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The Popular Masquerade Festival

It is that season again, December is coming and Fancy (Fante) Dress Masquerade festival is around the corner. Started in Winneba, it is now celebrated across the coastal belts of Central Region, Western Region and now Tema.

Very soon, we hope to have a masquerade festival in Kumasi, Sunyani and Tamale.

Catch Supreme Masqueraders Society Cape Coast Branch and other societies as they parade through the principal streets of ancient Oguaa on the 25th during the Wakanda City Launch.

So how did it begin in the first place?

Dutch and British traders at the Winneba seaport began the tradition of the festival in the early 1900’s. Wearing assorted masks, they danced and drank in “white-owned” bars celebrating Christmas. Janka Abraham, who hailed from Saltpond, also in the Central Region, and worked as a bar attendant at one of these bars, thought of incorporating the masquerade tradition and festival into local custom in the 1930’s.

He founded the troop known as Nobles with his friend, pharmacist A. K. Yamoah, in the Alata Kokwado neighborhood. People who belonged to A. K. Yamoah’s football club and indoor games groups joined. Membership required the ability to speak the English language.

The members of the Nobles would gather before dawn on Christmas Day, dressed up in costumes, such as garb of doctors, nurses, teachers, ministers, pastors, farmers, fishermen, prostitutes, drivers, cowboys, sailors, angels, etc. The idea was to imitate the various town professions and parody the Europeans. The troop would then parade through the streets of Winneba, backed by adaha music, and would continue all day into the evening.

The name “Fancy Dress” was used because the Egyaa group, which was made up of fishermen who spoke no English, had a hard time pronouncing the word “masquerade”. Instead, they used the term “Fancy Dress”, which they pronounced “fante dress”. Soon after its emergence in Winneba, various groups were also formed in Cape Coast, Saltpond, Swedru and other Fante towns. In 1957, the institution was formalized by Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who sponsored the first parade to mark Ghana’s independence. The tradition was also spread to Sekondi in the 1960’s.

Fancy Dress festival is not only common to Ghana. There are various Fancy Dress festivals celebrated in the Caribbean. Most popular of them is “Junkanoo” (John Cannoe). Junkanoo is a street parade with music, dance, and costumes of mixed African origin in many islands across the English speaking Caribbean every Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January). These cultural parades are predominantly showcased in the Bahamas and Jamaica where the music is also mainstreamed. There are also Junkanoo parades in Miami in June and Key West in October, where local black populations have their roots in the Caribbean. In addition to being a culture dance for Afro-North Carolinians, this type of dancing is also performed in The Bahamas on Independence day and other historical holidays.

Source : Cape Coast Oguaa



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