THE FANCY-DRESS FESTIVAL
The Fancy Dress Festival is an annual celebration of colour and costume design, which is held during the Christmas period but more especially on New Year’s Day in event communities. The event is widely competitive and is accompanied by brass band music and dancing that is specially rehearsed for the occasion.
Essentially, it used to be the preserve of Asafo companies who competed among themselves for the coveted well-dressed (costumed) group, most innovative mask, well-organised and best display of dance skills and best brass-band.
Three main cities – Takoradi, Winneba and Agona Swedru – are currently engaged in a serious rivalry when it comes to the now popular masquerade festival in Ghana. They are the best known masquerade towns and it is not a surprise that these towns have locally acquired names for the event besides the ever popular ‘Fancy Dress’. In recent times, the harbour city of Tema has joined the trio of Takoradi, Winneba, and Agona Swedru as an emerging powerhouse of the masquerade festival.
‘Sakramodu’ or ‘Ankos’ is the Takoradi, version of the name given to the stilt-walkers (on 8-metre stilts) accompanying the masquerades. Generally the masquerades are known in local parlance ‘Kaakamotobi’, a bogey-word, which is used to scare recalcitrant children.
‘Kaakamotobi’ as it is locally called, brings masquerade groups together to showcase their beautiful and colourful costumes and thrill patrons with their dancing skills amidst brass band music, all of which form part of the masquerade culture and a great source of entertainment and competition.
The over 80 years festival is believed to have been introduced by the Dutch upon their early arrival on the coast of Ghana, hence its popularity in the coastal towns: Takoradi, Winneba, Agona Swedru and now increasingly visible in the harbour city of Tema.
It’s believed that the nation’s first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah also formalized the Festival and sponsored the first parade to mark Ghana’s first independence anniversary.
The masquerades are designed to reflect different personalities, animals or monsters in real or mythical life with scary or friendly features. Over the period, the festival has taken on a more structured and organised outlook due to public interest and its inherent potential as a high-value entertainment event. Sometimes, masquerades are designed to depict images of well-known public or political figures. They carry various objects or props including whips and other objects that match the character represented.
For most groups, the fly whisk has assumed the most popular symbol carried by majority of masquerades on parade as they weave their way through the major streets of their communities.