By Edmund Mingle
Thursday 7 June 2007
Ga Mashie, the traditional seat of Accra, was virtually turned into a "war zone" yesterday, when a section of the youth in the area clashed with some police personnel detailed to maintain peace for a customary ceremony to lift the ban on drumming.
The youth, described by the police as “Gbese Palestinians”, burned lorry tyres, threw stones, sticks and petrol bombs at the police who retaliated by firing warning shots and teargas to disperse them.
In the process the back screen of a police vehicle was smashed, while one police personnel was injured in the head.
Six of the youth were arrested.
For about three hours, all trading activities at the nearby Salaga market and other shops came to a standstill as people fled the area for fear of being hit by stray bullets and/or choked with fumes from the teargas that filled the atmosphere. Police reinforcement was called to control the youth who had massed up to prevent the customary rites from taking place.
The angry youth were protesting against the performance of the rite by the Ga Mantse, Nii Tackie Tawiah III, on a Wednesday,which they considered as an abbration and a sacrilege.
According to them,the beating of the ‘Odadao’ drums is the sole preserve of the Gbese Mantse and performed on Thursdays.
In the absence of the Gbese Mantse, it was the regent in the person of Nii Tetteh Ahinakwa, who should be the officant, they contended.
To give expression to their protest,some unidentified persons on Tuesday night smeared the ceremonial grounds, (Mogya We), one of the hallowed grounds in Ga Mashie, with excreta, apparently to prevent the ceremony from coming off.
Personnel from the Ghana National Fire Service were called in to clearn the place with disinfectants yesterday morning.
About 70 riot-control policemen, some on horse –back, got to the area in the morning to ensure peace. But shortly after their arrival, the commotion began when a woman was arrested by the police as a section of the youth tried to dismantle the tents mounted for the ceremony.
The youth started throwing stones from all directions at the police who also responded with the firing of teargas and warning shots. For more than two hours, the crowd engaged the police who had to call in reinforcement to be able to handle the situation.
Six of the youth were arrested and sent to the Police Station after they were severely beaten by the policemen.
A group of “macho-men” wearing yellow arm and head bands, who were said to have been drafted to ensure that the ceremony came off uninterrupted, joined the fray around mid-day , amidst the chanting of war songs and warnings to opponents of the ceremony not to get close to the grounds.
Some traditional priests and priestesses cleansed the ‘Mogya We’, with a bottle of schnapps and the blood of a ram before the start of the programme at 3 pm, after a two-hour delay.
Around 3:15 pm, the Ga Mantse, Tackie Tawiah III, emerged at the grounds accompanied by Asafoatsemei, (traditional warlords) and police and military personnel.
Nii Adote Obour, the Sempe Mantse, apparently reacting to the concerns of the opponents, said that the Ga Mantse had the prerogative to choose who should perform the rites.
He said the right to perform the rituals had been given to the Gbese stool but because there is currently a controversy over the Gbese stool which has led to the installation of two rival chiefs, the Ga Mantse decided to preside over the event to ensure peace in Gbese.
Touching on the issue of the actual day for the rites, he read from a Ga history book and argued that the Ga Mantse is mandated to perform the rite on a Wednesday, while the Gbese Mantse does his on Thursday.
Nii Tackie Tawiah and the Ga stool chief, Nii Tetteh Ashong, jointly hit the “Odadao” traditional drums to mark the lifting of the ban on drumming which had been in place for the past month.
The lifting of the ban ushers in the Homowo festival of the Gas.
In his brief address before hitting the drums, the Ga Mantse called for peace in the Ga State and warned those who are undermining the peace in the area.
Apparently unhappy with the opponents of the ceremony, he said “trouble should follow those who are against the progress of the Ga state,” and invoked blessings for its well wishers.
Fighting broke out between some members backing the two rival chiefs after the ceremony but it was brought under control by the police.
At the time of going to press, the police were patrolling the area.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Gbese Dsaase, said the ‘Odadao’ ceremony will be performed by the Gbese Division today.