Akan people

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Akans
Kwame Nkrumah (JFKWHP-AR6409-A).jpg
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Total population
c. 20 million (est.)[N 1][1]
Regions with significant populations
Ghana 11.5 Million
Ivory Coast 8.5 Million
Languages
AkanAkan languagesArabicEnglishFrench
Religion
Akan religionChristianitySunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Akan

Akans are an ethnic group residing in the southern regions of what are today the republics of Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Akans are the largest ethnic group in both countries and have a population of roughly 20 million people. The Akan language (also known as Twi–Fante) is a group of dialects within the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo language family.[2] Also included under the term "Akan" are the Bia languages (in which case it is common to speak of "Akan languages", as a group of languages).

Subgroups of the Akan proper include: Asante, Akuapem and Akyem (the Asante, Akuapem and Akyem dialects are together known as Twi), Agona, Kwahu, Wassa, Fante (Fanti or Mfantse: Anomabo, Abura, Gomua) and Brong. Subgroups of the Bia-speaking groups include: the Anyin, Baoulé, Chakosi (Anufo), Sefwi (Sehwi), Nzema, Ahanta and Jwira-Pepesa. The Akan subgroups have cultural attributes in common, notably the tracing of descent, inheritance of property, and succession to high political office.

Origin and ethnogenesis[edit]

The Akan people are believed to have migrated to their current location from the Sahara desert and Sahel region of West Africa into the forested region around the 6th century,[3] and many Akans tell their history as it started in the forested region of West Africa as this is where the ethnogenesis of the Akan as we know them today happened.[4][5][6]

Oral traditions of the ruling Abrade (Aduana) Clan relate that they originated from ancient Ghana. As a result of the introduction of Islam in the Western Sudan, and the zeal of the Muslims to impose their religion, their Ancestors left for Kong (i.e. present day La Cote d'Ivoire). From Kong they moved to Wam and then to Dormaa (these are both on present day Brong Ahafo Region). The movement from Kong was necessitated by the desire of the people to find suitable Savannah conditions since they were not used to Forest Life. Around the 6th century, they moved from Dormaa South Eastwards to Twifo-Hemang, North West Cape Coast. This move was commercially motivated.[7]

The kingdom of Bonoman (or Brong-Ahafo) was established as early as the 11th century,[8] and between the 12th and 13th centuries a gold boom in the Akan area brought wealth to numerous Akans.[9]

During different phases of the Kingdom of Bonoman groups of Akans migrated out of the area to create numerous states based predominantly on gold mining and trading of cash crops.[10][11] This brought wealth to numerous Akan states like Akwamu,[12] (1550-1650) and ultimately led to the rise of the most well known Akan empire, the Empire of Ashanti,[13](1700-1900), the most dominant of the Akan states.

History[edit]

Akan Empire of Ashanti army engaged in Warfare and Military Combat with the British forces under the command of Coll. Sutherland, July 11th 1824[14]

From the 15th century to the 19th century the Akan people dominated gold mining and trading in the region and, from the 17th century on, they were among the most powerful groups in west Africa.[15][16]

Akan Jungle Warfare,
The Third Anglo-Empire of Ashanti War.
The Graphic 1874[14]

This wealth in gold attracted European traders. Initially the Europeans were Portuguese but, eventually the Dutch and British joined in the quest for Akan gold. Akan states waged wars on neighboring states in their geographic area to capture people and sell them as slaves to Europeans (Portuguese) who subsequently sold the enslaved people along with guns to Akans states in exchange for Akan gold.[17] Akan gold was also used to purchase slaves from further up north via the Trans-Saharan route. The Akan purchased slaves in order to help clear the dense forests within Ghana.[17] About a third of the population of many Akan states were enslaved people. The Akans went from buyers of slaves to selling slaves as the dynamics in the Gold Coast and the New World changed. Thus, the Akan people played a considerable role in supplying Europeans with slaves for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.[18] Ghana later apologized to the descendents of slaves for the role some of its people may have played in the slave trade.[19]

Akan people, especially the Ashanti, fought against European colonists to maintain autonomy including many Anglo-Ashanti wars: the war of the Golden Stool, and other similar battles.[15][16][20]

By the early 1900s all of Ghana was a colony or protectorate of the British while the lands in the Ivory Coast was under the French. On 6 March 1957, following the decolonization from the British under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, the Gold Coast was joined to British Togoland, and the Northern region, Upper East region and Upper West region of the Gold Coast to form Ghana.[21] Ivory Coast gained independence on 7 August 1960.

Akan subgroups and ethnic identity[edit]

The Akan people comprise the following subgroups: Ashanti, Abbe, Abidji, Aboure, Adjukru, Ahafo, Ahanta, Akuapem, Akwamu, Akye, Akyem, Alladian, Anyi, Aowin, Appollo, Assin, Attie, Avatime, Avikam, Baoule, Brong, Chokosi, Coromantee, Denkyira, Ebrie, Ehotile, Evalue, Fante, Kwahu, M'Bato, Ndyuka, Nzema, Sefwi, and Wassa.[1][22]

The identity of an Akan nation or ethnicity is expressed by the term Akanman. The Akan word ɔman (plural aman) which forms the second element in this expression has a meaning much of "community, town; nation, state". It has been translated as "Akanland".[23]

Akan language[edit]

Further information: Akan language and Akan Orthography Committee
Akan greeting phrases; "akɔaba" (welcome) and "ɛte sɛn" (how are you) in the Akan language.

Akan refers to the language of the Akan ethnic group and the Akan language in which was and is the most widely spoken and used indigenous language in the Ghana.[24][25] Akan is officially recognized for literacy in Ghana, at the primary and elementary educational stage (Primary 1–3) K–12 (education) level, and studied at university as a bachelor degree or masters degree program.[24][25] The Akan language spoken as the predominant language in the Western, Central, Ashanti, Eastern, Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana .[24][25] A form of Akan Ndyuka is also spoken in South America, notably Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana and Jamaica with the Akan language coming to these South American and Caribbean places through the trans-Atlantic trade and Akan names and folktales are still used in these South American and Caribbean countries.[24][25] With the present state of technology, one can listen to live radio broadcasts in Akan from numerous radio stations and receive mass media and public broadcasts in Akan from numerous multimedia and media broadcasting.[24][25] Akan is studied in major universities in North America and United States, including Ohio University, Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Harvard University, Boston University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, and the University of Florida.[24][25] The Akan language has been a regular language of study in the annual Summer Cooperative African Languages Institute (SCALI) program and the Akan language is regulated and administered by the Akan Orthography Committee (AOC).[24][25]

Akan has some unique linguistic features like tone, vowel harmony and nasalization.[24][25]

Culture[edit]

Akan Kente cloth

Akan culture is one of the traditional matrilineal cultures of Africa.[26] Akan art is wide-ranging and renowned, especially for the tradition of crafting bronze goldweights, using the lost-wax casting method. The Akan culture reached South America, Caribbean, and North America.[27]

Some of their most important mythological stories are called anansesem, literally meaning "the spider story", but in a figurative sense also meaning "traveler's tales". These "spider stories" are sometimes also referred to as nyankomsem: "words of a sky god". The stories generally, but not always, revolve around Kwaku Ananse, a trickster spirit, often depicted as a spider, human, or a combination thereof.[28]

Elements of Akan culture also include, but are not limited to:[29][30][31][32][33]

Concepts of Akan philosophy and inheritance[edit]

These are the basic concepts of Akan philosophy and inheritance:

  • Abusua (mogya) – What an Akan inherits from his mother
  • Ntoro – What an Akan gets from his father, but one does not belong to a Ntoro; instead one belongs to one's Abusua
  • Sunsum – What an Akan develops from interaction with the world
  • Kra – What an Akan gets from Onyame (God)[34]

Matrilineality[edit]

Many but not all of the Akan still[35] practice their traditional matrilineal customs, living in their traditional extended family households. The traditional Akan economic and political organization is based on matrilineal lineages, which are the basis of inheritance and succession. A lineage is defined as all those related by matrilineal descent from a particular ancestress. Several lineages are grouped into a political unit headed by a council of elders, each of whom is the elected head of a lineage – which itself may include multiple extended-family households.

Public offices are thus vested in the lineage, as are land tenure and other lineage property. In other words, lineage property is inherited only by matrilineal kin.[35][36] Each lineage controls the lineage land farmed by its members, functions together in the veneration of its ancestors, supervises marriages of its members, and settles internal disputes among its members.[37]

The political units above are likewise grouped into eight larger groups called abusua: Aduana, Agona, Asakyiri, Asenie, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona and Oyoko. The members of each such abusua are united by their belief that they are all descended from the same ancient ancestress – so marriage between members of the same group (or abusua) is forbidden, a taboo on marriage. One inherits, or is a lifelong member of, the lineage, the political unit and the abusua of one's mother, regardless of one's gender or marriage. Members and their spouses thus belong to different abusuas, with mother and children living and working in one household, but their husband/father living and working in a different household.[35][36]

According to one source[38] of information about the Akan, "A man is strongly related to his mother's brother (wɔfa) but only weakly related to his father's brother. This must be viewed in the context of a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond. As a result, in inheritance, a man's nephew (his sister's son) (wɔfase) will have priority over his own son. Uncle-nephew relationships therefore assume a dominant position."[38]

"The principles governing inheritance, generation and age – that is to say, men come before women and seniors before juniors."... When a woman’s brothers are available, a consideration of generational seniority stipulates that the line of brothers be exhausted before the right to inherit lineage property passes down to the next senior genealogical generation of sisters' sons. Finally, "it is when all possible male heirs have been exhausted that the females" may inherit.[38]

Certain other aspects of the Akan culture are determined patrilineally rather than matrilineally. There are 12 patrilineal Ntoro (spirit) groups, and everyone belongs to his or her father's Ntoro group, but not to his family lineage and abusua. Each Ntoro group has its own surnames,[39] taboos, ritual purifications and forms of etiquette.[36] A person thus inherits one's Ntoro from one's father, but does not belong to his family.

A recent (2001) book[35] provides an update on the Akan, stating that some families are changing from the above abusua structure to the nuclear family.[40] Housing, childcare, education, daily work, and elder care etc. are then handled by that individual family, rather than by the abusua or clan, especially in the city.[41] The above taboo on marriage within one's abusua is sometimes ignored, but "clan membership" is still important,[40] with many people still living in the abusua framework presented above.[35]

Akan influence[edit]

Elements of Akan culture can generally be seen in many geographic areas. Specific elements of Akan culture are especially seen in neighboring West African peoples and some Central African populations. Akan culture has also been historically important in the New World, where Akan names are or were common,[42] for example among the Coromantins of Jamaica, and the descendants of the Akwamu in St. John. Kofi, the leader of the 1763 slave revolt and violent revolt against the Dutch people in Guyana was an Akan.

Akan names[edit]

Main article: Akan names

Akan Given-names[edit]

Akan system of giving names to their Akan children is unique. Each Akan child is sometimes given his/her own personal name (first-names and sur-names) irrespective of the surname of the Akan father. The Akan first-names are usually derived from the day an Akan child was born. For an example an Akan male born on Monday is called Kwadwo/Kojo derived from the day Monday which is called Dwoada in the Akan language, the language of Akans. An Akan female born on Monday is called Adwoa. Here are the rest of the days and their various names: Tuesday/Benada - Kwabena for Akan males and Abena for Akan females, Wednesday/Wukuada - Kwaku for Akan males and Akua for Akan females, Thursday/Yawoada - Yaw for Akan males and Yaa for Akan females, Friday/Fiada - Kofi for Akan males and Afua for Akan females, Saturday/Memeneda - Kwame for Akan males and Ama for Akan females and finally Sunday/Kwasiada - Kwasi/Akwasi for Akan males and Akosua for Akan females. Sometimes an Akan baby male born on Wednesday might be called Kofi instead of Kwaku because the Akan person after whom he is named was a Kofi and not a Kwaku.

Akan Surnames[edit]

The Akan surnames (family names) are always given after close Akan relatives and sometimes Akan friends. Since the Akan names are always given by the Akan men if an Akan couple receives a son as their first born- Akan baby he is named after the Akan father of the husband and if the Akan baby is a female she will be named after the Akan mother of the husband. As a result if an Akan man called "Osei Kofi" and the Akan wife gives birth to a female as their first born the Akan female might be called "Yaa Dufie" even if she was not born on Friday. The reason is the fact that the Akan mother of the Akan man "Osei Kofi" is called "Yaa Dufie". Akans usually give these Akan names so that the names of their close Akan relatives might be maintained in the Akan families to show how they cherish the love for their Akan nationality. In the olden days it was a disgrace if an Akan man was not able to name any child after his Akan father and/or Akan mother because that was the pride of every Akan home. Most of the Akan names given to Akan males could also be given to Akan females just by adding the letters "aa" to form the female names. Some of these Akan surnames can be given to both Akan males (men/boys) and females (women/girls) without changing or adding anything. However there are others that are exclusively Akan male names whilst others are exclusively Akan female names.

Individuals of Akan origin[edit]

Main article: List of Akan people

Among the individuals of Akan origin are Kwame Nkrumah (born September 21, 1909), who started the pan-African movement which liberated many states from European colonialism; Kofi Annan (born April 8, 1938), is the first black man to head the United Nations organization and was awarded the Nobel Prize; others of Akan origin include Arthur Wharton (born October 28, 1865), is the first black professional footballer in the world;[43] Paul Cuffee (born January 17, 1759), built a lucrative shipping empire and by the first years of the nineteenth-century was one of the wealthiest men in the United States.[44] His largest ship, the 268-ton Alpha, was built in 1806, along with his favorite ship of all, the 109-ton brig Traveller.[44]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b ""Cote d'Ivoire", CIA - The World Factbook". Cia.gov.  "Akan 42.1%" of a population of 22.0 million. ""Ghana", CIA - The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2012-08-24.  "Akan 45.3%" of a population of 24.6 million.
  2. ^ Languages of the Akan area: papers in Western Kwa linguistics and on the linguistic geography of the area of ancient. Isaac K. Chinebuah, H. Max J. Trutenau, Linguistic Circle of Accra, Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1976 - pp. 168
  3. ^ http://akuapem.com/akwamu.html
  4. ^ "Atlas of the Human Journey". The Genographic Project. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  5. ^ The Akan diaspora in the Americas Oxford University Press, 2010 - Social Science
  6. ^ Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide, Bradt Travel Guides, 2007 - 416 pages
  7. ^ http://akuapem.com/akwamu.html
  8. ^ The Techiman-Bono of Ghana:an ethnography of an Akan society Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1975
  9. ^ Title: Africa a Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson, Language: English Type: Documentary Year: 1984 Length: 114 min.
  10. ^ Africa from the 12th to the 16th century Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Djibril Tamsir Niane, James Currey, 1997, 294 pp.
  11. ^ Indigenous medicine and knowledge in African society. Psychology Press, 2007 - Health & Fitness.
  12. ^ "Akwamu - Encyclopedia Article and More from". Merriam-Webster. 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  13. ^ Africa: a Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson, Documentary, 1984, 114 minutes.
  14. ^ a b Anglo-Ashanti wars
  15. ^ a b "Africa Gallery". Penn Museum. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  16. ^ a b The African heritage, Volume 3 Zimbabwe Pub. House, 1999 - History - 180 pages
  17. ^ a b "History of the Ashanti People", Modern Ghana.
  18. ^ Henry Louis Gates Jr. "Ending the Slavery Blame-Game". Archived from the original on 23 April 2010. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  19. ^ http://www.modernghana.com/news/102692/1/ghana-apologizes-to-slaves-descendants.html
  20. ^ Non-western theories of development: regional norms versus global trends, Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1999, 179 pp.
  21. ^ "United Nations member States - General Information". Un.org. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  22. ^ "Online Twi Dictionary - The Akan People". twi.bb. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  23. ^ Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Volumes 7–9, p. 28
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h Guerini, Federica (2006). Language The Alternation Strategies in Multilingual Settings. Peter Lang. p. 100. ISBN 0-82048-369-9. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h "Akan (Twi) – Akan language". amesall.rutgers.edu. 
  26. ^ Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide, Philip Briggs, Katherine Rushton Bradt Travel Guides, 2007, 416 pp.
  27. ^ "Man Ray, African art, and the modernist lens", Wendy Grossman, Martha Ann Bari, Letty Bonnell, International Arts & Artists, 2009 - Photography, 183 pp.
  28. ^ A Treasury of African Folklore: the oral literature, traditions, myths, legends, epics, tales, recollections, wisdom, sayings, and humor of Africa, Crown Publishers, 1975, 617 pp.
  29. ^ Facets of Ghanaian culture African Studies, Jerry Bedu-Addo, 1989. 68 pp.
  30. ^ Akan Weights and the Gold Trade, Longman, 1980. 393 pp.
  31. ^ Sankofa: African thought and education, P. Lang, 1995, 236 pp.
  32. ^ Simultaneity in signed languages: form and function, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007, 355 pp.
  33. ^ The Rough Guide to West Africa, Penguin, 2008, 1360 pp.
  34. ^ L'homme, Volume 7 École pratique des hautes études (France). Section des sciences économiques et sociales École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences économiques et sociales, 1967
  35. ^ a b c d e de Witte, Marleen (2001). Long Live the Dead!: changing funeral celebrations in Asante, Ghana. Published by Het Spinhuis. ISBN 90-5260-003-1.
  36. ^ a b c Busia, Kofi Abrefa (1970). Encyclopædia Britannica, 1970. William Benton, publisher, The University of Chicago. ISBN 0-85229-135-3, Vol. 1, p. 477. (This Akan article was written by Kofi Abrefa Busia, formerly professor of Sociology and Culture of Africa at the University of Leiden, Netherlands.)
  37. ^ Owusu-Ansah, David (Nov1994). http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+gh0048%29, "Ghana: The Akan Group". This source, "Ghana", is one of the Country Studies available from the US Library of Congress. Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/61M7J7JwT on 31Aug11.
  38. ^ a b c ashanti.com.au (before 2010). http://ashanti.com.au/pb/wp_8078438f.html, "Ashanti Home Page". Archived at WebCite http://www.webcitation.org/5xVwnX0ie on 28Mar11.
  39. ^ de Witte (2001), p. 55 shows such surnames in a family tree, which provides a useful example of names.
  40. ^ a b de Witte (2001), p. 53.
  41. ^ de Witte (2001), p. 73.
  42. ^ "Kwasi Konadu, "The Akan Diaspora in the Americas" (Oxford UP, 2010)". Newbooksinafroamstudies.com. 2011-06-09. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  43. ^ J. A. Mangan, The Cultural bond: sport, empire, society
  44. ^ a b Hornsby, Alton (2011). Black America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia. p. 391. ISBN 978-0313341120. 

Further Reading[edit]

  1. ^ CIA World Factbook population total suggests 20 million.
  • Antubam, Kofi, Ghana's Heritage of Culture, Leipzig, 1963.
  • Kyerematen, A. A. Y., Panoply of Ghana, London, 1964.
  • Meyerowitz, Eva L. R., Akan Traditions of Origin, London, c. 1950.
  • Meyerowitz, Eva L. R., At the Court of an African King, London 1962
  • Obeng, Ernest E., Ancient Ashanti Chieftaincy, Tema (Ghana), 1986.
  • Bartle, Philip F. W. (January 1978), "Forty Days; The AkanCalendar". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (Edinburgh University Press), 48 (1): 80–84.
  • For the Akan, the first-born twin is considered the younger, as the elder stays behind to help the younger out.
  • "Kente Cloth." African Journey. webmaster@projectexploration.org. 25 September 2007.
  • Effah-Gyamfi, Kwaku (1979), Traditional History of the Bono State, Legon: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.
  • Effah-Gyamfi, Kwaku (1985), Bono Manso: an archaeological investigation into early Akan urbanism (African occasional papers, no. 2) Calgary: Dept. of Archaeology, University of Calgary Press. ISBN 0-919813-27-5
  • Meyerowitz, E. L. R. (1949), "Bono-Mansu, the earliest centre of civilisation in the Gold Coast", Proceedings of the III International West African Conference, 118–20.

External links[edit]