Deer Hunting Festival

Wow. The deer hunting festival was a memorable experience. It happens once a year, and is a competition between the two families in Winnaba. There is a old feud between the families about from which family the town’s chief comes from. So instead of fighting directly, they hold an annual competition. The teams dress up in different colors, red or white, and go into the forest to catch a deer with their bare hands. They bring it back to to the regional chief, alive. The chief sacrifices the deer. The first group to catch a deer can choose a chief from their family for that year. Hundreds of years ago, they sacrificed a person, and then changed to a lion. I am glad its a deer now.

For days before the actual festival, people paraded the streets in costumes, carrying around their “gods,” which are something secret wrapped in twine and attached to a giant log. They sing songs and chant that their god is more powerful than the other teams god and will help them catch the deer faster.

The night before the actual hunt, I decided to go out to the bush with the hunters, at dawn. Everyone I talked to said- No you cant do it. Of course that made me even more determined. I set my alarm for 3:30, Got into town by 4:30, and ran into the forest with at least 700 hunters in costumes, about ten of them women, and none of them foreigners. We put red mud on our faces to be in disguise, and hung leaves from out heads. We ran for at least 5 miles into the forest, which included fording a river up to our waists, and finally got to the special forest, where priests had been chanting since midnight to bring a deer. We surrounded the bush, and then people entered, chanting and drumming to scare the deer out of the bush. We saw 4 different deer while in the bush, and even caught one, but they did some ceremony and discovered it was the wrong deer, so they let it go and kept searching. It took 7 hours to catch the right deer, and we were all hungry and exhausted, having pretty much running the entire time. We returned to the town, with the deer, where chiefs from all over ghana waited to be part of the ceremony. The chief held the deer under his foot, and then took it into his palace to sacrifice.

It was pretty wild. I went home and ate some Kenke-fermented corn wrapped in leaves, and slept, before going back into the town at night to take part in the festivities. Everyone danced in the street all night. What a memorable day.

I am back in Accra now, preparing for Finn and his friends to come. I went to an art exhibition last evening and was once again impressed with the art scene here in Accra. If there wasn’t so much traffic in this city, I could stay and work as an artist here.

More updates soon!



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3 responses to “Deer Hunting Festival

  1. Liza

    Wow, Maria, way to get into the culture.. I just have one question, were you in flipflops..? You dont have to tell me.

    Love, MOM

  2. Debbie Kaye

    You have a gift for finding the deeply cultural authentic activities, and becoming a participant. You will keep these in your heart and head and art forever. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us, Dear. Looking across the street into Forest Park, I wonder how the deer hunting activity might proceed there…. My choir is singing a Ghanian harvest game song with clapping and stomping and other movements. It is called “Tue Tue” with the accent on the “e”. love to you.

  3. cinnie

    what an amazing experience that must have been and I am so glad you are taking time to share with us

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