Sane Eteshi – Matters Arising
Awo awo awoo!
Agban ei, bleku tsɔɔ.
Esu esu, enam enam, manye, manye,
On Christmas Day last year I was challenged by a Facebook friend to render Afehyia pa in my mother tongue. She felt that everybody was greeting in Twi because it best expressed the sentiment of the season. I declined to take on the challenge, not because I was not up to it, but because I had just come out of church in a very cold Croydon and was wondering what the day held for me indoors.
My response was that she was confused, and that on Christmas Day the only greeting worth extending was a Merry Christmas and one would have to wait until the Scottish Hogmanay commenced to wish the old year goodbye and welcome in the New Year with auld lang syne.
Christmas is Blonya or Blɔfo Nya, meaning “the white man is rejoicing”, so why should I wish anyone anything in my mother tongue? My view then, as now, is that it is not everything that one can translate into another language. Some things would amount to cultural misappropriation. It would be a bit like people calling to wish you Happy Easter on Good Friday while Christ is still on the Cross.
I beat a quick retreat from answering her and decided to wait for a more appropriate occasion – like now, Hɔmɔwɔ – to explain the richer poetry and the song of the Ga idiom. This is also to wish her Afi oo, afi! Yes, the Ga have their own way of wishing people a happy new year. It is not a translation from the English, much less derived from a Twi translation from the English.
A harvest for the Ga
Hɔmɔwɔ is the main celebration in the Ga calendar of events. It is a harvest festival, a mixture of the worldly, the mystical and the spiritual. For most of us, however, it is one big social event that has got better at each stage. In my secondary school and university days in the 1960s, it was the major event that filled the social calendar from Nungua all the way to James Town and back again to Teshie during our long vacation.
It is an annual, not a seasonal festival, and not celebrated every week or six weeks. Like some holy festivals, it does not fall on the same day every year, and sometimes the difference between two Hɔmɔwɔ festivals can be as long as 380 days or as short as 340. The day appointed each year is determined by that intricate Ga calendar of 13 months and is dependent on the position of the stars and sightings of the moon.
These mystical systems, these names of the month, we are told, are all names of stars. They continue to guide our fisherfolk in their tricky voyages on the sea without so much as a compass, and direct them to where the “fish is plenty” and how far to go out on the sea, and dictate to them why fishing is prohibited on Tuesdays.
The Dantu Wulɔmɔ is the recorder, counting the stones from one Hɔmɔwɔ to the next and leading in the spiritual rituals of shibaa, nmadumɔ, nmafaa, nmaaku: farrowing, planting, transplanting and reaping of millet. These also include the nshɔbulemɔ, the sea purification ceremony that the Anglican priests of old joined the many wulɔmɛi to perform.
The secular stuff of the Odadao, the lifting of the ban on noise-making, the dancing of oshi and the sprinkling of the ceremonial kpokpoi is led by the chiefs. And the community involvement of the Twins Festival at Korle Wokon, aye ekoo, kpaashimɔ in Teshie and shankamɔ at La are all part of this period of bringing the old year to an orderly end and ringing in the new Ga year that starts in September. It is only then that we wish anyone a new year – not at Christmas and not according to the Roman new year.
The truth lies in the idiom
In years gone by I have celebrated Ga Hɔmɔwɔ at Blɔfo Ashiee in my maternal family house at James Town and gone on to Krobo in Teshie two weeks later to celebrate at my paternal ancestral house. And when all that is done, I have invited my friends to my father’s house for all to join me in celebrating what my friends term “the Sa Lone Hɔmɔwɔ” – my own appointed celebration when I can invite all my friends, Ga and non-Ga, to join me on that day to partake of the ceremonial meal of new life.
Over the past 32 years, I have eaten kpokpoi every year, without fail, in London at a public ceremony. We bring new friends who are now family together in London, and we invite others. In this election year, we would have invited the Ghanaian political parties to come and make their presentations and their handsome and massive donations.
Sadly, in this year of COVID and physical and social distancing, of washing of hands and wearing of masks, I am shielding, so the nearest I will get to kpokpoi is to go down to Forest Hill tomorrow and find some kenkey, taking a container to get my medicinal otinshinu to fortify myself for the coming weeks and year.
So, Amma Sarfo, it is not just Afehyia pa and Afi nkɔ na bɛ tu yɛn bio and then finished – nothing else to follow. When the Ga wish you a new year, they do not have to translate from English or to borrow at all: they do it with the full idiom and flourish, and a whole poem to boot!
Ŋɔɔ wala, Ŋɔɔ wala!
Afi oo, afi!
Afi naa akpe wɔ.
Kpaanyɔ anina wɔ.
Wɔ ye Gbo ni wɔ ye Gbiɛna.
Wɔ fee moomo.
Alɔnte diŋ ko aka fo wɔ teŋ.
Ni wɔ sɛɛ afi lɛ, wɔ tashi nɛkɛ nɔɔ,
Ni nyɛmi afee nyɛmi,
Ni afi aya ni ebanina wɔ ekoŋ.
Tswa ni omanye abla wɔ fɛɛ.
Do not ask me to translate, lest I say things like “take life, take life and let the end of the year come and meet us, and let eight come and meet us, and let no black cat cross between us”!
Some things are best left in the rich idiom.
Amma Sarfo: Afi oo, afi!
Croydon, August 2020
Owula Ade Sawyerr is a writer, social activist and founder partner of Equinox Consulting, which works to develop inner-city and minority communities in Britain. He comments on economic, political and social affairs and is a past chairman of the UK branch of the Convention People’s Party.
For more pictures of the lead-up to Hɔmɔwɔ click on this link.