KUMASI, Ghana—Since 1967 the ten regions of Ghana have brought together their finest cultural performers at a bi-annual 10-day festival. The aim of Ghana's National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFAC) is to foster unity and understanding among Ghana's many diverse and unique cultural groups.
During the festival, two of Ghana's regions present per day, and many regions' paramount chiefs attend. The afternoon performances where often repeated in the evening along with a really fantastic array of Ghanaian performers ranging from gospel choirs to stand-up comedy with musical accompaniment, a phenomenon called "concert party".
If one attends all 10 days of NAFAC you can be sure to have tasted all of the major forms of performing arts in Ghana.
NAFAC is held in a different city each year. This year's host, The Kumasi Cultural Centre, is a beautiful facility, with a lovely parade ground and open-air ampitheatre.
Though each region has a cultural centre, Kumasi's is one of the finest, and it is definitely one of the city's most popular attractions.
Pomp, and More Pomp!
The processions of these chiefs are one of the most spectacular events during the festival, as each chief arrives with and entourage of dancers, drummers, praise singers and umbrella carriers, sometimes even carried on a litter.
Before the daily performances begin the ministers of each region are briefly introduced, but a complete biography of each chief must be read and all protocol observed before it is considered polite to continue.
The presence of the regional chiefs at NAFAC creates an undeniable air of authenticity to each performance. As many of the traditions revolve around praising the king, the presence of the king allows the dancers to direct some of their performance to him.
It is especially touching when a king will get up from his throne to come out and dance with the performers or a regional minister will approach the dancers to shower them with money in appreciation.
There is a great feeling of co-operation between government and chieftancy present. NAFAC is funded by the government, but it is understood that the chieftancies are the true seats of Ghana's cultural heritage.
Ghana's royal families are still as highly respected and very powerful. Owning large portions of land they are sometimes called the landlords of Ghana. The largest and most powerful of these chiefs is the King of Ashanti, called the Asantehene. In the case of Otumfuor Osie Tutu II, the current Asantehene, only the President of Ghana is permitted to arrive after him.
However, Ghana's royalty clearly has the heart of the people. When asked if the Asantehene could successfully run for president in next year's election a local resident responded, "If he were to run for president he would lower himself." That is not to say that there is political unrest in Ghana. In fact Ghana is a stable democracy preparing itself for an election in 2008.
NAFAC not only fosters mutual respect, tourism and trade amongst Ghanaian regions, but also seeks to cultivate international tourism. Because this event is fundamentally a celebration by Ghanaians for Ghanaians, it lacks any feeling of artificiality.
All events are free and open to the public, and of course any tourists are welcome—indeed for a foreigner the experience will be unforgettable. So many excellent groups performed that blinking could cause a person to regret. There is simply too much going on during NAFAC. For a tourist it is like a cultural buffet table—everything you could possibly want all in one place.
It is regrettable that the maximum number of foreign tourists on any single day was around ten (including yours truly). No chartered buses arrived. No crowds of sweating Germans passed through. It is incumbent upon Ghana's Ministry of Tourism to step up to the plate. NAFAC is more than deserving of international patronage. In fact, foreign attendees will have an experience of a lifetime.
NAFAC 2009 will be held next in Tamale, located in Ghana's Northern Region.