Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ but it is largely becoming a secular holiday and people celebrate with large-scale gatherings, fireworks and firecrackers, and other public festivities. There are many wonderful Christmas holiday destinations in the world where one can join in the celebrations.
And in Ghana, the people of Sekondi-Takoradi in the Western Region will tell you that Christmas is best celebrated in their city because of their annual masquerade carnival popularly known as the Ankos Festival. The festival is usually celebrated from December 24 to 26 of every year.
This year’s festival attracted thousands of visitors across the country including foreigners. As usual, various masquerading clubs marched through the principal streets of the city in their wild and colorful costumes. Indeed, what makes the Ankos festival unique is the beautiful display of indigenous culture and art.
During the festival, the various masquerading clubs or groups that march through the streets in their colorful costumes also display amazing dance moves as the crowd cheers them on. They also come along with brass bands, drumming and trumpeting local songs to entertain everyone present. Some of these masquerading groups are Holy Cities, Iron Fighters, Sunnato, Cosmos, Unity, Valencia, Millionaires, and others.
Note that the colorful outfit for the festival varies from one group to another, though it usually comes with many layers of thin brightly colored fabric. Their dance moves also involve a lot of fancy footwork. The wild and colorful costumes are prepared months to the carnival. It’s the same with the songs selected and the dance moves.
Many African cultures still host mask festivals and masquerades as a way of highlighting their cultures and celebrating their people. While over the years, these festivals have become huge attractions for tourists, they come with significant meaning for each community and for particular groups within these communities.
The festivals existed way before the Europeans colonized the continent and looted the spiritual and ritual masks, some of which are currently on display in museums overseas. There are similarities in these festivals, but each community has a unique angle to theirs, making it even more complex and beautiful to behold.
Although it is not known how really the Ankos Festival began or its history, locals say that the festival has been around for years and was introduced to celebrate the unity and diversity of the people of Sekondi-Takoradi. The festival is similar to the Junkanoo festival in the Bahamas that originated from Ghana particularly among the Ahanta, Fanti and Akan people who call it the Fancy Dress Festival. The festival started in 1709 and was held in honor of John Kenu (known to Germans and Dutch as John Cani and to the British as John Conny) for defeating the Dutch who took control over the Ahanta land and sold its people into slavery.
Besides the display of art and culture during Ankos, family bonds are strengthened as natives who travel out of the city usually return home to reconnect with their relatives while engaging in the festivities. What’s more, chiefs and government officials use the festival to highlight major issues affecting communities while also updating residents on the various steps being taken to address these problems.
This year’s Ankos Festival came with unbelievable scenes of jubilation due to a year break in 2020 amid the pandemic that had the country on lockdown.