Puberty Rites in Ghana; Revisit
By Owusuwaa- Ahwenekoko
Africa University College
of Communications, Accra.
There are different stages in the life of a human being in Ghana. These stages are at birth, the puberty stage which is performed for mostly girls, Marriage and during death. All these stages vary from different cultural dimensions. Lawrence B. Harrison,” Culture is the glue that holds people together as an identifiable group”. A puberty rite is calls Dipo by the krobes and the Fantess, Ashentis and Bones calls it Bragoro. This name identifies them as a group. It is also performed in many traditional areas on societies in Ghana like Gas, Hausas, Dagombas and Jamans in a different form.
Puberty stage is the stage which a girl or a boy reaches or becomes physically mature to be a parent. In Ghana puberty rites for boys are not celebrated these days. What many tribes celebrate in Ghana is the puberty or nobility rites of girls. This may due to the fact that one does into observe any significant physical change in the body of a boy when he comes of age. But girls enter into their menstrual periods for the first and because of the bitter physical experiences some of them have, many Ghanaians perform customs to usher the girls into their newly acquired social state. The puberty rite uses to be a common practice in Ghana and is dying out. It must be revisited to curb or minimize the rampage of teenage pregnancy, illegal abortions, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV AIDS, Hepatitis B and Gonorrhea, broken homes, maid servants snatching their mistress husbands and high rate of divorce.
At puberty rites, girls who will grow to be women, wives and mothers are taken through much training like housewifery, dressing, child caring, and ideas about marriage to enable them to become good wives
When you go to Bono Wenehi, a girl who has pass her menstrual period at least four or five times and is a virgin is been taken to the queen mother of the traditional area, Nana Toa Semangyedua for the rites which is Bragoro. A Virgin girl Achiaa has passed her menses and has been examine by Nana Toa. Her parents Agya Koo and Ante Frema prepares her and send her to the initiation house under the care of some girls and some elderly women where she will be taught housewifery and many things mentioned earlier. Achiaa will take six days to complete the initiations. She is considered “Unclean” so she is taken outside her house and the initiation is performed outside the house through out the six days. For all the six days, Achiaa is shaved, clean and besmeared with sheabutter form head to foot. The bald head (Shaven is besmeared with some dark ointment). All the girls and the women initiating Achiaa take her to river “Yooyoo” to wash her there three times every day, throughout the whole period of the ceremony. Every evening all the girls and women taking part in the ceremony shout and sing traditional love songs to invite boys and young men to “come and make their choice” form them.
On the last day of the imitation Achiaa is led to river yooyoo as usual and special rituals are performed for her. She is given a boiled egg after to swallow whole. She must not chew for fear that she will not have children if she did. A chewing the egg means chewing ones own future children. The final stage of the ceremony comes when Ama Achiaa, the initiate is dressed in the rich kente cloth and decorated with ormaments to determine the wealth of her parents and family. She is then seated in an open place under a tree. This is “showing her to the men”, so that those who like to have her hand in marriage will decide to see her parents latter, but not to rape her or have pre-mantel sex with her as the youth are doing in Ghana now. It is at this point people come to give presents. A good girl like Ama Achiaa who has remains a virgin till her puberty initiation has made her family proud, especially her mother, Ante Frema who showers her with adorable presents. These presents must be given to her in public; in the presence of all. Her mother, Ante Frema, then sings a song, “Ene Kno dea me goro me Ba”.
Those performing the ceremony also sing traditional love songs and dance. At the end of the day, the initiate, Ama Achiaa is taken home by her proud parents. She can then marry any man who comes to see the parents. Not co-habiting which is rampant in Ghana; where Ama will go and leave with Kwasi Boakye and give birth to many children, while Agyaa Koo and Ante Frema has not been approached by Boakye.
Unlike the Bonos, the Korobos puberty reties; Dipo which means womanhood lasts for five days. Hero the girl as young as five is now routinely outdoors as a routine that their virginity is still intact. This means the dipo is no longer the exclusive realm of 14 to 18 year olds. Absence of chastity will surely be uncovered by the fetish priest who presides over the ceremony. She brings shame on the family and they require delinquent parents to pay large sums for additional rites of purification.
The “sonimouni”, which is the day one, girls are paraded in total nudity before the entire village with various rituals performances including admonishments to always tell the truth. She is shown how to crush corn, symbolizing her initiation into cooking anotherwomanly duties.
Day two is “Ke pam Yami”, where girl is taken to a river for ritual bath.
Day three is the “Bua Sira mi”, where she is panted with clay marks to tell a priestess all about her virginity. If she lies, a clay pot placed upon her chest will break or explode bringing shame upon her family, which no family likes and will protects and advices their members.
Day four is a solemn day- “Blemi Ke yi fo mi”, where girl receives instructions from the fetish parish.
The “mane Ya mi”, the fifty day is rejoicing day where girl dresses in kente cloth or the richest cloth her family can afford, wear beads that has been passed down form many generations of grandmothers hears, symbolic of her family’s level of wealth. This bead a times weighs up to 25 kilograms. Here also, the girl who is initiating is placed under a tree for boys and young to assess her as future wife.
The general idea of the two societies for this rite is that girls who do not wait to be initiated and gets pregnant brings shame, public disrespect and general curse into themselves and their families. At times they are even banished from the area. They also bring stigma to their family and future descendants.
In Ghana today, teenage pregnancy, rape cases, pre-marital sex, separations and divorces are been rampant. If puberty rite is revisited, all these problems will be curb or minimize. “Sankofa Yen Nkyire”; Ghana revisits puberty rites, its rich and a relevant cultural practice.