Libmonster ID: UK-1393
Author(s) of the publication: A. O. LAPUSHKINA


Candidate, Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: Ghana, awatime, syncretism, Christianity, rituals

The Awatime (self-named: Kedone) are a small people (approximately 24,000 people) living in the Volta region of southeastern Ghana. Language: siya 1 (otherwise-sideme, siyase) groups of the KWA, a Niger-Congo language family. Avatime district (part of the Volta region) has 8 villages. Main occupations: agriculture, weaving, trade. Main traditional festival: Amu Rice Festival.

The pedicure salon "Thank you, Jesus!", the mobile operator "Son of God", buses, walls of houses, shops, fences painted with quotations from the Bible-all this attracted our attention (mine and Maria, students of RSUH) not only in the capital of Ghana - Accra, but also in the regions of the South-west of the east of the country... Ghana's population is multi-religious. According to the 2010 census, Christians make up 71.2%, Muslims-17.6%, adherents of traditional beliefs-5.2%2. However, statistics do not reflect the intertwining of religious systems in the minds of local residents.

Every Sunday, residents of Awatime put on their best outfits made of modern, but reproducing traditional, Ghanaian fabric and go to a Christian church. During the week, some groups of Avatime gather in each other's homes for a common prayer. It is not uncommon for people to leave work when someone is told that they need to fast on this day. Sometimes a priest leaves his post and becomes a servant of the cult of the deity Aya, the patron saint of the Avatime people, because he heard his voice and accepted the assignment, thus acquiring the status of the spiritual father of the entire people...

Is it possible to speak of syncretism in this case?* The question arises in connection with the existence in the minds of people of a model of perception of the world, which implies a merger of traditional strata and a relatively recent layer of Christianity.


Our first expedition to the Avatime residential areas took place in 2011 and lasted three months. During this time, ethnographic material was collected, representatives of various social strata of Avatime were interviewed, and schoolchildren in primary and secondary schools of one of the villages were interviewed. During the second expedition in 2012-2013, which also lasted 3 months, it was possible to collect material that made it possible to record the oral history of the people in writing during conversations with elders and village leaders. The information obtained during this expedition made it possible to make sure that the ritual and its attributes at Avatime have deep mythological roots.

There are about 50 churches belonging to the 21st Christian denomination in the Avatime lands and villages. The church for avatime is an important element of religious and social life, one of the main communication centers. But ancient rituals that have nothing to do with Christianity are still alive today. We were able to attend one of these "sacraments" in 2011. However, before you talk about the action itself and its place in the Avatime value system, you should refer to its reflection in written sources.

* A system that evolved from the combination of several contradictory theories (Explanatory Dictionary of Ushakov, D. N. Ushakov, 1935-1940 - Religious syncretism, including those based on African materials, has been studied by Russian experts. See, for example: Traditional and syncretic religions of Africa. Moscow, 1986.

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During the trip, we met one of the most respected elders, Komlaji, whose grandfather built the first evangelical church in the central village of Vane. In one of our conversations, he mentioned a book, Ghana and the New Africa, 3 given to his father in the 1960s. In the elder's family, the book is passed down from generation to generation as a family heirloom.

One of the chapters in this book, written by the anthropologist Douglas Warner, a contributor to the African magazine Drum, is titled "God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit", which describes a ritual that we might call "testing the morals of men and women" by avatime. According to Komlaji, only this book contains information about this ritual, which is no longer known to every representative of his people.

After studying the ritual according to Warner's descriptions, we decided to find out how relevant it is at the present time, what its modern function is, and who can take part in it. Although the book was published in 1960, 51 years later we tried to follow the author's path exactly.


This ritual is part of the Amu Rice festival, which is held every year in November ("Amu", translated from sideme, means brown rice, which is also used for sacred purposes). Amu is a week of clearly defined days of gratitude for the harvest. Previously, the festival was dedicated only to the patron saint Avatima Aya, and now to Jesus. On the seventh day, after all the prescribed rites, the Avatime go to church.

Our friend Aganu, who used to be a deacon of the Catholic church in one of the villages of Avatime, helped us to get permission to observe the ritual, and therefore he is closely acquainted with the priest who became a servant of the Aya and acts as the "spiritual father" of all the Avatime people.

According to legend, the Avatime came from Mesopotamia accompanied by three deities, whom they brought in clay pots. Currently, their names are interpreted as God the father Aya, God the son Ayapo and the holy spirit Ibor-by analogy with the Christian Trinity.

According to the village chief Vane, "avatime" - according to one version-means" tired of war", which in the Sideme language sounds like awati ume. After a long march from Ahant (western Ghana) to the east, the people, led by the Awati chief, stopped at Mount Ohulosu (near the border with modern Togo). When Avati awoke in the morning, he found a dead python under the leaves where he had been sleeping. The preserved life of the chief served as a sign for the foundation of the first village of avatime - Biakpa at the foot of the mountain.

Now in the place where, according to legend, Avati slept, there are two pots filled with water. This place is considered sacred, and still some rituals are performed there. The third pot of brown rice, which Avatime says was brought all the way from Mesopotamia, was left in Biakpa.

Currently, the pot is still kept in the sanctuary of Biakpa, where the "spiritual father" still performs the service.


When Aganu and I applied to the chief and elders of Biakpa village for permission to participate in the ritual, we were invited to the community house and offered a glass of gin (especially popular in this village; others consume mainly palm wine). Usually, any meeting with the chief or elders began with a ritual-spilling an alcoholic drink on the ground, preferably next to the right foot. Then drink the rest.

We were interested in the meaning of the ritual, but each respondent gave their own interpretation. The most common version is that the ritual means honoring the ancestors who rest in the ground and calling them to participate in a conversation; according to another version, the ritual means honoring angels.

The elders couldn't make up their minds about paying us to watch the ritual. In the end, they demanded that we buy a goat, a piece of black cloth for the head band and mantle of the "spiritual father", and two bottles of gin. At the same time, it turned out that only one day a year is allowed to climb Mount Ohulosu, and in no case can this be done after the funeral. However, if we accept their terms, they were willing to make an exception for us.

All of this surprised our friend Agana, made us doubt the transparency of the elders 'intentions and their decency, and we went to the "spiritual father", who agreed to take us to the sacred place the next day for just a bottle of gin, without which, as he claimed, the ritual could not take place.

On the appointed day, we met the "spiritual father" at the sanctuary, where the third pot was kept. The temple turned out to be a small room with concrete walls, no electricity, flooring, or windows. At the entrance to the courtyard where the "peace stone" was located, which is considered the first stone in the foundation of the first village of avatime, we had to take off our shoes, as we were stepping on sacred ground. In the corner of the temple was a pot filled with the same "rice from Mesopotamia". Two halves of a calabash, a broom made of dried herbs, a cow's horn, a wreath and the black robes of the" spiritual father " hung on the wall, being the main sacred objects.

The ritual began with an address from the "spiritual father" to Aya with a warning about our intentions to visit the sacred place. Then, after sprinkling gin on the ground, he loudly uttered a few phrases in Sideme, asking for Aya's blessing, so that we could set out. The words "Palestine", "Mesopotamia" and even "Russia" were especially loud - the "spiritual father" already knew that we were Russians.

* Translated from sideme, "oxulo" means "hills", and " su " means near (author's note).

** Dried gourd jar (approx. author's note).

page 62

After a long monologue ,the "father" would pour gin into a glass, take a sip, and then, without drinking, fill the pot with it. And I did it three times. Then, he would chew a handful of brown rice and swallow it.

Crumbled chalk and ochre were piled on the small stone tiles. "Father" painted his fingers white and touched his face and the faces of the men sitting next to him three times, leaving white stripes on his cheeks. Then the same thing happened again with ocher, and then again with chalk. The "spiritual father" explained the symbolism of flowers as peace-war-peace, and the action itself as a symbol that peace should always triumph over war.

Finally, Ai's announcement of our imminent visit ended, and "father" put on a black robe, explaining that the black skin and black robe were a double protection against the dark forces that he was exposed to as he ascended to the sacred site.

When we left the sanctuary and set out, our guide was already unsteady on his feet - whether this was the result of the dark forces or the fact that the bottle of gin was emptied is unknown. Still, we climbed steadily up the mountain, following narrow paths through dense undergrowth.

On the way, the "father" periodically shouted " Agu!" (this word is also used in everyday life, when someone wants to warn about their arrival or asks permission to enter), again and again notifying us of our approach.


When we came to the area with the two pots, "father" asked us to stop some distance away so that he would be the first to approach them, otherwise, he said, we might go blind. One of the pots symbolizes the feminine principle, the other - the male one.

According to the tradition told to us by the" spiritual father", every year during the Amu rice festival, virgin girls and boys climb the mountain and top up the water vessels. Then, over the course of a year, the "father" checks the liquid level in them. If there is less water in the first pot, symbolizing the feminine principle, than in the second, it will mean that women during this period sinned more than men, and they need to atone for their guilt, otherwise it will lead to disharmony in the world and the death of the entire Avatime people.

However, after tapping three times on each pot (during the ritual, each action was performed exactly three times) and lifting the lids, the "father" found that there was no water at all in either of them. Then he took out a bottle of mineral water and filled the pots with it himself. Then they made bracelets out of the climbing grass, which also symbolized peace, and asked us not to take them off until we went down. Photos and videos were welcome, and anyone who met us on the way could "get in the frame".

When we returned from the "sacrament", we were puzzled by the ambiguity of the situation, which was explained to us by the most important woman of the Avatime people. The "Queen Mother" responsible for women's morals turned out to be a deeply religious person, a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In a conversation with me, she noted::

"We are currently suffering from unnecessary customs. But they are so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that we have to fight to overcome them and take a step towards faith... I think most of our traditions exist out of fear. After all, in our past, each custom had its own meaning. For example, you couldn't enter a village with a plantain branch on your head. The branch had to be divided into parts and only then enter the village. Now this can be explained by the fact that once someone brought this branch from their plot, and a snake fell out of it, biting the bearer. Gradually, the story itself was forgotten, but the warning was passed down from generation to generation. Only the old people still follow this custom, and the young people use carrying utensils or just buy vegetables and fruits at the market."


The ideas of educated avatime are radically different from the views of uneducated farmers, merchants or weavers on such events as the Amu festival, as well as on traditional rituals, medicine, ju-ju (the local name for witchcraft), etc. Some people are skeptical about all this and believe that the festival is just a tribute to traditions, a simulation of life a holiday, a way to attract tourists, and nothing more. But there are also those who, like Aganu, sincerely believe in the necessity of holding a festival.


Many residents of Avatime have only heard the story of the three pots from someone, but not everyone knows where they are and what they symbolize. Traditions are gradually being replaced.-

* Plantain-a vegetable banana that differs from a regular banana in its larger size and less sweet taste (author's note).

page 63

new realities. However, all of our interlocutors recalled some case from their own life or the lives of friends, when someone really was under the power of supernatural forces - light (God) or dark (devil). But magic does not work in all those cases when avatime is trying to explain an incomprehensible phenomenon with its help. For example, at the funeral of a small boy, we were told that one of the sorcerers, in order to punish the family for something, sent a disease to the child. However, others claimed that it was malaria, and due to an oversight of the parents, the disease developed to such a stage that the boy could not survive.

Traditions continue to be passed down from generation to generation, but very few people can explain this or that phenomenon. Often, when asked why something happens this way, and not otherwise, avatime was answered: "Because it was the custom of our ancestors. That's the way to go." In some cases, traditional phenomena were given Christian explanations. For example, when we asked the "spiritual father" about how he, as a priest of the Catholic Church, heard the call of Aya, he replied with a smile that Aya is the same as God, so they call him avatime. He is also omnipresent and omnipotent, but he is the deity who brought them out of Mesopotamia and patronizes Avatima exclusively.

Interestingly, when asked how this or that phenomenon coexists with Christianity, everyone calmly answered that it goes without saying.


Did D. Warner name the book chapter "God, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit" because of the constant threefold performance of actions in accordance with the Christian tradition? Or because of the three pots of avatime, implying a subtle analogy? Perhaps, using this title for the chapter devoted to the ritual, the author emphasizes the nature of not only the action itself, but also the perception of the world of avatime.

The constant interweaving of terms, elements, Christian and traditional interpretations of the uninitiated person is confusing, but avatime does not bother at all. Only in rare cases is the confusion of values and the overlapping of Christian and traditional systems of perception of the world considered unacceptable. For example, the situation when Aganu forbade us to come to the so-called healing center, where all Christians, except Catholics, gathered. He explained this by fulfilling the instruction of Jesus Christ: "Do not let the false teachers confuse you." Another example: when we crossed the border of a neighboring farm and were approaching Aganu's farm, we were shown two large stones and a thin plant called Ofli, warning that anyone who moves the stones will die, since they were established as the border between the farms by the ancestors of the current owners.

According to the Russian researcher E. S. Lvova, " in the complex modern world, the problem of balancing two aspirations-preserving identity and inevitable borrowing from other cultures, the processes of modernization, internationalization and universalization - is one of the urgent problems of the cultural life of many countries."4. In this article, we invite the reader to "plunge" into one of these" transitional " periods of the Avatime culture.

Undoubtedly, every nation has its own model of perception of the world. And even if Christianity is the dominant religion in the country today and affects all areas of Avatime's life, the traditional model of perception of the world formed by their ancestors is at the heart of their worldview.

The first Evangelical churches and schools attached to them appeared on the lands of Avatime only in the XIX century. At the end of the XX century, many churches belonging to different faiths appeared here. Some of them exclude participation in traditional African rituals, others prohibit certain elements, but generally support traditions, and sometimes traditional beliefs. Thus, there is an overlap of models of the world and values that do not exclude each other in avatime's views, but complement and form a new system of perception of reality.

Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable part of society, as they are most exposed to the opposite tendencies: to preserve traditions and modernization; to involve parents in adult life and the need to combine it with school; to preserve authentic beliefs, venerate ancestors and join the Christian religion.5

Although modern elders sometimes try to block out innovations that are not typical of Avatima culture, most of them believe that education is the key to the future, and the church is the key to salvation of the soul.

Time will tell whether it will be possible in the future to draw a line between Christian values, the new worldview and the traditions of avatime.

The author expresses his gratitude to the Vinokurov family of Russian missionaries from Volgograd for their assistance during the expedition. Linguists, they came to Ghana in 2006 from the Wyclif Bible Translators Mission (an international non-profit organization). We lived for about 6 years in the village of Vane, participating in a project to translate the Bible into Sideme after helping to develop the alphabet for that language.

1 Avatime, Languages // Ethnologue -

2 Ghana // The World Factbook. CIA - -worldfactbook/geos/gh.html

Warner D. 3 Ghana and the New Africa. L., 1961.

Lvova E. S. 4 Kultury narodov Tropicheskoi Afriki vchera i segodnya. M. Kultury narodov Tropicheskoi Afriki vchera i segodnya. M. (in Russian) 4 Cultures of the peoples of Tropical Africa yesterday and today: interaction of cultures and development trends.

Adepoju F. 5 In Africa, poverty is a problem "with a female face" / / World Bank Group - / 0.contentMDK:22188065-pagePK:64257043-piPK:437376-the SitePK:1081472,00.html


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