One of the less talked about festival in Ghana, yet rich in history and culture is the Kundum festival, celebrated by the Ahanta or Nzema people of the Western region of Ghana.
Both a harvest and religious festival, the start of the festival is based on the day the fruit of a certain palm tree became ripe, which ends in the celebrations to thank God for the abundance of food at the time of the harvest period of the area.
According to oral history and legends, the festival began when a hunter, Akpoley, during a hunting expedition, chanced upon some dwarves dancing in a circle. After observing the dance, he returned to his town and introduced it to his people.
Ritual dancing is associated with expelling the devil and evil spirits from towns and villages. During the festival, the dance is performed by most inhabitants of Axim and surrounding towns. It comes from Ahanta in the Western region of Ghana.
The festival lasts for four weeks, but for the first three weeks, drumming and dancing only takes place at night and on the outskirts of the towns at a place known as Siedu or Sienu. The festivals occur separately in each town that makes up the Ahanta paramount. The towns each plan independently on which Sunday their local festival will start.
The celebration consists of three main components: dancing, drumming and feast.
The people who participate in the celebration wear distinct dresses, footwear, and sometimes masks. The festival begins with musicians taking the drums to the five different shrines on the outskirts of town. At the shrines, requests for the good of the town are made, and rum is poured on the ground as a libation.
In the traditional four-week celebration, the drummers will spend the next three weeks in the outskirts practising and preparing for the fourth week. No drumming or dancing is done on the Monday of the fourth and final week. The ritual Kundum fire is lit at the chief’s palace and is kept burning throughout the festivities. The fire serves as a center of activity and heat source for preparing the main festival meal.
On Tuesday, sacrifices of fowl or sheep are offered in a sacred palace where the stools of departed chiefs and elders are kept. All of the sacrifices in the said room are performed privately by a small chosen group.
Finally, the public sacrifice of a fowl is performed in the courtyard. Singing begins on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the chief joins festivities. He enters on a palanquin accompanied by a parade of people singing and drumming.
Each night the people eat a large meal together, culminating in a great feast of the final Sunday. All the food is collectively prepared by the women using the Kundum fire, and they are directed by the elder women. The remainder of the week is spent performing the ritualized Kundum dancing. Some dances are performed by men and others by women; others are not distinguished by gender requirements.
The dancing concludes in front of the castle in Axim, as its traditional purpose is to drive the evil spirits and devils from the town and preserve another successful year.