The Aboakyer festival has been celebrated by the Effutu people of Winneba, who were among the earliest settlers of Ghana, for several hundred years. It originated when the Effutu left Western Sudan and migrated to what is now the town of Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana. They brought their god, known as Penkye Otu, with them and they believe it is their god that protected them through the journey. This practice is related right with the name of the festival Aboakyer, which translates into ‘Hunting for animals’. It is said to be one of the oldest festivals in Ghana.
According to ancient Winneba legend, the people were led by two brothers during their migration from far away Timkuktu to present-day Ghana. Upon arrival, a traditional priest who acted as a link between the god and the people of Winneba asked the god what the people could do to show appreciation. Otu is believed to have asked for an annual sacrifice of someone from the royal family.
For some time they were practicing it and then it wasn’t Aboakyer festival, when the people realize they are losing people from the royal family. They then consulted the god to plead to him for a change in sacrifice. Their request was granted as the god asked them to present a live leopard to the shrine as a sacrifice every year during the festival.
Later they realize hunting a leopard alive was also a result of losing lives as most of the hunters were killed by the leopard. The people were compelled to make a second appeal to the god, who this time around requested that they presented a matured Bushbuck as sacrifice, which is why the annual ceremony is often referred to as the Deer-Hunting Festival.
Before dawn on the first Saturday in May, members of the town’s two ASAFO GROUPS meet at the beach to participate in purification rituals. They proceed first to where Penkye Otu is housed and then to the village chief’s palace, where they are received by the royal family. Then they set out for the bush in opposite directions, and the first to return with a live deer is declared the winner.
Each team performs rituals designed to undermine the other team’s strength, but both Asafo groups want someone to win because failure to catch a deer is considered to be a very bad omen. The hunter who captures it carries it on his shoulder and returns in triumph with his group to the royal palace. The animal is then slaughtered as a sacrifice to the god to show their appreciation for the protection it offered them centuries ago on their journey to Ghana. Aboakyer festival is not only about hunting, but there are also other activities like night of drumming, singing, and dancing until dawn. The victorious hunters are treated like heroes for keeping Penkye Otu happy so that he will bring them a beautiful year.
The people of Simpa sang Aboakyer festival story in their war chants and told it during moonlit nights. It was kept and protected till it could be written in English for all to read.