Today's interesting trip was a visit to a fetish priest - or Okomfo - who becomes possessed by the spirit of a particular Oborom(one of the lesser deities in the Ashanti tradition) and acts as its mouthpiece. Our fetish priest was Nana Abass and he sits in session 2/3 days a week - usually Weds, Friday and Sunday. He's consulted by a stream of locals who need spiritual advice and healing.
The shrines - Abosomfie - all have four rooms that face into a large courtyard. Three of the rooms - drumming, singing and cooking rooms - are open to the courtyard side. The fourth, which houses the actual shrine, is screened off and can only be entered by the priest and his assistants. Many shrines are littered with a variety of fetishes - most unexpectedly, the tortoises which mill around the base of the Nyame Dua (the altar to the supreme god).
Four of us went to see the fetish priest - apart from Kerstin and myself, two other volunteers came with us, Linn from Norway and Christoph from Germany. We arrived at the shrine not having any idea of what to expect and were greeted warmly by Philip, one of the priest's assistants, told to take off our shoes and asked to put on some more appropriate dress (other than our shorts). We met four lovely ladies who were waiting to see the priest too. We then went through to the courtyard, where many people were waiting patiently, and took in the beautiful views and the serene atmosphere. We'd been pre-warned to take a gift, local custom being a bottle of schnapps or equivalent, so had a bottle of whisky to give to Nana Abass.
When we went through, he was sitting behind an open window within the shrine and he greeted us warmly and asked us the reason for our visit to him. We told him that we were volunteers, now travelling and we'd like his blessing for a safe journey and also some prayers for the children at the orphanage.
He asked us where we were all from and blessed us and gave us safe passage. The whole session lasted little more than 5 minutes. However, Philip asked if we'd like to meet Nana personally and of course we said we would. It seems that when he's in the shrine, he's "possessed" by the spirit/s and when he's not there, he's a normal man. So we went into a quiet room where he entered and all sat down and chatted to him for about 15 minutes. He's travelled extensively, been to US, UK, Germany, India ...He has 8 disciples in the US whom he had trained.
The story behind him being the fetish priest in this particular Ashanti region is as follows:
When he was a few months old, his mother took him with her to the field in which she was working. She must have put him down on the ground (remember that all babies here are carried on their mother's backs) and he was then visited and taken away by two dwarfs (so the story goes but our interpretation is that they were elves - much more plausible!!)for 8 months. Prayers were said for his safe return so when he eventually did come back, he was seen as being highly spiritual and took on the mantle of the next fetish priest in this shrine house. He can't recall that far back but he gradually took on priestly responsibilities. He did have a day job working as a petrol-pump attendant (as all the best fetish priests do!) but one day he was visited by two more dwarfs (or elves)who though it wasn't right for him to do this sort of menial work - so he started to dedicate his life to giving spiritual advice. These days, he's also runs a farm, with pineapples, papaya and other tropical fruit.
He was most charming, very serene, smiled a lot - and suggested we all meet up for dinner before we leave Kumasi on Sunday!!!