Happy New Year

I have to write this article quickly before this year flies by as quickly as 2011 did. We spent the New Years in Ghana this year and it was enjoyable. Christmas and New Years in Ghana is not unlike that in St. Kitts. It is very family oriented, Church, turkey, ham, and so on. One similarity which surprised me was the masquerades. With their colourful costumes and their masks, they strongly resemble the Clowns which are a key part of St. Kitts’ folklore and Christmas fun.

In Ghana, the groups pictured here are called masquerades or “Fancy Dress”. Outside of Accra, they parade through the streets, dancing to a particular type of music called Adaha music with drums and brass bands. These masquerades consist only of men and their masks may be home-made from wire screens molded to fit their faces or they may be store bought.

Store bought mask with drummers in the background
Dancing Masquerades

There is an annual Fancy Dress event in Winneba (a town about an hour’s drive east of Accra) every January 1. These photos were taken in Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana. Masquerades are seen in Accra as well, however, I have only seen them in between the traffic dancing little jigs in front of cars in exchange for some change. The costumes that we saw at Elmina were much more elaborate and beautiful than anything I have seen in Accra.

I have tried to research the origin of these societies and a possible link to the Clowns in St. Kitts. I have not been able to find an authoritative source. The general consensus seems to be that the tradition has strong European origins and may have begun post-colonialization when the Africans adopted the European custom of celebrating Christmas by wearing assorted masks to dances. The Africans added a local flavor. This forced me to dispel my first assumption which was that the tradition came from West Africa to St. Kitts with the slaves. Instead, I read one account that suggested that the tradition was influenced by West Indian soldiers and freed slaves who travelled from the West Indies to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Here is a video of a group of Fancy Dress masquerades in Secondi (Western Region).

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