The Akan People

It must be realized that all Twi speakers are Akan, but not all Akan are Twi speakers. In everyday life, Twi is a simple, straightforward language in syntax and structure, easier to speak and understand than many contemporary languages in Ghana and elsewhere. It is phonetical in nature yet tonal on drums and horns. However, when woven around analogies, proverbs, metaphors, myths, fables, folktales, figurative expressions, and fairy tales to articulate ideas or drive home a point on matters of serious deliberations, Twi can be difficult to understand.

For example, an Akan drum language metaphor says that Odomankoma, the Creator, after creating the king, created Esen/Osene/Sen, the herald; Okyerema, the divine drummer; and Obrafo, the executioner. These officials, attached to a royal house, are the embodiment of the king. To the uninitiated, this simple statement could be confusing, even nonsensical. But the meaning is buried deeply within the socio-philosophical context of the Akan.

A king, believed to be God’s representative on earth, efficiently and effective functions with help from his aides and councilors. He is basically the head of all that exists in his nation. The king with his councilors is the executive.

The Esen is essentially the keeper or legislator of law and order. He hollers “Tio, tio, tio” (“listen up, listen up, listen up”) at the top of his voice in rapid succession as a call for order in royal deliberations. The Esen may also be the Town Crier who heralds and promulgates what has been legislated to the people, usually at dawn or dusk through his dawuro, cowbell. He leads the king in His Majesty’s casual visits to his subjects, hollering along the way. He must therefore be well versed in the language, history, and culture of his people. In this capacity, he represents the legislative branch. He also helps and encourages the king with his trademark tio, tio, tio during libation.

The Okyerema conveys the messages of the king and his councilors (such as communal work, fire, etc.) to the nation through his drums. He is, in effect, the spokesman of the executive. He is the “silent” repository of history and culture, announced through drum language.

The Kwawuakwa obrafo dii tiri (he who “eats” or chops off heads) is the symbol of law and order who executes the ultimate judgment and carries out capital punishment as pronounced by the judiciary. The three entities of Okyerema, Esen, and Obrafo are therefore equivalent to the executive, legislative, and the judiciary in a typical Western society.

Similarly, there is more to the literal meaning of the Akan metaphor that says that creation first began at Adansi, one of the ancient towns in modern-day Ghana settled by the Akan. It implies that it was in Adansi that the Akan, after thousands of years of migration, resettled, reformulated, redeveloped, and strengthened the structure of their cultural and civil order. In effect it was at Adansi that the Akan got another lease on life, or were “recreated” by Odomankoma, the Gracious Almighty. In fact, the name Adansi was coined from adansie, builders of homes, because the early settlers were credited with having built novel thatched homes.

Each person within an Akan ethnic group belongs to one of eight original, dominant ancestries (or gods, in other cultures), hereby termed superfamilies: the Aduana, Agona, Asakyiri, Asene, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona, and Oyoko, with variations thereof in other ethnicities such as the Fante. Each of the eight superfamilies has several sub-families and branches in various Akan provinces. It is believed that the original eight descended from a single (mythical?) ancestress. Akans share common values and metaphysical concepts of thought and action.

Akan is a matriarchal society, and its Twi-speaking peoples’ succession and property inheritance are governed by matrilineal (or what anthropologists call mother-right) rule. In rare cases of the past, a son could inherit his father’s property if the father had skills deemed important to the royalty and community but there were no potential inheritors from the father’s side (e.g. nephews) who had learned the trade. Goldsmithing was one of those professions. In times past matrilineal succession was more common in the Kushite kingdom, where a brother of a king, rather than the king’s son, would ascend the throne.


After observing and understanding the precession and precision movement of the sun, moon, and stars, ancient people utilized them in their migratory patterns. They also used these celestial bodies to tell time.

The Akans of yesteryear, with careful and long observations at a particular location or spot, were able to tell time (or its approximation) by the length of the human shadow that they had imaged, marked, and mapped. Shadows of mighty trees (or for that matter conspicuous mounds or objects) cast at different times of day and positions were also mapped as natural time tellers.

In addition, the Akans learned to tell times and seasons by observing the movements and actions of animals, domesticated or wild. For example, the start of the series of rooster crows marked the approach of dawn. Migratory birds or herds of particular species were indicators of a season change. In fact, use of the rising of the sun and its “movement” relative to the human shadow as a function of time is extant in some African countryside and farmlands.

Early Akans figured out that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. In clear weather, facing the eastern sun at sunrise, they could tell time by the position and length of their shadows. At such a time in the morning, the shadow is longest and directly behind. The shadow diminishes in length and slightly angles to the left-hand side. By noon, the shadow is virtually perpendicular and unseen. It must be remembered that Ghana is in the tropics and closer to the equator. The absence of a visible shadow at this time of day is known as “standing on your own shadow,” because the shadow is basically vertical and between one’s legs, indicative of 12 noon.

After noon, as the sun heads west, one sees it slightly to the right when facing east, and the shadow slightly to the left. A slight shift of the shadow to the west (left side) shows that it is past noon, while a bigger shift, with a comparably shorter shadow, is an indication of approaching evening. In times past this would be the time to end all farm activities and head home. As one faces the setting sun, the shadow is once again behind and slightly to the right-hand side. It is at its longest just before sunset. The shadow of a person cast by the eastern rising sun, on the right-hand side, is relatively higher than that of a setting sun. Akans also understood that the sun would set early when the weather was cold, and late in warm months.

Events such as birthdates were reckoned by major events, natural or otherwise. For example, a person’s birthdate could be remembered as one week after an eclipse of the sun, or three days before the coronation of a particular king.

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

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Posted by on Oct 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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