A GNA Feature by Bajin D. Pobia

There are festivals in the Upper West Region which are annual or bi-annual events celebrated by different tribes and towns in various parts of the region, in commemoration of a past event or in recognition of some personalities.

Festival-in-GhanaSome festivals, especially the few in the region, are celebrated to mark the beginning of the farming season. Most farmers believe that the success or otherwise in the yield of the crops is dependent on God or gods or ancestors; so they start by asking for the blessings of God or gods for more rain for their crops.

They are also occasions which serve as platforms to unite all farmers as they move into the farming season. There are other festivals that are celebrated to mark the end of the farming season.

Examples are the Kakube and Kobina Festivals of the chiefs and people of the Lawra and Nandom Traditional Areas respectively, and the Paari Gbielle and Buwaala Kelwie Festivals of the chiefs and people of the Tumu and Zini Traditional Areas respectively.

This is occasioned by bringing together the various farm products to show appreciation to God or the ancestors, for a successful farming season. Sacrifices are also offered to the gods of the land, to ask for their intervention in the next farming season.

They are also occasions for reconciliation, and the settling differences, quarrels and disputes among groups or individuals. These festivals make known some common qualities and beliefs of the people.

Through these festivals, the people call to mind their ancestors and ask for their protection. Festivals are also held in order to purify the whole state so that people can enter the New Year with self-belief and hope.

However, the ?Kaka? (Hippo) Festival of the chiefs and people of the Wechiau Traditional Area in the Wa West District is different from the rest of the festivals celebrated in the region.

The history behind the ?Kaka? Festival has common similarities and qualities like how God through Moses saved the Israelites from captivity at the hands of the armies of King Pharaoh of Egypt.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Then the waters closed in on Pharaoh’s armies. (Exod14:21-22).

This story of the Israelites is not different from the story of the ?Kaka? and the Wechiau people.

Like the Israelites, the ?Kaka? Hippo also saved the ancestors of Wechiau during the era of the slave raids of Samori and Babatu.

In those days when wars broke out from all directions, the people of Wechiau got wind of them, and were in a fix and did not know what to do since they were bordered on the west by the Black Volta River, and the enemies could advance from the East, North and South. There was therefore no escape route for them.

The elders, therefore, decided to meet at the chief?s palace to deliberate on the issue and to find the way forward. So many suggestions came to the fore. However, it was agreed among others that their ancestral spirits be invoked and their support sought so that they could be saved. The river god too was consulted by consensus.

The chief priest whose responsibility it was to perform the rite was given the mandate to do so. Soon after, information from a nearby community reported the ordeal it had gone through the previous night when they were attacked by unknown assailants, and able-bodied men and women were arrested, old men and women were murdered, houses burnt, cattle, sheep and goats senselessly slaughtered. In short, there was a reign of terror! Indeed, mayhem was rife!

When this information hit the whole community, a council of elders meeting was convened immediately and a final decision was taken. It was time for them to move west towards the Black Volta River.

Everybody was to head towards the river with the chief priest leading the convoy. On reaching the bank of the river, the landlord (Tendaana) poured libation to the gods, especially to the river god (Naamani). Instantly, what seemed to be a line of rocks appeared from one bank to the other to enable the people cross over to escape the wrath and capture of the pursuing enemy.

All were shocked but quickly realized that the gods had answered their prayers. They then started walking on the so-called rocks, and all and sundry got to the other bank safe and sound.

Soon, the enemies also started to cross in pursuit, but when they got to the middle of the river, the rocks sank and they all drowned. This was how their ancestors escaped the massacre of the raiders.

After all, the so-called ?Line of rocks? was not rocks but Hippos! The rest of the enemies who were fortunate not to have got to the river where the incident occurred, had no other option than to retreat.

In fact, that was how their ancestors were saved by the Hippos. So, from that time, all generations of Toboh Chiele Clan abhorred the killing of the hippo and not to think of eating its meat.

From that time until now, it was decreed that any Wecheguu who kills or eats its meat does so at his or her own risk. In fact, the person could suffer dire consequences such as death and the affliction of horrible diseases and sicknesses like leprosy and blindness.

The maiden celebration of the ?Kaka? Festival of the Chiefs and people of the Wechiau Traditional Area this May was to indicate the renewal of their profound gratitude and appreciation, which their ancestors expressed to God and Hippo for the never to be forgotten deliverance they gave them in times of their plight.

The ?Kaka? is the second largest mammal on land and lives in both land and water. Hence it is an amphibious animal.

The only two remaining Hippo population in Ghana are found in Bui in the Northern Region and Wechiau in the Upper West Region.

Therefore, the Hippos are endangered species that need to be protected for fear of their complete extinction. Besides, they are sacred to the people of the Wechiau Traditional Area.

The mere observation of the festival in appreciation of the deliverance of their ancestors during the war is not enough. Not killing the animals or eating its meat is also not enough. If the Hippos were their saviour why are their own actions so detrimental to the survival of the animals?
The challenges their ancestors faced during the slave raids, are not yet over. The area today is equally faced with development challenges, and how are they tackling it to help improve the livelihoods of the people in the area.

The Black Volta River serves not only the people of Wechiau, but the region and Ghana, and therefore, any destructive activities such as illegal mining, farming close to the river, bush fires, cutting down of trees and the misuse of agrochemicals at any location along the river can have negative effects on the livelihood and habitat of the Hippos.

The activities of illegal small-scale miners at the banks of the Black Volta River, which serves as the intake point for the Wa Water Project, will pollute the water source with cyanide and mercury substances which can pose health risks to consumers and the Hippos.

Besides, the river can silt-up and affect the water level, thereby defeating the objectives of the project and driving away the Hippos. Illegal small-scale mining is a threat to the Hippos and there is the need to collaborate to address the menace of their activities in the area, especially on river banks and waterways, to ensure that water provided was clean for consumption.

The environmental challenges of the district include the felling of twi lights on yearly basis and their use for gardening around houses in most communities in the area, cutting down of trees for lumber and charcoal production without any conscious efforts to replace them.

Protecting the Hippo and the environment is a shared responsibility, and all must avoid farming along the reserve area, and to grow more trees to replenish the depleting environment.

The Wa West District Assembly should consider building an ultra modern guest house at the site of the Hippos, and also, construct roads to the area, to facilitate the movement of tourists.

It needs public-private partnership to develop the Hippo Sanctuary.

The Assembly must give its fullest support to the development of the Hippo Sanctuary to make economic good of tourists, and enhance its revenue base.

The presence of the herdsmen and their cattle is not only causing ?bad blood? between traditional rulers and some of their subjects, but the destructive tendencies to their farms, water sources and the terrifying environmental degradation, which is on-going in the area, is a serious threat to the existence of the animals.

Unless and until some interventions are in place to minimize the indiscriminate and wanton destruction of trees by the people in the area for charcoal production, the district will soon experience desertification and the Hippos will be extricated.

GNA

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