Festival that began in 1920s as a way of poking fun at Europeans has become beloved cultural event

Young participants take part in the Winneba Fancy Dress festival, known locally as Kakamotobi, on Monday in the Ghanaian coastal town of Winneba. The parade, which started in the 19th century and was influenced by British and Dutch traders, is held on Christmas until the first day of January every year and still draws hundreds of people. [RUTH McDOWALL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE]

A fancy dress New Year festival that began almost a century ago in Ghana as a searing satire of colonial life is still thriving today, with hundreds of people dressing up and donning masks.

On the streets of Winneba, a fishing town a two-hour drive from the capital Accra, a four-meter tall Santa Claus waving Ghana’s flag marches past a wolf shimmying to the jazzy beats played by a brass band.

Children wearing matching pink and white cowboy outfits decorated in silver tinsel and Christmas ornaments dance along with their parents in the friendly-but fierce-annual costume competition held just after New Year’s Day.

The Winneba event is a “passion festival”, said organizer James Kofi Annan.

“Whether you are in Winneba or elsewhere, you want to come.”

The Winneba Fancy Dress Festival has its roots in colonial Ghana, when Dutch and English settlers would wear masks at New Year parties.

Ghanaians in Winneba began forming masquerade groups in the 1920s in part to poke fun at the life and dress of the Europeans, explained Annan.

What began as a subversive depiction of colonial life transformed into a beloved cultural event.

After Ghana achieved independence in 1957, President Kwame Nkrumah’s administration endorsed and promoted the annual Winneba festival.

This year’s event saw five groups of about 100 members vying for the top trophy.

The groups-the Nobles, Egyaa, Tumus, Red Cross and Group Five-have their own marching bands to provide the soundtrack to fast-paced, rhythmic dancing and marching formations.

To perfect their moves before the big day, they practiced in secret locations around Winneba, including in the bush and abandoned buildings.

Almost everything the revelers wear is custom-made for the event, from the harlequin outfits sewn in leather and velvet to the multicolored hand-stitched boots and tall crowns.

The costumes are adorned with a glittering array of embroidery, tinsel and Christmas balls.

The performers all wear masks, some handmade, others more generic. Santa is a favorite, and there is at least one Obama among the dancers.

The groups, made up of women, men, boys and girls, work to wow the judges with three different dance routines throughout the day.

Isaac Ambrado, 43, an architect and proud member of the Red Cross, has brought his 5-year-old son Gabriel to perform for the first time.

The father and son are joined by Isaac’s cousin, Mark Koomson, 42, and his son, Theophilus, also 5.

The two young boys held hands as they marched in the procession. Dressed in pink and white, they were pint-sized reflections of their fathers.

They wore pink and white masks with long noses under pink sun hats decorated with feathers and tinfoil.

Both fathers want their sons to carry on the tradition of the annual festival.

“I am growing older, he is supposed to come and take over from me. I have been doing it for 32 years. It is in my family,” Ambrado said.

Source: China Daily

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