Culture and the way of life of people have been shown in different forms through dressing, food, and languages. However, another thing that makes people stand out amongst other cultures is their festival. Today we are delving into The Bakatue Festival. It is celebrated by the people and chiefs of Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana every year.
The term “Bakatue” literally 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.
Many have been puzzled 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 term Bakatue, therefore, is only ironically applied and no necessary action is implemented or employed to effect the opening into the sea since it is a tidal lagoon.
History Background of the Festival
Traditionally this festival has been richly celebrated each year since 1847 from generation to generation until Corona Virus season of no social gatherings. It has remained treasured and constitutes the priceless cultural heritage of the people of Edinaman.
The people of Elmina township and its traditional area, amongst the geographical stool land, are more appropriately referred to as “EDINAMAN”. Within a century and a half, the people of Edinaman have celebrated the Festival. In July which is called Ayewoho in the Fante language of the town, the Bakatue festival has flourished.
The Festival’s existence was reported to have been existed as far back as 1847 by the Dutch and was mentioned in a report by Governor Cornelis Nagtglas in 1860. The festival is used to mark the beginning of the fishing season in Elmina. The name Bakatue is from the Fante dialect and translates as mentioned earlier, “draining of a lagoon.
As The celebration of the festival was instituted to commemorate the founding of the town, It also is used to offer thanks and prayers to the gods for a good fishing year. However, the Bakatue festival over the century evolved to become a traditional festival of the people and is traditionally celebrated in the first week of the month of July to mark the beginning of the fishing season in the Elmina Township
To commemorate the discovery, a hut was erected where the emigrants refreshed. Kwa Amankwa a native of Elmina 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 honor 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.
Some circumstances beyond control have brought about a change of location of the shrine to the different spot where it stands at present. However, 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 fun activities have not accompanied this ritualistic meeting.
During times such as war, civil strife, or chieftaincy disputes, the meeting has been restricted to only the high-priest (BenyaKomfo) and his immediate deputies ‘, as well as “Birifikyewfo” on behalf of or with the reigning monarch or the regent as the case, might be
Programs and Activities During Bakatue Festival
The Elmina states set aside the first Monday and Tuesday of the month of July for the festival. All necessary customary activities are performed on this day Tuesday, women in Kente ride on the Benya Lagoon. This coincides with the annual rainy season of Ghana. Tuesday was chosen because it is regarded locally as the day for the sea god. As it is in Elmina, many fishermen in fishing communities in Ghana, do not go to sea on Tuesdays in order to honor the sea god.
During the Bakatue festival, the Paramount Chief and his sub-chiefs and the entire state of Elmina offer the sacred festival food of eggs and ‘eto’ (mashed yam mixed with palm oil) to Nana Brenya, the river god, and pray for peace.
On the morning of the festival, all members of the Elmina royal family participate in a royal possession made up of chiefs and stool carriers. With drumming and dancing, Chiefs of higher towns in the Elmina paramount area ride decorated palanquins. They then gather at the celebration grounds to address the public and celebrants.
After the procession and the giving of various addresses by selected chiefs and invited guests, the chief priest casts his net three times into the Brenya Lagoon. This is followed by declarations of the end to the ban on fishing, drumming, funerals, and other social activities in the Elmina traditional area.
There is then riding on the lagoon by women in a canoe wearing Kente cloth and local festive headgear. A royal procession leading to the chief’s palace amidst traditional music brings the festival to an end. All the fish that is caught by the net, during the ceremony, is offered to the gods as a symbol to thank them for the harvest. The day ends with merry-making after the durbar.
WHICH PEOPLE CELEBRATE BAKATUEl FESTIVAL?
The Bakatue Festival is held by the people of Elmina, which is located on Ghana’s central coast, just a few kilometers from Cape Coast, the regional capital. The festival is considered to be one of Ghana’s oldest, with celebrations dating back to 1800. Governor Cornelis Nagtglass once included the festival in an official report, demonstrating its importance.