Mpadahile: Ahanta’s day of atonement and spiritual consecration

The Ahanta people. Photo: Trip Down Memory Lane/Facebook

It’s a day set aside to purify the Ahanta state and to ensure that the state is spiritually protected and fortified against unforeseen calamities like sicknesses, incurable diseases and unexplained deaths.

It is a day that they go to their respective shrines to confess their sins and crimes and then perform needed rituals to cleanse themselves spiritually. They then seek forgiveness from their deities and gods as well as spiritual fortification and protection against calamities. It is said that while at shrine, if one fails to confess their sins and crimes sincerely, they would be struck to death by thunder.

If the day of atonement and spiritual consecration is approaching, chiefs would cause the gong-gong beater to go round villages and towns to announce that the great day is coming and as such all family heads should ensure that disputes and scores are settled among themselves peacefully. In event that such disputes and scores cannot be settled among themselves, they should be brought to the palace for them to be resolved. 

Prior to the day of atonement, one will have to settle all scores and disputes with his or her neighbors. Chiefs and heads of families would have to ensure that they guide their people to go through a reconciliatory process where they would make peace with one another and live in harmony before the day of atonement and spiritual consecration comes. 

It is said that one person’s evil deeds can bring calamities to the whole state and as such, collective efforts must be made to ensure that each and everyone remains consecrated. If one fails to make peace with another and that person dies, the living would have to go to the high priest or priestess and confess. The high priest together with the family head of the deceased would take the living to the grave of the deceased for him or her to confess and seek forgiveness after which they would then perform some rituals on the grave of the deceased and cleanse the living before the day of atonement and spiritual consecration comes.

How did the day of atonement and spiritual consecration come about in Ahanta? How did the traditions of confessing sins and crimes come to stay with the Ahanta? It is said that after crossing the Pra River around 1229, Ahanta then led by Annor Asmah proceeded to the coast and settled at “Mbambanlizo”. All was well with them until they were plagued with unexplained sicknesses and mysterious deaths. It was so horrible that people could be found dead in various homes and on the streets and pathways.

The living could not even bury their dead in decency so, after broader consultations with their gods and deities, they moved from “Mbambanlizo” and settled at their present location called “Owulosua” but later came to be known as Owusua or Busua. 

At Owusua or Busua, the people were still being pursued by mysterious sicknesses and unexplained deaths and that left them bewildered. They again consulted and after broader consultations, it became apparent that the land must be cleansed and purged from all spiritual dirt and that is how atonement and spiritual consecration came to be part of Ahanta customs and traditions. 

It was actually a month full of rituals and cleansing activities which is climaxed with a day of atonement and consecration at Owusua where priests and priestesses from all towns and villages in Ahanta converge to perform sacrifices and rituals on behalf of the Ahanta people.

At the commencement of the month-long period of the atonement and spiritual consecration, natives of Ahanta in their respective towns and villages would walk individually to their respective shrines with a stone called “tanibolo” and confess all their sins and crimes on it. They would then use it to circle their heads three times and place it in a gourd and walk away without looking back. 

No one is supposed to be at the shrine except the priest or priestess who sits a distance far away from the shrine. He or she is not supposed to hear the confessions of the natives. He or she was to give them directions as to what to do while they are in the shrine confessing their sins or crimes. The priest or the priestess was also to warn them that anyone who fails to confess sincerely would be struck to death.

At the entrance, the priest or priestess would sprinkle a mixture of maize dough, water and some herbs on the people and urge them to continue to have a good relationship with their neighbors and households. The priest or the priestess would advise the people against uncontrollable anger and other ill behaviors which are likely to bring about hatred and enmity.

A week to the day of atonement, all the subchiefs would travel to Owusua together with their priests and priestesses. They would come with all the stones which their people had confessed their sins on them and intercede on their behalves. After incantations, they would all process to the sacred groove somewhere along the seashore and then they would throw away all the stones into the sea.

The practice was in full swing until the arrival of the Europeans and the spread of Christianity, particularly Catholicism. After the death of Badu Bonso II, the Dutch disbanded the Ahanta state and for more than 10 years, the chiefs, high priests and priestesses were no longer congregating at Owusua or Busua to intercede for the people.

Gradually the day of atonement and spiritual consecration was no longer observed by the people and Ahanta as a state was set on the decline and we have lost everything including our own identity as people. “Mpadahile” is supposed to be performed on the first “Adumfida” or “Adumbolo” of the fifth month of the Ahanta calendar of the year.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 2, 2022


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