Masquerade carnival in Ghana is a big source of Entertainment especially during Christmas, New year, Easter, traditional festivals and also during member’s funeral or other mini occasions. Mostly in Ghana the majority of the masquerade groups are centered in the coastal towns. The euphoria and ecstasy that this masquerade carnival brings makes it one of the best occasions to enjoy when in Ghana. Nowadays, there is no better place to get hold of a tumultuous masquerade carnival parade with colorful and vibrant fancy dress/masquerade groups like Sekondi-Takoradi, though Winneba is still noted to be the holders of masquerade carnival in Ghana, it is called Masquefest but currently Takoradi is the best place to Enjoy some fantastic, vibrant and colorful masquerade carnival in Ghana. It is characterized by Street parading and intense dancing in the streets, market circle and public squares. Masquerade carnival in Ghana also gives the clubs the chance to amass some money and gifts from onlookers, shops, houses and other places of celebrations.
MASQUERADE CARNIVAL IN GHANA
Fancy Dress is called Kaakaamotobi in Ghana and it was first held on 1st of January or the New year, however, the name fancy dress was coined when the Egyaa masquerade group was formed, the Egyaa people are a small coastal town near Saltpond, they are predominantly fisher-folks so pronouncing the word masquerade was hard for them, they instead used the word Fantin for Fancy (the Egyaa’s group pronounced it Fantin-Dress). Masquerade festival in Ghana is accompanied by a brass band music, trumpets, trombones, bass, and snare drums, people also walk on stilt called Sakramadu. According to Sources, Fancy Dress was adopted by the people of Saltpond soon after the World War I, it was adopted from sailors, travelers and colonial soldiers who dressed in special costumes and practiced plays in bars, aboard ships and in port cities of the Caribbean, Brazil, West Africa and India but masquerade carnival was brought to Ghana by Brazilians and Europeans basically the British, Dutch, and the Germans in the early 1920’s. Naturally, carnivalesque practices is an African inheritance, in the olden days, Africans make and wear wood and iron mask during traditional religious festivals and other special sacred ceremonies.
The first masquerade group was started by Janka Abraham, a native of Saltpond in the Central region of Ghana and an ancient port city. Abraham worked as a bar attendant at one of the white-owned bars in the town and whiles working there, he noticed how these Europeans dance and drink as they wore assorted masks during Christmas , the Europeans way of wearing various mask to celebrate the occasion fascinated him so much that he later thought of incorporating the masquerade tradition and festival into local traditional custom. He founded the first masquerade club in Ghana known as the Nobles with his friend and a pharmacist A. K. Yamoah, in the Alata Kokwado a local name for a neighborhood in Saltpond around 1923 to 1924. They managed to get a lot of members at the beginning because Yamoah’s football club and other indoor game groups also joined, it was said that, membership only goes to those who can speak English Language.
At first members congregate at dawn and form a long queue, amid music from the brass band, they wear different kinds of uniforms and masks. The members of the Noble masquerade group dress like pastors, farmers, fishermen, doctors, cowboys, sailors, angels, nurses, teachers and white men, they were usually backed by Adaha music. Shortly, the masquerade groups quickly spread to Cape Coast, Winneba, and almost every major town along the coast such us Accra, Tema and Sekondi-Takoradi. Members comprises of young men and sometimes women, ages ranges from 5 to 50 years, majority of the members were in their teens and twenties. Masquerade carnival in Ghana started to depict European custom at the initial stages but later rituals were offered to appease the gods and ancestors during performances, with the incorporation of the African traditions, the wearing of funny masks and mostly people dressing like angels and white men faded away, members begun to wear characters or mask that excite and scare the audience especially children and women, the costumes and the local mask were made of cloth, wire mesh, and sometimes imported horror rubber masks, depicting skeletons, horror faces and animalistics just like how Halloween is today, some of the masks are purchased and manufactured locally using plants and wire mesh whiles some are also imported from Europe, China, North America etc.
WINNEBA MASQUERADE CARNIVAL (MASQUEFEST)
Winneba is noted for it’s shinny and colorful masquerade carnival in Ghana, After Saltpond started the formation of the first Fancy dress club in Ghana, Winneba was the next major town to take the mantle to package it to the nation and the world as it is today. Their masquerade festival is one of the popular and oldest masquerade carnival in Ghana. Masquerade carnival in Ghana was typically started by the people of winneba. It all started in 1930 when members of the Gyateh royal family formed their fancy club after ignoring the approval of Kow Sackey, the group they formed was called Tumbo rusu which literally means “the cry (sound) of the blacksmith’s anvil” or Tummus as it is affectionately called now. It was led by Arkoful, a blacksmith, Kweku Akom, and Inkabi. The tumbo rusu or tummus group mostly drew their members from the Catholic youths who resides at the fishing communities. It was the first masquerade group to be sponsored by an European and also to wear European masks, these was all facilitated by a Roman catholic priest, the group became very popular because of their sponsorship. One day a serious calamity happened in the town, one member who usually dress like Robin Hood accidentally shot the nephew of the catholic priest in the eye with an arrow during one Christmas masquerade celebrations.
The masquerade carnival in Ghana was later rekindled by the first president of Ghana Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1957 shortly after the independence. In 1958, the Nkrumah’s administration promoted and organized the first state sponsored masquerade carnival competition in Ghana, that was when the Winneba Masquerade Federation was also created to oversee the organization of the groups and the competition. This promotion by the first president of Ghana made the festival very popular in Ghana and started to attract audience from afar, they branded it as Masquefest. During the competition, all the masquerade groups in Winneba and other parts of Ghana converge to compete for the ultimate prize, the prizes ranges from sponsorship deals, instruments, cash, assorted drinks and more.
TAKORADI ANKOS / WEST-SIDE MASQUERADE CARNIVAL
Arguably, the best and trending masquerade carnival in Ghana now is the West-side Carnival. It is now one of the biggest emerging carnival show in Ghana. The hype surrounding the carnival nationwide is unprecedented, people come from all corners of Ghana and outside Ghana to take part. In Sekondi-Takoradi, almost 60% of the inhabitant are members of this various groups, even people in the diaspora always come to celebrate during the festivities as well as young and old, male and female. The carnival is usually celebrated from 24, 25 and 26 December to 1st January of every year, it is now a popular tourists attraction in Ghana. Masquerade or fancy dress clubs are called ANKOS, because ankos was the first known masquerade group formed in the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolis, though masquerade is widely known in Ghana as Kaakaamotobi but people in Sekondi-Takoradi call it otherwise.
Before I continue to spew out more about the celebration and how masquerade festival is held in Sekondi Takoradi metropolis, let us quickly check out how the masquerade or Fancy dress clubs started in Sekondi-Takoradi.
The first Fancy dress group to be formed in Sekondi-Takoradi is called Ankos, other sources also suggest that the first masquerade group was formed in Aboadze, a coastal town close to Sekondi. The original Ankos was formed in 1948 in Saltpond, some years after the formation of the Noble masquerade group. It was then moved to Takoradi by the late Ekow Abaka Blankson, a native of Mankesim in 1956. The group was notably formed in Takoradi by the late Anthony Tawiah, Mr. Obosu, Kow Akyem Taylor, and Kweku Attumbu. Other prominent personalities like Kweku Arko, Mr. Bruce and Ekow Anoma also joined later. The solitary reign of Ankos continued till the 1960’s before other groups emerged. People in Sekondi-Takoradi call every masquerade group Ankos because of it’s first group. There are about 25 or more masquerade group in Sekondi-Takoradi and still counting, some of the groups are: Ankos, Holy Cities, Sunnato, Samboat, Valencia, Tummus, Punch, Barcelona, USA, Supreme, Millionaires, Nyanta Boys and girls, Iron Fighters, Unity, Missisipi, Spain, Ohyewakomem, Addyzee, Gye Nyame, Canada, Odo ye few, Star city etc.
HOW THE WEST-SIDE CARNIVAL IS CELEBRATED
The preparation start early in the morning, on the 25th of December, all the masquerade groups in the metropolis get prepared to converge at the Amanful street, where the carnival take place. They usually meet there to display their costumes, dancing skills, culture and other captivating arts to the general public, all this display is generally accompanied by brass band, which sought to play all genre of music. The costumes varies from one group to another, they mostly wear rubber mask nowadays, unlike the wire mesh of old. The spectators consist of different gender groups coming from various walks of life, some even come from Europe, America’s and other parts of the country, the audience are those who are much passionate and enthusiast about the culture and art during this biggest masquerade carnival in Ghana, the Takoradi West-side carnival. The Most important aspect of this occasion is when they adjudge the best costumes and dancing skills group, usually, this is what the carnival is all about for the various masquerade groups. It motivate them to do more and it also makes the competition captivating and interesting, because every group is poised to come up with fabulous costumes and dancing moves year after year. The Euphoria and celebrations in Sekondi-Takoradi during this occasion is awesome, the street and the market circle is all filled with spectators, visitors and masquerade groups who are moving and fro to assemble at the venue.