Not a week ago, my Global Communication Systems professor brought in a guest lecturer from Ghana, Africa, to tell us about his country. I didn’t know much about Ghana, so I was interested in what the tall, dark man had to say. Smiling all the while, the kind man spoke about how politics and the media function in his respectable country. To my surprise, it is not so different from America. Ghana has generally free and fair political elections, as well as freedom of the press granted by the government, according to both the lecturer and Freedomhouse.org. One of the only differences is that Ghana is not as technologically advanced as America.
Before the lecture, my view of Africa was based solely on the poverty commercials I see on television; the mainstream media painted this skewed picture of a starving continent that does not apply to all of Africa. Thankfully, the 30 minute lecture opened my eyes to how advanced Ghana is and sparked my interest in the country’s food customs and culture. I hope you enjoy this post and learn as much as I did!
One of the most celebrated festivals in Ghana is the “homowo,” or yam festival. Homowo literally means “hooting at hunger” to the Ga people. A yam is a “tuber” (root vegetable) that is often confused with a sweet potato. Yams are sweeter than sweet potatoes and can grow to be much bigger — up to seven feet long! The tuber has a bark-like, blackish skin and a reddish, purple, or white flesh, depending on the variety. The confusion between yams and sweet potatoes stemmed from colonial times when Africans saw a similarity in the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes from America. Today, supermarkets even label sweet potatoes as yams!
The Ghanian yam festival is celebrated by the Ga people of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. Homowo celebrates the Ga ancestor’s success in a new land. Initially, the ancient Gas experienced a major famine during their migration to present day Accra, but were subsequently able to sustain themselves by planting ample food for harvest.
The Yam Festival begins in May, when the Ghanian priests sow the millet. Then, drumming is banned for thirty-days around the region, to leave the gods in peace so they can look over the yams (modernghana.com). When the yams are ready for harvest, the party begins. The women dig up the yams, and carry them home in baskets on their heads. A young boy of the family is chosen to carry the best yams to the festival dinner, and he is followed by another boy beating a drum. The chiefs, wearing colorful Ghanaian Kente cloth, follow the boys into the center of town. Music, singing, and dancing fills the air on this special night.
Although many West Africans today are Christian or Muslim, many still believe that spirits exist within all natural objects. The towns people celebrate in hopes of pleasing the yam spirits for a good harvest next year. They wear traditional clothing, as well as intricately painted animal masks. The men wear masks to allow the harvest spirits to communicate with the community. All the people gather around to celebrate all night, and great pride fills the family with the biggest yam harvest.