It was still dark, the air just slightly cool, drum beats and horns blowing in the distance as my phone rang at 4:30 a.m, my friend calling me to wake me up to go deer hunting in the bush. I quickly put on men’s brightly colored Ghanaian print patch work shorts, a tank top and a tie and handed out my two red dresses to my guy friends. Cross dressing accomplished and our red scarf’s tied on our heads representing out team color we heading down our dirt road in the dark to meet the rest of the hunters on our way to the bush to catch a deer bare handed.
We hiked about 3 miles in the sand, through a river waist deep and through the tall itchy grass of the bush to an open field where we gathered before heading into the bushes to scare the deer out. Hundreds of men emerged from the distance all dressed in red, carrying drums and horns, some painted in tan sand with clubs in their hands. We were all ready, we were all prepared and we were all very serious. I realized as more and more men approached that there were no other women. Just as I had this realization a man approached my friend and asked in Fante (the local language) if I was menstruating. He replied no and the man began to explain that women are no longer allowed in the bush during the deer hunting festival because it is forbidden to pass through the river while menstruating. Apparently in the past some women would lie so they could join the fun (how the men figured this out I do not know) and they decided to forbid any women from hunting. So there I was, not only the only woman but 1 of only 3 obruni (white people) in the bush with hundreds of Ghanaian men ready to hunt.
I should explain why we are there. The Aboakyer (deer hunting) festival is the annual sacrifice for the Efutu God Penkye Otu. This festival starts out with two teams parading around town with their fetish gods on their heads. This is when the spirit of the festival awakens. The person carrying the fetish is possessed and they parade through town following the directional command of the god they are carrying. Then on Saturday around 5:00 a.m. the hunt begins. What started out as the sacrifice of a woman, then a lion is now a deer because it is much safer and people will not lose their lives. Two teams from different areas of Winneba, where the Efutu tribe lives, trek into the bush to catch the deer using only clubs and their bare hands. The first team to catch the deer must then run to the festival ground where the king steps on the live deer three times with his right foot and touches it with a sword to declare the victors. The festival ends on Sunday when the oracles are asked what the gods have in store for the new year. The Deer is then slaughtered and sacrificed.
I waited in the field outside the bushes with a few other groups who were hoping to catch the deer. The other hundreds ran into the bushes screaming, chanting, drumming and blowing horns to scare the deer out. Unfortunately after 5 hours and 3 bush screaming attempts no deer was caught. The white team was also unsuccessful and thus there was no sacrifice for the gods.
The celebrating still occurred through the night in the streets of my town, Winneba. Speakers stacked 3 high and five wide blasted hip life and azonoto and draft beer stands were pouring Star Beer for 1 Ghana cd (50 U.S. cents). I spent the evening hours in the streets dancing harder than I’ve ever danced and sweating as if I was baking in a sauna. I walked home arm in arm with my roomie and soul sister, a huge smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment in my heart.
If you want to have true experiences and memories that you will never forget you have to get right in the thick of it. Yesterday morning as I sat in the bush hunting and in the evening dancing and sweating to azonto in the streets I was nothing less than in it.