|c. 20 million (est.)[N 1]|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Ivory Coast||8.5 Million|
|Akan (Akan languages)|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Akan // are a meta-ethnicity and Potou–Tano Kwa ethno-linguistic group residing on the Gulf of Guinea in the southern regions of the former Gold Coast region in what are today the republics of Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa.
Akans are the largest meta-ethnicity and ethno-linguistic 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 Central Tano branch of the Potou–Tano Kwa language family. 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 Bono. 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.
- 1 Origin and ethnogenesis
- 2 History
- 3 Akan Polity
- 4 Akan subgroups and ethnic identity
- 5 Akan language
- 6 Culture
- 7 Concepts of Akan philosophy and inheritance
- 8 Akan names
- 9 Individuals of Akan origin
- 10 Gallery
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Origin and ethnogenesis
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, 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.
Oral traditions of the ruling Abrade (Aduana) Clan relate that they originated from ancient Sudan. 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 Ivory Coast). 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.
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. This brought wealth to numerous Akan states like Akwamu, (1550-1650) and ultimately led to the rise of the most well known Akan empire, the Empire of Ashanti,(1700-1900), the most dominant of the Akan states.
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.
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. 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. 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. Ghana later apologized to the descendents of slaves for the role some of its people may have played in the slave trade.
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. Ivory Coast gained independence on 7 August 1960.
The Akans basically consider themselves as one nation. Akan means the Enlightened or Civilised. They basically trace their descent philosophically as from one woman. Within this nation are the three branches based on dialect - Guans, Fantes and Twis. Then each branch is a collection of tribes. The tribe is usually ruled by several Paramount Chiefs whose territory is considered a State. The state is the basic unit of Akan polity. Several states can band together to form a Confederacy regardless of tribe or which branch they belong to. For example, the Guan state of Larteh and the Akyem state of Akropong joined together to form the Akwapim Kingdom. Under the State there are Divisions and under these Divisions the towns and villages.
Akan chiefs are ranked according to their jurisdiction. The head of an intertribal Confederacy or a tribe is usually considered a King as in the Kings of Ashanti, Akyem and the Akwapim. Under these are the heads of the constituent states who is considered a Paramount Chief. There is then divisional Chiefs. These are primarily arranged according to the five divisions of an Akan army. The Akan army formation resembles a cross or an aeroplane. The battle formation has the Frontline, the West Flank, an East Flank, the main body and the Vanguard. There are therefore five divisional chiefs in each Paramountcy. These are followed in rank by the Chiefs of the towns and then the Chiefs of the villages or town suburbs.
The Akan tribes have traditionally seven clans in each tribe. They don't have the same names in each tribe but each has an equivalent clan. The clans are assigned States which they rule by virtue of their status as founders of that jurisdiction. The Ashanti Kingdom is ruled by the Oyoko Clan. However Bretuo and Twidan as well as other clans rule States, Divisions, Towns and Villages within the Kingdom. The Fante-speaking tribes usually have the Anona Clan ruling most of their States. Certain sub-clans or lineages have exclusive rights to some stools within Akanland such as the lineage of Afia Kobi in the Oyoko Clan who alone sit on the Golden Stool of Ashanti. Matrilineal inheritance makes it easier to trace the line of succession. Within each lineage or House are the branches. These branches are called Jaase or literally Kitchens. Each Kitchen takes its turn to present a candidate for the stool to the kingmakers of the lineage. Once accepted their candidate rules till death. This means until all the Jaase have presented their candidates they have to wait their turn.
Akan Chiefs of whatever rank have other noblemen who serve them as sub-chiefs. These sub-chiefs do not have hereditary titles and therefore do not have black stools. In addition each Chief or King has a female co-ruler known as the Queenmother. This custom is as old as the ancient Egyptian and Nubian kingdoms from which the Akans are descended. The Queen-mother is more like a figurehead representing the King or Chief's eldest sister and hence the mother of the next King or Chief. They present the candidate for consideration as chief. A sub-chief does not have a Queenmother as his title is not hereditary.
A Prince is any of the members of the lineage eligible to sit on a stool. However, not all the noblemen or noblewomen are Princes as some may be ineligible. A prince is not necessarily the son of a chief. As such nobles strive to achieve the position of prince in their families or for their children.
A sub-chief does not however need to be a nobleman. He only has to be suitable for the position he is to occupy. Some sub-chieftaincy positions can be abolished at will. They include the heads of the ruling house or Mankrado, the Linquist, the Chief Kingmaker or Jaasehene, the Supi or General of the Army, the Captains of the Army or Asafohene among others.
The way Akans ruled their nation fascinated the tribes of other West African nations and as the Akans conquered or formed alliances with these nations parts of it was transmitted to them. The British particularly felt the Akan system was efficient and tried to establish it throughout their dominions in West Africa using the Indirect Rule System. The Ewes and the Ga-Adangmes with their close affinity to the Akans have modified certain aspects of it to fit their societies.
In Ghana and other modern states where Akan tribes are located the Chiefs, sub-Chiefs, Princes and Noblemen of the Akans serve mostly a symbolic role. Modern politics has side-lined them in national politics. However especially in the villages and poor areas the Chiefs are still very important for organising development, social services and keeping peace. Some Kings and Paramount Chiefs have decided to push ahead with the leadership of their Kingdoms and States in a non-political fashion. The Asantehene and Okyehene have emphasised Education and Environmental Sustainability respectively. Others push the national government and its agents to fulfill promises to their people.
In modern Ghana a quasi-legislative/judicial body known as the House of Chiefs has been established to oversea chieftaincy and the Government of Ghana as the British Government once did certifies the Chiefs and gazettes them. Several Akan Chiefs sit at the various levels of the National House of Chiefs. Each Paramountcy has a Traditional Council, then there is the Regional House of Chiefs and lastly the National House of Chiefs. Akan Chiefs and Kings who once warred with each other and the Chiefs and Kings of other nations within Ghana now sit with them to build peace and advocate development for their nations.
Akan subgroups and ethnic identity
The Akan people comprise the following subgroups: Ashanti(the largest Akan group), Abbe, Abidji, Aboure, Adjukru, Ahafo, Ahanta, Akuapem, Akwamu, Akye, Akyem, Alladian, Anyi, Aowin, Assin, Attie, Avatime, Avikam, Baoule, Brong, Chokosi, Denkyira, Ebrie, Ehotile, Evalue, Fante, Kwahu, M'Bato, Nzema, Sefwi, and Wassa.
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".
Akan refers to the language of the Akan ethno-linguistic group and the Akan language in which was and is the most widely spoken and used indigenous language in south of Ghana. Akan is officially recognized for literacy in the south of Ghana, at the primary and elementary educational stage (Primary 1–3) K–12 (education) level, and studied at university as a bachelor's degree or master's degree program. The Akan language spoken as the predominant language in the Western, Central, Ashanti, Eastern, Brong Ahafo regions of south Ghana. A form of Akan Ndyuka is also spoken in South America, notably Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana, 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(main example of Jamaica and its great influence with Akan culture, Adinkra symbols and Twi loanwords). 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. 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. 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).
Akan culture is one of the traditional matrilineal cultures of Africa. 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.
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.
Concepts of Akan philosophy and inheritance
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)
Many but not all of the Akan still 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. 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.
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.
According to one source 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."
"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.
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, taboos, ritual purifications and forms of etiquette. A person thus inherits one's Ntoro from one's father, but does not belong to his family.
A recent (2001) book provides an update on the Akan, stating that some families are changing from the above abusua structure to the nuclear family. 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. The above taboo on marriage within one's abusua is sometimes ignored, but "clan membership" is still important, with many people still living in the abusua framework presented above.
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, 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 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 or Kobina 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. Some Akan first-names have over time been Anglicized and made surnames,and this is without regard to the day of the week the person was born or his/her gender.For example, you may have people with surnames like Cudjoe(Kojo),Cobbina(Kobina),Quarcoe(Kwaku),Yao/Kwaw/Quarw(Yaw),Coffie/Kuoffie(Kofi),Quarmie/Quarmyne(Kwame),Kwesie/Quarshie(Kwasi). These surnames are very common in Ghana.
Akan Naming Conventions
Akans have a naming convention. The first name is after the day one was born. In addition a middlename is given based on the quality or person the child is named for. If the person is named after someone then the rank of the person appears before the day name. After this may come the surname of his father's family. Sometimes to preserve the family name of the mother especially if the mother is an only child or has only sisters, the mothers surname is placed before the father's surname and hyphenated. So a typical Akan name in full could be Nana Yaw Agyei Antwi-Boasiako. This will mean a boy who is born on Thursday (hence Yaw), named after his grandfather (hence the title Nana before the day name) whose middlename is Agyei, his mother's maiden surname is Antwi and his father's surname is Boasiako. A female version of the name will be Nana Yaa Agyeiwaa Antwi-Boasiako. Sometimes the order of birth is included in between the day name and middlename.
In the past surnames were usually not announced as they were basically the name of the Father's lineage or patrilineal clan called Ntoro. The Ntoro is the Abusua your father belongs to. It has its own lineage name which male members are to give their children automatically as surnames e.g. Essandoh, Bondzie, Owusu-Ansah, etc. However, with the advent of Western education surnames have crystallised into ones chosen for children in schools in the 19th and 20th Century. These have no direct relationship with the blood line of the child's father. Therefore, an Ntoro now consists of several surnames depending on the number of different surnames borne by the father's within it. It is not surprising to find several Ntoro with similar names cutting across them.
The Akan middle 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 usually named after the Akan father of the husband and if the Akan baby is a female she will usually 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 child might be called "Yaa Dufie" even if her paternal grandmother was born on Friday. The reason is the fact that the even though the Akan mother of the Akan man "Osei Kofi" is called "Afia Dufie" the day name is not transmitted along with the middle name.
Nowadays names that are given at Baptism are added in front of the title names or day names whichever comes first. An Akan Christian will then have a name such as Joseph Nana Kofi Esuon Abew-Crentsil or Mary Lucy Maame Abena Kwakyewa Asiedu-Opare. Some Muslim Akans also add their Muslim names to their Akan names such as Abdul Rahman Kwesi Agyir Afful-Essandoh. It is becoming commonplace to sometimes give the Akan equivalents of European/Hebrew baptismal names as First names before the actual Akain name. Judah or Jude becomes Ayeyi and the name is given as Ayeyi Nana Kwabena Osei Owusu-Ansah for instance.
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 much they cherish their ancestors. A middle name was based on certain principles that qualified the original bearer as worthy of consideration as an ancestor much as the principle of sainthood in Christianity. 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 middle names given to Akan males could also be given to Akan females just by adding the suffix "waa" or "bea" (meaning female)to form the female names. Some of these Akan middle names 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
Among the individuals of Akan origin are Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), who started the pan-African movement which liberated many states from European colonialism; Kofi Annan (born 1938), is the first black man to head the United Nations organization and was awarded the Nobel Prize; Arthur Wharton (1865-1930), the first black professional footballer in the world; and Paul Cuffee (1759-1817), who built a lucrative shipping empire and by the first years of the nineteenth-century was one of the wealthiest men in the United States.
- Empire of Ashanti
- List of rulers of the Akan state of Adanse
- List of rulers of the Akan states of Akwamu and Twifo-Heman
- List of rulers of the Akan state of Bono-Tekyiman
- List of rulers of the Akan state of Denkyira
- List of rulers of the Akan state of Gyaaman
- Rulers of the Akan state of Asante
- Rulers of the Akan state of Akyem Abuakwa
- Tacky's War
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- 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.)
- 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.
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- de Witte (2001), p. 55 shows such surnames in a family tree, which provides a useful example of names.
- de Witte (2001), p. 53.
- de Witte (2001), p. 73.
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Cite error: Invalid
<ref> tag; name "factbook" defined multiple times with different content
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- 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. firstname.lastname@example.org. 25 September 2007.
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- Kasahorow Akan Dictionary The Dictionary of Standard Written Akan
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- Akan Philosophy of the Person, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006) ISSN 1095-5054