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    Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
    Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
    Volume 48, Number 1 January 1978, pp 80-4


Forty Days; The Akan Calendar

Philip F.W. Bartle

Several attempts have been made to understand the development if not the origin of Akan culture in terms of the diffusion of (a) traits from the north which were taken south with the expansion and disintegration of the great savannah trading empires and the southward migration of Mande Dyula merchants and (b) traits which were already present prior to that migration in a large area once populated mainly by the Guan in the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, and today populated for the most part by Akan, Adanbe, and Ewe. The mixing of these cultural traits and the point of origin for the Akan expansion appears to have taken place along a trade route stretching from the Sahara to the Atlantic coast, close to the site of Begho near Wenchie in the Bono Techiman state (Boahen 1966; Goody 1959, 1966, 1968; Wilks 1962).

The social organization of the currently dominant Akan is based on matrilineal descent, which may reflect matriliny among some of the migrants from the north; in contrast, the social organization of the many remnant Guan communities and the closely related Gonja is based on patrilineal descent. Akan political structure is more complex than that of the Guan which it came to dominate or replace. Akan society is based on hierarchies of federations matrilineages, rather than on a loose collection of semi-independent patrilineages which characterised the earlier Guan societies. In contrast to these distinctions, of all the languages in the Kwa group the Guan languages are most similar to Akan dialects; this may be evidence of a common origin of at least some cultural elements. The worship by the Akan of what were once Guan gods also leads one to suspect that Akan is a culture that was once Guan but which has varied because of the fusion of some traits with it. One institution indicating such fusion is the Akan calendar.

The Akan comprise approximately two fifths of the total population of Ghana (1960 Census of Ghana) and are also found in the Ivory Coast and Togo. My present research has been among one Akan group, the Kwawu, and is focused on one town, Obo. in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Until the sixteenth century the area now called Kwawu was occupied by a loose collection of Guan patrilineages holding limited allegiance to a leader Ataara Firam, whose capital was Gyaneboafo in the Afram Plains. The disturbance and expansion of Akan matrilineal culture south of Bono Techiman in the Adanse and Denkyira areas resulted in numerous groups of Akan migrating to Kwawu. Eventually they became more populous and, having an efficient military organization, they defeated the Guan leaders but kept the wives, slaves and children; they also retained the belief in their gods, and their religious artefacts as trophies,

The traits from different origins which constitute the particular mixture that is Akan culture may generally be categorized into patrilineal and matrilineal elements. As Fortes has pointed out, the Akan social organization is not based on a double descent system. The duality of Akan society is enacted in the individual. As Fortes wrote, '...every actor ... is at one and the same time a matri-person and a patri-person, and the attributes that go with these two aspects of his status are mutually exclusive and complementary' (Fortes 1963). The dominant matrilineal inheritance of economic and political elements of office and property is based on the abusua (matrilineage) and symbolized by mogya (blood which are the structural bases for [p.81] the formation and operation of exogamous matrilineal descent groups called nton. The subordinate patrilineal inheritance of of spiritual and psychological elements of character and morals (sunsum) is based on the ntoro (patrilineal line) and symbolized by semen (ahoaba) and related to the spiritual beings of animated natural objects (abosom). Corresponding colour symbolism consists red and white for the respective female-male, corpus-spiritual, blood-semen categories. Matrilineal dominance is also seen in the fact that the chief (being continually possessed by his ancestors) has a higher status than the priests and priestesses (even when they are on occasion possessed by their tutelary spirits). Homage is often made publicly in connection with rites held on the various 'bad days,' dabone. The coexistence of matrilineal elements in political, social, and economic life side-by-side with patrilineal elements in ritual, spiritual and psychological life is evidence of a fusion of traits originating from different areas. The forty-two day cycle in which the dabone occur may itself be, like much of Akan culture, a result of the synthesis of elements having separate origins.

The Akan calendar is based on what the Akan call 'forty days,' adaduanan (da=day, aduanan=forty). Close examination of the cycle reveals forty-two different days, with the forty-third being the same as the first. Within the adaduanan cycle are found four special days collectively called dabone (bone=evil). Two of these 'bad' days are called adae (perhaps deriving from da=sleep and eye=well, implying that the ancestors should lie comfortably), and are closely associated with politico-ritual symbols of gerontocracy sanctified or sanctioned by ancestor worship. No funerals may be held and no news of death may reach the ears of a chief (the living shrine of his ancestors) while libations of alcohol and offerings of food are made to the blackened stools (the permanent physical shrines of those ancestors) on an adae. The other two of those 'bad' days are Fodwo and Fofi, which are closely associated with medico religious symbols or purification and the intervention of anthropomorphic spirits inhabiting natural objects such as rivers and caves. These four 'holidays' are not complete vacations from all labour. No farming may be carried out on any dabone but work per se is not banned. Hunting and gathering are usually permitted and the people may go to their farms to carry home firewood or food reaped the previous day, so long as no weeding of farms is done. Often communal labour is performed on those dabone which are not filled with ritual and ceremonial activities.

The composition or construction of the adaduanan cycle appears to be based on an older six-day week, still extant in some northern Guan communities such as the Nchumuru (Lumsden 1973), on which is superimposed a seven day week which may have been brought south with itinerant traders from the savannah.

The days of the six day week are:
1. Fo Council day (passing sentence; judgement day
2. Nwuna Sleep (death) day; funerals day; covered day.
3. Nkyi Behind (hate-taboo) day; destroyed day.
4. Kuru Town (ie political) day; royal day.
5. Kwa For nothing ('just like that', free, unrestrained) day, servant day...
6. Mono Fresh (starting) day.
The days of the seven day week are:
1. Monday Dwo Quiet (peace) day; calm
2. Tuesday Bena Birthday of ocean; heat, boiling, cooking.
3. Wednesday Wukuo Birthday of Spider (reverse or mortal version of God)...
4. Thursday Ya Birthday of Earth (a woman); power.
5. Friday Afi Fertility
6. Saturday Mene Birthday of Supreme or Sky God (a man); respected, ancient...
7. Sunday Kwasi Under Day (awiase= under the sun); universe, everything.


The six-day week is referred to as nanson (literally seven days), and the seven-day week is referred to as nawotwe (literally eight days). These terms reflect the lack of zero in the numbering systems; the last day and the first day are both included when counting the days of a week.

When the six-day week is counted side-by-side with the seven-day week it takes a total of forty-two days to reach all combinations. The result of these combinations is shown below; the four dabone are in italics:

1. Fo-Dwo 8. Nwuna-Dwo 15. Nkyi-Dwo
2. Nwuna-Bena 9. Nkyi-Bena 16. Kuru-Bena
3. Nkyi-Wukuo 10. Kuru-Wukuo 17. Kwa-Wukuo
4. Kuru-Ya 11. Kwa-Ya 18. Mono-Ya
5. Kwa-Afi 12. Mono-Afi 19. Fo-Fi
6. Mono-Mene 13. Fo-Mene 20. Nwuna-Mene
7. Fo-Kwasi 14. Nwuna-Kwasi 21. Nkyi-Kwasi
22. Kuru-Dwo 29. Kwa-Dwo 36. Mono-Dwo
23. Kwa-Bena 30. Mono-Bena 37. Fo-Bena
24. Mono-Wukuo 31. Fo-Wukuo 38. Nwuna-Wukuo.
25. Fo-Ya 32. Nwuna-Ya 39. Nkyi-Ya
26. Nwuna-Afi 33. Nkyi-Afi 40. Kuru-Afi
27. Nkyi-Mene 34. Kuru-Mene 41. Kwa-Mene
28 Kuru-Kwasi 35 Kwa-Kwasi 42. Mono-Kwasi

The forty-two day cycle shown here, as recorded in Kwawu, is the same as that recorded by Rattray (1923;115) for the Brong (ie Bono Techiman) a state Northwest of the Asante. Rattray (1923;114) notes that the Asante sent messengers to Brong when in doubt when to hold any festival, for the Brong were 'keepers of the King's calendar.' When Kuru (from kurow=town) of the six day week coincides with a Wednesday of the seven-day week (on Kuru-Wukuo), or with a Sunday of the seven-day week (on Kuru-Kwasi), the two dabone most closely related to stool rites, Awukudae and Akwasidae (Wuko-Adae and Kwasi-Adae) are celebrated. When Fo of the six day week coincides with a Monday or Friday, the two dabone most closely related to tutelary spirits are celebrated (Fodwo and Fofi). The forty-two day cycle may be thought to begin on Fodwo and the other three dabone follow in nine day intervals: Awukudae on the tenth day, Fofi on the nineteenth day, and Akwasidae on the twenty-eighth day. It takes a further fourteen days to complete the adaduanan. The adae is not celebrated every twenty-one days as asserted by Busia (1951:28).

Apart from the four standard dabone, some gods may celebrate other days of the cycle. For example, the god Burukung, which was the senior god of the Guan (Goody 1959; Field 1962; Wilks 1961) on the Kwawu Afram Plains, and now the chief of the Kwawu abosom (tutelary spirits), since the sixteenth century Akan take-over of Kwawu (the principle shrine being a large, striking inselberg on the northern slopes of the Kwawu escarpment), celebrates the principal rites on Kwadwo, the Monday following Akwasidae. The cult of Akonnedi, god of Late (Larteh) in Akwapim, which has branches in Kwawu, observes its most frequent public rites on [p.83] Nkyi-Mene or Memenada Adapa, the day prior to Akwasidae (day 27 on the above list). Various other gods in Kwawu are honoured on various other days in the forty-two day cycle.

The adaduanan do not precisely comprise the annual calendar, because nine cycles total 378 days instead of 365 1/4. Eight cycles yield only 336 days. Annually celebrated rites of the different Akan groups, such as the first yam eating festival, Odwira (ablution) or Afahye (public festival), are therefore celebrated each year on different days of the year. The priests of the various gods, in consultation with the various gods and ancestors, determine which adaduanan cycle to choose for the annual rites, usually depending upon the ripening of the crops. Any series of annual rites is observed on the same days of the adaduanan each year, although not on the same days of the year as reckoned by the Roman calendar.

The various adaduanan cycles within the year are given a number of appellations, which are not the same from place to place, and of course never quite the same from year to year, since there are less than nine and more than eight cycles in any one year. Opepon (Ope=harmatan, dry season, pon=supreme) for example, more or less corresponds to the adaduanan which appears about January-February in the middle of the dry season. Every three years or so, one of the nine named adaduanan is omitted from the year because of the extra thirteen days gained when observing nine cycles a year. The names of the adaduanan are therefore flexible and vary over time and cline.

Today some of the names for the adaduanan cycles have been arbitrarily applied to the Roman (Christian) calendar of twelve months by some Akan scholars, although there is no traditional basis for such a translation. For example, Opepon is now used for the Akan word for January even though in the traditional Akan calendar there is no concept exactly corresponding to the Roman month of of January (Janus the god facing the past and future). The beginning and end of each Akan year tends to be the various yam festivals celebrated around August or September.

The lunar cycle and twenty-eight day month are not carefully observed, except by the coastal Akan who are interested in tides as they affect fishing. Still, the month is known as bosome; it consists of twenty-eight days rather than the thirty or thirty-one days of the Roman calendar. Three bosome make two adaduanan. Since the arrival of Swiss missionaries from Basel in the early nineteenth century, Christian Akan scholars have tended to 'Akanize' the Roman calendar rather than observe, analyse and explain the Akan calendar based on adaduanan.

It is quite easy to calculate the Akan calendar from the Roman calendar once a few keys are known. Understandably there is no equivalent in English to the six day week. The seven day week of the English and Akan calendars are, however, equivalent, with the suffix -da (day) added to the names of the days in the above list (Sunday is Kwasida, saturday is Memenada, and so on). Every second year or so Easter occurs on an Akwasidae. In 1978 there are nine Akwasidae, celebrated on 8 January, 19 February, 2 March, 14 May, 25 June, 30 July, 6 August, 17 September, 29 October and 10 December, that is every sixth Sunday. The first four dabone of 1977 were Akwasidae (8 January), Fodwo (23 January), Awukudae (1 February), and Fofi (10 February). Other dabone may be calculated infinitely from these adding or subtracting six-week intervals.

The synthesis of a six-day week and a seven-day week, forming the forty-two day adaduanan cycle may be added to numerous other items of evidence to support a theory of the origins and development of Akan culture which suggests that it is based on cultural diffusion and a compromise of observances having diverse origins.


Boahen, K. Adu 1966 'The origins of the Akan,' Ghana Notes and Queries 9:3-10.
Busia, K. A. 1951 The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti.
Gold Coast Government, reprinted for Oxford University Press by Cass, London.
Field, M. J. 1962 'A further Note on Burukung,' Ghana Notes and Queries 1:27.
Fortes, M. 1963 'The Submerged Descent Line in Ashanti,' in I. Shapira (ed.)
Studies in Kinship and Marriage. Royal Anthropological Institute, London
Goody, J. R. J.R. 1959 'Ethno-history and the Akan of Ghana,' Africa 29(1): 67-81.
──────── 1963 'Ethnological Notes on the Distribution of Guan Languages,'
Journal of African Languages 2(3).
──────── 1966 'The Akan and the North,' Ghana Notes and Queries 9: 18-24.
──────── 1968 'The Myth of a State.' Journal of Modern African Studies 6(4): 461-73.
Lumsden, D. P. 1973 Nchumuru Social Organization and the Impact of the Volta River Project
Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge.
Rattray, R. S. 1923 Ashanti. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Wilks, I. 1961 'Buruking,' Ghana Notes and Queries 1(1): 11-12.
──────── 1963 'A Medieval Trade Route from the Niger to the Gulf of Guinea,
Journal of African History 3(2).

    Quarante Jours: le Calendrier Akan

    Les Akan du Ghana et de la Côte d’Ivoire ont semble-t-il en commun un certain nombre de traits distinctifs d’origine multiple, et cette synthèse est mise en évidence par leur calendrier. Celui-ci a pour base un cycle de 42 jours résultant de l’existence d’une semaine de six jours (cette dernière étant une survivance de la présence antérieure Guan dans cette zone) et d’une semaine de sept jours (qui, elle, semble provenir du nord), six fois sept faisant quarante deux. On dénombre, dans ce cycle des 42 jours quatre jours ‘maléfiques’ au cours desquels il n’y a ni activités agricoles ni inhumations, ces journées étant marquees par des cérémonies et des travaux effectués en commun. Chacune de ces journées de la semaine de six jours ainsi que de celle de sept jours possède ses caractéristiques propres et les personnes nées un certain jour ont toutes en commun certaines de ces caractéristiques. Les nouveaux-nés prennent leur nom d’aprés la semaine de sept jours qui est celle qui prédomine et qui est mieux connue que celle de six jours. Les données rapportées dans le présent article sont le résultat d’une recherche effectuée chez les Kwawu; les coutumes peuvent varier d’une zone Akan à une autre, mais elles ont toutes le même adaduanan (‘quarante jours’).

    Cuarenta días: El calendario akan

    Parece que los akan de Ghana y Costa de Marfil tienen en común un cierto número de rasgos distintivos de origen múltiple, y esta síntesis se evidencia en su calendario. Este tiene como base un ciclo de 42 días, resultante de la existencia de una semana de seis días (cuyo origen se remonta a la presencia de los guan en esta zona en el pasado), y de una semana de siete días (que parece provenir del norte): seis por siete son cuarenta y dos. En este ciclo de 42 días se cuentan cuatro días «maléficos», en los cuales no hay actividades agrícolas ni inhumaciones, y están dedicados a ceremonias y trabajos efectuados en común. Cada uno de los días de la semana de seis días posee características propias, y todas las personas nacidas un cierto día tienen algunas de estas características. Los recién nacidos toman su nombre de la semana de siete días, que es la que predomina y se conoce mejor que la de seis días. Los datos aportados en este artículo son el resultado de una investigación efectuada en el territorio kwawu: las costumbres pueden variar de una zona akan a otra, pero todas ellas tienen los mismos adaduadan («cuarenta días»). Traducción de Mª Lourdes Sada.

    Vierzig Tage; der Akan-Kalender

    Die Akan Ghanas und die Elfenbeinküste scheinen über diverse ähnliche Merkmale zu verfügen. Eine dieser Ähnlichkeiten ist der 42-Tage-Zyklus, der aus dem Zusammenschluss einer Sechs-Tage-Woche (von einer früheren Gruppe, den Guan, begründet) und einer Sieben-Tage-Woche (die ursprünglich von der Sahara zu kommen scheint) herrührt. 6 mal 7 ergibt 42. In diesem 42-Tage-Zyklus unterscheidet man vier „schlechte Tage“. Während dieser Zeit darf niemand Landwirtschaft betreiben oder eine Beerdigung durchführen. Jedem Tag dieses Zyklusses werden bestimmte Charakteristika zugeordnet. Menschen, die am selben Tag geboren sind, wird nachgesagt, dass sie über gemeinsame Eigenschaften verfügen. Wenn ein Kind geboren wird, erhält er/sie einen Seelennamen der sich an der Sieben-Tage-Woche orientiert, da diese diejenige ist, die von den beiden verschiedenen Wochenzyklen am weitesten bekannt ist. Die Informationen entstammen einer Recherche über die Kwawu, die, wie alle anderen der Akan, den Adaduanan Zyklus (40 Tage) anerkennen. Uebersetzt von Christine Voigt.

    Forty Days; the Akan Calendar

    The Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast appear to have several traits of origin in common. Here we look at one such feature, the 42 day cycle which resulted from the fusion of a six day week (originating in an earlier group, the Guan) and a seven day week (which appears to have come across the Sahara) (six times seven making 42). In this 42 day cycle, there are four “bad days” during which no one may farm or conduct a funeral. Each day on the cycle has specific characteristics, and people born on the same day are said to share some common characteristics. When a child is born, s/he is given a soul name based on the seven day week, which is the better known of the two weekly cycles. The data from which this is taken are based on research among the Kwawu, who, in common with all other Akan, recognise the adaduanan (forty days) cycle.

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