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Akan people

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Akan people

The Akan people are an ethnic group found predominately in Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Akans are the majority in both of these countries and overall have a population of over 20 million people. The Akan speak Kwa languages

Origin and ethnogenesis

The Akan are believed to have migrated to their current location from the Sahel between the 11th and 13th Century. The kingdom of Bonoman was established as early as the 11th century as a trading state between the Akan and their neighbors, especially those from Djenné, Timbuktu, Bornu among others. A gold boom in the Akan area between the 12th and 13th centuries brought wealth to numerous Akan peoples. 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 which stretched all the way to modern Benin and ultimately led to the rise of the most powerful Akan empire, the Empire of Ashanti.

Brief recent history

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. They fought against European colonists to maintain autonomy. By the early 1900s all Akan lands were colonies or protectorates of the French and British. On the 6th of March 1957 Akan lands in the Gold Coast rejected British rule and, led by Kwame Nkrumah, were joined to British Togoland to form the independent nation of Ghana. The Ivory Coast became independent on 7 August 1960.

 Akan subgroups

The Akan people includes the following subgroups: Ashanti, Akwamu, Akyem, Akuapem, Denkyira, Abron, Aowin, Ahanta, Anyi, Baoule, Chokosi, Fante, Kwahu, Sefwi, Ahafo, Assin, Evalue, Wassa, Adjukru, Akye, Alladian, Attie, M'Bato, Abidji, Avikam, Avatime, Ebrie, Ehotile, Nzema, Abbe, Aboure, Coromantins, Ndyuka people and other peoples of both modern day Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire or of origin in these countries.
Akan states and surrounding areas, c. 1625.


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 gold weights, which were made using the lost-wax casting method. The Akan culture is the most dominant and apparent in present-day Ghana.

Some of their most important mythological stories are called anansesem, literally meaning 'the spider story', but can in a figurative sense also mean "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.

Elements of Akan Culture also include but are not limited to:
    Adamorobe Sign Language
    Akan art
    Akan Calendar
    Akan Chieftaincy
    Akan goldweights
    Akan names
    Akan religion

Akan philosophy and inheritance including

    Abusua (Modja) – What an Akan inherits from his mother
    Ntoro – What an Akan gets from their father but, one does not belong to their Ntoro instead, they belong to their Abusua
    Sunsum – What an Akan develops from their interaction with the world
    Kra – What an Akan gets from Onyame (God)


Many but not all of the Akan still (2001) practice their traditional matrilineal customs, living in their traditional extended family households, as follows. The traditional Akan rural 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 chief and 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, similar to clans in other societies: 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 and/or marriage. Note that members and their spouses thus belong to different abusuas, mother and children living and working in one household but their husband/father living and working in a different household.

According to this source of further 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 stress sex, 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 (which means spirit) groups, and everyone belongs to their 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 does inherit their Ntoro from their father but, they do not belong to their father's family.

A recent (2001) book provides this update on the Akan: 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.

Akan influence

Elements of Akan culture can generally be seen in many Geographic areas of the world. 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 common or were common  for example among the Coromantins of Jamaica and the descendants of the Akwamu in St. John.

 Famous Akan Peoples

    Felix Houphouet Boigny
    Kofi Annan
    Anton Wilhelm Amo
    Laurent Pokou
    Salomon Kalou
    Jackie Appiah
    Kofi Siriboe
    Boris Kodjoe
    Amos Zereoué
    Idris Elba
    Kevin-Prince Boateng

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Tagged as:

Ghana, West Africa, Ivory Coast, Ashanti, Akan, Akan people, Kwa languages, Abbe

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