The 12th annual celebration of Ghana Fest kicked off this past Saturday in Crotona Park in the Bronx.
Catharine Cujo heads the National Ghana Parade Council that has organized the Ghanaian festival for the last 12 years. She was most proud of the display of her culture, native dances, and foods at the festival.
“You want to see the cultural performance, the dress up, the singing, the native tone, the dialect and everything. You love it and it’s an experience,” said Cujo. “We wanted to leave something, some legacy for the generations to come.”
Cujo has lived in Claremont near the Grand Concourse Parkway for 20 years and is a first generation Ghanaian American.
“I love the Bronx, don’t ask me why, but I love the Bronx!” laughed Cujo amid the jovial drumming of background music.
The festivities began with an elder blessing the event with a traditional prayer and libation ceremony.
Then the Woshe Cultural Group, a band of drummers and three women performing native dances and songs, gathered on the stage. In the cool of the tent that shaded the singers from the bright summer sun, the traditional vocalists wailed to the steady beats of the drummers situated behind them. The band was dressed head to toe, and some barefoot, with white cloth wrappings and markings.
Later the Wusa Wusa group, composed of a drummer, dancer, and instrumentalist in an elaborate headdress, leapt off the stage and led a small parade around the park’s lawn while onlookers clapped their hands and danced along.
“The music is therapeutic, music is healing,” she said about the festival’s meaning to the community.
She said the genesis of the festival was years ago when a handful of Ghanaian Americans from the neighborhood came together to honor their heritage the way they saw other nationalities already doing. Cujo took over organizing in 2014 and incorporated other community services into the organization.
“When they go to the community outreach, they find it difficult to communicate in the African dialect,” said Cujo about the district. “That’s something that’s become a stumbling block.”
As a result of language barriers, said Cujo, they offer translation services for those who speak Ga and Twi dialects as well as other enrichment and cultural workshops.
She said there are many issues facing the Ghanaian community, such as immigration, housing and COVID, which she is hoping to unite her people against every day. She is keen on community engagement and advising local officials on how to connect with her community, she said.
“The rent is killing us,” she said. “You can see a family of 4 to 5, living in a one-bedroom apartment because they can’t afford to pay the rent.”
Cujo said that even when families apply for affordable housing, it takes “forever” causing people to just give up on the process. Many people are also afraid to admit they are undocumented, said Cujo.
Dr. Kwabena Boakye, who runs CEDI Medical Office, said that the COVID-19 testing and vaccine response was dire back home in Ghana.
“Basically in Ghana, people are not taking COVID seriously,” said Boakye. “There’s not enough vaccine to go around and those who are qualified to get it are not getting it.”
Boakye said there’s as much distrust, obstacles, and lack of resources within the healthcare system overseas as there is in the city.
“It’s hard to know how bad it is in Ghana because not everyone is getting tested,” said Boakye. “Like, for example, I had a friend who got sick for two weeks with high fevers and chills. He went to the hospital. Four different hospitals. They were treating him for malaria, typhoid, then sent him home. I’m like dude they gotta check you for COVID. Nobody was checking for COVID, not at all.”
Frank Boateng, an elder at Ghana Apostolic Church on Morris Avenue, said it was the church’s first time setting up tents on the park’s lawn and grilling food at the festival.
“COVID affected every church, but it affected our membership, finances, everything went down. Our mortgage that we couldn’t pay,” said Boateng about the strain from the past year.
Boakye said that education is a huge part of changing the situation. He has taken to doing weekly shows on Amansan Radio, a local Ghana radio broadcast on AM 1620 from Bronxdale, in an effort to connect with more Ghanaian residents about healthcare and getting vaccinated.