“Welcome to Tano Sacred Grove, explore Bono culture” is an inscription written in black, red and white ink on a small metallic sign post at the entrance of the trail that leads to the sacred caves located a few meters away from a village called Tanoboase in the Techiman North Municipal Assembly of the Brong Ahafo Region.
The caves have five compartments, including the main entrance, durbar ground, hideout, watch tower and stairs.
The place is quiet and birds chirp melodious tunes to welcome tourists.
Tall trees, some with withered leaves and others with different flowers, form a canopy in the forest reserve that has been declared sacred due to its cultural significance.
Walking on a pathway covered with dried leaves fallen from the trees felt like walking on a specially made carpet to welcome a king or a person of great importance.
Some of the trees in the reserve have their names etched on plates and nailed to them to offer tourists the opportunity to learn names of the trees.
A tourist is first taken to the main entrance of the caves to view the overlapping rocks that form an aesthetic natural landscape. Large rocks sit on one another in a way that provides caves in between them. This is where the earliest inhabitants used as shelter some 500 years ago.
Standing on top of the cliffs gave an aerial view of the nearby surroundings.
I was, therefore, not surprised when I was told by my tour guide, Mr Baffour Amisare Dwomoh, alias Romeo, that the place was used as a watchtower by primordial warriors to view their enemies from afar.
It is worthy of mention that prehistoric artefacts such as pieces of broken pots, “oware”, earthenware, mortars, among others, can be found in the caves.
History of the caves
Romeo, who had more than 10 years working experience as the tour guide, said during the 16th century, their ancestors migrated from a cave called ‘Amowi’, where they were led to the place by one Takyi Fri who later became known as Nana Takyi Fri.
According to him, Nana Takyi Fri was a hunter “who goes around in forests hunting for game” and so during one of his expeditions, he found a beautiful environment.
Romeo said Nana Takyi Fri went back home to inform his two brothers, Nana Amoa Sanka and Nana Kokoti Panin, as well as their only sister, Afya Ankomah, about the new place.
He explained that the four siblings decided to move to the new environment their brother had found, adding that on their way to the caves, Afya Ankomah was possessed by a deity and was taken to where the said deity was located in the caves.
He said the deity started speaking through her, saying, “I am Taakora god”.
According to him, after the god manifested itself in Afya Ankomah, it gave them two rules to follow to enable them to stay in the caves.
The two rules prohibited them from either hunting or farming in the forest which covers an area of about 150 hectares.
Romeo explained that Taakora entreated them to consider the animals in the forest as friends and also use the herbs and plants for medicinal purposes.
He said Nana Takyi Fri and his siblings agreed to Taakora’s rules and settled in the caves, stating that Nana Takyi Fri, who did not want to flout the draconian laws of Taakora, decided to move away to a new land where he could hunt and farm to enable him to send food to his siblings in the caves.
He said the new place Nana Takyi Fri went to settle wasn’t that far from the caves and other people joined him there, explaining that the new place was named after him as “Takyiman” now Techiman, meaning “Takyi’s state”.
Romeo said the caves were very significant to both Bono and Akan people because all the fetish priests and priestesses who served deities that spoke Akan language must first come to Taakora deity for some rituals to be performed for them.
“Taakora deity is the father of all Akan-spoken gods”, he said.
According to him, after the celebration of Apoɔ festival, a week-long festival celebrated in the month of April by the people of Tanoboase and Techiman, there was a day called “Apoɔ Mmurukuo” during which nobody was allowed to go to the caves.
In addition, Romeo said, beside the Apoɔ Mmurukuo, other forbidden days included “Akwasidea” and “Kwafie”.
It must be noted that apart from the caves providing shelter for the early settlers, it was also used for security purposes.
It is said that during the olden days where wars were frequent and the symbol for victory was the enemies’ ability to capture one’s king, the caves provided a hideout for the kings in the area, hence an area called “hideout”.
Romeo said during the times of war, the ancient warriors stood on top of the cliff to view their enemies from afar and re-strategise themselves to attack them.
I was thrown into laughter when I was told that in the ancient times, men acquired wives by competing in rock climbing on the caves.
“In those ancient days, after the Apoɔ festival, 10 women who had gone through the puberty rites and were of age would be lined up for 50 men to compete in rock climbing to marry them,” Romeo explained.
He said the 50 men were grouped into fives to climb the rock and whoever emerged winner from each group “picks a wife from the 10 women” while the rest had to wait till the following year.
The rationale, he explained, was to determine that the man was strong enough to take care of his family.