Religion and Totemism

Akan religions and philosophical ideals, holistic in nature, were most probably offshoots of ancient Egyptian religions and/or mythical systems that existed for about 6,000 years. The Akan concept of soul immortalization (see later sections on birth and death), reflective of the teachings of Pythagoras and other Athenian philosophers; purification ceremonies such as Odwira and Akwasidae; and the notion of harmony as the union of opposites (life and death, marriage, etc.), as theorized by Socrates, all germinated from the seeds of the Egyptian Mystery Systems. In this kind of religion, there was no medium such as Jesus Christ or Mohammed between Man and God. The evolution of religion was embedded in the mysteries, the divine philosophy for healing, and the quest for spiritual and physical perfection. Faith and mental processes supplemented with medicinal herbs were the earliest form of healing, with only the initiated able to understand, practice, and administer the potent healing powers possessed by the natural surrounding environment. Among other practices of the ancient Egyptians was circumcision.

Totems are representative symbols, which express the thought of ancient generations in physical forms. Various clans and families have held these objects sacred. The pictorial representations of primitive thoughts were extensions of hieroglyphics that outside observers or the non-initiate could not comprehend, and therefore misinterpreted them as objects of fetishes and worships. Albert Churchward points out that totems were of Egyptian origins and were developed in the Stellar Mythos. Mythology, as noted, was created out of abstract expression of ideas to represent phenomena. The depiction of these representations of external things was the foundation of so-called fetishism, whence came religion. The totem, if it was an animal (akyeneboa), was ritually eaten at given times for rejuvenation and reaffirmation. It was believed that the totem represented a sacred relationship between an animal species and mankind.

People of the same totem therefore regard themselves as brethren. Similarly, the people it represents never eat the symbolic totem animal, unless sacramentally. The Akwamus, for example, do not eat pork, because it is believed that, when they were war refugees attempting to cross the Volta River, it was bush pigs, kokote, that led them to cross the river at its shallowest points.

Because early European visitors to Africa could not accurately interpret African symbols, art, and proverbial representations, they deemed these objects of paganism or fetishism. They failed to comprehend that, if an Akan king was draped in a lion or a leopard’s skin, it simply signified his comparative power with the beast. The beast was not an object of worship because beasts were never worshiped in Akan religion.

This mode of thought finds expression even today. The vehicle Jaguar, for example, typifies the speed and strength of the jungle beast. And to keep the vehicle in perpetual top performance, it has to be propitiated by periodic tune-ups, oil changes, and alignments. So, it was with man and totemic representations. Paradoxically, contemporary letters that we use are reduced forms of image representations of pictures and symbols developed from early signs and symbols of nature.

The eminent Ghanaian philosopher W.E Abraham clearly states,

“Worship is a concept that has no place in Akan thought. It was more completely absent among the Akans than among the ancient Greeks who worshiped standing, on the grounds that only slaves bent their backs. Furthermore, the Akan theory of destiny even more thoroughly than their theory of the essence of man hampered worship. Each man was a spirit sent into the visible and natural world to fulfill a particular mission.”

 On this, Ellis tells us,

. “The practice of propitiating by offering beings who are believed to dwell in the woods or mountains, the rivers or the seas, is not fetishism; nor is the worship or reverence paid to certain animals by particular tribes fetishism. Neither can the worship of idols be so termed, for the idol is merely the representation of an absent god, or the symbol of an idea, and has of itself no supernatural or superhuman power or quality. The confusion which has resulted from the improper use of the term ‘fetish’ is extreme, and is now probably irreparable

William Whiston, in a footnote to his translation of historian Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, tells us that image creation “without any intention of worship was not unlawful to the Jews.” To believe in Akan ancestral worship is to believe that Christians worship saints. Christians pray hallowing the names of saints and other biblical personalities. But the prayers are meant for the Christian God. Similarly, Akans pray hallowing the names of their ancestors (who by tradition are an extended part of the family). Both belief systems are a mode of communicating through another medium to the Creator. There is no altar of worship for any Akan ancestor. It must be understood that it was the deity that was worshiped, not symbols of wood, stone, or pictograph.

From the book “The Akan of Ghana. Aspects of Past & Present Practices”
(page 14) – by Kofi Ayim (Published 2015)
Available @

Posted by on Sep 1 2020. Filed under Artcultainment. 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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