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    Patricia Leon


      The Akan tribe is a historically ethnic group of West Africa, being the largest ethnic group in Ghana, thus making up 47.3% of the population of Ghana. The Akans are one of the biggest Ethnic groups in West Africa today with over 30 million people both in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Kwa languages which are part of the larger Niger-Congo family are well spoken by the Akan people.


      The origin of the proto-Kwa language can be traced from East/Central Africa, before settling in the Sahel. They are made up of the speakers of the Asante (Ashanti), Anyi, Akyem, Chakosi, Fante (Fanti), Baule, Attié, Brong, and Guang languages. However, some scholars also consider Twi a distinct Akan language. It is believed that the Akan people migrated from the Sahel to coastal west Africa. The Akan people firmly established the Bonoman kingdom in the 12th century which became a trading state between the Akan and neighboring people especially those from Djenné.


      During the different phases of the Bonoman empire, the Akan group migrated out of the area creating many states. The states created were based predominantly on gold mining and trading of farm products.  Most of these peoples live in present day Ghana, where they settled in successive waves of migration between the 11th and 18th centuries. Also, others inhabit the eastern part of Côte d’Ivoire and some parts of Togo.


      One of the purest African cultures that exist today is the Akan culture which is the most dominant and apparent in present-day Ghana. The wide-ranging Akan art is renowned, especially for the tradition of crafting bronze gold weights. The crafting is made by the use of a lost wax casting method. Akan culture is one of the traditional matrilineal cultures of the continent. Through matrilineal inheritance, it is easier to trace the line of succession.




      Most of the Akan people still practice their traditional matrilineal customs by living in their traditional extended family households. Akan society is traditionally composed of exogamous matrilineal clans. These clans are hierarchically organized and the members trace their descent from a common female ancestor. The clans are subdivided into localized matrilineages. They make up the basic social and political units of Akan society. Traditionally, their economic and political organization is based on matrilineal lineages, which are the basis of inheritance and succession.


      Most Akan villages are compact and they are divided into wards. These wards are occupied by the matrilineages and subdivided into compounds of extended multi generation families.  The village is a political unit headed by a headman who is elected from one of the lineages. There is also a council of elders, each of whom is the elected head of a constituent lineage. The lineage head is regarded as the custodian of the lineage’s stools, representing the symbols of unity between the spirits of the ancestors and the living members of the lineage; with every lineage having its own god or gods. The feeling of corporate responsibility is felt among lineage members.



      Also in Akan culture, there are certain aspects that are determined patrilineally rather than matrilineally. The recognition of paternal descent determines membership in the ntoro. A group that shares certain taboos, surnames, forms of etiquette, and ritual purification ceremonies.




      There are ancestrally 12 patrilineal Ntoro (spirit) groups, requiring every member to belong to his or her father’s Ntoro group, but not to his family lineage and abusua. However, each Ntoro group has its own surnames, purifications (ritual) and forms of etiquette. Therefore, a person inherits one’s Ntoro from one’s father but does not belong to his family.  Just like land tenure and other lineage property, public offices are vested in the lineage, which means lineage property is inherited only by matrilineal kin. The lineage land farms are controlled by each lineage members. They function together in the respect of its ancestors, supervises marriages of its members, and settles internal disputes among its members.


      The political units abusua are made up of: Asenie, Aduana, Asakyiri, Agona, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona, and Oyoko. The members, united by their belief that they are all descendants from the same ancient ancestress forbids marriage between members of the same group (or abusua), which they see as a taboo on marriage. Irrespective of one’s gender or marriage, inheritance is based as a lifelong member of the lineage and the abusua of one’s mother. Members and their spouses therefore belong to different abusuas, with women/mothers and children living and working in one household, and on the other hand, their husband/father living and working in a different household.


      According to a source, an Akan man is strongly related to his mother’s brother (wɔfa) but only weakly related to his father’s brother. Perhaps, one can view this as a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond. This results in a situation that a man’s nephew (his sister’s son) will have priority over his own son in inheritance. Therefore, Uncle-nephew relationships, assume a dominant position in Akan culture.  In a way, the laws governing inheritance, age and generation, men come before women and seniors before juniors. In inheritance, a consideration of generational seniority states or specifies that the line of brothers be exhausted before the consideration of the right to inherit lineage property passes down to the next older genealogical generation of sisters’ sons. Finally, the females can inherit when all possible male heirs have been exhausted.


      In 2021, research provides an update on the Akan on the changes of structures. According to the research, some families are changing from the above abusua structure to the nuclear family. In the city, an individual family, rather than the abusua or clan, handles housing, childcare, education, daily work, and elder care, etc. They sometimes ignore the above taboo on marriage within one’s abusua. However, “clan membership” remains important, with many still maintaining the abusua framework presented above.


      Furthermore, religion also shapes an important part of the Akan. The most prominent aspect is an ancestor cult; the rites of which serve to enforce tribal unity and morality. Other religious practices are centered in a supreme deity believed to be the creator of the universe and in lesser deities and spirits. However, many Akan are now converted Christians. Also, in their literature, there are some important mythological stories known as anansesem, which literally depicts “the spider story”, but in a figurative sense also meaning “traveler’s tales”. These “spider stories” are also referred to as nyankomsem (words of a sky god”). The stories generally, but not always, revolve around the trickster spirit character, Kwaku Ananse, who is depicted as a spider, human, or a combination thereof.





      Here are some elements of Akan culture:

      • Akan art

      • Akan names

      • Akan religion

      • Kente

      • Sankofa

      • Adinkra

      • Akan goldweights

      • Akan Chieftaincy

      • Akan Calendar

      • Oware

      • Adamorobe Sign Language

      Akan philosophy and inheritance includes the following:

      • Kra – What a person gets from Onyame (God)

      • Abusua (Modja) – What an individual inherits from his mother

      • Ntoro – What an Akan inherits from the father but, one does not belong to their Ntoro instead, they belong to their Abusua

      • Sunsum – What an Akan gain from their interaction with the world.

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