ABOAKYER (also spelled aboakyir) is a deer hunting festival celebrated by the Efutu of Winneba Traditional area in the Central region.This festival is celebrated every year in the first week of the month of May.
The festival is believed to have originated about three hundred years ago when Efutu people occupied their present home along the Coast. It is again believed that the people were able to establish their present settlement through the support and guidance of their god, Penkye Otu.
The Tribal god is believed to still help and protect the people of Winneba, hence the people hold the festival to express their gratitude to him. Initially, human beings from the royal family were sacrificed for Penkye Otu. Considering that members of the royal family was dying out, they pleaded with the god; Penkye Otu to accept a live leopard instead of human beings. The god agreed and for some time, live leopard was caught and offered to the god.
However, the live leopard still claims the life of human beings and many people were heavily wounded. In view of this, the people had to appeal to the god to accept a deer as a substitute for the leopard. History explains that Penkye Otu accepted the deer because it has a stripped skin which looks like that of a Leopard skin.
Others believed that, the deer was accepted as a substitute for the Leopard because its blood and that of leopard, is similar to that of a man. The festival involves the two Asafo companies, Dentsifo and Tuafo in Winneba who compete among themselves to catch their deer first.
The festival usually starts in the evening with a march through the principal streets of Winneba accompanied by a brass band and other forms of music. It is followed by
lots of entertainment in the night like drumming, singing and dancing.The next day, rituals are performed. Libation is poured, prayers said and guns fired. The officials and men of the two Asafo companies go to the beach to purify themselves by bathing in the sea. The god; Penkye Otu is smeared with some special oil and covered with a new piece of Calico. The fetish priests and priestesses shave their hair and also smear themselves with some of the oil used in smearing Penkye Otu.
Before the beginning of the deer hunt, members of each Asafo company offer sacrifices to the ancestral spirits to help them in their deer hunt the next day. In the
morning the following day, all the members of the Asafo Companies march to Penkye Otu’s residence to be sprinkled with herbs. This is to ensure their safe return from the hunt. Members in the group smear themselves with clay, wear charms and amulets. After seeing the Omanhene, they set off to hunt for the deer.
The first group to go is the Tuafo Company since their field of operation is far away than the other group. Apart from clubs, no other weapons are used. The company that makes the first catch rushes back home amidst war songs and shouts of victory to present the deer to the Omanhene who places his bare right foot three times on it. He bids the group well done and retires to his seat to await for the others. Distinguished guest sit at Humphery’s Park to witness the return of the companies with the deer.
The deer is carried shoulder high through the principal streets of the town with
singing and dancing to the shrine of Penkye Otu. Custom demands that the Omanhene and his elders remain seated till the last person returns, then the Omanhene can join the procession.Members of the two Asafo Companies dress up (put on their best cloths) with the winners in front as they march through the main “streets of the town, singing and dancing, whilst the omanhene site in the Palanquin and follows at the rear. They are usually join by| their women in such a joyous mood.
Divination is performed to know what lies in store for the town in the year ahead. The Efutus believe that if the Tuafo group wins the context, then there will be peace and prosperity in the coming year but if, the Dantsifo group wins, then the coming year will be a year of famine and war. It is of interest to note that, the priest of Penkye Otu stays in the shrine all this while till it rains to ensure a successful celebration of the festival.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE CELEBRATION OF THE ABOAKYER FESTIVAL? After
the festival is over, the people are united and make peace with one another, their beautiful culture is portrayed and that attracts tourists from all over the country and beyond, they break from work and refresh themselves making merry which helps them to manage stress, get revenue from business people to develop the area, seek support for development through appeal for funds among other things.
That not withstanding, there have also been reports of some social vices such theft cases, issues of immorality, drunkenness and social misbehaviours, teenage pregnancies, reckless driving which leads to accidents and many others. A lot of young boys and girls go wayward during this time.