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Akan Religion; Introduction

by Phil Bartle, PhD

The religious beliefs and rituals of the Akan have various origins and various elements. European missionaries from early in the nineteenth century have preached not only the gospel, but tried very hard to change the Akan culture so as to more resemble European social organisation. The Akan, like many Africans, are syncretist, adding new onto old rather than discarding the old, much to the frustration of many missionaries.

The Chief of Obo, as chief, although his position is based on ancestor homage, is considered to be the head of every religious cult in Obo, and he takes great delight in saying "My brothers and sisters in Christ" to missionaries, when they know full well he is also in a position because of the gods and ancestors.

The section here focusses on the traditional, or pre Christian, beliefs and rituals, as many of these are extant today, although not easily seen by Europeans. Although there are many forces, spirits, medicines and beings, the most important two are the Gods and Ancestors.

Files in the Religion set:

The Spirit in Us; Overview. This introduces the description of Akan religion, with mention of the Christian surface and various spirits and beings, including witch killers.

Gods I; Tutelary Deities; The Gods are the personifications of natural objects, rivers, caves, mountains. They were in the land among the patrilineal Guan who preceded the matrilineal Akan, and the Guan combines roles of chiefs and priests. The Akan kept the Gods, but assigned different persons to be priests and chiefs.

Gods II; Nansing; One powerful local God is described in detail, a river which flows inside a cave.

Gods III; Health and Fertility; The main concern of the Gods is health and well being. Local herbs are shown, and the method of improving fertility of women.

Gods IV; Ohantrase; When the chief calls a celebration, it is held under the Ohantra tree outside the chief's palace. When Gods possess their priests and priestesses, they walk counter clockwise around the circle of attendees, greeting and dancing, while their various drum ensembles play for all to hear.

Ancestors I; Death and Beyond; It is explained that being dead is not sufficient to be an ancestor. When a chief or elder attains a high level of prestige and power, then she or he is more likely to be called as an ancestor.

Ancestors II; Afahye; The British brought the word "Durbar: from India to label these pubic celebrations.

Three Souls; The three sacred and primary colours, red, white and black, are used to describe Akan cosmology, linking the red soul, female matrilineal, danger, land, blood, the white soul, male, patrilineal, morals, semen. water, caves and bones, and black soul, breath, destiny, time, air, wind and change, in individuals and the universe.

Black Apoma; is an ethnographic report of the sacred black linguist staff, it role in Kwawu beliefs and political ritual, and the libation poured to it every six weeks on Akwasidae, at the matrilineal home of the chief okyeame and the other six acheame of the Obo chief, prior to the libation poured to the sacred back stool in the Chief's palace.

Geographic Food Taboos. The priestess of the God, Nansing, cannot eat maize when she is in the valley drained by the Nansing river, but can eat maize when outside the valley.

Forty Days; Some elements of Akan culture originate from the prior patrilineal Guan people, while other elements came with the arrival of the matrilineal Akan. This fusion is well illustrated by t the combination of the Guan six day week and the Akan seven day week, to make the ritual forty two day (adaduanan, "40" days) cycle, on which all Akan ceremonies are based, and which is more important than the lunar month (bosome).

Swiss Missionaries. When Ramseyer, a Swiss Pietist from Basel, tried to found his "Ashantee Mission," he was abducted and spent three years in captivity. When freed, he was not allowed into Asante, so he built his mission in Kwawu. Kwawu used the event to declare independence from Asante by murdering the Asante ambassador. The Bretuo and Tena clans (Twidan) in Abetifi and Abene were pro European and led the movement towards becoming a British Protectorate. The Asona and Dwumina clans of the Benkum division were allied to those of Kyibi which was already part of the Gold Coast Colony. Obo led the pro Asante faction in Kwawu, as head of the Nifa division, being of the Amoakade and Ada (Aduana) clans and relatives of the leaders of Kumawu. Until Britain made Kwawu a protectorate, this was technically a time of Kwawu independence ─the only time.

Gyenyame; The black adinkra stamps, which are worn on cloth, are many, but the best known is the Gyenyame ("Except for God").

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Last update: 2012.12.07

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