Mittwoch, 21. März 2012

Bakatue from outside

The first time I have seen the festival of Bakatue in Elmina, I was a young girl, interested in african art, specially in performaces. The festival reminded me of the Carneval in my hometown Lucern. The colourful dresses and the rhythmical music. But very soon my eyes catched the traditional Ghanaian  side and I got curious of what stands behind.

Back home I read a lot about festivals and performances in ethnological books during my studies. So I knew that there is more than colourful dresses and music. To say even, I knew that this was what we see from outside…you can say the result of the celebrations around. I was curious around what do they celebrate?

So I was standing on the side of a street in Elmina and observed the preprations of the chiefs tob e carried and their people to walk through the town to the seaside parc. In the middle of many youngsters a row of elderly men in traditionel dresses was forming up. All of them held a long wooden stick with all sorts of symbols on. The symbols were carved animals or people acting in a story, playing games or simply eating food. After asking I got to know, those clan figures are very important  to be shown on those kind of festivals. This made me think again a lot about our swiss carneval traditions. But what is behind  or before this walking to the parc? And what  is behind those clan symbols and and the importance to show it and what is behind this festival Bakatue as a whole? I took a lot of pictures form each single person holding a stick. Without asking the people from Elmina, I could only see the colourful outside and hear the impressive music.

We  followed then the moving crowed to the parc and got somewhere among the children a place to sit on the gras. Artists performed drumming and dancing shows whith short dramas included, other artists performed a circus show, walked on long sticks and dressed maskes. Traditional and political people held speaches in Akan and Englisch.

The seaside parc is  impressiv by itself. Just next to the parc is the famous slave trade castle of Elmina. Just to watch it, I got goos skin. To think of what happened here some hundreds of years ago was very dramatic and terrifiying. I always think one can feel the history on a place. To stand there I really felt the enormous moving power on that place.

Back in my mind to the festival I realised, how mixed with tradition and modern items this festival is shown.

Back home, watching those pictures I decided to know more about and to go there again to ask more about the background of Bakatue.
So I started my research about Festivals, about performances inside and outside and its meaning today.

What I learned in thoses days was to know of the two ways you can understand something: from outside to the inside or from inside to outside. It depends from where you are.

From Nadja Donkor-Kaufmann

Montag, 12. März 2012

Bakatue: Festival of Elmina - Part 3

In the year 2001 I played a big role in the Bakatue festival. I took part with a cultural group from Accra, which we renamed it after the event, benuye cultural group. We did a rehearsal in Eguafo and performed in Elmina Bakatue.

This was very important for me. An artist from Eguafo supported Bakatue as our ancestors did. The Eguafo people were also fascinated about our rehearsal.

As we prepared to go to Elmina, everybody wanted to join the vehical. We could only take a few people along.

The performance was a story telling, drumming and dancing. The story was about the importance of the traditional royal music. It was fascinating. People did not expect this story or subject at all. You can see people who knew the story were so beaming and people who didn’t know the story were suspicious how the show or story will end.

On that day on the stage I was so in the mood and that made me also to play the character as it was exactly in the story. The special connection of Eguafo and Elmina came out so good and I felt , that we could reach the audience with it. The elders, chiefs and audience was touched. This gave the festival a boost. Everybody was in a good mood and the local people could loose the tension and relaxed towards the festivities.

All important activities, like the rituals and fish catching oracle, was successful. In the end of all acitvities as we were walking in Elmina, we can hear a lot of chearing about us and thanking.

People were talking in the bars about and were surprised, that the powerful group was from Eguafo.

That made me remember one of the best drummers oft he central region  the late Openin kofi sre from Eguafo.

As we arrived in the village, all the people from Eguafo welcomed us with joy and happyness, because they heard already the informations about the show. From the people we took along from Eguafo, I saw how they felt bold and proud. Through us they were also in the activities and close to the chiefs.

Many years after, anytime we came to Eguafo, they asked me: “When are we going again to Bakatue?“

The special part in that year 2001 was, that I was there with my family for one year and my wife was doing a research about performances. That gave me also a push to organize meetings and interviews with the chiefs around Eguafo and the Abrem district. After one year we got to know the chiefs and had good conversations with them. Some became our good friends.

It inspired me so much. When I came back to Europe, I used a lot of the Bakatue activties in my teaching: The traditional music and the gathering of the chiefs in the palace judging a case.  The strong tradition in the activities, especially the important and delicate  role of the spokesmen

Witnessing this event helped me to create a lot of story telling and dance drama. I use some oft hem till now.

Peter Kofi Donkor

Freitag, 2. März 2012

Bakatue: Festival of Elmina - Part 2

Coming back from Bakatue gave us some courage. Every evening we the young boys and girls meet in the community center in the middle oft he village. Everybody wanted to hear more about the festival. One evening in the middle of the conversation an elderly man came to us and said: „You young guys haven’t seen anything, this is only few things you have witnessed. So stop feeling big with it! When I was young do you know by what time we have to get up and hit the road to Elmina to the Bakatue. Thank God the road is now a bit better. We have to find our own way through the forest and bush. We have to leave about 2 o’clock in the morning. In that night we saw a lot of wild animals and scarry things and sounds of the forest. We needed to arrive early around 4.30 in Elmina, so that the people there will not see us coming from the bush. In those days our warrior team, the Asafo Wombir and Ankobea, was very strong and powerful. If they meet you feel the real power challenge among them. What have you guys seen? Specially on the evening when the traditional priests danced I have seen much stronger and powerful priests, then what you are talking about now.“

Then one of us jumped in and said: „ we have also seen a priest which was in trance and performing very strong and powerful!“

Another old man came in and shut up the elderly person who came in first. He was then asking the elderly man: „And you! How old are you? And what have you seen in that time?“

It seemed that we have digged a history, which we didn’t intentional wanted to scratch. The old man started to call the names of the warriors and powerful priests of Eguafo, who have past away. He spoke about how powerful they were and what they did to demonstrate their power. The proverbs they are using in their worrier songs, the drumming rhythms and the gunshots were giving a very strong message to the people of Elmina already before they arrived.

Another old man, who was a palmwine seller, came in and also told us his story. He was telling us about the way he went with his palmwine through the bush for many hours to bring his wine to the festival for a special ritual. He meet the priests who were taking part on the evening dance, sat down with them and conversed. In the moment they stepped into the marked dancing field, their personalty changed completely. He said:“ I remembered one priest. I sat so close to him, we talked for hours and I could watch into his eyes. When he entered the dancing field and sat on his stool, in that moment he changed and I was so scarred. I could not watch into his eyes anymore. So in those olden time, Bakatue was so powerful. The traditional priests music, the akom, was so powerful that the pusuban was shaking.“

I came in and said: „ We also saw some very strong priests. This is my first time I witnessed this dance and I can feel the place so strong. I was so scarred, that I didn’t move an inch untill they closed. I was inside the mood of the music and the dance so much that I didn’t realised any tiredness nor the feeling for the time, which hs pasted by. Only when they closed and people started to walk away I came back to my normal condition. I think for me this was very powerful and a special experience.

Then one linguist came in and called me by my name: „ Kofi Mensah, you are still young. In the time it was so hard to get a vehical to Elmina, we have to bring the special items to the elders in Elmina who are doing the rituals for Bakatue. For us not to be late, we didn’t wait for any vehical, we also hit the same road. And if we are performing the oracle for Saturday, do you know how heavy it is to stand among the ritual celebrations? But – oh – not everything we can speak about.“

So in this evening, through us we dig into history, which I never knew before. I felt proud about Eguafo and my ancestors. I realized that Nana Kwamena Ansah I, the founder of Elmina came from Eguafo.

As our family moved to Accra I made sure that I will go to Bakatue every year.

When I joined the cultural group, I was always remembering the festival activities in Eguafo and Elmina and taught them some of the songs from there. The group playes a lot of those songs from Elmina and Eguafo till today.
Soon part 3 will follow...
Peter Donkor