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16 December 2016


The hierarchy of Ashanti deities has at its apex, Nyame, the supreme god, omniscient and omnipresent.  His 'sons' are generally represented as being various natural features, such as rivers and lakes, his favourite son being the River Tano. The earth is represented by the goddess Asaase.  Below these are the many lesser gods, or abosom, which are of great immediate importance as they are directly accessible to human beings, in a way in which the principal gods are not. Nyame is too remote to be petitioned directly in the normal course of events; although many Ashanti compounds contain an altar in the form of a forked branch in which is set a pot or basin, where offerings are placed, and most prayers commence with an invocation to the supreme being.  The abosom are important therefore, in that they act as intermediaries between Nyame and mankind.

The Ashanti use the term obosomfo to describe any priest, while the term okomfo is reserved for those priests who are at times possessed.  If when possessed the okomfo speaks in some strange tongue, as well he may, another priest must act as interpreter, while yet another may have the duty of restraining the okomfo if his actions appear to be coming too uncontrollable.

The name of God is often incorporated in West African names . . . The Yoruba have..   Olukoya, the Lord champions the cause of the suffering.

 To the ancient Akan of Ghana, the Onyamedua tree (Alstonia boonei) served as a symbol of their dependence on God.  The tree either grew in palaces, shrines and houses, or a stump of it with a forked branch was placed at entrances to these places.  A pot containing rainwater (Nyankonsu, God's water) was placed on the tree or stump, and periodically the water was used to bless the inmates of the house. . .

 The Akan of Ghana believe in an evil spirit called Sasabonsam . . . Sasabonsam is a monster of frightening appearance: it has the head of an animal with long black hair, a flaming mouth and a long tongue which sticks out most of the time: it has hoofs and a long tail which ends in the head of a snake and which coils around the trees on which it sits.

 Like Sasabonsam, the Mmoatia live in the forest. They are believed to be very short in stature, standing not more than one foot high, and have curved noses and yellowish skins, while their feet point in the opposite direction.  The Mmoatia communicate with each other through a whistle language and their favourite food is bananas. . .  The Mmoatia are credited with a phenomenal knowledge of medicines which they impart to herbalists or medicine men. . .

 The traditional Akan thought on man is that he is made up of okra, sunsum, notoro and mogya . . .  the okra, or soul . . . is the undying part of man, the part which is given directly by the Creator before man is born into the world. . . . the sunsum (is) an intangible element which accounts for the character (suban), disposition and intelligence of a person . . . the ntoro is transmitted from a father to his children . . . the mogya or blood . . . is given by a mother to her child, which establishes a physiological bond between them and forms the basis of the abusua or clan. . . .

   the Akan . . . perform a ritual to name a new-born child. . .  two containers are provided, one filled with water and the other with palm wine . . . The principal officiant pours libation and then asks the father or his representative for the name to be given to the child.  He then puts the child on his lap, calls out its name, and dips his right forefinger into the water to wet the tongue of the child three times and says " . . .  wuse nsua, nsu!" meaning, literally, if you say it is water, let it be water you are tasting. . .  In other words, the child is being told that he should be truthful.

 Sacrificing to the Spirit of the Tree.  It is necessary for the craftsman to appease the spirit of the tree before he fells the tree.  He usually sacrifices eggs, fowls, and sheep; and before making the sacrifice he may say, "Sese tree, here is a chicken for you.  I am going to fell you and make a stool out of you; receive an offering and eat.  Please, let not the tool cut me.  Do not let me suffer afterwards; and let me have a good price for the stool."

Nor does the sacrifice end here.  It is expected that the spirit who has been deprived of his home will return now and again into the material in which it lived before the tree was cut down. The stool can also be inhabited by an external spirit.  It is therefore important that similar sacrifices should be made to the completed stool or drum. . .

The same idea that the carved object becomes the shrine of the dislodged spirit of the tree and other spirits explains the custom of putting an empty stool on its side or against the wall.  The reason for this is to prevent any wandering spirit from sitting on it, and so leaving an evil influence in it.

The Akan stool-carver therefore lives continuously in a religious atmosphere.

The Ashanti believes finally in the Odomankoma, the Everlasting Creator of all, and Onyankopon, the Unchangeable One on whom he leans.  But as kings have linguists, so he believes the Mighty One has linguists in the lesser gods which serve him.. . . He believes that he must serve his god not for his own benefit only but for the benefit of those dead and those yet unborn.


Sarpong, Rev. Dr. Peter, Catholic Archbishop of Kumasi, The Sacred Stools of the Akan, Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1971

Acheampong S.O., "Reconstructing the structure of Akan traditional religion," Mission 2 (1995), 79-93.

Ackah C. A., Akan Ethics. A Study of the Moral Ideas and the Moral Behaviour of the Akan Tribes of Ghana, Accra, 1988.
Adegbite A., "The drum and its role in Yoruba religion," Journal of Religion in Africa 18 (1988), 15-26.

Adewale S.A., "The significance of traditional religion in Yoruba traditional society," Orita 15 (1983), 3-15.
----, "The Cultic use of Water among the Yoruba," Orita 18 (1986), 28-39.

----, "Sacrifice in African Traditional Religion," Orita 20 (1988), 91-106.
Annyereh L., "Marriage among the Konkomba," The Northern Review 8 (1989), 13-17.


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