[In the August and September 1961 issues of The Ghanaian, E. A. Ammah, “an authority on the Ga language, history, and customs” discussed parallels in the Ga Homowo and the Jewish Passover celebrations. These “parallels” included similarities in calendars, prayers, protective rituals, and festive harvest meals. In the October 1962 Ghanaian, Mr. Ammah laid out four possible explanations for these ritual parallels without committing himself to any of them. M. Kilson]
I. E. A. Ammah, “Annual Festival of the Ga People,” The Ghanaian (August 1961): 9,11.
W. C. Willoughby in his book “The Soul of the Bantu” shows the value and significance of festivals in the life of the African people as a whole. Wherever these festivals are celebrated, the background is identical. The most remarkable and striking point is that the origins are associated with the Israelites.
Writing about the feast of the first fruits, Willoughby quotes Kidd as “this feast is divided into two portions, a little festival which is attended only by the great festival men of the nation and the great which all warriors are obliged to attend.” The former, we are told, is agricultural and the latter is pastoral. Willoughby concludes: “the tribes amalgamated an agricultural and a pastoral spring festival, somewhat as the Hebrew nomads did after they settled down to agricultural life in Canaan.”
Further, writing about the joyful features of feast, Willoughby has this to say: “The feast of the Lord in Shiloh, and the vantage feast in Shechem, are so much after the pattern that one cannot possibly mistake of thinking it peculiar to the Bantu.” The Hebrew feasts, he continues, “were occasions of joyful merry-making, when the festive throng expressed itself in a type of jubilant exultation….It is a far cry from the Bantu idea of worship to the noble conception set forth in the Gospel According to St. John; but the path that man has travelled is being travelled by man.”
This sketchy introduction indicates that the African Personality is immanent in our culture; therefore, we are potentially united in spirit and in truth. The interesting point to repeat is that, the cultural identity or background of the festivals pervasive in other areas of States in Africa, are also pervasive in Ghana. The Ga Homowo Festival, which is identical to the Hebrew Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, is a typical example.
It would scarcely be appropriate to write on the Homowo Festival without making a brief reference to the origin of the Ga People. The general opinion is that “Ga civilization is as original as the Hebrews’.” It is distinctly also true in all that stands for Hebrew worship.
The basis of Ga religion is enshrined in their three great annual festivals, namely, Homowo, Nmaayeli and Nmaatoo which have a very close and intimate parallel connection with those of the Jews or as one aptly put it “are reminiscent of the three annual festivals of the Jews,” namely the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering. One very essential characteristic of them is that all are harvest festivals in which their religious feeling finds practical and inward expression in rituals and ceremonies. No one who has made a critical study and impartial comparison of the Ga forms with those of the Jews will fail to be struck by the very close similarities between them. One is indeed tempted to draw the conclusion that the ancestors of the Ga people interlard with the Jews or were probably an offshoot of them. The collective name of the Ga people is Ga or Gaga, or Loiabii or Olai abii.
Having established the origin of the Ga people, we shall now show the parallel connection [with the Jewish people].
We begin with the calendar. The Ga people, like the Jews, have two years, the sacred and the civil. The sacred begins March to April (according to the moon) and the civil, August to September, the beginning of seed-time. The year is lunar, the computation in each case starts with the visibility of the moon.
The Ga year contains 13 months (moons)—this is constant, but the number of days in the year varies, at time 364 or 357 days sometimes 365 or 370 days. Some of the months have even or 14 days, others contain 36 days but majority carry 28 days.
Some old Ga names of the months are Adani, Abisani, Eluni, Bulani. Jewish names are Adar, Obib, Edul and Bul, all are parallel. In English they are March, April, September and November.
The [Ga] sacred year opens with the rite of wheat-sowing. The first function is a purificatory ceremony. The sowing to the transplanting period covers three weeks in some areas, but four weeks and one day in Accra. It is the belief of the people that the presence of the gods on the sowing field makes this period holy, hence the ban on drumming or merry-making and funeral rites. What is most significant is that it marks the beginning of public or corporate worship. The parallel prayer is: “We turn our faces towards the rising sun, and may we eat the crops [of] Gbo, the later rain, may we enjoy the fruit of Gbienaa, [the] earlier rain.
An identical prayer was said by the Jews at the feast of Tabernacles, led by Priests: “Our fathers who were in this place, they turned their backs upon the Sanctuary of Jehovah, and their faces towards the east, and they worshipped towards the rising sun; but as for us, our eyes are towards the Lord.”
Another striking parallel is the Feast of Wood Offering; laitso kee in Ga. This takes place in August in the Homowo harvest weeks, and culminates towards the end of Nmaayeli, the Feast of Weeks; in all together four times—the third one, by all the people, particularly Asere military company.
The Jews had a similar feast.
Another very close similarity is the period covered by the festive year. The Ga [festive year extends] from the purificatory rite to the Feast of Tabernacles observed at Faanaa, [the]Sakumo River mouth. The Jewish [year runs] from the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread to the Feast of Tabernacles at Shiloh. The Gas’ [festive year is] spread over a period of six months two weeks and four days; the Jews’ covered a period of five months three weeks and four days.
Many people have been inquiring, ‘what mean ye by this service?’ The historical reply or evidence can be found in the parallel connection between the Jewish Passover and Unleavened Bread and the Ga Homowo.
It is to be noted that Nungua people used to celebrate it in its amalgamated form (Ex. 12.17) and the Lante Dzanwe people of Ga Mashie, Accra, celebrate the two feasts in their original pattern though in a reversed form;–the feast of the Unleavened Bread is celebrated on Saturday and the Passover is celebrated on Sunday (see Lev. 23. 4-6).
With the historical background given in the foregoing paragraphs, the origin of the Homowo Festival becomes obvious. If it can be held to have a background in the Hebrew festivals, then it is safe to suggest that it is a harvest festival. The origin then may be traced to the first celebration of the Passover in Egypt, backed by its Palestinian the Unleavened Bread, Num. 23.10, for the ritual helps to translate the conjecture into an established fact.
The word Homowo is made up of two Ga words, homo, hunger, and wo, hoot at; so it means, hooting at hunger. In the final analysis, it means harvest. Homowo is therefore a harvest festival.
Some authorities are of the opinion that the very word Homowo suggests hunger or scarcity of food in a certain period of the history of the people. There is no evidence, traditional or historical, to prove this. Rev. Carl Reindorf’s account of the origin of it as recorded in his history is so recent that it has no reference to the original one.
If the literal meaning is accepted, one is then forced to ask, in what period of the history of the people did scarcity of food occur, and for how many years? This is a question which the critical student should like to have an answer. It is agreed that not in every year does produce grow well. In a certain year, the main staple food of a particular locality or country grows abundantly, and in another period the people experience a lean season. All agricultural people know this very well.
It appears that no people will ever mark the abundant growth of crop as the beginning of a feast. If the duration of the lean season might be spread over some years, then the growth of the main food of the country might be looked upon as a turning point in their agricultural year.
But as I stated, there seem no such periods in the history of the Ga people. The student of folklore may remind us of the following significant sayings: “One carp is used in eating the Unleavened Bread.” Another one is, “Because of millet or food Atoko damaged his eyes.” A third one is “Noise, noise, it is because of millet or food (Noi, noi, le, nmaa hewo).
These are significant words which infer a lot. They are evidence which help to form some conclusive view that the origin of the Homowo was really occasioned either by scarcity or fish or millet. These are facts which cannot be lightly dismissed as all of them have some background in the lore of the people.
It is true, but the occasions on which they were uttered discredit their evidential implications. The carp saying was on the eve of the feast; the Atoko reference was on the day when millet was planted; it is a recessional hymn. The noisy outburst forms part of the Kpa (La) thanksgiving prayer after the celebration of the feast. So, in the end, the Egyptian Palestinian origin is historical.
One remarkable element which gives meaning and value supporting the Egyptian Palestinian origin of the Homowo is the Akpade rite, the blood smearing ceremony.
Certain ceremonies precede the Homowo celebration about one or two days. One of them is gbedzee; clearance of road for the passage of Okaikoi (Ex. 12.23). This takes place on Friday afternoon. Here Okaikoi is substituted for the Lord or the destroying angel.
In the afternoon, the lintel and the two side posts of the door in every house are besmeared with Akpade (red earth); and, in the evening, a gun is fired and announcement is made that “no one should go outside the door of his house until the morning.” This is expressed in Ga as Ole, adze kpo ee.
The belief is that there are good and bad spirits who guard the destiny of different aspects of creation. The opinion is held that there may be some of the evil spirits among the pilgrims that come to the city (Ga Mashi, Thursday; Osu to Nungua, Monday) to take part in the celebration of the feast.
It is therefore held that the Akpade rite is intended to expel or repel all that is bad and evil from every house. This is the purpose of the Akpade ritual: protection.
The Hebrews held a similar view. “What the ancient Hebrews endeavoured to repel from their houses were bad spirits, demon[s] of plagues or sickness and the like.” (See Osterly and Robinson, Hebrew Religion 1930, pp. 99-100.)
Late in the night of the Homowo eve the Ga Mantse kills a sheep (the Paschal lamb) and the flesh is shared to responsible elders to be cooked on the festive day—Saturday. This may represent the Passover.
The Homowo week is a busy period. Preparation for the feast takes place and the lamb to be slain is bought; the pilgrims come to the main towns; parents give their children gifts; daughters-in-law present mothers-in-law with logs as a mark of respect, not only between wife and husband, but more particularly between the two “extended” families.
Early Saturday, the women in every home begin to cook the festive meal known as kpekpei (kpokpoi or ko, the Unleavened Bread) eaten with palm soup. Be it noted that okro (bitter herb) is spread over Ko which is reddened by mixture with the red palm-oil.
Here, it is important to note that in the time of Christ, “the bitter herbs and unleavened (bread) cakes were dipped into a kind of sweet-sauce” called haroseth.
When the meal (the Kpokpoi and the soup) is done, it is placed at a particular place in the house of an ancestor. The head of the family then sits at a prominent place with all the members of the family around him.
I shall continue the discussion in next month’s issue, giving a table of the Jewish and Ga festivals as they seem to be very similar.
II. E. A. Ammah, “GA HOMOWO,” The Ghanaian (September 1961): 25-26.
I now present a tabulated list of both the Jewish festival and the Ga Homowo. In doing this, I have cited the Biblical writings which have reference to [the] Jewish festival.
This authentic documentation makes the similarity in the two festivals more important. The question now arises. Have the Ga people any connection, at least religious, with the Old Testament? If not, did they borrow the Homowo festivals, and how came this about?
|The Jewish Passover
|1. The beginning of the year Abib, April (See Ex.12.2)2. A household festival (Ex. 12.4)
3. The blood smearing ceremony (Ex. 12.7).
4. Unleavened Bread (Ex, 12.8).
5. The meal is eaten in haste (Ex. 12.11).
6. A memorial rite (Ex.12.14).
7. Hyssop is used in the blood-smearing ceremony (Ex. 12.12).
8. The Lord will passover the door (Ex. 12.22-23)
9. The killing of a bullock by the Prince on theFeast (Ex. 45.22).
10. The second Passover (Num. 9.13)
11. The soul shall be cut off (Num. 9.13).
12. The food of Yahowah (Lev. 3.11)
13. The joy in the Harvest (Is. 9.3)
|1. The sacred year begins in April Onwe.2. A family feast.
3. The Okpade rite.
4. Ko or Kpokpoi.
5. Ko is eaten in haste.
6. A commemorative meal.
7. Kotsa (sponge) is used for the akpate rite.
8. Okai Koi and his people are coming.
9. The Ga Mantse kills a sheep.
10. Ref. Lante Dzanwe feast and the whole Ga mashi (Accra).
11. The delinquent shall die.
12. The food is sprinkled.
13. Joyous character: Oshi and Kpa dances.
Now, let us return to the eating of the [Homowo] festal food.
All, as it were, squatting in a way ready to make a journey, with cloth round the waist. The food
is then eaten in haste. The actual eating takes place after the head of the family has sprinkled about the meal and poured “libation.” For the duration of the feasting, rank and right are absent, all dip their hands together into one dish (Ka). It is a rare social gathering of religious significance. Now, when the festival food (kpokpoi) is ready, it is eaten by all within the gate. It is to be noted that the sprinkling of the meal is not an act of ancestor worship, but an act of remembering the dead. In conclusion, it is also to be noted that the main thing in the feast (i.e., the Passover) is the eating of the “Unleavened Bread” (See Ency. Biblica p. 3500), the same thing is seen in Ga Homowo feast.
Early on Sunday morning, [Ga] women folk mourn those who departed during the year; parents bless their children, and friends wish one another compliments of the season.
The feast is generally celebrated in August. As already stated, it is celebrated in different [towns] and at different times,. First, Lante Dzanwe (Accra) Saturday; Ga mashi (Accra) Saturday 8 days later; Osu, La, Teshi, Kpone, Nungua Tuesday 10 days later; and Awutu Saturday four days later. It covers 28 days or four weeks. These different celebrations correspond with their Palestinian counterparts where, in the hilly country and on the coast, the festival falls on an average of eight to ten days later and sometimes as much as three to four weeks later.
The children’s part is the Wooye eko (We’ll eat some) ceremony. They go round the market places to solicit the fruit of the year which women sell. In the afternoon the priests and elders dress and parade through town. This is an occasion for women and men to greet friends and relatives from house to house
Homowo is a feast of remembrance, thanksgiving and rejoicing. Its joyousness is expressed in the Oshi Obene or Kpa dances.
The festive dances give meaning to the Passover (Pesack) which means to leap or limp.
“Ye shall rejoice before Jehowah your God.”
One of the rites connected with the Homowo festival is the “yam-eating” ceremony performed for twins. Parents having twins in the family take particular care of this ceremony as twins are regarded as rather unusual creatures and can be responsible for some uncanny happenings in the family.Thus, every year a special food of mashed yam mixed with red palm-oil, eaten with eggs—called “oto” in the Ga language—is prepared for their feasting. Of course, this rite is practiced only in families that are not Christian as far as membership in the church is concerned. Thus the custom is slowly dying out especially as twins have been found with the advance of time, that they are just ordinary beings.
III. E. A. Ammah, “Festivals of Gas and Jews,” The Ghanaian (October 1962): 20.
At page 24 of the August number of The Ghanaian Magazine in the column, “It Occurs to me,” Kwesi Bonso writes [that] people have been wondering about the close cultural similarities between Homowo and the Biblical celebration of the feast of the Jews as outlined in the Scriptures.
The wonder deepens into doubt, since our forefathers were ignorant of the Bible when the Homowo was handed down to them. The view that our ancestors were not in touch with the book of books seems to explain the close identity, that the Homowo was not original, and therefore of Hebrew influence. Is that so?
Without being critical, the reference to the Scriptures involves issues of great interest; (i) the similarities are found in the Pentateuch or the five books of Moses (particularly from the second to the fifth), (ii) was writing in vogue in the time of Moses, (iii) the canon of the Pentateuch.
It was strongly held by some people that “writing was unknown before the days of the monarchy.” But modern Biblical scholarship reveals that writing was commonly practiced in Abraham’s day. “Therefore, the command given to Moses in Ex. xxxi 27 to write is intrinsically natural and probable.”
Records also prove that writing existed in the days of the settlement in Palestine. Further, Dr. E. Robertson has “argued that the whole of the Pentateuch existed in or before the days of Samuel” (c.1050 B.C.) (See The New Bible Handbook. 1949 ed. by the Rev. G. T. Manley). About the canon, we are reminded “that the Torah was acknowledged by both Israel and Judah before the fall of Samaria (772-1), or probably before the division of the kingdom” (937 B.C.) Ibid p. 29. The final completion is assigned “to a date not later than 300 B.C.” Ibid p. 119.
The suggestion is that the contact must have been in Sudan or thereabout in North Africa where our ancestors must have communed with them. This raises the question of the Ga race. As previously mentioned this inquiry is partial in that Ga is not of the Hebrew stock. But it is of great interest to note that there are other scholars who defend the Hebrew origin of Ga both from type and from cultural basis.
That the Israelites came to Africa—North and Sudan is historical. There was a Jewish colony in Syene or Aswan– i.e. Upper Egypt in 525 B.C. They further penetrated as far as to the South. The inhabitants of these places were Hamites—Cushite, in the Biblical sense; among them were the ancestors of the Gas, whom the Hebrew indelibly influenced, culturally.
The reference to the Jewish cultural influence on Gas raises another counterpoint that “There are many marks of Egyptian influence on the language and thought of the Pentateuch, as to be expected if Moses were the author” (Ibid p. 122). It is significant that the Passover was instituted in Egypt.
The remarkable and practical element pervasive in Ga Homowo is the Okpade rite—the blood smearing ceremony. On the eve of the Ga feast, the lintel and the two side posts of the door in every house are besmeared with akpade (red earth or ochre). The belief is that the akpade rite is intended to expel evil spirits from every house. This is the purpose of the akpade rite: protection.
The ancient Hebrew too “endeavoured to repel from their houses bad spirits, demons of plague or sickness and the like” (See Oesterly and Robinson, Hebrew Religion, pp. 99, 100).
The prime question now is, which of the two is original? Perhaps the following is a tentative explanation.
“The use of red ochre in connection with the Gamble’s cave burials is interesting in that it can be paralleled in Europe at about the same time, so that it seems to indicate a very widespread believe in the ritual significance of the colour red” (See L. S. B. Leakey, The Stone Age Races of Kenya, 1935, p. 163).
From the linguistic viewpoint, it is of great importance to reveal that, among the purest specimens of Sudanic languages found in East and West Africa, Ga is one; another interesting point is that there is a term ‘massi’ referring to a people in Nubia (See the late C. H. Armbruster, Dongolese Nubian: A Grammar 139, 141, and 80); is this not Ga masi, the seat of Ga Traditional area?
We have seen that the ancestors of the Gas were of long, long ago. So, too, is their culture, which can be explained in these ways:
- They were of Hebrew origin;
- They were Hamites—cushites influenced the Hebrews;
- They were Hamites—cushites influenced by the Hebrews in Egypt or in the Sudan;
- The cultural affinities were widespread or common in many parts of the world, including Palestine and Africa.