Ho Yam Festival

In the Ho traditional area, the Yam Festival, which is celebrated every September, is associated with the market god, Hosi. In the past, special days were set aside during the year on which farming activities were prohibited. This was to allow Mother Earth who, the festival is closely linked with, to regain her fertility. Mother Earth and Hosi are both symbols of fertility in the Ewe land and both are remembered during the Yam festival.

Like other Ewe yam festivals, it starts with Nubabla (the tying of herbal leaves). The festival has two aspects, with regards to its openness: private and public. The private aspect covers rituals associated with the gods which are sacred; the public aspect is concerned with social and family unity and involves everyone interested. The private aspect is branded by a special ritual of Nubabla, literally, the tying of herbal leaves.

See What Ho Yam Festival Has To Offer

The festival is a 5 day celebration with each day offering a unique insight into Ewe practices

Day 1: the tying of herbal leaves (Nubabla)

By Ewe custom, this ritual takes place on thursday morning that follows a market day. This day is Asitoegbe or the last day in the cycle of the four-day week. The main officials during this ritual are the custodians of the land known as Blabu, a privileged group whose main duty is to protect the interest of the paramount stool in particular and the community in general by acting as watchdogs in the traditional area. Membership is, therefore, drawn from the various stool lineages, and is hereditary, guided by customary principles. To ensure proper contact with their ancestors and gods, special herbal leaves believed to possess extreme high magical potency are selected for the Nubabla. These usually include mitsimakpa, yatsa, adudze, eyrti, womakpe, godzo, amadze, adi and palm leaf tied into a knot called Blipko.Each of these herbs is required in the nubabla to ensure successful results. In addition to the herbs, other requirements include are a bottle of palm oil, a calabash containing dry dough, two raw eggs, a pot of palm wine, a fowl, soot that collects on the roof of a thatched kitchen and ahavo, a specially preserved liquid. The actual nubabla begins with the blessing of three of the herbs, amayi, amadzi and adi, the most powerful of the entire collection. Next to this is the pouring of the first libation by the Asinuo, the market chief, to give ritual sanction to the festival. Using the three herbal leaves, three members of the blabu move to the center of the road. The spot is then swept thoroughly to remove any traces of human food prints. One of the blabu, considered to be the most clean, is stripped naked and made to grind the leaves into powder. He passes the grinding stone around his head at short intervals as a mark of innocence and chastity,as he grinds.

Day 2: Sweeping of the town (Gbomekpokplo)

Literally, the word gbome means town and kpokplo means sweeping. The whole town is now thoroughly swept, usually through the principal streets, to ensure that no evil spirits are loitering about to interfere with the celebrations. This part of the ritual is known as Gbomekpokplo. The festival really starts the next day, Friday, a market day, at appropriately the same time as the nubabla. The blabu meet in the house of their leader to commence the day’s ritual, dressed in hunting smock, locally known as adewu. In contrast to nubabla, the Gbomekpokplo ritual requires two calabashes – one containing ordinary water, and the other a mixture of water and palm wine, two different bundles of herbal leaves one of which contains a kind of herb used in purification ritual called Aflatoga, and the other a mixture ofyotsa, adudze and ewumakpa. The third item in this ritual is a fresh shoot of palm branch about three feet long with a hoop at one end known as blikpo.

The sweeping of the town begins as soon as the blabu complete their ritual. They visit almost every house in the town, paying attention to every nook and cranny. The head of the blabu leads the group with afega in one hand and the loop of the ritual broom handing on the wrist of the other hand. At the entrance of each house, the head of the blabu announces their presence by striking the afega. He then enters the rooms and sweeps them by dragging the bundle around. He is immediately followed by two carriers of the sacred water, who sprinkle water everywhere in the house. Members of the household are also sprinkled upon and blessed afterwards.

Day 3: the main festival day (Tedugbe)

The end of the Gbomekpokplo ritual officially certifies the entry of new yam into the town and marks the beginning of public participation in the festival. The Saturday after Ho market day, known as Asiamegbe, is the actual festival day. In the early hours of the morning, all heads and family members reunite to settle all disagreements and other family misunderstandings. This is followed by food made with the new yam being offered to the stools and gods by stool occupants and the priesthood. While these rituals are taking place, elders and other members of the stool family meet at the chief’s palace. The Kyeame, linguist, the stool father, the paramount chief, and the chief’s own father sit in a meeting room situated at the entrance of the palace. In front of them four tubers of new yam, two plates full of mashed yam – one white and the other mixed with palm oil, a calabash containing corn flour or dry dough and a small tumbler; a bottle of gin; four empty enamel basins, and a kitchen knife are placed. With his cloth tied around the waist, the stool father begins the ritual by the pouring libation with drinks of corn flout and gin. He picks one of the tubers, splits into halves, lays them upward about a foot apart and sprinkles the white and red mashed yams on either side of both halves. The chief takes over at this point. He also picks a tuber of new yam and goes through similar process. This process is repeated five times at different parts in the palace. After this, the whole palace is sprinkled with the remains of both white and red mashed yam. The celebration is climaxed by communal family feasting ceremony. The wife of the paramount chief and other women cook the annual dinner and invite the public to partake of the feast.

Day 4: The durbar day

To round off the festivities, a grand durbar is held on Sunday during which the paramount chief and other divisional clan chiefs sit in state to receive homage from their subjects. The occupants of various stools and families come together at the center of the town to form a colourful procession to the durbar ground. There is an impressive array of stool properties: a long list of emblem-carrying kyeame staffs and state swords, each symbolizing the philosophy and wealth of the stool, state drums; different stools; specially decorated sandals effigy of Hosi on the head of a carrier. There are also other properties, some of which are cosmetics of all kinds, including rich cultural aggrey beads; simple items such as traditional lamps, blocks of license, and neatly packaged bundles of women’s cover clothing and other superficially priceless ornaments. These items are carefully arranged in brass pans which teenage girls carry on the head to show to the public. The bodies of these girls are decorated with symbolic body decorations. At the durbar ground, libation is poured by both male and female priesthood; rites of sowing and harvesting yams are dramatized usually by cultural troops. There is drumming and dancing, followed by speeches and greetings by the chiefs and other invited guests. This marks the end of the ceremony.

Day 5: the gathering of yam peels (Tetsrololo)

Eight days after the festival day, there is a special ritual to remove the peels of the new yam from the houses in the town. It is known among the local Ewes as tetsrololo. This ritual officially symbolizes the end of the cerebrations, but the use of yam as staple food continues until the beginning of the sowing season in early March. It has almost become customary in recent years that the end of the celebration is marked by a thanksgiving service in a Christian church on the ninth day after the festival day.

How to get to Ho

Transportation to Ho is accessible from Kumasi, Accra and many towns and cities in Ghana. From Kumasi, transportation can be found from the metro mass station or from the neoplan station. Ho is about five to seven hours drive from Kumasi.