Akan Chieftaincy

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Queen Mother Moore being honored for service Uplifting African Diaspora

In many parts of West Africa, there is an old chieftaincy tradition. The Akan have developed their own hierarchy which exists alongside the democratic structure of the country. The Akan word for the ruler is nana. In colonial times, Europeans translated it to “chief”, which is not an exact equivalent. Other sources speak of “kings”, which is also not entirely correct. The term “chief” has become common even amongst modern Ghanaians, though it would be more correct to use the expression nana without translation wherever possible..


The roots of Akan chieftaincy are unknown. Written sources are scarce. When the Akan were settling in the Tekyiman Region, i.e. before 1300, they already had the chieftaincy system for long. The Paramount Chief had a position which can be compared to that of an absolutist king.

When the Republic of Ghana was founded in 1957, it was agreed that the chieftaincy system should be respected.

Present time[edit]

Chieftaincy is officially accepted. Politicians ask chiefs for advice because usually they are closer to the people. The highest committee is the National House of Chiefs in Kumasi. There are also Regional Houses of Chiefs. In case of problems between the chiefs, the House of Chiefs has a legal function to adjudicate in their matters.


The highest rank is that of a Paramount Chief. Within the Akan ethnic group there are different tribes such as the Ashanti,Akyem, Kwahu, Akwapim, Assin, or the Fante.

Underneath the Paramount chiefs, there are chiefs and subchiefs. A subchief can be compared to the mayor of a town, except for the fact that his office is hereditary as opposed to elective. The chiefs have their own territories, and apart from overseeing them, they have a function at the courts of their paramount chiefs as their ministers. Most of the functions are traditional, while some have been created recently:

A chief arbitrates and decides political and economic questions in his area. When he is installed, he receives a stool name. Usually, all chiefs that belong to a reigning lineage have the same name – a ordinal being added to distinguish between all of them.


The English translation of the title Omanhene is "Paramount Chief". There are rare cases that Queen mother's themselves would be kings. Prime example being Okyenhene Nana Afia Dokuaa. This and the position of Obaatan or Queen mother are the only ones that are obtained by relation to the ruling clan.


The caretaker of the land and 2nd in command after the Omanhene.


Ankobea means one who stays at home or does not go anywhere. Ankobeahene is the caretaker of the palace.


Obaatan means "parent" and is a female role. Her symbol is the egg out of which all other chiefs came. She is Omanhene's counsellor. When Omanhene's stool is vacant, Obahenma suggests the next candidate. She is expected to consider all factors such as the character of the available candidates, their royal-hood and their contribution to the royal family. Mostly the lineage and order of birth is given a paramount consideration in the selection process. Although found in other traditions, the position of Obaatan does not fit into the Akan Chieftaincy structure. The one who suggests and nominates Omanhene is the Obaahemaa (The Queen mother) in the Akan tradition.


The "warrior" is the head of all the Asafo companies,(or head of gunners) The meaning of Tufo in Akan language is ADVISE, but it does not fit in this context.


Head of a single Asafo company.


The interior head


The head of treasury


There are four positions describing military flanks. Adontehene is the one who goes in front of the army.


Nkyidom is the last going. He collects the soldiers who are left behind and sends them back to the army. During Odambea, Nkyidom always sits in the last palanquin.


Holds the right flank of the army's formation.


Holds the left flank of the army's formation.


If there is anything to distribute or to share, Akyempimhene has to do it. He is also the first son of the King. He also protects the king, his father, each king whether his biological father or not the king is his dad. He also enjoys the authority of arriving in a palanquin after the asantehene is seated, only him has that authority in the kingdom to arrive after the king is seated. He is the head of all the Kumasi royals. Otumfou Opoku Ware (katakyie) created this stool. Only the first sons of the king could only ascend this stool. He is also the head of the Kyidom clan (fekuo). It should be noted that due to matrilineal system of inheritance, the sons do not automatically succeed their fathers as kings. Kings are by and large selected from the sons of the deceased king's close female relations.


Mankrado's function is purification. He puts leaves into the water which he sprinkles over omanhene. He always has salt in his pocket to make things taste better for Omanhene.


The function of Guantuahene is younger than ten years. Guantoahene is the one people can turn to for shelter and mercy.


Nsumankwahene watches the oracle. This function is also younger than ten years.


Nkosuohene is responsible for the development of the region. The title is in use since about ten years and was adopted from the Ashanti who had made it up before. This title was created to honour someone who does not have to be member of a royal family. There are some foreigners who have been honoured with this title. It was created to appreciate the contribution of non-royals.


The most important person in the chief's entourage is the priest or priestess (okomfo). Traditionally, the priest tells the chief when it is for example time to start a war or to marry.

There is also a stool wife. No matter if a chief is married or not, when installed, he will be married to a very young girl. Nowadays, it is obligatory, and polygamy is still legal. Today, the symbolic act is sufficient: During parades, a stool wife is sitting in front of the chief.

A chief has one or more linguists (okyeame, sg.). A chief never talks in public, but conveys messages through his linguist who is also responsible for the pouring of libations.

Queen Mother[edit]

An Akan stool believed to be for a Queen Mother, 1940-1965, in the collection of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The title of Queen mother can relate to the rank of a paramount queen, a queen or a sub-queen. The Akan name is the same as for the men, “nana”. When using English, Ghanaians say “queen mother”. This woman is not necessarily the respective chief's mother. Her role in the system is to have an eye on the social conditions, and a personally capable Queen mother has been known to equal or even surpass a reigning Chief in terms of power and prestige. A good example of this happening is the case of Queen Yaa Asantewa.


Personal Ornaments[edit]

On occasions, chiefs wear the traditional cloth, which is a six yards long piece of fabric, wrapped around the body. Female chiefs have two pieces of fabric which can be of different design.

The jewellery is very ample and used to be of gold. Nowadays, most chiefs are wearing imitations. The Head-Dress usually has the form of a crown. It can be made of metal or of black velvet, ornamented with metal. Chiefs have traditional sandals, and the wearing of sandals is symbolic. When a chief abdicates, he puts off his sandals.

Fly-whisk (Bodua)[edit]

When riding in a palanquin, chiefs hold a fly-whisk in one hand and a ceremonial sword in the other. The fly-whisk is made of animal hair.

Sword (Afena)[edit]

The ceremonial short sword is used for animal sacrifice. The chiefs touches the animal's throat symbolically with his sword before someone else cuts the throat with a sharp knife.

Palanquin (Apakan)[edit]

During a Durbar, which is a special parade, some chiefs are carried in a palanquin. Subchiefs have to walk. The palanquins can have the form of a chair or of a bed.

Stool (Dwa)[edit]

Instead of a throne, Akan Chiefs traditionally sit on a stool. When they die, their stools are painted black and stored in sacred rooms. This Sacred room is called Nkonwafie (stool house). If the passed chief was the first to have sat on that stool, the person's name becomes the first I. Who ever sits on that stool in the future would be called by the first chief's name but would have II attached. The name becomes the new chief's stool name.[citation needed]

Umbrella (Bamkyim)[edit]

Very big umbrellas made of silk and other rich fabrics show from afar that a chief is coming.



As there is not much written information, oral sources have to be quoted:

  • Mr. Anthony Alick Eghan, Yamoransa (Central Region, Ghana)
    • Kofi Owusu Yeboah, Ejisu-Onwe (Ashanti Region)


  • 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 (published around 1950)
  • Meyerowitz, Eva L. R.; At the court of an African King, London 1962
  • Obeng, Ernest E.; Ancient A Tema (Ghana) 1986

External links[edit]