Healing and Homecoming

Descendants of African Slaves Receive Atonement in Ghana

Through washing of feet the people of Salaga symbolically ask for forgiveness for their role in the Slave Trade

Through washing of feet the people of Salaga symbolically ask for forgiveness for their role in the Slave Trade

PANAFEST (The Pan-African Festival), which takes place every two years, serves as a vehicle for bringing Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora together around issues such as the legacy of the slave trade, culture and tourism. PANAFEST is important on many levels. On one hand it allows for a somber reflection of the traumatic, long lasting effects of the Slave trade on African peoples. On the other hand it’s also an occasion to celebrate the diversity and resilience of African culture, in spite of its difficult past. It’s a unique chance for African Diasporans to reconnect, to be proud of being part of a rich cultural heritage and to be inspired by the potential of a new home. Inspired by this spirit of homecoming, Mona Boyd, the CEO of Landtours Ghana began organizing trips that help African Diasporans reconnect with their roots.

1--3MqJL6fe4NGz55AH-5-LQ.jpeg

The Atonement ceremony in Salaga, one of such trips organized yearly, is an emotionally moving and fulfilling pilgrimage that helps African Diasporans come to a deeper appreciation of their African heritage. The ceremony, which is done in accordance with traditional customs of the people of Salaga, is also an authentic example of an African cultural experience. Recently a 24 member delegation of Diasporans from New York made the trip to Salaga, a small town with dry, open flat fields located in the Northern region of Ghana. It was a major market town during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade where Africans were captured, sold and prepared for the arduous journey to the slave castles on the southern coasts. The town has a number of historical sites that stand as evidence of this dark past. The Salaga slave wells, an ancient network of almost a hundred stone water wells, was the site where African slaves drank water and bathed before beginning their trip south. The site, now covered with lush greenery, had a somber atmosphere as the delegation listened quietly to the history of the wells. But this silence was not a sign of sadness but of reflection; a sincere empathy with the pain that their African ancestors suffered and an understanding of the importance of being able to pay their respects as descendants.

1-aAWSmc1k6sLgaDQI6K4wLA.jpeg

Throughout the visit, the delegation toured other historic sites such as the Salaga slave market and cemetery. The highlight of the atonement ceremony however, was the symbolic washing of feet of the Diasporan delegation by local elders. The act of carefully washing another’s feet has often been used to show immense penance for wrongdoing and is seen as the highest way to seek forgiveness. By performing this rite the elders seek atonement for the role that Salaga and its people played in the Slave Trade. Furthermore in the local tradition, this act is seen as a symbol for cleansing and renewal; a sign that after reconciliation a new stronger bond is formed between Diasporans and their homeland. With great care and respect, the elders washed the feet of each Diasporan with blessed water from a calabash. This was indeed one of the most emotional parts of the Atonement ceremony, and though there were few dry eyes, there were many smiles as the group felt the warmth and joy of being accepted into their homeland.

1-6bhYNmzHjNvTgTGaLtYd5A.jpeg

The final step in welcoming the Diasporans to their new home was the Naming Ceremony presided by the Paramount chief of Salaga, Bismark Harruna Dari Banbange Ndefoso the 5th. In Ghana naming ceremonies are essential rites of passage and are often joyous occasions filled with merry making. After prayers, pouring of libation and a colorful arrival procession by the chief and his royal court, the naming ceremony began. Each Diasporan received a traditional name with a special meaning and was then warmly introduced to their local family amidst drumming, dancing and festive singing. As a sign of admiration and respect, members of the group were given the chance to wave the royal heirloom horsetail (traditionally reserved for only the chief) and a ram was prepared into a sumptuous feast for all present. After all was said and done, each Diasporan spoke about how incredible their experiences in Salaga were. They found immense value in the places they visited, the people they met as well as the history they learnt. It showed that strengthening of Diasporan bonds with African homelands is not only important on a cultural level but richly rewarding on a personal level. And perhaps it signals a new era, where more African Diasporans across the globe will be interested in visiting Africa, to reclaim a lost cultural and spiritual past.

Landtours™ Torgome Naming Ceremony

A name is a powerful thing. It’s one of the cornerstones of culture and society all over the world. They’re universal and yet deeply personal. A name may tie person to a country, religion, or ethnicity but more importantly, a name ties a person to a family and that's what makes each name uniquely beautiful.

Landtours Ghana has organized exciting cultural tours across Ghana and West Africa and The Naming ceremony in Torgome, a beautiful village located on the lower Volta, is one of the most captivating trips. Visitors have the opportunity to pay a courtesy call on the paramount chief and elders, enjoy traditional drumming and dancing by the villagers and participate in a naming ceremony where they are given a traditional African name.

The Georgia University Group arriving at the ceremony grounds

The Georgia University Group arriving at the ceremony grounds

In Ghana and indeed most other West African countries, naming ceremonies are part of the essential rites of passage in a person's life. The nature of the celebration may range anywhere between the elaborate and the simple, depending on the region, ethnicity and family background. Nonetheless, they are always special.

Traditional drumming to welcome the new guests

Traditional drumming to welcome the new guests

The youth performing  Agbadza  , the most popular traditional dance of the Ewe people.

The youth performing Agbadza , the most popular traditional dance of the Ewe people.

The Ewe people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana. They are the largest ethnic group in Togo and also have a minority presence in Benin, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Ewes have an amazingly rich culture dating back hundreds of years and are renowned for their unique linguistic, musical and religious traditions. These strong traditions imbue the Ewe naming ceremony with a sense of depth and dignity that impacts all those who witness it. Within the Ewe language the naming ceremony is referred to as Vinehedego.

The traditional queen mother of the people of Torgome

The traditional queen mother of the people of Torgome

The Vinehedego naming ceremony is held on the eighth day after a child is born. Before the ceremony the child is a given a temporary name based on the day of the week on which they were born. In times past, the mother and newborn child would not appear in public until this eight day, underlining the perception that the child is not part of  society until they are officially named .An elderly person of good moral standard is chosen to perform the naming rites. This is especially so because within the Ewe tradition, the child is said to reflect the personality of the one who administers the rites.

A respected elder offers libation to the traditional dieities to bless the ceremony

A respected elder offers libation to the traditional dieities to bless the ceremony

Libation is offered while the child’s name is mentioned simultaneously. Schnapps is poured on the ground ceremoniously while the elder praises the creator god Mawu as well as a number of lesser deities trɔwo. The Ewe people strongly believe that these deities  serve as the spiritual vehicles and the powers that influence a person's destiny. Soon after, the name of the newborn child is spoken out loud a number of times by the child’s father. This is to officially signify the naming of the child and its formal introduction into society.

A Georgia University graduate student receiving her traditional Ewe name along with its meaning.

A Georgia University graduate student receiving her traditional Ewe name along with its meaning.

If the child is a girl it is given sugar to taste; If the child is a boy, it is given gin or schnapps to taste. Subsequently the elder dips his index finger into the water and places it on the mouth of the infant saying, “When it is water, may you say it is water”, a charge to the child to be honest in everything they do.

A Georgia University professor receiving his traditional Ewe name along with its meaning.

A Georgia University professor receiving his traditional Ewe name along with its meaning.

After the ceremony the merry making continues as the family and community celebrate their newest members.

By Victor Kyerematen


Want to find out more about amazing adventure and culture in Ghana and West Africa?  Then visit www.landtours.com