Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Adae Festival

In this holiday season, one of the more festive events I attended was the Adae Festival.  As mentioned in my 14-November post, the last Adae festival of the year was scheduled for November 28th.  In order to get a good seat, we decided to show up at the posted start time of 10 o’clock.  Only the Japanese film crew beat us there.  But even though we were potentially still hours from the actual event starting, the arrival of the various local chiefs with their retinue in tow gave us plenty to watch.  Markus and Steffi also had the opportunity to meet a Ghanaian who spoke fluent German, which is a real asset to the Ghanaian when many of the tourists in Ghana are German. 

Since this was the last festival of the year, the obrunis were out in droves, alighting from taxis and tourbuses every few minutes.  While typical obruni tourists like these take pictures of anyone and everyone without asking, Markus likes to get involved with his photo subjects before the photo—or the people who run the event, who can tell him when to take the pictures.  In the latter case was the sound guy, who gave us plenty of insight into the timing of the events and when/where we could take pictures.  An example of Markus’s skills at putting his subjects at ease came with this line of girls in traditional wardrobe and body paint.  He walked over to them, crouched down, and started talking to them about their role in the festival.  I followed his lead.  “Will you be dancing in the festival?”  “Did you get to choose the colors for your outfit?”  “I really like the colors in your headband.”  “Do you mind if I take your picture?”  That last question is what allowed me to take pictures like this one.  Nela allowed her bubbly personality to shine while she chatted with the girls.  Markus continued to make friends throughout the festival, chatting up one of the older men in a very traditional outfit (shown here in the middle of his dance).

 Conversely, the more typical obruni picture-taking was more like this shot, with the crowd of obrunis all taking the same picture.  At my suggestion, Markus took a picture of the obrunis taking pictures of the girls.  The guys from the Volta region who were part of the drumming group found this unbelievably funny.  But I shouldn’t pick on my fellow obrunis too much.  There were points in the festival when the locals were doing the same thing—only they were using pocket cameras and camera phones instead of the digital SLRs many of us were sporting.  I will, however, pick on any obruni who takes the African look a little too far, like this guy did.   My nation is not exactly known for subtlety, so I was convinced that he must be American.  I was both surprised and relieved when Steffi said that they sounded French.  As with the safari guide and cellphone at Mole, the juxtaposition of traditional and modern is best summed up in a picture of a young man in traditional adinkra cloth using his mobile phone.

 Music was a key part of the festival, starting with various singers and drummers who had an inexhaustible supply of energy.  Various local groups continued to show up, including a group with these adorable girls shown here.  The official entrance of all the various chiefs and their subjects finally happened a bit before 1 pm. Men in tribal dress and playing instruments preceded the chiefs, who always have a huge umbrella above them, signifying their role and protecting them from the hot African sun.  The strict hierarchy of importance meant that the number of people accompanying the chiefs seemed to grow with each chief.  Finally, the king himself entered.  The crush of spectators (both obruni and obibini) around him kept me from seeing his entrance, but I was able to use my zoom lens to take pictures of the king upon his throne.

As strange as it may seem, some locals live inside the palace grounds in rooms that look onto the square where the festival takes place.  This woman seemed ready for the festival to be over and for all the spectators to leave.  Unfortunately for her, this festival stretched on for a few hours.  All manner of important people were presented to the king, including an assistant director of THE British Museum and his colleagues.  (No offense to my British colleagues and friends, but this man looks painfully British.  Any minute now, I expect him to start expounding upon the life cycle of the bird of paradise for a BBC nature show.)  When visiting the king, you must bring a gift.  For historical reasons, that gift is almost always alcoholic and is typically schnapps.  The king was also presented with more active gifts—like this goat.

Given that it’s a traditional festival, I was not surprised that it was handled in Twi.  Unfortunately, that means I have no real understanding of much of what happened—but then again, even when things are in English, I’m often still lost with what’s happening around me.  Most of the obrunis got bored and left, or were hurried off by their tour guides to the next stop on the itinerary.  By the time that the festival was ending and the king needed to leave, the sparse attendance meant that everyone got a good view of the king.  Anticipating the end, I had stationed myself to the right of the archway shown here, at the end of the drum line. Just as with the entrance, the king stood in front of these drummers as they played for a few seconds.  He gave them the signal that everything was good and they stopped playing.  I was crouched down at the height of the drums to stay out of the way, which also gave me the vantage point for this picture of the king. 
The Ashanti King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II

Then the king turned and looked directly down at me.  I could have had a phenomenal picture of the king—but instead, I froze like a deer in headlights.  Having been warned that we were not allowed to take pictures of the king and having seen someone get yelled at for taking pictures, I couldn’t bring the camera up to eye level while our gazes were locked.  I wish I had had the forethought to click on the camera from chest level to take a wild stab at the picture.  But then the moment passed and my chance at that picture was gone.  The king and his retinue walked around the square again and left through the archway.  The festival over, we gathered up our things and headed home.

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