…The Akan of Ghana: Aspects of Past and Present Practices
Kwabena Opong, editor-in-chief of Amandla, takes a critical look at the well-received book…
If you are an Akan from Ghana you must know there is more to your being as an Akan than you see yourself. Your antecedents are probably from the upper Nile Valley, specifically from Egypt or Nubia, and as your clan or abusua totem suggests you may even belong to a royal family. Your name and lineage may also be indicative of your Egyptian or Nubian background. And even more so Author Kofi Ayim spares no effort in his The Akans of Ghana to ensure that you understand the appellations that go with some Akan names and their Egyptian roots.
The opening of Chapter 1 aptly describes the Akans of Ghana as “among the most prominent and traditionally cultured indigenous inhabitants in Africa.” Spread over six of the ten regions of Ghana the Akans are the majority ethnic group in the country subdivided into several ethnicities and speaking several dialects of their Akan language, the most prominent of which is Twi. Indeed, the Akan of Ghana happen to be among the few African ethnic groups that have been able to retain a significant portion of their culture and also marry their culture with euro-based cultures more successfully than most African cultures.
Every Akan man or woman belongs to one of the eight supreme matriarchal families otherwise known as the abusua. The eight abusuadom or clans as otherwise erroneously referred to in English are the Aduana with its symbol of a dog with a piece of burning wood in the mouth; the Agona have the parrot; the Asakyiri, the vulture or eagle or both; Asona have the crow; the Aseneε are represented by the bat or sparrow; Bretuo, the leopard; Ekuona have the buffalo and the Oyoko have the hawk. Each of the various groups also has other symbols that distinguish them from the rest. The Asona, for instance have what the author describes as the cobraic symbol in a snake known as the asona wo which has similar attributes to the same symbols employed by the Egyptians and the Kushites.
The author takes the reader through a journey that begins from early Africa and Egypt making references to the cultural similarities that can now be found in names as well as totems and the symbolic representations of the eight matriarchal families of the Akan of Ghana. He makes a strong case of Akan relationships with ancient Egypt comparing the totemic symbols and their significance. Interestingly enough all the Akan groups have their Egyptian counterparts, a fact that energizes Akan claims of their Egyptian antecedents.
Not only that: the Akan family structure is unique in Africa. The Akan family is defined through the mother’s bloodline, a very Egyptian practice. Among the Egyptians as among the Akans, true sibling relationships can only be inferred from those from the maternal bloodline to the extent that ancient Egyptians actually married half sisters and half brothers from their fathers’ bloodline. It is believed that the Egyptian King Tutankhamen, usually referred to as the boy king was the offspring of siblings from the same paternal parentage but not the same mother. Among the Akan too a man may marry his father’s niece.
When speaking to a westerner or other non-Akan they marvel at the uniqueness of the Akan family structure but the practice is not exclusive to the Akan. Jews and the Iroquois of North America also share a similar cultural trait. All the same it appears that Akans are more emphatic on their blood relationships than most people who claim similar cultural traits.
Libation is gradually being outlawed among some Christian groups in Ghana as evil and unchristian, but as an African people the Akan are very religious. Ironically, as the author references Rev. Dr. Peter Kwasi Sarpong formerly Metropolitan Archbishop of Kumasi, libation “has a religious character expressing belief in God, in the various gods, and in the ancestors.” Unfortunately, however, most Christians in Ghana now
abhor the practice as anti-Christian and evil even though in the Revised Standard Version of the Christian
Bible the term libation occurs 67 times, says the writer.
Kofi Ayim carefully and respectfully examines the Akan culture through its several unique practices and traditions. The Akan marriage and funeral as well as birth rites share so many things with ancient Egyptian practices. The author elaborates the process of marriage and the symbols that indicate a deep respect for the institution. Same goes for the funeral and birth rites. The symbols that describe a strong Akan attachment to the idea of life after death is rooted in the Egyptian practice of burying the dead with valuables and serving food after a number of days after death. It is not only Akans that celebrate the seventh and fortieth day after death, Jews do same. The observance of widowhood follows a similar practice by Jews. Would it be that Jewry or Judaism is essentially African?
One cannot talk about Akans and ignore their festivals that have become a tourist attraction in modern times. Festivals are a turning point on the Akan nation’s calendar. They denote among others birthdays and other significant events in the lives of the people, but most of all they bring out the significance and value of kingship among the Akan. The pomp and majesty of the Akan culture is manifested at festival times. An important feature of Akan festivals is drumming, also a vital element in Akan society. The sub-topic on drums could fill a whole book but the writer is deft in his explanation of the various aspects of the drum. His discussion of drum language and its significance at the chief’s palace and during festivals cannot be over-emphasized. Drumming is a divine act and for that the master drummer is called the divine drummer (odomankoma kyerema) and holds a very important position at the palace.
Kofi Ayim reminds us of the 9-Adaduanan afirihyia. This is an indication that prior to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar life among the Akan was regulated by a well-coordinated nine forty-day cycle per year. The ingenuity of the Akan to marry its culture with Euro-based cultures made it easy to modify their calendar to the Gregorian. Professor Kofi Asare Opoku stresses on the scientific element in the African culture and the modification and translation of the names of the twelve months of the European not only establishes Asare Opoku’s study, it bears out our scientific strain of thought. It is significant to note too that each of the twelve months represent a period in the farming seasons as Kofi elaborates in his tabulation.
Every Akan person has a name the moment they are born. If you are born on Sunday, you automatically assume your first name of Kwasi, and it goes on on the different days of the week. Thereafter comes one’s family name. A child may be named after anyone the father chooses and that includes his parents, relatives and friends. Akans give meaning to the saying “what is in a name.” Every Akan name comes with its appellation that indeed may contain the history behind it [the name]. Boahen, for instance, as Kofi Ayim writes has the appellation Anantuo or calves, Botaase Boahen – Boahen from Botaase – Esum Atakora Nana – the grand child of Esum Atakora. The appellations bring the beauty and pride in names.
The value in The Akan of Ghana is the elaborate and scholarly approach the author takes to investigate and publish the social and political symbolisms among the Akans. Proverbs and wise sayings spice the Akan language and they encompass the entire spectrum of life, from politics through science. Even in fashion Akans provide the symbolisms for cloth designing and it is surprising to learn from Mr. Ayim the significance of those symbols and how they influence society. The chapter on proverbs and their implications brings into focus the Akan civilization as one of the most resilient in the world. Proverbs more than spice language; they provide the roadmap for every discourse, be it politics or economics, science or religion.
This book is easy to read, sometimes scintillating to read about yourself even if you are not Akan. As an Akan it is easy to see yourself. You are reminded of your heritage, so rich in history and tradition. The language is simple and unpretentious. It is amazing how the author manages to tell such a story in such a simple language. He does not resort to the pompous and sometimes annoying style of providing important information. No gargantuan grammar. This is a book for every person. This engineer turned journalist is a treasure to the community.
The author who already has written a book on a Ghanaian royal – Jack Cudjoe (a.k.a. Cudjo Bakwante) – who was sold into slavery and sent to the U.S. and eventually to Newark, NJ indicates in the prologue that it took almost two decades to complete this work. It paid off: the maze of research work and depth of information he provides is invaluable. In The Akan of Ghana Engineer Kofi Ayim has thrown a challenge to African historians and scholars. Every academic work is open ended and so is this publication. It creates room for further discussion and that is what Kofi Ayim has done. This must not be the end of the discussion.
The Akan of Ghana is a very useful book. It is a handbook for every Akan person. It is a treasure trove of information on the history and culture of the Akan of Ghana. It is a must read not only for Akans but for other Ghanaians and Africans.
The book is currently on sale on amazon.com.