New Book Spotlights Akan People

By Ben Alexander

Four years ago, Kofi Ayim published Jack Cudjo, in which he pieced together the life of a once-enslaved man from Africa who fought in the American Revolutionary War and then established himself as an entrepreneur in the city of Newark. In that book, Ayim traced Jack Cudjo’s lineage to the Akan of Ghana, a nation to which Ayim also belongs. But who are the Akan of Ghana? Ayim is back now with another book to answer that question. Looking at evidence of migration patterns as well as cultural similarities between the ancient Egyptians and the Akan of yesterday and today, Ayim makes the case that the two societies are linked together by common sub-Saharan influences. He connects the Akan experience with other noted ancient civilizations as well including the Kushites, the Ethiopians, and the Israelites, and traces the emergence and travels of the Akan in the centuries before they settled into their permanent homeland in present-day Ghana between the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
The Akan are composed of eight superfamilies, and Ayim introduces them one by one in fascinating detail. Each superfamily, he explains, has its own totem animal, often associated with a story of how that animal helped their ancestors through the hard migration years. The totem animals, moreover, connect with deities as well as with daily habits and ideas about manhood and womanhood. Fascinating folk tales and almost limitless connections with the ancient Egyptians and others are skillfully woven through these pages.
Then comes a series of chapters about Akan ways of life, past and present, with detailed depictions and explanations of naming ceremonies, the roles of the father and mother and other family members in a child’s growing up, betrothal and marriage customs, funeral rites, libations, and the functions of kings, chiefs, and queen mothers. Indeed, the whole life cycle from birth and naming, to growing up and marrying, to aging and dying comes alive in these pages. Ayim shows how even the supposed experts have, at times, misunderstood concepts and customs of the Akan, for instance, the fact that calling a young man a “king’s son” refers to his personal qualities and status in a community rather than to his literal parentage. He also expounds at length on how being a matrilineal society affects family life, making the mother the much closer parent to the child than the father.
In both the main chapters and the appendices, the author draws upon his own knowledge of Akan languages, especially Twi, to quote an enormous trove of proverbs, greetings, ceremonial chants, names, and other terminology in both their original languages and English. He also provides visual images of common symbols and sacred kente cloth patterns. Purchasers of the book will thus not only enjoy giving it a good, close read, but also hold onto it as a reference book to look things up in.
In a tradition-based heritage, some customs change while others do not. Akan today do not sacrifice loved ones to appease their deities, but an Akan king today does face destoolment if his bare feet touch the soil, even by accident or by an enemy’s deliberate push. What Ayim hopes most of all is that persons of Akan descent will make the effort to know what their heritage is, and where both former and enduring practices came from. This book should help with that effort while also showing others, both African and non, the story of how one identity evolved and endured over many centuries and takes its place now within the population of a nation-state, a continent, and the globe.
As Dr. A. Zachary Yamba, President Emeritus of Essex County College,Newark NJ notes,
“The author, Kofi Ayim, has written a comprehensive and compelling book about the Akan of Ghana. This book captures the essence of the culture, familial structures, and belief systems of the Akan; it should be read by not just Africans but by all who wish to have a deeper understanding of one of the dominant peoples of Ghana. The Akan of Ghana is not a book that should be read once; it is a book to be studied, a reference manual that is to be treasured. Kofi Ayim…the story teller, the linguist…has given us a captivating cultural history of his people the Akan.”
The book will be available at, March 31, 2015 and will be introduced and sold at a book launch at the Priory, Newark, New Jersey April 11 at 2 p.m.

Ben Alexander Phd, teaches American history at the New York City College of Technology and is the author of Coxey’s Army: Popular Protest in the Gilded Age (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).

Posted by on Mar 21 2015. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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