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Correspondence about Ghana, concentrating on Akan culture and the Kwawu.

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Contributions will be added chronologically to the top of this collection

Date: Fri, 28 Oct
From: "Kofi Amua-Sekyi"

O wow thats extremely interesting because when I traveled to Ghana in 1994 I stayed at the University of Cape Coast for about a weekend with the Chancellor and his family (whom I am ashamed to say are my relatives but I have forgotten their names) also I believe Ekua Amua-Sekyi teaches at the University, she is my father's half-sister. What years did you teach there and do any of these people ring any bells. And by the way I had no idea Canada was a confederation, U.S. high school history misleads us (American kids) into believing that confederations are unsuccesful ( I am speaking of early American history, not the civil war confederacy which was unsuccesful for other reasons), but Canada is a succesful and competitive nation, interesting.

Community Empowerment wrote:

Yes, I taught at Ogua Suku-pon (*University of Cape Coast") for four years.

Yes, different states have different systems. Many people see the similarity of Canadians and Americans, although Canadians usually hate the comparison. Canada is a confederation, while the USA has a federal system. Different histories, different conditions, different results.

The Fante never achieved the huge success ss did the Ashanti, who controlled an empire stretching to Ouagadugu in wht is now Burkina Faso, well into Ivory Coast, and over most of what are now Akan rain forest states in most of Southern Ghana, including parts of the Volta Region. When the Portuguese arrived at Elmina in 1472, they met the Asante there, who had been trading with the Lebonese and Syrians (descendents of the Phonecians).

The coastal situation was very different from the rain forest, and there were many, dozens, of competing countries trading along the coast, each with different forts, and making alliances with different local groups, often stimulating conflict between them and hindering any development of a unified state. European kingdoms fought many wars outside Europe, which continued on through the cold war.

Today there are remnants of 400 forts and castles along the Ghana coast, all built before the colonial period.

My wife is Fante.

I was also born on Friday.

Date: Thu, 27 Oct
From: "Kofi Amua-Sekyi"

Thank you so much this has become a renewed interest of mine and the more I learn the better. I hope I am not bothering you with all my questions but I have one that is off topic and is more for my personal knowledge. In case you couldn't tell by my name my people are the Fante people who make their home mostly in Oguaa or Cape Coast. Specifically my grandfather's people are from Edumaafa near Mankessim. Now my question is everyone knows that the Ashanti people have a paramount ruler (Osei Tutu was the first I believe) but what caused the Fante's who are also Akan descended people to be in a confederation instead of having several chiefs under one king like the Ashanti's didn't this prove to be a disadvantage in warfare for the Fante's.

Community Empowerment wrote:

Sure. I will give it a try.

First, to give you some elementary background, you should see: http://cec.vcn.bc.ca/cmp/modules/fam-akan.htm In the areas of the rain forest, where the Akan now live, the people living before them were Guan. Related to the Nchumuru, the Gonja, the Benkum (left) division of Awapem under Larteh (Date), and some coastal towns such as Winneba (Simpa).

The Guan had patrilineal descent, inheritance and succession. Often chiefs were also priests of the local gods, mainly rivers.

Being patrilineal each settlement had an amount of autonomy. When a woman married, she would leave her lineage and village of birth, and go to stay in those of her husband.

Matriliny is not the mirror image of patriliny. That is because of the role of women: wife, daughter, sister and mother.

Since a matrilineal descent group needs the active participation of its female members, women divided their time and loyalties between their husbands and their lineages. This was not necessary among the patrilineal Guan.

To solve this, the Akan arranged for confenderations between lineages. They lived close to each other whereas the Guan lived in dispersed, single lineage settlements.

So the Akan Oman was formed. An oman (state) was composed of confederated lineages, and they were given different functions for war: Adonten (vanguard) Benkum (Left Guard) Nifa (right guard) Kyidom (Rear Guard), Gyaaes (Ministry of the Interior) and Oman (Paramount).

Take a football team as an illustration. If two teams had the same level of skills and equipment, but one was organised into goalie, defence, forward and wings, then it would be more likely to win games than the other which was only a collection of unorganized players.

This made the Akan very effective in war, especially the wars to gain control of the important trade routes north and south through the rain forests. Members of each lineage in the confederation knew where and how they would be deployed in battle, and they specialised in the skills needed.

Thus the Akan with its matriliny thrived, and the Guan with its patriliny declined. Except for a few remnant residules, the Guan have been replaced by the Akan in the rain forest.

Date: Wed, 26 Oct
From: "Kofi Amua-Sekyi"

Thank you for your help and if you don't mind I would like to add in my book that I talked to you and also add the information that you gave me. Even though my theory isn't correct the opportunity to add correct information and other theories and the people that contribute them only makes my book better. Not only are the entries and theories that I write about important in this book, but how I came to the conclusions and also what the right conclusion possibly is. Really it just my creative activity to do while I am e-mailing resumes. I am sure I will have more questions and Thanks again.

P.S. Could you please explain though how does the matrilineal succession better organizes a confederation and benefits Akan warfare, I am a little confused about that.

Community Empowerment wrote:

For me the matrilineal succession, descent and inheritance came to Southern Ghana after the breakup of the Mali Empire, and owes its ultimate origin in early dynasty Egypt. The reason why it is so strong among the Akan is because, in the many wars to get control of the trade routes, the matrilineal descent organization was better designed for confederation than was the patrilineal, and thus the forward, rear, left and right divisions and so on, were better organized for war.

The Akan say that they always know the mother of a person, not the father, for sure, as a means to justify matriliny, but that is a story, and not a reason for its origin and strength.

The Akan sold slaves to the Europeans, and those slaves came from the North of Ghana and South of Burkino Faso, and were all patrilineal, so there is likely no relationship between African American mother love and Akan matriliny. Few Akan became translatlantic slaves. The notorious exception were the Maroons in the Caribean.

The Akan moved into the rainforest when trying to escape the seventh century spread of Islam, and they hated Islam, which is why one cannot be circumcised and chosen as chief or priest.

Matriliny is not common in Africa, and the Akan is a major exception. All the other groups in Ghana are patrineal. Another group is in the Copperbelt of Zambia.

── Kofi Amua-Sekyi wrote:
Hello Dr. Bartle

How are you doing Dr. Bartle, my name is Kofi Amua-Sekyi and we spoke through e-mail several years ago. I believe the conversation was about Akan clans and learning how to speak Twi and Fanti. Well it was quite some time ago and I have sinced graduated college but still learning more about my people and I have more questions if you have time. Being a newly graduate I am of course unemployed and have tons of time on my hands so I have been working on a book for fun. Its really just a collection of theories, stories, and questions I have had all my life. The entry that I am working on now is about a theory I have on why many African chiefs believe in the whole matrilineal succession instead of patrilineal like Europeans. You wrote some things pertaining to this (where you referenced Arabic scholar Al Bakr I believe) and I totally agree with you (polygamy and knowing that your sister's son is in fact your nephew are obvious reasons) but I also have a theory that the environment and nature itself play a part in where for instance the early Akan people decided that the mother's line is the most important. (i.e. the dominance and/or importance of female animals in Africa is one example). I just wanted to know if you thought this was a good theory, if it was stupid, or if someone's already proved it right or wrong, basically should I come up with a new entry for my book. Oh yea I know I wrote a lot but one more thing. Would you agree that since the "mother's line" is so important in many African cultures, this could have something to do with the relationships African American men and their mothers. I know this is a lot of stuff but your opinion would be very much appreciated.

Thanks for your help always.

Kofi Amua-Sekyi

Sent: Monday, May 23,
Subject: Re: re medicines in the forest

Yes, Kevin.

Read my Akan studies and the Akan case study on my sociology web site. There is no word in the Akan language that precisely means "family." The corporate descent group, abusua, is based on matrlinieal descent, as is succession and inheritance. That is why two men adopted me, not one,

After that, Kevin, please do not take this personally, but I do not know you, and I do not have any idea where you would take or what you would do with the information, so I prefer not to answer private questions about my relatives.

All the best,


Sent : May 22,
From : Kevin Cunneen

Dear Phil,

Thanks for the reply.
I will look at your site in a bit more detail...thanks for that.

Also,that man that adopted you, is his family still alive?

Kind regards

Sent: Monday, May 23, 2005 11:09 AM
Subject: RE: re medicines in the forest

Dear Kevin,

Very good to read your letter.

Yes, outside Ghana they tap palm sap without cutting the tree, but Ghanaian tappers look down on that method, because the palm wine does not taste as good, and they think it is stingy.

Traditional healers are very secritive about the herbs they use, rightly so. This prevents abuse by amateurs who may not know what dosages to use, and those differ from rainiy to dry seasons. As long as they have apprentices this is OK, but unfortunately some do not and some medicines are being forgotten. Also logging is highly destructive of the rain forest medicines. My friend, the late Dennis Michael Warren, did a lot of work with tranditional healers in Brong Ahafo. You might look up some of his work in a university library.

Nana Adwoa is alive and well, but Aboam is a very isolated village, and you would have to go to Ghana to get to see her; there is no electricity or telephones there.

On the home page of my Akan studies, index.htm, You will see a link to Kompan Adepa, click on it and explore. He is a non Ghanaian possessed by a tradtional god in Brong Ahafo, literae, and a herbal practitioner. You might want to talk to him. http://www.kompanadepa.org/index.htm

My wife, from the coast in Ghana, studies traditional herbs, and grows quite a few here on the mild weathered west coast of Canada. She learned many of them from an old Rastafarian lady we knew in Ethiopia.



Copied to my friend Ben in Australia and my friend Bill in Ghana,

Sent : May 22,
From : Kevin Cunneen

Hi Phil,

I read with great interest your site! It was so amasing. I got onto it by accident in the search for info on palm wine and how they make it after getting it form the palm (since we have many palms around here) I wanted to see if i could make it myself.

But i saw they cut the palm down, yet in other places like near Dakar, they bore a hole near the top of the palm and kept draining it out,thus not killing the palm.

I also was interested in herbs found in the forest as i grow medicianal herbs for my own use. Without these I would have no quality of life at all. And they are were hard to find to begin with as some of them only 1 person in Australia knows about, and by "accident" I was able to locate her and find out that herbs do have a huge impact on the body.

This was not something I was even aware of before I met her, and I think it has saved my life in knowing what she has taught me.

Do you have any photo's of these herbs? Is Nana Adwoa still alive and have you seen her recently...or the family that adopted you?

Im sure that trip had such a huge impact on your life...its hard to believe that such an adventure could really happen.

Thanks for anything you are able to send.

Kind regards

Kevin Cunneen

Date: Mon, 24 Jan
From: Nana Korantenmaa
Subject: Akan Culture

Greeting Dr. Phil:

My name is Nana Korantemaa and I was so pleased to view your website. It was very well put together and highly informative about the Akan culture. You mentioned that you would have a paper on the "role of the priests and priestess." Was this included on that site or can I find that subject on another site? I also would like to know if you can direct me to where I may find information on Abosom Nana Asuogyebi aka Asuo. I know there is a shrine for him in Accra but no one can seem to tell me other regions where he is from and where is Okomfo can be found in Ghana.

In great appreciation,

Nana Abena Dunyo Korantemaa

Date: Sat, 22 Jan
Subject: Akan calender
Nana Kwaku Sakyi, [email protected]

Greetings Dr. Bartle

I happened to come across an article writtne by you on the Akan calender published in Africa:Journal the International African Institute. I would like to get your permission to put your article on my web site. I will give all the necessary credit and acknowledgement to all parties involed. If you want to get further information on my me and my web site please visit www.kompanadepa.org. You may find it very interesting. If there is any advice you care to offer please feel free to do so. I will also put a link to you site on my site as well.

Thank you sincerely

Nana Kwaku Sakyi

Date: Mon., 12 Jul.
To: "Kari Glynes Elliott"

Dear Dr. Elliott,

Thank you very much for your email message.

A chief (not chieftain) is possessed by his or her ancestors. About 9 out of 10 are male. A chief is the living shrine of his/her matrilineal ancestors, earlier chiefs, in Akan society, which is matrilineal, about 46 per cent of Ghanaian population. And of her/his patrilineal ancestors in most of the other ethnic groups (Ewe account for about 11 per cent of Ghanaian population). A matrilineage or patrilineage is a corporate descent group, ruled by gerontocracy, most of the elders being female. When a chief dies the elders elect a new one, there is no direct rule of descent as in European aristocracy. The lineage corporately holds stools (in the south of Ghana) or skins (in the North of Ghana) which are the permanent shrines of the lineage ancestors. The lineage also corporately owns other resources, most importantly, land, which it allocates to members and their spouses, and to some institutions like churches and schools, which gives them usufruct rights but does not confer ownership. Sometimes chiefs take huge bribes personally for giving rights to resources on the land such as timber, and there is sometimes conflict with lineage members about those fees.

The elders elect a new chief when there is a vacancy (destoolment or death), and that recruit must be "captured" and put on the stool, after approval is given by the elders of the lineage, and by the elders of all the lineages in the confederation which makes up a higher level chief. Young men who do not want to become a chief, especially if they have careers ahead of them, usually run away, because the elders want to pick the brightest, strongest, economically and educationally successful person as their chief. There are no negative sanctions or punishment for a person who runs away, and that person usually returns to the home town after a year or so when a new chief is successfully enstooled.

The principles of recruiting priests are quite different. They derive from the Guan, who were the people in the area now occupied by the Akan and Ewe, and modern Akan society is an amalgamation of the two cultures.

Guan chiefs and elders, and the older positions in Ewe society, in contrast to those of the Akan, are often combination priest-chiefs.

See my Forty Days: kw-40.htm

The gods are the spiritual personifications of rivers, mountains and caves. Their priests are possessed by them when the gods want to communicate through a human medium. The word "fetish" is derogatory, and was used by Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century. The local vernacular word is "akomfo" (possessed persons). Two years ago, the present Pope from the Vatican visited Africa and apologized to traditional religious practitioners and apologized for Christians giving them such derogatory names, and he recognised that they are genuine religions, not merely cults and superstitions.

Nowadays, about eight out of ten akomfo (priests) are women.

Among the Guan, the gods were assigned to separate patrilineages who could agree to particular individuals being designated as akomfo. Now it is a bit ambivalent, and usually a priestly office is considered to be "owned" by a matrilineage. (Every individual inherits a patrilineal spirit lie from her or his father, and those spirit lines are related to the old gods).

When a god tries to possess an individual, it looks much like that person is undergoing an epileptic seizure. Family members will take that person to a trusted priest who will determine if it is a god trying to posses the person or something else. If a god is trying to possess the person, she or he must undergo about three years of training, because the god cannot properly posses the person until that person learns and obeys all the food and action taboos, and how to make the body receptive to the god. There are cases where a family of the individual or the lineage "owning" the god will refuse to allow for that training, or the family of the individual selected by the god refuses permission, and the result is often madness or epilepsy. There are no human administered punishments for refusing a priest position.

Personally, I would like to see more Ghanaians admitted to Canada as immigrants. Generally they are good people, adaptable and resourceful. I married one and brought her back. If one of them does use refusal of an offered chief or priest position, however, to apply for asylum, that is dishonest; the person is not in physical danger, and the asylum applicant is lying.



At 11:47 AM 07/12
Glynes Elliott, Kari wrote:

Dear Dr. Bartle,

I was given your name as the source for some excellent information on Ghanaian culture and I was wondering if you would mind answering some questions for me on a similar subject?

I am conducting research for the Immigration and Refuge Board (IRB) on fetish priests and chieftains in Ghana. Would you be able to answer the following questions for me? Can you explain the difference between a fetish priest and a chieftain? Which position is more privileged in the community? Is there danger of physical punishment or repercussions for refusing to accept the position of fetish priest?

If you are unable or unwilling to answer these questions, do you know of someone else who might be able to help? I would greatly appreciate your help in this matter.

Thank you,

Kari Glynes Elliott
Research Officer / Agente de recherche
Immigration and Refugee Board
Commission de l'immigration et du statut de réfugié
344 Slater Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K1 Canada
Tel: (613) 992-2724
Fax: (613) 954-1228
[email protected]

Subject: refusing an offered stool
To: "Drozd, Nancy"

Dear Nancy,

I am writing to you from Pristina. I have a short term consultancy with UN-Habitat in Kosovo. According to the 1960 census, which is the latest on this, but one of the most comprehensive anywhere, the Akan people, that is people of ethnic groups speaking Akan languages, amount to 46 per cent of the population. Another 20-25 % speak an Akan language as a second language.

Although there are dozens of separate political categories (tribes if you wish, but at a slightly higher political level than the anthropological category of tribe) within the Akan group, they are remarkably similar (like German culture in Austria and parts of Switzerland). They also extend about one third the way west into Cote d'Ivoire, in the southern half of the country, I would say that the consequences of refusing to accept an office is about the same for all of them. Young men do not want to chosen, because it takes up there time and money, and has few rewards they seek. They incur the wrath of the elders, but there is no evidence of any harm done as a result. They are in no danger.

What little I know of the patrilineal Ewe, found mainly in the Volta Region of Ghana and in Togo, the second largest ethic category, and among the patrilineal Ga-Adangbe, around Accra, and the hierarchical patrilineal Moshe groups such as the Dagomba around Tamale and the rest of the Northern Region, and up to Ouagadougou (who have skins instead of stools to signify chieftaincy) (only the Akan are matrilineal), the same can be said.

You may have to inquire to the School of African Studies or the Department of Sociology at the University of Ghana, Legon, for confirmation of this, but I am quite sure. I have discussed this with some esteemed friends, especially Dr Jacob Boateng, the nominal informal head of the Ghana community on Vancouver Island (friend of mine since the late 60s when we were both grad students at UBC), and he concurs (we had a discussion at the time you were asking about the one who refused the offered stool of linguist). If you still have my emails to you, you might want to write to Francis Adu Febiri, head of social sciences at Camosun College in Victoria, to whom I copied one of my email messages to you. My main Ewe informant in Victoria is Hon, Joseph Dziwornu-Mensah, former member of parliament in Ghana; he does not have email. I am sorry, here in Kosovo, I have to use my server's web mail to answer you, and I do not have my address book (or spell check!) which is back in Victoria on my computer there.



Dear Phil,

Another question with reference to Ghana has come my way. I've been asked to research the consequences for refusing to assume an inherited position of tribal/clan chief. In your opinion, would I be able to pursue such a broad level enquiry or would I need to deal individually with each ethnic group or clan within the country?

I hope you are well and enjoying the spring ─which has only just arrived here in Ottawa. Any news on funds to publish your FGM paper? I'm afraid I have nothing to report on my end, but the paper was well received as a reference here at the IRB.



Nancy Drozd
Research Officer, Research Directorate
Immigration and Refugee Board
344 Slater Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0K1
Tel: (613) 947-0890
Fax: (613) 954-1228
[email protected]

Date: Fri., 21 Mar
From: "Drozd, Nancy"
Subject: RE: okyeame

Dear Phil,

You are my Ghana gold mine. You make life so easy for me, thank you for taking the time to provide such a careful and detailed response. It's all in the details!

I'm sorry to hear of your diabetes and that it is now prohibiting you from travelling. How frustrating it must be ─ once a traveller always a traveller ─ as I have learned from my own experience.

I am forwarding your FGM paper to a number of my colleagues who deal with FGM questions. It will be a good resource for the Directorate. BTW, I like the presentation of it ─ it's interesting and easy to read. I've also noted your comments on cases of FGM in Ghana.

So what is your next project?

Thanks again,



Sent: Mar 19,
From: Phil Bartle
To: Drozd, Nancy
Subject: okyeame
Dear Nancy,

Good to hear from you again.

Thank you. I am reasonably well. Unfortunately the diabetes has progressed and the insurance companies will no longer cover me, so I can no longer work overseas.

I have finished the FGM paper, and have had it also translated into Spanish. You can see it at: http://cec.vcn.bc.ca/cmp/modules/adv-fgm.htm. In contrast, I think, to what I might have said earlier, I have discovered that there are a few cases of FGM in Ghana. These are in the north, among patrilineal and Islamic groups. It is almost unheard of among the Akan (the majority and dominant ethnic groups of Ghana), who have a strict taboo against it, and neither men nor women can hold traditional offices (eg chiefs, linguists, priests) if they have been circumcised.

The Islamic association with FGM is ironical because Islam does not call for it, and there is a proscription in Islam against any harm to the body. It is not usually practised among Eastern Islamic countries (East of Egypt), and is mainly confined to Africa (east and north).

I am writing today because I received a file on Ghana that I hope you will be able to help me with ─ see question below. If you can provide any information or guidance I would be grateful as always.

I will do my best.

What is the role of linguist, or chief linguist, in the Eastern Region of Ghana?

Apart from a few Guan groups such as in Akuapem (Benkum division, Larteh) and isolated social islands, almost all of the people of the Eastern Region are matrilineal Akan.

Other groups, including the Guan (who were the earlier people living in the area now occupied by the Akan, and who share a lot of culture except they are patrilineal), by the Adanbe, (including the Ga who are the natives of Accra, and the Krobo), and by the Ewe (who live in the Volta Region, east of the Eastern Region, and in Togo).

Coincidentally, I gave a guest presentation that covered this topic in part, at the University of Victoria last week.

The "linguist" (okyeame) is an important and respected office in the Akan traditional chieftaincy system, which is still functioning. The office is symbolized by a "linguist's stick" (poma) which must be present for the okyeame to exercise the duties and privileges of the office.

The word "okyeame" does not mean "linguist" in our English sense of the word. It is better to explain the office as a lawyer, ambassador, mouthpiece, spokesperson, and speaker. ("kyea" means to greet). Duties include prayers (pouring of libation to gods and ancestors) in chiefs' courts and being sent on high level messages and errands between chiefs. Since the chief is the embodiment of the ancestors, out of respect, one may not address the chief directly, but make a statement to an okyeame, who will then speak "the language of the dead" to the chief. The chief, in turn, when speaking to all those present (apart from other elders and chiefs), will address the linguist, who will then translate that into the language of the living. (There is no other language involved, but elders often use esoteric proverbial turns of phrase which are not widely understood by most people unfamiliar with chiefs' courts).

The Chief of Obo, Head of the Right Wing (Nifa) Division of Kwawu, where I did my PhD research, has seven linguists, of which one is the chief linguist. With minor variations, whatever I say about Obo (Kwawu) is applicable to other Akan groups (Ashanti, Akyim Abuakwa, Akuapem, Koforidua-Asante).

The office is owned corporately (not communally) by an abusua (matrilineage). The okyeame is also usually the head of that lineage, and her or his chieftainship is symbolized by the ancestral black stool. The elders of that lineage (mainly women, by the way) choose that head when the office becomes vacant (eg through death or destoolment). That "chief" is usually a man (about 9 out of 10), because a menstruating women cannot perform ancestral rites or enter an ancestral stool room. She may be past menopause, or be restricted to not performing her duties once a month.

Thus, in Obo, there are seven matrilineages in the federation who own offices of linguist. (The linkage is symbolized by being "married" to the chief of Obo). The chief linguist is most honoured, and is one of the king makers of the Obo chief's stool.

As leader of her or his lineage, most duties, apart from in the chief's court, are related to her or his own lineage court. These involve entertaining visitors and settling disputes.

The duties and responsibilities of a linguist are like those of all elders and chiefs, time consuming, requiring patience, wisdom, experience, and some money (to buy booze for visitors, etc.). Most young people try to avoid getting chosen to be an elder, chief or linguist, until they have a secure form of income (eg owning rental property in the city, wealthy cocoa farm owner, big trader, or being a high level lawyer who can delegate most of the legal work to assistants). Some individuals, who are strongly Christian, especially the evangelical kind, avoid accepting such offices because those Christians preach that libations are prayers to the devil, alcohol is the drink of the devil, and chieftaincy is devil worship.

Although they may kill and eat domestic animals, they object to traditional prayers being said when they are slaughtered (and they will buy meat from moslem butchers who pray when they kill their animals). The Christian missionaries have done immense damage to the values and customs of the traditional culture.

Does the role change depending on the region?

Yes and no. In the Regions to the west: Ashanti Region, Western Region, Brong Ahafo, Central Region (and parts of the Volta Region to the East), the dominant and most numerous groups are also Akan. The role is more or less the same in all Akan groups. Where the okyeame idea was borrowed by the Ewe, the Guan and the Adanbe, it is similar, although patrilineages are involved, not matrilineages. It is not quite such an essential office but can be important. In the regions to the north there are very different cultures: they have ancestral skins instead of ancestral stools, and some groups in the north east have no chiefs at all (and when the Dagomba tried to provide them, war broke out). In the few places in the north where they have linguists, they are mainly symbolic and not essential.

The written diphthong "ky" was invented by Swiss missionaries in the nineteenth century, and is pronounced something like "Ch," with a slight hint of the "k" sound. Pronounce Okyeame as "oh chee AM ee" and you won't go too far wrong.

How is the linguist selected ─ is it hereditary?

The linguist stick (poma) and office are owned by the matrilineage. When the office becomes vacant by death or destoolment, the elders of the lineage choose a successor. The old women know which lines are genuine and which lines are of slave descent (and therefore not eligible). They may have to chose from among several individuals, three or four or a couple dozen, candidates. The old women usually take kin relationships more seriously than men. (Since slave lines are kept secret within the abusua, the old women exercise considerable power by revealing only partial truths).

The elders usually try to select a wealthy and/or well respected person to fill the office, and they are more lucky in this in the more important offices, than in the very minor ones. The selected person is expected to bring her or his wealth and prestige to the office. Except in the very minor lineages, a poor or too young and unknown person is unlikely to be selected.

The chief of Obo (when I was there in the seventies) was a retired police sergeant (who got early retirement and a pension when he was chosen), the chief linguist of Obo is a cocoa farmer (well do to ─ not excessively wealthy). The paramount Chief of Kwawu is a semi retired successful lawyer with a practice in Tema. (I was adopted as the son of the former Obo chief, in 1966; I could therefore not be a member of his lineage).

What, if any, are the initiation rites to the position

As with any enstoolment, the queen mother of the lineage must inspect (or witness during enstoolment) the individual to see that they have not been circumcised (the Islamic resistance). Her OK is essential (if the chief or elder is to be destooled, she then says she may have been wrong, and supposes that the individual was not whole after all). The lineage elders must then go to the chief's court to present their choice and get permission from the court elders and chief.

The enstoolment of the linguist, like for any elder or chief, takes place in the lineage ancestral room where the blackened stools are kept. The individual is blindfolded and taken in to choose one of the stools. The individual is given the stool name of the stool chosen that way. Then the elders must carefully and gently lower him, naked, onto the stool, without his full weight resting on it. The spirit of the ancestor then enters the individual, as does the spirits of all the ancestors of that lineage. The leaders pour libation, calling first on God (Saturday born), Mother Earth (Thursday born) all the lineage and local gods (rivers, caves and mountains) and all the ancestors (by name), to explain that this person was chosen, and that they wish the ancestors to accept the individual. A sheep is sacrificed in a similar manner of a prayer.

For a linguist, there is a further addition, which involves the ancestral blackened "talking sticks," (apoma) which are old sticks of previous incumbents which have been blackened by boto (ash, charcoal, special herbal medicine and egg whites) in the same way that the bath stools of important chiefs are blackened to become ancestral stools. Libation of schnapps and killing a sheep are done to the chosen ancestral stick as was done to the chosen ancestral stool.

Coincidentally, the black staff ceremony, held at 4:am by all seven of the Obo linguists, on Akwasidae (every 42 days), an hour before the Obo chief's black stool ceremony, in which I participated, was not written up anywhere in the Akan ethnographic literature at the time I was doing this research, through the seventies. (Forty Days).

and what are the duties?

The duties are to be available to the chief in the chief's court, and any other functions such as public celebrations (durbars), national chieftaincy functions, funerals, to speak between the chief and others, to be a lawyer and spokesperson, to add grace, pomp and ceremony to the chief, and to perform ancestral rites for the chief. The okyeame also speaks to the ancestors during a libation (of schnapps or palm wine) or sacrifice of a sheep.

As head of her or his own matrilineage, they also include ancestral rites for her or his own lineage, sitting in the lineage court to settle cases and further the affairs of the lineage.

Would the linguist perform duties that would involved animal sacrifice?

Definitely. Often, however, the linguist just says the prayer while a specialist may use the knife. (Sacrifice of a sheep is reminiscent of that by Abraham in the bible).

In local lineage occasions a chicken may be sacrificed. In huge state events a cow might be sacrificed (imported from the north because they do not thrive in the rain forest because of the Tsetse fly). For chiefs, however, the sheep is the most common.

Only in a funeral rite would a goat be used, and that is considered a substitute for a human being, as was done about three hundred years ago.

And finally, what are the consequences, if any, for refusing the position?

I was selected to be the successor to the Obo Asonahene (father of the leader of African Brothers Dance Band) of which I was an adopted member, on his death, but rather than run away (a common strategy) I simply told them that I was a student, had no money, and would probably be required to return to my country when I finished my PhD. That was acceptable. I stayed on a few years, teaching at University of Cape Coast, and did not lose my privilege of entering the Asona lineage's ancestral stool room.

There are no negative sanctions, such as torture, death or imprisonment for rejecting selection to office. The individual may lose the respect of lineage elders, and may find it difficult to get use of some lineage land (no big deal if they are educated and urbanized). Because of fear and shame, the individual may not go to the home town, and feel like an exile.

Nancy Drozd
Research Officer, Research Directorate
Immigration and Refugee Board
344 Slater Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0K1
Tel: (613) 947-0890
Fax: (613) 954-1228
[email protected]
Hope these notes are what you can find useful, Nancy. Let me know if there are any other things.



Phil Bartle, PhD. Community Empowerment & Participation Training
Professional Web Documents: http://cec.vcn.bc.ca/cmp/site.htm
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From: Phil Bartle
Sent: October 29,
To: Drozd, Nancy
Subject: Kontihene of Abetifi

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for your message. I will try to answer your questions as best I can.

The name of the "oman" (state, tribe, ethnic group) in question is the "Kwawu" (often incorrectly spelled "Kwahu" because of British misinterpretations of Swiss spellings when the British took over the administration of all Basel mission activities in 1917).

The oman is politically and administratively set up like all the Akan aman (omans) of Ghana and Ivory Coast. A bit like a football or hockey team, and designed originally for warfare. It has paramount, "Gyase" (something like Ministry of the Interior), Adonten (forward), Benkum (left), Nifa (right) and Kyidom (rear) divisions. (The Asonahene who adopted me into the Asona matrilineage of Obo was also the Gyaasewahene of Obo, under the Gyaasehene, minister of the interior; there are many named offices in each chief's court).

Abetifi is the head of the Adonten division of Kwawu. The royal matriclan of Abetifi (Tena) is the same as that of Abene (Bretuo), the seat of the paramount of Kwawu. (Bretuo is called Twidan in other Akan groups).

At 10:42 AM 2002/10/29 -0500, Drozd, Nancy wrote:

I am trying to find information on the chieftaincy position of "Krontihene" in Abetifi Kwahu.

The word "ohene" is usually translated as "chief" and is a position that is owned by a lineage and given to one of its members (to administer its rights and privileges) by the lineage.

The "Krontihene" is usually called the "Kontihene". The position is one which is obtained like most succession among the Akan groups. The matrilineage is like a corporation, and it owns the ancestral stools of the office of Kontihene. (Because of the local pronunciation of Kontihene, I called the Obo Kontihene as "Krontihene" for a long time until I learned the correct name. Nana Noah Adofo was my main informant of Kwawu and Obo culture, and my daughter Beatrice has the female equivalent of his name, Adofowa).

The word "Konti" signifies a particular position in the chiefs' court. The town is an alliance of a few dozen matrilineages, that alliance usually symbolized by marriage of a female member of each lineage with the "ohene" or the chief. (The Abetifihene also being the Adontenhene of Kwawu). When a wife dies, the lineage usually arranges to provide another woman to the ohene. A new ohene inherits all the wives from a deceased ohene, and the position of wife is more like an old age security rather than having any conjugal duties. The Kontihene is one of the important elders in a chief's court, one of the "chief makers." When the leaders want to destool the chief, the Kontihene asks for the chief's sandals which separate the sacred chief from the ground) and as soon as the chief's feet hit the ground he is destooled.

How does the position relate to other positions such as the Akwamuhene?

The word "Akwamuhene" has different meanings in different contexts: head of a state called Akwamu or one of the original Akan states. It may be one of the elders of a town.

Do you know about succession traditions and are there consequences for refusing to accept the position?

Yes and yes.

When a chief or elder dies (ie one that owns an office in the chieftaincy system), it is the matrilineage that must provide a replacement. It is not automatic succession like for the King of England. There may be a half dozen persons who are attractive to the elders of the lineage. A woman qualifies to become an ohene, and about 10 percent among Akan chiefs in Ghana are women, but she cannot perform rites, especially those related to the ancestral stools, if she is menstruating. Therefore a post menopausal women may be chosen, or, in minor positions a younger women is chosen through she must send a substitute if she happens to be menstruating during the time of an ancestral rite.

The lineage elders try to find the most successful and influential person to fill the post. The paramount chief of Kwawu (in Abene) for example, is a successful lawyer who practices in Tema. The Asantehene (Ashanti Emperor) is/was also a lawyer.

The duties of an ohene are long and tiresome. They consist mainly of sitting and hearing cases, in one's own court if the case is within the lineage, and in the chief's court if the case is brought to the town chief. Many young men do not want to be burdened with such duties, and make themselves scarce when the elders are choosing. Often they are at the home town during the funeral proceedings, and get identified at that time, and might be chosen before they can leave.

(I was chosen by the lineage of the Asona in Obo, the head of the Kwawu Nifa division, but was able to excuse myself to my adoptive elders by saying I was still doing my PhD and that I had responsibilities to attend back at my home in Canada).

After the lineage chooses its successor, it will then present his/her name to the elders in the chief's court for ratification. A sheep is killed at each stage to keep the ancestors happy.

The Kontihene is an important office, and is one of the seven "king makers" ie one of the seven elders in the chief's court who choose a new chief. If the king makers decide to de stool a chief, the Kontihene performs the act by demanding the that chief give up his sandals to the Kontihene.

Consequences of refusing a stool:

The lineage has little recourse to punish a person chosen to be chief or head of lineage. In ancient, pre colonial, times, they might choose to have the person murdered (neck wringing is preferred because royal blood must not be spilled) but this is an optional choice and not automatic. Nowadays, the elders depend mainly upon loyalty and sense of duty of the chosen one. If that person annoys the elders, they may chose to not allocate other rights to the person, such as access to lineage lands for farming.

Also, do you remember the names of the Krontihene in Abetifi Kwahu or even the current Krontihene?

No. (Sorry, that was 30 years ago). The Kontihene of Obo was Nana Noah Adofo II, one of my key informants.

Thank you so much for your assistance. Any suggestions you have as to who else I could contact regarding this question would also be appreciated. I would appreciate hearing back from you at your earliest convenience, as I am hoping to submit information on this topic by 30 October 2002.

You have not asked me this, but I would be surprised if refusal to accept a proffered stool would be sufficient reason to say a person's life is in danger. The Kwawu, like all the Akan, are tolerant, willing to compromise, and reasonable. Violence is not rife nor embedded in this culture.

During the seventies, I taught traditional African societies as a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Coast Ghana, and did my PhD at the University of Ghana, Legon, based on an ethnography of Obo, Kwawu.

Please feel free to telephone me for any further discussion.

Kind regards,
Nancy Drozd
Research Officer, Research Directorate
Immigration and Refugee Board
344 Slater Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0K1
Tel: (613) 996-0768
Fax: (613) 954-1228
[email protected]

Date: Tue, 29 Oct
From: "Drozd, Nancy"
Subject: Information Request

Dear Mr. Bartle,

I found your c.v. and contact information on the internet and was wondering if you would be willing to help with a current question I am researching regarding Akan chieftaincy positions in Ghana.

I am a researcher at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada which is an independent administrative tribunal responsible for the determination of refugee status and immigration appeals in Canada. Since my research focusses on questions that arise out of the refugee determination process, it is important that I find current, reliable and publicly available information on claimants' countries of origin. Indeed, it is with this concern that I am writing to you today.

I am trying to find information on the chieftaincy position of "Krontihene" in Abetifi Kwahu. How does the position relate to other positions such as the Akwamuhene? Do you know about succession traditions and are there consequences for refusing to accept the position? Also, do you remember the names of the Krontihene in Abetifi Kwahu or even the current Krontihene?

Thank you so much for your assistance. Any suggestions you have as to who else I could contact regarding this question would also be appreciated. I would appreciate hearing back from you at your earliest convenience, as I am hoping to submit information on this topic by 30 October.

Kind regards,

Nancy Drozd
Research Officer, Research Directorate
Immigration and Refugee Board
344 Slater Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0K1
Tel: (613) 996-0768
Fax: (613) 954-1228
[email protected]

All reports produced by the Research Directorate may be used as documentary evidence during refugee determination hearings in Canada, are publicly available, and can be accessed on the IRB Internet Web site at www.irb.gc.ca. As a matter of practice, the Research Directorate does not use the names of sources in its short reports but will cite professional titles and the institution with which sources are affiliated. Should a request for leave to appeal a decision of the IRB be granted by the Federal Court, the entire record of proceedings before the IRB becomes a matter of public record.

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