It’s almost that time of year again when we gather with our loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving: a tradition originating from a time when the arch rivals; Pilgrims and Indians, put aside their differences and sat down together at a ‘harvest feast’. But this tradition of giving thanks for food and harvest is not unique to North America. In Ghana, among a tribe called the Ga, a form of Thanksgiving called the Homowo Festival is one of the largest cultural festivals of its kind in Africa!
Unlike our Thanksgiving, Homowo goes on for about 3 months, starting with the blessing of crops as they are sown and following with a series of dances and rituals until the harvest is reaped and the ‘Thanksgiving’ feast is shared.
The Ga word for this festival, Homowo literally means “hooting at hunger” and the origin of this name and the Homowo Harvest Festival goes back to a very significant time of hardship for the Ga people - very much like our Thanksgiving that goes back to the significant dinner between Pilgrims and Indians.
The Ga of Ghana
Fortunately the rains returned the following season and their labor was gratefully rewarded with a bountiful harvest. The Ga rejoiced with this blessing and remembered it by naming it Homowo, meaning "hooting at hunger".
The Homowo Festival Rituals
The Homowo festival and the lead up to the feast starts in May and goes on until August usually but sometimes as late as September. The actual Homowo harvest feast is always on a Saturday but the exact date varies from year to year.
The start of Homowo Harvest Festival begins when the first crops are sown. One of the first crops, millet, is blessed by the traditional priests ahead of the rainy season in May. This is then followed by a series of rituals to mark the festival season. Among these rituals is a 30-day ban on drumming, and a few days of rest leading up to the feast where no land is worked or fishing is allowed. In rituals like these the Ga prepare to concentrate on their crops and calm the sea gods.
The 2 weeks preceding the harvest feast are filled with significant displays of family and community interchange. Workers leave the farms and go back to their homes singing, dancing and parading in the streets. They bring with them their harvested crops like maize and palm nuts. Over the next few days any loved ones who passed away are remembered, the elderly are visited, gifts are exchanged between relatives and any ongoing disputes should be settled.
Traditional dishes that are made for the Homowo feast are palm nut fish soup and a corn powder dish. The day of the actual feast is followed by dances and parades throughout the towns, which lasts several days.
Although there are significant differences between North America’s Thanksgiving and the Homowo Harvest Festival, the values behind these annual celebrations are the same, or at least stem from the same morals like hard work, perseverance, community and thankfulness for mother earth’s life-giving food. These traditional celebration are also times when family will reunite, travelling long distances sometimes, to celebrate and share a special dinner with their loved ones.
Author: Donna Van Wyk
SEO Copywriter and Content Strategist at DigiGal Marketing
Whether you’re in the mood for Mozambique peri-peri chicken wings or West African plantains, I can bet there’s a little taste of Africa tucked away in your corner of California. Yes, all the way from San Francisco to San Diego, you can enjoy a meal that will take you back to your mother’s kitchen and home cooking (if Africa is home to you). And what’s more, to find such a place, where African spices, curries and music fills the air, you may not have to go as far as you thought.
I’ve hand-picked only 5 African restaurants, run mostly by authentic, ethnic owners in the North, Central and Southern Cali, but there are many more. So read on and please, share with us anymore places we should know about!
Bissap Baobab, San Francisco
Amawele's South African Kitchen, San Francisco
Thanks to South African twin sisters, Pam and Wendy the Zulu word 'Amawele', meaning twins, was the name given to this delectable San Francisco restaurant. Here a melting pot of cultures combine to bring you food inspired by the different influences in South Africa: English, Indian, Dutch, Malaysian and Native African. Spices from all over the world meet to create dishes like Cape Malay curry, bobotie, bunny chow, peri-peri chicken, frikadella and, how could we forget, slap chips. But don’t feel too guilty about indulging here. Amawele’s has cleverly adapted some of their dishes to be gluten free – at no expense to the taste buds!
Radio African kitchen, San Francisco
Veronica's kitchen (Fufu Land), Los Angeles
Mozambique, Laguna and Newport beach
Cape Town, San Diego
From a small “hole in the wall” deli behind a gas station to a bustling South African themed sports bar, Cape Town serves up all the usuals like samoosas, biltong, dry wors, boerewors, peri-peri chicken livers, bunny chow, bobotie, pap and gravy and SA wines and soft drinks to top it off. The sports bar shows typical South African sports that are not readily available in San Diego like rugby, soccer , cricket, surfing and golf.