Masquerade carnival in Ghana is a big form of Entertainment during Christmas, New Year, Easter, traditional festivals, and also during member’s funeral or other mini occasions. In Ghana the majority of masquerade groups are centered in the coastal towns. The euphoria and ecstasy this masquerade carnival conveys makes it one of the best events to enjoy when in Ghana. There is not a better place to witness 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, also called Masque fest. Currently, Takoradi is a great travel destination to relish in a fantastic, extravagant, and vibrant colorful masquerade carnival in Ghana. It is characterized by Street parading and intense dancing at the market circle and public squares. Masquerade carnival in Ghana also provides other industries such as clubs the opportunity to amass money and gifts from onlookers, shops, houses and other places of celebrations.
MASQUERADE CARNIVAL IN GHANA
Fancy Dress is called Kaakaamotobi in Ghana. It was originally held in January on New Year. The name fancy dress was coined when the Egyaa masquerade group was formed. The Egyaa people inhabit a small coastal town near Saltpond. They are predominantly fishermen and pronouncing the word masquerade was difficult for them. They used the word Fantin instead of Fancy and pronounced it Fantin-Dress. Masquerade festivals in Ghana are accompanied by brass band music, trumpets, trombones, bass, and snare drums. During festival stilt walkers who are called Sakramadu openly entertains, performs, and mingles with the crowd. According to sources, Fancy Dress was adopted by the people of Saltpond after World War I. It was adopted by sailors, travelers, and colonial soldiers who dressed in special costumes. They performed in bars, aboard ships, and in port cities of the Caribbean, Brazil, West Africa, and India. Masquerade carnival was brought to Ghana by Brazilians and Europeans (British, Dutch, and the Germans) in the early 1920’s. Carnivalesque practice is African heritage, in the olden days; Africans made and wore wooden or iron masks 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 which is an ancient port city. Abraham worked as a bar attendant at one of local bars in the town and while working there, he noticed how Europeans danced, drank, and wore assorted masks during Christmas. He was fascinated and later thought of incorporating the masquerade tradition and festival into local traditional customs. He founded the first masquerade club in Ghana around 1923 to 1924 (Nobles) with his friend and pharmacist A. K. Yamoah, in the Alata Kokwado which is a local name for a neighborhood in Saltpond. They managed to get a lot of members initially because Yamoah’s football club and other indoor game groups joined. It is believed that, membership required certain criteria and was only privy to those who spoke English.
Members congregated at dawn to form a long queue, with a brass band in tow, and were adorned in various 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. The masquerade concept quickly spread to Cape Coast, Winneba, and almost every major city along the coast such as Accra, Tema, and Sekondi-Takoradi. Members comprised of young men and sometimes women, whose ages ranged from 5 to 50. Majority of the members were in their teens and twenties. Masquerade carnival in Ghana began to depict European customs at the initial stages. Later rituals were offered to appease the gods and ancestors during performances, with the incorporation of African traditions. Eventually, wearing of funny masks, dressing like angels, and white men faded away. As masquerade began to materialize in tradition, members started to wear characters or masks which both excited and scared the audiences of children and women. Costumes and local masks were made of cloth, wire mesh, or imported rubber. Masks were worn in various styles and forms such as skeletons, faces of horror, and animals, similar to today’s Halloween. Some masks are purchased and manufactured locally using plants and wire mesh while others are imported from Europe, China, North America, and etc.
WINNEBA MASQUERADE CARNIVAL (MASQUEFEST)
Winneba is noted for its 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 and package it worldwide as seen today. Their masquerade festival is one of the more popular and oldest masquerade carnival in Ghana. Masquerade carnival in Ghana was typically started by the people of Winneba. It 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 Tumbo rusu which means “the cry (sound) of the blacksmith’s anvil” or Tummus as it is affectionately named 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 resided in the fishing communities. It was the first masquerade group to be sponsored by a European and also to wear European masks. These masquerades were facilitated by a Roman Catholic priest. The group became very popular due to their sponsorship. One particular holiday an unfortunate calamity happened in town as a member who typically dressed like Robin Hood, accidentally shot a nephew of the Catholic priest in an eye with an arrow during Christmas masquerade celebrations.
The masquerade carnival in Ghana was 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 its first state sponsored masquerade carnival competition in Ghana. This initiated the creation of Winneba Masquerade Federation to oversee the organization of the groups and the competition. The promotion by the first president of Ghana made the festival popular in Ghana and started to attract audiences from afar. It was branded as Masque fest. During competitions, masquerade groups in Winneba and other parts of Ghana converge to compete for 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 shows in Ghana. The hype surrounding the carnival nationwide is unprecedented; people come from all corners of Ghana and worldwide to take part. In Sekondi-Takoradi, almost 60% of the inhabitants are members of various groups. People of the diaspora come to celebrate during the festivities as well as the young and old, males and females. The carnival is usually celebrated from December 24th through the 1st January of every year; it is now a popular tourist’s attraction in Ghana. Masquerade or fancy dress clubs are called ANKOS. Ankos was the first known masquerade group formed in the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolis, though masquerade is widely known in Ghana as Kaakaamotobi, people in Sekondi-Takoradi call it otherwise.
The first Fancy dress group to be formed in Sekondi-Takoradi was called Ankos. Other sources suggest 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 later joined. The solitary reign of Ankos continued until the 1960’s before other groups emerged. People in Sekondi-Takoradi referenced every masquerade group Ankos because of its first group. There are about 25 or more masquerade groups in Sekondi-Takoradi and 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 starts early in the morning, on December 25th. Masquerade groups in the metropolis get prepared to converge at the Amanful Street, where the carnival takes place. They traditionally meet there to display their costumes, dancing skills, culture and other captivating arts to the general public. This display is generally accompanied by brass band, which commences to play all genres 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 comes from Europe, America, and other parts of the country. The audiences are those who are passionate and enthusiastic about the culture of art during the biggest masquerade carnival in Ghana. The Takoradi West-side Carnival.
The Most important aspect of this occasion is judging the best costumes and dancing skills group. This is the heightened part of the event for participators and is what carnival represents to masquerade groups. It motivates them to do incorporate more and it makes the competition captivating and interesting, because every group is poised to come up with more fabulous costumes and dancing moves year after year. The euphoria and celebrations in Sekondi-Takoradi during this occasion is awesome, the streets and the market circle are all filled with spectators, visitors, and masquerade groups who are moving to and fro to assemble at the venue.