I Have Nothing More To Say, Just Come To Winneba…

Sometimes when I look at Sankor, the village where I was born, I wish the place never changed. It was a small environmentally friendly village of less than 100 people, with barely twenty houses, cut off from Winneba.

It had no light. Homes did not have running water and toilet yet we had nearly a perfect sanitation situation. We were homogenous happy people, everyone in the village was my relative, and everyone was known to me, as me to them.

Today Sankor is not only fully merged with Winneba, but it has also become the biggest single community within Winneba township. Between the days of Sankor my village, and now Sankor my town, is a story that will be told in due course.

A story was told that over 80% of the people of Winneba were primarily fishermen/fishmongers. However my village was primarily a farming community. Nearly 70% of the population of my village was farmers and hunters.

Because we were hunters, Sankor was deployed during the times when the Winneba town was under attack from our neighbors. Every male (not female) born in Sankor will own a gun by age 17 or less.

I was late in learning how to shoot a gun. This was because my childhood was truncated by my migration out of the village. Even so, by age 14 I knew the skills of hunting, and by age 15 I could go hunting.

As I grew up I came to love fishing. I will sneak to the beach and stowed myself away with the fishermen, and we will go fishing. I learnt all aspects of ocean fishing, casting various types of fishing nets, driving outboard motor, mending nets, and the arts of preparing the nets for casting. Till today I am able to perform everyone of these fishing activities.

Sadly I have a very limited childhood memories. My memories of living with my parents are extremely limited, as that was so small, and primarily of adolescent stage.

Nearly all my childhood friends were acquired from my adolescence, and nearly all of them either never went to school or dropped out of school, and left the village to towns and cities by the time they were 18. This deprived me of opportunities to develop friendships, and to grow up with my friends.

But I do recall the Kaakaamotobi days. This was the days when the Winneba Masqueraders came around the village in their masks, and fancy dress, to ask for gifts and donations towards their participation in the festival.

This began usually on Christmas day through to the eve of the New Year. At that time there was nothing like watch-night, crossover, or walk over, there was nothing like that.

As children we would have had our new clothes sewn by mid December. I recall a few times when my mother had sponsored my New Year’s clothes. Otherwise I and a few of my other friends had to work for our own new year’s clothes.

You will recall that I mentioned last week that the people of Winneba do not celebrate Christmas. It is not as though we do not recognize it. We do. But throughout my growing up life, I do not recall any day that my household undertook any form of preparations towards Christmas. All preparations were towards New Year.

So on the first of January, all of us children will dress up in our new clothes, and we moved in groups, traveling from Sankor to Winneba to attend the Fancy Dress event, which still takes place on the Winneba Advanced park. It was, and it still is, the biggest paid festival event in Ghana.

There were, and there still are, four fancy dress groups; Nobles (number one), Egyaa (number two), Tumus (number three), and Red Cross (number four). I will encourage you to read more about this festival and how these groups came about in my last week Thursday’s article titled “Winneba Fancy Dress Festival, Onaapo!”, I was published in Daily Guide and on all relevant networks in Ghana.

The competition starts with inspection of costumes. This put to test the ingenuity of the masqueraders. A lot of arts go into the costumes. Each Masquerader is in a partnership of three, or four, or five depending on the competing strategy of the group.  

Costume designs are selected by the participating masquerader himself, together with his partners. These are discussed with the leadership, and once consensus is achieved, the tailor who will consummate the design is brought in.

Tailors who sew these costumes are sent into hiding, either in the bush or in very inaccessible locations, just to avoid any pirating of costumes by opposing masqueraders. Costumes are known and seen only on the competition day.

Before I go further, let me confess that I have wondered to myself, many times, what I could do to ensure that everyone associated with Winneba, whether born here or born elsewhere, whether living here or living elsewhere, will be able to feel this same pride that I feel, and get connected to this solemn piece of art.

Our fathers left it for us. Many fathers have come to meet it in its purity. My prayer is that I should not allow my personal interest stand in the way of our collective interest, so that our generation can also preserve its purity, to enable my children harvest the economic benefits thereof.

I have always reminded myself of this duty to preserve this magic store for our collective destiny.

Anyway, before the day of the festival, there would be ensuing debates and speculations of who are those likely to win the costume of the day. Supporters of the various groups will obviously claim victory ahead of the outdooring of the costumes.

In some extreme cases, there would be speculations about the importation of especially talented Tailors from the nearby towns, and that is usually predicted as signs of superior costume war.

This is because the more sophisticated the designs of the costumes, the less likely an ordinary Tailor is able to sew. And so the importation of such Tailors is seen as a prediction for victory.

My village produced two masqueraders who were twins; Kow Panyin and Kow Kakra. They spent their entire year working and saving for their participation. Remember the masqueraders are not paid to participate. They bear their own cost of costumes, and they rather pay participation fees. Such is the strength of the passion we hold.

I did mention last week that membership of the masqueraders is either by inheritance or by exhibiting exceptional creativity, creativity not only in dancing, but in one’s ability to design costumes, and to suggest superior dancing prowess. One cannot just walk in and ask to be a member of any group.

You have to show a certain level of self-discipline, and mental readiness.

Each senior masquerader is required to have a whistle. This whistle serves as a siren for masqueraders to be given priority on our streets. They need to walk carefully not to lose any of their costume patches and decorations before the competitive inspection on the field of the competition.

So on January first, (please kindly take note that this year it is happening on January 2nd) by 7:30am when we would have began our journeys to the park, we would be looking out for the first masquerader to announce his presence on the street, and when the first one finally does, there was wow, there was celebration, there was awe, it was a delight my brother, it was a delight to watch. The entire village went gay!

The colors, the design, the shinning Christmas balls, the dots of mirrors, yes, you heard me, mirrors designed into the costumes, the hats designed to surprise the gods, the newness of the masks won to precision, the shoulder pads flowing through the back to the envy of our women, the bouncing footwear colored and pumped into celebration.

The entire appearance is not only salivating, it is an adorning of the streets of color. The appearance of that one person alone is worth every pound of excitement.

When we say the Winneba Fancy Dress is a festival of color, magic is what we mean.

It is the congregation of these masqueraders on one park, that defines us as a people. So even before the thrilling dancing competition begins, before the gods come down, we stand in awe of our heroes, heroes of creativity, we hold in our hearts the beautiful solid and inspiring military created for ourselves.

And as I look at each group lined up on the park, each masquerader standing in military precision, each costume line arranged, color to color, star to star, mirror to mirror, to match to match, and as I watched these young heroes line themselves up, I allow my own tears to share the story, and I bow in adoration, in adoration of them that gave their stories, to those who preserved it, and those who gave their spirit.

I have nothing more to say, just come to Winneba.