Otofo is a type of puberty right performed by the Ga people of Ghana. This article will refer to the Otofo performed by the people of Osu – specifically the children from Adjuwate We and those from Osudoku.
The Otofo custome involves the girls being confined in a room for about 6 weeks. Whilst in this space they are taught by elder women the values and secrets of womanhood, how to obey the voice of the drums in dancing as well as the songs dances they will have to perform when they are released publically . These older woman also act as ‘confessors’ they girls have to confess any imoral behaviour to these woman
Rules of Confinement:
- They are not allowed to eat any fermented foods
- Cannot eat no food that has been kept overnight
- They can only eat foods that have come out of the earth – like root vegetables and ground nuts.
- Foods and fruits ‘grown in the air’ are forbidden.
- The girls can only be visit by old women – who are their tutors.
- they sleep together in one space on a mat
- during the day the chill in the courtyards and the neighbours yards
- they wear only a flowerpot like straw hat, strip of cloth that covers the underparts and clinking iron anklet which lets people know when they are around
- their body is smeared with oil
Duties whilst in confinement
The girls become ‘servants’ for all and anyone may call them to do house chores. They are not allowed however to do the following:
- Carry any load
- walk on grass or in any place where they might brush against the grass or growing things
Relations with the Gods
Nadu, Afriye and the Bake Gods are the gods involved in this rite. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday nights they are taken to the shrine of the Gods Bake, Afriye and Nadu. When they reach the respective shrine they are given a herbal bath in the Gods yard and marked with the mark of God and blessed.
The girls are then taken to the Klɔte Wulomo’s Gbatsu where they are blessed and then for three days in a row they go to the Klote lagoon where the water is brought to the hut of the wulomo and they take a bath in the compound – not insude the hut though. After each bath their body is smeared with white krobɔ. The Klɔte wulomo then pours libation and sends the initiates back to their place of confinement.
The girls will also be taken to the god Bake at Ashanti to perform certain rituals. The conclusion of this ritual is called Yolo – the distrubition of the announcement drink which is made by the initiaties from corn. The ceremony is done on a tuesday, wednesday and thrusday and then on friday they take a bath.
Transferance of bad luck – Each initiate gets a goat and she spits on the goats forehead, hammers in the spittle with the blow of her fist thereby transferring all the bad luck in her life to it
Ordeal by Water – This is done to test the girls chastity. They girls are taken to sea to sit on a rock. If she is chaste no waves will break the rock and if she is not the sea will spray her – this ceremony is usually done on a Tuesday.
The Pepper Spray – during the third week of confinement the initiates are locked in a room and sprayed with hot pepper. They can only escape through the windows and there are men there to catch them – unless you are known to be stubborn and disrespectful then they will let you drop
Stone picking ceremony
On the day of the ceremony (a Monday) the young women carry out a ritua called ‘stone picking’. One that night the girls are woken from their sleep and then allowed to sleep – this is repeated three times. They are then taken out -at night- to the beach where they are taken out to pick special stones. These stones are then ground and mixed with palm oil. this oil is then smeared over their bodies the day of the ceremony they are taken out at night to pick stones at the beach.
The public Parade
On the public parade the girls will be dressed in their finery and paraded to the Gods first on different days and then to the public where the dance gracefully for all to see. If the girl is chaste she dances perfectly to the music, if she is not she dances out of tune. this is also a period where she can find her suitor. As she dances people will donate money, if there is a suitor he will donate substantial amounts of money and if there is more than one suitor then they will compete by donating more amounts. On the final day of public dancing the girls can go after the public in what they call ‘Okalayise – the bride has touched me’ this is where they can pass on their sins to members of the public by touching them.
The next days the girls have removed their finery and are dressed in white calico and go round to thank those who gave them donations.
Religion and Medicine of the Ga people, Margaret Field.