Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Partial Description Of Ghana's Apoo Festival From R. S. Rattray's 1922 Book "Ashanti"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of pancocojams series on anthropologist R. S. Rattray's documentation of Ghana's Apoo festival in his 1923 book Ashanti.

Part I provides information about R. S. Rattray and reproduces a small portion of a chapter of Rattray's book Ashanti that describes part of the "Apo" festival that he experienced in 1922.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II features examples of women's Apoo songs that R. S. Rattray transcribes in his 1923 book Ashanti.

Also, click for a pancocojams post that serves as background for and an introduction to these pancocojams "Apoo festival" posts.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.

Excerpts from this hard to find books are reproduced in this blog in order to help preserve and disseminate that information and commentary. I encourage this blog's readers read that entire book, if possible.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to R.S. Rattray for his anthropological research and thanks to all those who celebrated Apoo as documented in this book.

Note: The spelling “Ashanti" was used up until the late 20th century when it was changed to the spelling "Asante".

Rattray also used the spelling "Apo" in his book instead of "Apoo" aS it appears to be given now.)

Robert Sutherland Rattray, CBE, known as Captain R. S. Rattray (1881, India – 1938) was an early Africanist and student of the Ashanti. He was one of the early writers on Oware, and on Ashanti gold weights.[1]

Rattray was born in India of Scottish parents. In 1906 he joined the Gold Coast Customs Service. In 1911 he became the assistant District Commissioner at Ejura. Learning local languages, he was appointed head of the Anthropological Department of Asante in 1921. He retired in 1930. He was killed while flying a glider in 1938.[2]."..
This page also lists R. S. Rattray's published works.

Ashanti by R. S. Rattray

Pancocojams editor's note: As given in this book's cover jacket "This book was first published in 1923 and has been out of print since 1959; reprinted University Press Oxford, 1969"

These pages are reproduced "as is" from the chapter entitled “XV RELIGION: The Apo Ceremony At Tekiman."

p. 151
"That most delightful of raconteurs, Bosman, in one of his letters to 'his very good friend', describes a ceremony which he said he had twice seen at Axim, on the Gold Coast.

Two centuries later, it was my privilege to witness this same ceremony in its natural home, whence it had been transplanted to the coastal belt where Bosman had witnessed it, when performed by some of the ancestors of the very people I was now among. They had, centuries ago, according to their own and Brong traditkions, migrated from the Gyaman country to northern Ashanti and wandered south to the coast to become the present Fanti race. The tradition of this migration thus find the most interesting confirmation in the two accounts of what are undoubtedly one and the same ceremony.

The Dutch historian of the Coast of Guinea wrote as follows:

'The Devil is annually banished all their towns with abundance of Ceremony, at an appointed time set apart for that end. I have twice seen it at Axim, where they make the greatest stir about it. This Procession is preceded by a Feasts of eight days, accompanied with all manner of Singing, Skipping, Dancing, Mirth, and Jollity; in which time a perfect lampooning liberty is allowed, and Scandal so highly exalted, that they may freely sing of all the Faults, Villanies, and Frauds, of their Superiors, as well as Inferiours without Punishment, or so much as the least interruption and the only way to stop their mouths is to ply them lustily with Drink, which alters their tone immediately, and turns their Satyrical Ballads into Commendation Songs on the good Qualities of him who hath so nobly treated them...When they have driven him (the Deevuk) far enough out of the Town, they all return, and thus conclude their eight Days Divine or rather Diabolical Service...and to make sure that he does not return to their Houses, the women wash and scour all their wooden and earthen vessels very neat, to free them from all Uncleaness and the Devil' (1)

1. Bosman's Goast of Guniea, letter X

p. 152
I propose now to give a detailed account of what I saw during each day the ceremony lasted.

It was by good fortune, rather than design, that I arrived at Tekiman, in Northern Ashanti, on the 11th April 1922, I was on my way north to investigate the rits in connexion with the great Ashanti god, Tamo-the Tando of Ellis and of Miss Kingsley. I arrived that day from Nkoranza, where I had been living for some times and making friends with the priests and 'old festish women', as Mary Kingsley's African friend ungallantly described these very charming, old and young ladies, and my repute had reached Tekiman before me.

I had 'a good press', as we should say, for I was at once called upon by every one of note in their ecclesiastical world. A stroll round the town, which included a return call upon the omanhene (chief) and the presentation of letters of introduction from the Chief Commissioner of Ashanti, an impromptu exhibition in the court-yard of the 'place' upon the big talking drums, upon which I drummed out the prelude of one of their ser-pieces-the only one I knew-a certain reputation as an elephant hunter that had precede me here -all of these combined to make these people accept me as almost one of themselves.

I was told I had arrived upon the eve of a great annual ceremony, lasting eight days, and they all promised I should be permitted to go everywhere and see everything. A delightful little side-light upon the habitual 'canniness' of the Ashanti character was later revealed by the fact that the chief, to make everything absolutely in order, dispatched a runner that very night to Judd, the acting District Commissioner at Wenki, to inform him that a European okomfo- a white Witch Doctor, as the interpreter would possible quite wrongly interpret it-had arrived on the scene, and was it quite alright?

The chief being informed that it was all right, and that the "Witch Doctor' would be considered as his (Judd's,) guest as long as he was in that district, we all settled down, I talking up my abode in the tumble-down old rest-house on the outskirts of the town. Here I was to spend eight delightful days, and to entertain the priests and priestesses of many of the gods in this part of Ashanti, who had come in from all over the country to attend the ceremony. The Apo custom, as the Brong

commonly call it, is sometimes known as Attensie, and also Ahorohorua. The derivation of Apo is probably from the same root po, ‘to speak roughly or harshly to’ of atemmie, atem die, ‘to abuse, to insult’, and of ahorohorua, possibly horo, ‘to wash, to cleanse’. To-day, as it did in Bosman’s time, the ceremony lasts eight days. I once asked a semi-educated African what it was all about, and he replied that this was a fetish custom where every one cursed every one else, where morals were relaxed and promiscuity sanctioned, where all the fetishes were brought out to walk about, and where the witch doctors indulged in diabolical rites. That is very like Bosman’s point of view. The following is another point of view. It is contained in a literal translation of what was told me by the old high-priest of the god Ta Kese at Tekiman. He said: ‘You know that every one has a sunsum (soul) that may get hurt or knocked about or become sick, and so make the body ill. Very often, although there may be other causes, e.g. witchcraft, ill health is caused by the evil and the hate that another has in his head against you. Again, you too may have hatred in your head against another, because of something that person as done to you, and that, too causes your sunsum to fret and become sick. Our forbears knew this to be the case, and so they ordained a time, once every year, when every man and woman, free man and slave, should have freedom to speak out just what was in their head, to tell their neighbours just what they thought of them, and of their actions, and not only their neigbours, but also the king or chief. When a man has spoken freely thus, he will feel his sunsum cool and quieted, and the sunsum of the other person against whom he has now openly spoken will be quieted also. The King of the Ashanti may have killed your children, and you hate him. This has made him ill, and you ill, too; when you are allowed to say before his face what you think, you both benefit. That was why the King of Ahanti in ancient times, when he fell sick, would send for the Queen of Nkoranza to insult him, even though the time for the ceremony had not yet come round. It made him live longer and did him good.’

This is, I believe, getting nearer to the reason for this ‘Lampooning Liberty, than either Bosman or my semi-educated African

p. 154
friend ever arrived at, and I wonder if this logic may not have been behind the Saturnalia of the Ancients.

Examining now, before I proceed to an account of the ceremony, the general implication of moral laxity and licence, and of insobriety, all can vouch for is that, from the first to last, I never once saw a drunken man or woman- funeral celebrations are the occasions upon which the Ashanti really get drunk, but there are extenuating circumstances even there, as I have striven to show elsewhere-nor did I hear later of one case of adultery arising out of a celebration in which, theoretically, it seems to have had the sanction of custom.

The rules with regard to this point are very strict and well defined. Theoretically there appears to be a licence in regards to sexual intercourse, but in reality this is not so, and in any case in practice, this is completely nullified for the following reason: custom enjoins that no redress for seduction or adultery may be claimed, or any complaint lodged, during the eight days the ceremony is in progress. Once this period has expired, all such cases are subject to trial before the customary native courts, and are liable to the ordinary sanctions of native customary law. In other words, if any one thinks it is worth while, he may commit an offence for which he knows punishment will be deferred until the rites are over, but after that period he will have to answer as in the ordinary course and pay the usual penalty for his delinquency.

On the other hand, should the aggrieved party, during the actual celebration of the Apo ceremony, bring any action, lodge any complaint, or make any violent scene, he immediately forfeits all right to have his case investigated later or to receive any satisfaction, and is himself fined. These facts, in actual practice, seem more than a sufficient deterrent to any one inclined to take advantage of the respite from prosecution which the ceremony gives. There is a kind of carnival freedom, it is true, which permits of any man to say to any girl (except the king’s or priests’ wives(, “No me tuo, which means literally ‘fire a gun at me’, and the maiden so addressed is expected to whisk off her clothes, that is to say her cloth. But as every girl wears a string of beads around her waist and a little red cloth tucked into this bead girdle at the front and the back, and as

p. 155
to stand nude in this country-where clothes were not worn in the not very remote past-is in no sense to stand ashamed, the whole effect is to produce results that are no more immoral to the African mind than it is for a European to ask a girl to unmask and to kiss her at a Continental carnival. [Fig. 73]

The Savage law makers if old were never fools; they legislated for law and peace and order in the clan, not for promiscuity, chaos, and bloodshed.

On the Tuesday, priests and priestesses and their followers, with the shrines of their various god, kept arriving from all over the country from Tanosu, Tuabodom, Ofori Kuron, Tano Oboase, &c., and towards the evening all paraded up and down the broad street running through the town. The shrine of the great local god, Ta Kese or Ta Mensa, as he is variously called, and those of several other gods were carried upon the heads of their respective priests under gorgeous umbrellas of plush and velvet. The blackened stools of former priests and priestesses were also paraded, being supported upon the nape of the neck by their carriers. The various gods ‘were taking the air and greeting each other’, I was informed. All their shrines, i.e. the brass pans, were of course covered over with coloured silk handkerchiefs and the contents were invisible. The priests, bearing these shrines, would go up to each other, and bending slightly forward, would allow the shrine of one god to touch that of another, in salutation. Priest and priestesses were sprinkled with white finely powdered clay on face, neck, shoulders, arms, and chest; others attended them with flat basins or plates containing more of the white powder. They would constantly come up to me and, curtsying or kneeling down, would sprinkle some white oowder at my feet. There seemed no general plan, every one in the best of good humour strolled about greeting the other gods, i.e. their shrines, priests, priestesses, strangers, and townsfolk mingling in little cheery groups (see Figs.53-6). The following day, Wednesday none of the shrines of the gods were paraded, but all the people sat about outside their houses or outside the big temple of the god Ta Kese and conversed. I talked with the chief, who said: ‘Wait until Friday when the people really begin to abuse me, and if you will come and do so too it will please me.’"


[Pages 156-157 presents Rattray's transcriptions of women's Apo songs. Those transcriptions are given in Part II of this pancocojams series.]

P. 158
Upon the same day a crier, beating an odawuru (iron gong) went all around he town calling out the following proclamation (1)

'The Chief says that I am to tell you that upon this apo festival which has come round you are (to celebrate it) by abusing him. And (during this time) if any one of your have a cause of quarrel with any one else, or if your friend should seduce your wife, or some one should insult you, and you do not keep your temper, but lodge a complaint, then you are bound by the oath of Wednesday and of Thursday, which make you liable to a penalty of ntano 16 in gold dust.'

It will be noted that this proclamation does not say anything about any relaxation in the standard of public morals, and merely insists of the fact that nothing is to be done to mar the happy and genial spirit in which the festival is to be conducted.

Friday, the 14th, was a great day. All the morning various priests and priestesses danced in public, surrounded by a great circle of onlookers. . They dance to the accompaniment of drums and singing, stripped to the waist and holding cow tails (bodua) or swords (afona) in their hands, upon which they leaned from time to time (see Figs. 57-58). All were heavily powered with white clay and most of them were covereed with suman (festishes or charms). The male priests wore the hilt made of palm-life fibre, called doso, with cotton drawers underneath (see Fig 59). Men and women carrying plates containing powdered white clay followed them about and constantly sprinkled them with it. As I sat on a low stool in the front row of the great circle withing which they danced, priests and priestesses would kneel down before me and sprinkle the white powder on the ground at my feet, or even over my bare knees (I was wearing shorts). Some of the male akomfo (priests) danced with wonderful agility, leaping into the air and pirouetting like Russian dancers. In the intervals in which they rested, they walked round the circle, greeting every one by placing their right hand between both the extended palms of the person saluted (Fig. 60).

Every now and then I would be presented with an egg. All

1. 'Ohene se me ma monte se, apo a aba tu be oi be yao, no na wo ya biara a wo ne bi wo asene ana se wo yonko ape wo ;yere, ana se obi yao wo, se wo ansie abitere na se wo ka sem biara a wo to Wukuara ne Yaorda a wu tua ntanu- pa! fwi!'

p. 159
were very much interested in my reflex camera and anxious to peep into it and see the scene reflected in the ground glass. None of the shrines of the gods were brought out during the dancing. (Fig 61).

That same afternoon a great gathering of five to six hundred persons, assembled in the wide clearing near the chief's 'palace'. Here the chief, his sub=chief, and state officials, seated themselves in a great semi-circle under their huge coloured umbrellas,surrounded by sword-bearers, executioners, heralds, 'linguists', &c. I was given a chair beside the chief. An Ashanti crowd upon such occasions seems to sort itself out, and order is maintained without an effort. The reason is that every one knows his place, assigned to him by immemorial custom, ab falls naturally into it. Opposite the chief, in the great circle, a space was kept clear for the chief priestess of the god Ati Akosua, who was presently to take her position there, with her retinue. After we were all seated, from the direction of the temple of the god Ta Kese came a long calvacade, consisting of the priests and priestesses of the gods who were attending the festival. The high-priest of Ta Kese, a dear old man, with a noble and refined face, was carried aloft in a native basket hammock (aoakan), The chief priestess was born on the shoulders of one of her attendants, as was also one other priest (see Fig, 62). This line wheeled to the left and, beginning at the left wing of our semi circle, went round greeting every one, sprinkling clay at the feet of many, and shaking hands in the manner already described. Several, I noticed, embraced the chief in a manner I had never before witnessed ; taking his right hand in their own, they raised their united hands above the head and each pressed his or her body against the other. After all the salutations were over, the head priestess and her companions went and sat down under their great umbrellas, opposite to our party, making the circle complete [Fig. 63).

The sub-chiefs, from outlying villages, now came and saluted the head chief, just as is done at the Adae (1). Next, many of the akomfo danced. A friend of mine, who bore the rather awe-inspiring title of Kum Aduasia (the slayer of sixty), the priest of a god, who I much suspect was an elevated suman impersonated

1. Chapt V

p. 160
a leopard. his spots were very effectively rendered by daubing wet fingers over his white-powdered body. He is to be seen in Fig. 64, exhausted by his efforts and supported by two men. As he danced, the following song was being sung to him, as a friendly warning, I believe, that his god was a bit out of hand:

Stop all these doings, such goings on and witchcraft walk

Grandfather, stop O!

I visited this excellent fellow later at his own village, Tamosu, and his good, from all I could see, was more suman, i.e. fetish, than obosom (god).

Another song I overheard as the dancing was in progress was:
The door of the ghosts has opened
And father is come.
The door of the ghost has opened.

Besides the dancing of several other priests and priestesses, the old executioner amused every one by his antics, strutting about pretending to have a sepow knife through his tongue (1) (see Fig. 65).

Yet another song sung on this occasion was as follows:
Is today not a good day?
Is today not a good day?
The god who is King has risen up,
He is removing misfortune from the people.

None of the shrines of the gods were brought to this afternoon performance.

The head priestess sat under her umbrella and took no part in the dancing. She appeared to be in a trance. And attendant stood beside her with a plate containing powdered white clay (Fig 66.) About 4 p. m. every one quietly dispersed, but that evening, about 6 o'clock, all the gods, that is to say, their shrines, were again paraded up and down the street. The greatest god, Ta Kese, was carried upon the head of the old chief priest, and also in turn by other priests. As the shrine

(1). In Ashanti, as soon as a person's death was decide upon, the very first thing to do was to drive a small knife through both cheeks and tongue, to prevent the victim 'cursing the King".

p. 160
of this god was brought out if its temple, a medicine man, carrying a pot of water, ran up to it, waved the pot three times in front of the shrine, and quickly inverted the pot placing it on the ground ; this ceremony is called summum Priests walked behind th brass pan of Ta Kese with uplifted hands ready to catch it if it should fall from the head of its bearer, when under the influence of the spirit. Ta Kese and many other god were under their own umbrellas.

The following gods, among others were pointed out to me:
Ta Kese, Ta Kwesi, Ta Kifi, Asubonten
Ta Toa, Ta Tao, Ani Koko, Obo Kyerewa,
Ta Kuntum, Ta Kojo, Ati Akosua, Kum Aduasia.

Ta is a contraction of Tano,

Ani Koko means, literally, 'the red eyed one'.

Kum Asuasia has already explained means "the slayer of sixty"."....
This chapter ends on page 171.

This concludes this pancocojams series.

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