detachable cap on top known in local parlance as “Burukutukyew”. It has mounted on it a white flag always facing easterly direction symbolising the glorious victory over the Fantes in the war of 1868.
The replacement of the cap is an annual affair and the old cap is carried to _ “Kunkuntar” to beswallowed by the sea. The new structure is woven on the ground and capped on top of the shrine at midnight hence the saying “Burukutukyew wo wen no ase ana wodze afow sor”.
WEEK 2: ABONFIRE AND “SOSOOGYA”
Bonfire, which is organised by the youth at the embankment of the river on Monday, is intended to drive away all ills of the dieting year. On the following day, the moral significance of the festival is reflected by the vulgarity of demonstration by men folk causing a lot of embarrassment to women of childbearing age. Hot spices stung on ingeniously contrived sticks are manipulated into the eyes, nose, mouth and ears of any woman met on the streets from midday to sunset. The young men do this as penance for wrongs and defilement blameable against women folk.
WEEK 3: RETALLIATION BY WOMEN AND WOOD PLATTER OVERTURN BY ANKOBEA SAFO (KORBABUTUW).
Tradition requires Ankobea Asafo (№.1) whose emblem is the key to go in an irregular procession to the Shrine on the evening of» Monday to perform a very important exclusive ceremony captioned the Overturn of the wooden platter (Korba Butuw), The journey of the militant company ends in front of the shrine where a sheep is presented to the state to be offered as sacrifice to the gods. The sacrificial ceremony symbolised the official proclamation of the strict observance of all taboos as already listed above. The Omanhen and his elders must witness the ceremony.
HOME COMING OF DEITY‘
On the midnight of the same Monday, four of the thirteen straw-hat bearers Who are state courtiers (Birifikyewfo) canoe to “Anwewdo”, the source of the river where they invoke and carry to the Shrine the spirit of the god Benya to guide and guard the state as they prepare to enter a new year. The sounding of the Royal State drum (Aketsewta) warns people to take cover and give way to the deity. The drum also plays a very important role in the invocation ceremony.
On the morning of the following day, Tuesday, the sheep presented by Ankobea Asafo is slaughtered and offered as sacrifice to the gods amidst libation and incantations.
VENGEANCE FROM WOMEN FOLK
On this day, Tuesday, the women organise retaliation and by using “Mpapan” to whip the men folk they meet. This signifies the condemnation of immorality on the side of men which is believed to be an offence against the state as a whole.
WEEK 4: FIRST “DOMB’O” DRUMMING
On the night of Monday of the 4th of the six-week period of preparation and ceremony, the first of three state drumming popularly called ”Dombo” comes on at the frontage of the sacred shrine. The traditional choristers (Apaafo) and drummers (Tentenfo) get ready to sing and beat the drums with Omanhen, Chiefs, and Stool holders. State Courtiers and all concerned citizens take their right positions and get themselves ready to watch the drumming and dancing and to consult the oracle and answer spiritual enquiries when necessary. At the appropriate time the 77 states gods descend simultaneously and, spiritually possessing the performing priest, direct and control his actions and utterances. In the olden days the sacred shrine itself danced to the rhythmical drumming.
WEEK 5: SECOND “DOMBO”
There is a repeat of the routine traditional drumming and dancing atthe same place same time, same duration and same functionaries. Observers who missed the first Dombo take a turn at the second but generally no in habitant wants to miss any.
WEEKS: “KORBATAE” MONDAY EVENING
It is now the turn and in fact the prerogative ofAkyemfoAsafo (No.2) whose emblem is the Eagle (Korpon) to revoke the observance of taboos instituted by Ankobea ‘ Asafo in the third week of the preparatory period. On Monday evening (the eve of the festival), Akyemfo assemble in front of the Shrine to present a sheep as sacrificial offering in compliance with custom to signify the advent of the lifting of the ban impose six weeks previously. This ceremonial and ritualistic sacrifice which is’ captioned “KORBATAE” requires the active participation of the Omanhen his elders and the state courtiers.
The penultimate climax of the festival is the all night drumming of Dombo where the high priests excel themselves in dancing to the style of their respective gods. The trained and experienced observer can tell which god is on the ascendancy by the dancing style of the priest on floor. This resounding of the third and final Dombo takes us to Tuesday morning the much-awaited day.
TUESDAY THE RED LETTER DAY
A royal procession made up of gorgeously dressed chiefs and stool holders, some of them riding in beautifully decorated palanquin. Fetish Priests and Priestesses, Herbalist, Supis, Asafohenfo and concerned citizens start from Akotobinsin at 12:00noon. The Paramount Chief of the traditional area appears last in the procession dressed in white cloth with “Nyinya Necklace“, He wears a straw hat (Birifikyew) and hold his sceptre all of which are symbolic of his high place and command. The attire sets him apart from all the other chiefs who wear gold ornaments.
He rides in his flamboyant palanquin under the beautiful tow-tie umbrella signifying his authority over all others. The royal procession passes through the principal streets of Elmina and stops for a brief period of time at the sacred shrine where final purification ceremonies are performed. The solemn procession resumes with one of the courtiers carrying wooden tray believed to contain, among other things all the ills and curses of the state. On reaching the river’s embankment, the chief linguists’ pours libation, the sacred food is offered and the ills and curses buried in the river. Thrice the Omanhen’s net is cast and thrice a gun booms announcing lifting of ban on fishing, drumming, funerals, etc. The exchange of yarn and fish between Eguafo and Edina respectively at this material time is a pointer of the historical close-knit unity of the two traditional areas.
The festival, with all its traditional pomp, grandeur,’ pageantry and unsurpassable natural gaiety and spontaneous jubilation end with a royal procession ending at the Omanhen’s Palace amidst instrumental and traditional drumming.
During the celebration , the Paramount Chief and his Sub-Chiefs, elders, fetish priests and priestesses, and indeed the entire state offer the sacred food of eggs and mashed yam mixed with palm oil oto the river god and pray for peace.
All rituals are performed on Mondays. Fetish priests and priestesses and drummers take turns to perform their rituals. There is a performance of the spiritually possessed chief fetish priest as he responds to spiritual revelations.
There is a royal possession made up of gorgeously dressed chiefs and stool carriers, some riding in beautifully decorated palanquins. After performing some rituals at the riverside, the chief priest casts his net three times and announces the lift of the ban on fishing, drumming, funerals and other social activities in the traditional area.
There is a spectacular ride on the lagoon by women resplendent in “kente” cloth and local festive headgears. A royal procession leading to the chief’s palace amidst traditional music ends the festival.
The mystic significance of Bakatue Festival is, first and foremost, to bring all sons and daughters of Edinaman together in a very unique way. It is a historical festival which portrays our unsurpassable rich cultural heritage; that which spiritually inspires us and makes us proud as a people of with a common ancestral descent. It is a festival, which has for us a sacred upliftment of hearts. As an agricultural area, the celebration invokes fertility abundance of food and fish as it invokes good health, happy marriages and worthy children: Politically it calls or peace and unity for the inhabitants of Elmina town and peaceful co existence between Elmina Township and its satellite traditional allegiance settlements. Unlike Edina Bronya which is the annual libation day in January, there is not much family re union. There are no rituals performed in homes. The ritual of Bakatue is centered on the Shrine, Fetish Priests and the Omanhen and his elders up to the Iibation on the lagoon embankment.