Young Asante boy holding king`s sword whilst performing traditional dance before the chiefs and people of Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana during annual Akwasidae festival. To celebrate the Akwasidae, elderly women versed in traditional songs, would go to the palace continue, towards the evening of Saturday called Memenedae Dapaa, to sing, memorial songs until late in the night.
A gathering called Akom occurs, here drums are beaten and horns sounded to welcome the festival amidst dancing and merry making. In the early hours of the morning the drums are resumed to rouse the dead kings (nananom/nsamnafo ahenfo) and their elders (nsamanfo) from their sleep to partake in the festival.
Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., the queen mother with some elders would go to the palace of the paramount chief to greet and wish him well.
The paramount chief dressed in his mourning costume would ride in a palanquin to the mausoleum. With the exception of the paramount chief and the Banmuhene, no one is allowed to enter wearing sandals. What really happens inside the mausoleum?
In there, the stools are placed on a raised dais and the paramount chief, divisional chiefs and elders in order of precedence, go in and pay homage to the dead kings. Food in the form of mashed yam (eto) which has been prepared in the mausoleum is offered together with strong drinks to the dead kings.
A sheep is slaughtered and the blood which is drained into a bowl used to smear the stools with pieces of meat including the lungs placed on the stools while the fat is spread over the centre support of the stools.
The belief is that the blood revitalizes the stools and the ancestral spirits, and the lungs; a symbol of breath of life serves the purpose of giving new life to the stools. Concluding the ceremony in the mausoleum the paramount chief orders drinks to be served to all present who later depart leaving the stools and the ancestors to eat and drink what had been served them.
After the rituals in the morning, a ground durbar is held at the fore court of the Manhyia Palace where the Asantehene sits in state for his people to pay him homage.
As early as 7 a.m. preparations for the event had begun and by 10 a.m. the forecourt is filled to capacity by traditional rulers and the general public.
The arrival of the Asantehene at the durbar grounds is heralded by a retinue of courtiers led by a man carrying a brasspan containing talisman and herbs believed to drive away evil spirits.
Others carry the traditional sandals of silver and gold keys (the Nsafoahene).
The key, in folklore, signifies that when the Asantehene is out of the palace all doors are shut.
The Asantehene emerges holding a traditional sword in one hand and a whisk in another and dances to traditional music and steps out of the palanquin.
As the procession passes, he bows gently to the chiefs and other subjects to acknowledge their presence.
During Akwasidae, traditional rulers usually wear mourning clothes (Kuntunkuni) but with this year coinciding with the birthday of the occupant of the golden stool, they wore kente among others including Otumfuo himself who was dressed in a beautiful kente to match the occasion.
The gold ornaments he wore that day made it difficult for him at times to lift his hand.
Only the Bantamahene, Baffour Asare Owusu Amankwatia V, was dressed in a traditional mourning cloth. This, according to tradition followed the revolt and subsequent capture of the Bantamahene during the days of King Osei Tutu.
As he was freed he became the best ally of Osei Tutu and since then any occupant of the Bantama stool has to be in perpetual mourning.
Sitting in state, he combined the celebration of the Akwasidae and his birthday with pomp and pageantry characterized with traditional drumming and dancing which showcased the rich culture of Ashanti.
Role of Asante chiefs
In the Ashanti Region chiefs are highly visible and organized strongly hierarchically, from the Asantehene, king of Asante, at the top through the paramount chief (omanhene), divisional chief (ohene) and local village chief (odikro) to the clan or family head (abusua panin).