Adae

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An Akan term meaning “resting place,” Adae is the most important festival of the Akan. Connected to the meaning of the term, it is a day of rest for the living and the ancestors, and, as such, work, including funerals, is forbidden. As the paramount ancestral custom, it involves the invocation, propitiation, and veneration of ancestral spirits. These are special days on which the ahene (traditional rulers; singular = ohene) enter the Nkonuafieso (stool house), the place where the spirits of enstooled ancestors rest, and pour libation and offer food and drink on behalf of their people. Every 5 years, the Asantehene (paramount ruler of the Asante) hosts Adae Kese (big Adae), a 2-week period of celebration during which all those enstooled within the Asante nation unite in Kumasi (the capital of Asante) and reaffirm their allegiance to the Asantehene and the Sika Dwa (Golden Stool), the spiritual seat of the Asante nation.
It is through the celebration of the Adae that the Akan calendar is conceptualized: One year is represented by nine Adae. Following the Akan calendar, according to which each cycle constitutes a period of 42 days, the Adae is celebrated on two occasions in each cycle—Akwasidae (“sacred Sunday”; Adae falling on Sunday) and Awukudae (“sacred Wednesday”; Adae falling on Wednesday). Distinct from the Adae Kese, Akwasidae and Awukudae festivals are more localized, celebrated by every ohene in his community among his people.
Akwasidae, usually celebrated as a public ritual, is the grander of the two festivals. However, the general public does not participate in the most important aspect of the festival, which takes place in the Nkonuafieso. On the Akwasidae morn, each ohene, accompanied by his elders and attendants, lowers his cloth to bare his shoulders and removes his sandals as a sign of humility and respect before the ancestors. Entering the Nkonuafieso, he greets the ancestors by calling each of their names, one by one, and offering them each a drink through libation. The ancestors are then offered a sheep, whose blood is smeared on the stools, as well as special foods prepared in their honor. The ohene then sits in state to receive his people. On these sacred days, personal and community disputes as well as important political matters are often addressed publicly in the presence of the ohene.
Equally important to Adae are the preparations for the festivals. The day before Akwasidae, Memeneda Dapaa, is considered a good or “lucky” day. On this day, all of the preparations needed for Akwasidae are attended to by all those involved in the celebration. This includes ritual drumming to announce the events of the coming day and the invocation of the spirits of ancestral drummers, seeking their cooperation and blessings for a successful Akwasidae. Also on this day, ritual drummers call upon the Creator, various abosom (deities), and enstooled ancestors in such a way as to recite the local history of the community.
It is important to note the relative significance of festivals for the Akan. Rather than arbitrary celebrations, festivals are reflective of the culture and traditions of the Akan and serve historical, spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, and moral functions within the society. Thus, the Adae in particular teaches and reinforces not only the history of the Akan, but local histories as well; expresses continuity between the physical and the spiritual, the living and the ancestral; reunites family and friends and provides a site for the settling of disputes; contributes economically to the locale via attendees' contributions; offers the people an opportunity to assess the efficiency of their ohene; and strengthens each person's role in the community.
On a more individual level, the Adae is also recognized through ritual by spiritual practitioners of the Akan tradition. Each Akwasidae, Akomfo (traditional priests; singular: okomfo) and their attendees hold an Akom. Akom is the general term given to a series of dances performed by the Akomfo. It is an intricate system of communication and healing that provides an opportunity for dancing to the specific cadences of religious drumming during what may be characterized as a spiritual gathering of the ancestors, the abosom, and the people gathered who sing, clap, drum, and dance.
The Akom may be thought of as an extraordinarily good time, as well as a precise and sophisticated formula for raising spiritual consciousness, and thus is an appropriate ritual for Akwasidae. In the spiritual tradition, all are encouraged to recognize and celebrate Akwasidae because it provides a communal means through which to maintain contact with the ancestors. Awukudae, which falls on the fourth Wednesday after Akwasidae, is primarily celebrated in the Eastern region of Ghana and is seen as the Adae on which people should work toward good causes (i.e., feed the hungry, make monetary donations, help the needy, etc.). During this Adae, particular attention is paid to the shrines of personal and family ancestors.
Adae emphasizes and further reinforces the essential Akan principle that the living require the cooperation of the ancestors in their daily existence. This periodic invocation and veneration of the ancestors keeps their memory and spirits alive in the minds of the people and the heart of the community.

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Further Reading

  • Fosu, K. A. (2001). Festivals in Ghana. Kumasi, Ghana: Author.
  • Opoku, K. A. (1978). West African Traditional Religion. Accra, Ghana: FEP International Private Ltd.
  • Opokuwaa, N. A. K. (2005). The Quest for Spiritual Transformation: Introduction to Traditional Akan Religion, Rituals and Practices. New York: iUniverse.