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The Akan are a group of linguistically and culturally related West African peoples who are primarily at home in the central, eastern and southeastern areas of today's Republic of Ivory Coast and in the central and southern part of today's Ghana .


The Akan peoples are usually differentiated according to their historical political system: One speaks of Ashanti , Fanti , Denkira, Wassaw, Twifo, Sefwi , Ahafo, Dorma or Domaa, Adansi, Assin , Abrem, Akim , Agona, Gomoa, Akwamu, Akwapim (Akuapem ) and Kwahu . In addition, the Baule and Agni still live in Ivorian territory as peoples with Akan origins. With the Ahanta in the hinterland of the Cape of the Three Peaks and their northwestern neighbors the Nzima and Aowin, the Akan origin is disputed, but at least the Akan provided political supremacy.

An Akan enclave outside the traditional Akan state formations is the Djerekpanga chieftainship (west of the break line of the Fazao Rocks, northern Togo) in the former Kingdom of Kotokoli . In addition, the Tschokossi (Dagbane name, they call themselves Anufo) in the area around Sansanné-Mango in northern Togo and in the northeast of today's Ghana represent an Akanic enclave in the country otherwise inhabited by Gur peoples. The coastal town of Anecho (hist Klein-Popo, on the Togo coast) is also an Akanic enclave, it was founded around 1680 or shortly before by Fanti refugees from Elmina (which is why this stretch of coast was later also called the Mina coast).

The frequently used expression Brong (Boron, Abruno) is a general Twi designation for all Akan who do not live in woodland, so that the collective term encompasses all Akan north of the rainforest between the Comoë River and the Togo Mountains. Tom (Haussa: Tonawa) and Inta (Nta) are other historical names for the Akan.

Nowhere did the Akan (with the possible exception of the earliest coastal states) immigrate to deserted areas, so that both culturally and religiously a certain, more or less pronounced, non-Akan element of a formerly indigenous population among the Akan can be recognized is.


The Akan language belongs to the Kwa language family. It consists of a group of closely related languages, among which there are twelve dialects. They include: B. Ashanti (language: Twi ), Fante , Akuapem, Nzema, Akyem, Ahanta , Kwahu and Brong.



Nothing precise can be said about the origin of today's Akan Ghanas and the Ivory Coast, as archaeological evidence in this regard does not (yet) exist. The oral tradition of the Akan refers to the kingdom of Kong , which existed in the Middle Ages in the headwaters of the Black Volta (in the west of today's Burkina-Faso) and / and to the area of ​​the existing or later Gonja kingdom. From here they moved into the rainforest, which, according to tradition, split between Ashanti and Fanti. The naming is explained by the food found in the rainforest after they had left the old camp sites due to a great famine that had arisen during a war with the Akimers (Akimer in this context means the Ga nation). The Ashanti found food in a shrub called the Shan , while the Fantis found their main food in the Fan Tree. The suffix -ti comes from the verb didi = to eat, or its imperative form dti . The prefix A- represents a plural article in this context. The remaining Akan tribes and ethnic groups did not separate until the Accania Empire fell apart in the mid-1550s.

The story of the Akan before their journey into the rainforest is obscure. Meyerowitz's theory, which linked the Akan's origins to the historical empire of Ghana in western Sudan, served as the basis for naming the current state of Ghana, but it was already controversial in the 1950s and is largely ignored by today's experts , because Ms. Meyerowitz gives some misinterpretations and incorrect interpretations in her representations. However, according to today's knowledge of cultural studies and religious studies, it is generally recognized that many of the peoples of the West African rainforest today had connections to North Africa up to the Hebrew region in mythical prehistoric times. With regard to the Akan it is emphasized that one does not want to imply that there were no connections between the Akan and old Ghana or with Egypt; it certainly did exist, but to postulate a direct origin from the old kingdom of Ghana or from elsewhere is pure speculation due to the lack of evidence.

Climatic changes as a cause of migration

Wars certainly triggered the migratory movements that covered the entire area south of the Sahara in the Middle Ages, but they were not the only or original cause. Another reason was the climatic conditions at that time. Around 1100 a dry period began in the African climate, which ended the period that had lasted since around 300 AD with relatively abundant rainfall. It was not until around 1500 that there was again abundant precipitation in Africa, as can be seen from the water levels of the great lakes of Africa, which continuously fell during the dry period. In 1154 the Arab geographer and traveler Al-Idrisi first drew attention to the fact that the Sahara desert was growing. In addition, there is an uneven distribution of precipitation in the savannah areas through which the middle and upper Niger flows. So fall z. B. In normal years in Djenne about 500 mm of precipitation on average, in Timbuktu 200 mm and in Araouane it is only 50 mm. Although it is estimated from today's perspective that the natural resources in these areas would have been sufficient to supply the population with food in the Middle Ages, devastating supply crises probably occurred in extreme years. This is proven by the famine in later times, which accompanied the extremely dry years. An example of this is the great "Bari Bouri" famine, which began in 1738 and lasted until 1759. In Timbuktu alone, around half the population died of starvation or disease during this time. It was even worse in the cities of the Sahel zone , which normally fed on the caravan trade from the Niger Valley. From today's perspective, the main reason for this was the lack of or inadequate urbanism in the local cities, which, however, already existed in the African cities of antiquity at a remarkably high level of development. Possibly one of the triggering causes of the medieval wars in Western Sudan was the struggle over increasingly scarce food resources.

The early states on the Gold Coast

Sometime between 1300 and 1380, groups of Guang, led by the brothers Bonde and Gyan, left the kingdom of Bono (this happened during the reign of Nana Asaman) and moved to the coast, about 15 miles away from Aguafo (which was shortly before they had left Bono) founded a new settlement called "Awutu", which literally means "mixed". The names later became “Afutu”, “Effutu” or “Fetu”. When the fetus explored the coastal hinterland, they met the Etsi (Atsi, Atty), who had settled here for about a century. They were considered the "brothers of the Bono" who claimed to have been the first to settle in the local area. Around 1380 a group of Fetu under the leadership of Edwe and Etumpan withdrew and moved eastwards, where they found Ogua (Ugwà, Gua, other name: Amanforo; later Cape Coast ), as well as Dwemma and Degho . (The name Degho was later passed on to the entire hinterland of Ogua.) Fetus from Degho founded Tumpa, later Winnebah , further east on the coast around 1515 . Even if the inhabitants of these states are now generally considered to be Fantis, these early coastal states were likely largely Guang-founded, where the Akanic cultural element penetrated and flourished in later times. (The ethnicity of the founders is controversial.)

When the Kumbu Kingdom (Kong) was destroyed around 1480, thousands of refugees again streamed towards the coast. A gigantic Akan empire, which the Portuguese called "Acanes", arose here with the core in the hinterland of Elmina and CapeCoast. One of the Akan groups, the Diabi (Djabi), moved on to the coast, where they founded their own state with Shama as the capital. The name of the capital is an expression of its tradition, which refers to Walata as the place of origin, because "Châmâ" was the name of the country that surrounded Walata in the Middle Ages. The fact that the first gold that the early Portuguese brought to Europe from the Gold Coast was traded with Shama suggests that Shama existed as a settlement or empire before the fall of Kumbu.

Oral tradition says that Ashanti and Fanti split up during the Akan march to the southeast.

In the 1540s there was war in the entire Akan hinterland of the Gold Coast, which went hand in hand with the break-up of the "Accania" empire. Overpopulation combined with climate-related supply crises were probably the trigger. From then on, the Portuguese speak of the two large Akan states "Accanes grandes" and "Accanes pequenos", which, along with some other start-ups, such as B. Denkira and Akwamu emerged. The Kingdom of Adansi emerged from the “Accanes pequenos” of the Portuguese around 1550 , from “Accanes grandes” arose with the involvement of the territorially resident Guang and Ga population Akim . Since then, the fantastic cultural element has increasingly penetrated the coastal states. In the second half of the 16th century, numerous other groups migrated from Adansi, among them z. B. were the Domaa who moved to the regions between Denkira and the Bono Mansu empire or z. B. the people of the Oyoko and Bretuo clan, who moved north and occupied the rainforest regions east of the Domaa. Among them, the Amansi League was formed in the 1630s, which later became the Amantuo Confederation, which united 47 tribes or states in a more or less loose union. The Kingdom of Asante emerged from the Amantuo Confederation around 1695.

With his victory over the mighty Denkira in 1701, Asante began to rise to one of the strongest and most politically important kingdoms in West Africa, which initially thrived primarily on the gold and cola trade . With the increasing demand for slaves by the Europeans and Arab traders, prosperity also found a further foundation in the slave trade.

Families of origin

The Akan have a tradition that they all have a common origin and that they are composed of several great original families. Bowdich names 12 such families of origin with reference to the Ashanti, and Ffoulkes with reference to Fante, Assin and Dekira 7, taking into account branches.

Insofar as the names listed below refer to animals, members of these families are prohibited from killing a specimen of the totem animal species or even from eating its meat, as it could be an ancestor walking on earth. ( Totemism , alter ego belief). At the beginning of the 20th century, Ffoulkes examined the regions of Denkira, Cape Coast and Assin (the latter he calls Fante-Yankumase) in relation to family presence and identified seven Akanic families of origin, including some of the twelve families of origin listed by Bowdich (1817) as Classifies branch families. If Bowdich names the family, it is also present in Asante.

According to Ffoulkes, the Akan families of origin are:

1. Bowdich: Aquonna ; Ffoulkes: Kwonna (the "buffalo family"; Quonna = a buffalo ox ; in Fante also called Eko )

The buffalo family is one of the main families in Cape Coast and Assin. Sub- branches of the buffalo family are the Ebiradzi , the Odumna and the Dihyina ("Dihyina" stands for lack of blood) as well as the Ahuini in Denkira .

2. Bowdich: Annona ; Ffoulkes: Annona (the "parrot family"; Annona = a species of parrot, but the word should also stand for the terms "long-suffering" and "patience")

Branches of the parrot family are the Yoko family in Cape Coast (named after “Yoko”, the name for a red chalk and ocher earth) and the Ayuku in Denkira . In Asante there is the Oyoko clan, which provides the king of Asante, the same goes for Assin. Sub- branches of the Oyoko family are the Agona (palm oil family) in Asante, Denkira, Assin, as well as in Akim-Abuakwa , which is also the king in Denkira. In Assin there is another sub-branch in the form of the Osansa family.

3. Bowdich: Tschwidan or Etschwi ; Ffoulkes: Twidan (the "Leopard" or "Panther" family)

The leopard family is unknown in Assin, but in Denkira (here in the form of the Abretin family as a sub-branch) and in Cape Coast in the form of the Ebrutu (grain stalk family).

4. Bowdich: Esonna ; Ffoulkes: Nsonna (the "wild cat family"; Nsonna = fox or wild cat)

She is one of the main families in Cape Coast, Denkira and Assin. In Denkira and Assin it is also called Asona . A branch of hers in Cape Coast is called Dwimina (named after a plant).

5. Bowdich: Abbradi ; Ffoulkes: Abradzi (the "Pisang" family; Abradzi denotes a Pisang tree)

The family is in Denkira and Cape Coast. One of its branches is the Ofurna family in Cape Coast and the Assinye family in Denkira. In Assin, the Assinye family is the political ruler, from which the historical state got its name. ("Assinoa" refers to a bird that prefers to stay in a silk cotton tree.)

6. Bowdich: Nitschwa ; Ffoulkes: Ntwa (the "dog" family)

The canine family is one of the premier families in Denkira and Cape Coast. Her name in Denkira, however, is Ackwia . Branches of the dog family in Cape Coast and Assin are the Abadzi or Appiadzi ( Abadzi denotes a servant or servant, not to be confused with Abradzi ) and in Denkira the Aduana .

7. Ffoulkes: Adwinadzi ( Adwinadzi =?)

This family is known in Cape Coast as the Aowin . Possibly the regional name "Aowin" in the southwest of Ghana and southeast of the Ivory Coast comes from this Akan family here in such a way that they provided or still provides the political head here. Sub-branches of the vulture family in Denkira and Assin are the Asachiri ( Asachiri = a species of vulture)

Bowdich also names Donnina , which is probably identical to Odumna .

Religion (traditional)

The traditional religion of the Akan is very complex. Here you come across a world of gods whose supreme being, in its threefold expansion ( hypostasis ), has reminded numerous authors of the divine triad of ancient Egypt "Osiris-Horus-Isis", which is also known as the "father-son-holy spirit" in Christianity finds again. Clearly of Egyptian origin z. B. also the "Akua Bà", which is found in form and content identical form both with the Bantu peoples of South Africa (e.g. Zulu) and with the Ashanti in West Africa. In addition, there is a pronounced group and individual totemism among the Akan , as reflected in ancestral beliefs as well as in the ideas of the soul, which in itself is nothing unusual for West Africa. What is unusual, however, is the religious aspect that pottery has among the Akan.


Known components of Akankultur are for example the Adinkrasymbole that Kentestoffe that Aschantiarchitektur and the symbol of Sankofavogels .

Some common in the Akan music rhythm instruments include the large standing goblet drum atumpan who doubt celled hourglass dondo variable pitch, beaten with a wooden stick square frame drum dzema who doubt then cylindrical drums gyirama and patented , the whipped his hands, from a calabash existing Water drum dansuomu as well as several rattles and rattles as idiophones . These include the double bell agyegyewa without a clapper , which corresponds to the gankogui , and a slotted drum made of bamboo.

In the port city of Cape Coast and in the rest of the Akan settlement area, ensembles called mmensoun appear with the horns that are blown to the side and produce a sound, mmen (singular aben ) to accompany singing ( mmensoun , "seven horns", from mmen , "horns", and soun , "seven"). Earlier made of animal horns and now made of wood, these are traditional Akan ceremonial instruments. In the mmensoun ensemble, the small, hand-beaten tumbler drum opentsin provides the rhythm.

Known Akan

See also


  • John Iliffe : History of Africa . Beck , Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46309-6 (English: Africans . Translated by Gabriele Gockel, Rita Seuss, on climate change see p. 93).
  • Basil Davidson: West Africa before the Colonial Era - A History to 1850 . 4th edition. Longman, London / New York NY 1998, ISBN 0-582-31853-X (English).
  • Yann Deffontaine: Guerre et société au royaume de Fetu (Efutu) - Des débuts du commerce atlantique à la constitution de la fédération fanti (Ghana, Côte de l'Or, 1471–1720) , Ibadan / Paris 1993.
  • Ivor Wilks: Wangara, Akan and Portuguese in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I. The matter of Bitu. In: Journal of African History. 23 (3) (1982), pp. 333-349.
  • Ivor Wilks: Wangara, Akan and Portuguese in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. II. The struggle for trade. In: Journal of African History. 23: 463-472 (1982).
  • Sékéré-Mody Cissoko: Famines et épidémies à Tombouctou et dans la Boucle du Niger du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle. In: Bulletin de l'Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire. sér. B, 30 (3) (1968) 806-821
  • D. Westermann: The current and former population of Togo. In: Koloniale Rundschau. (9-12) (1932), pp. 489-495.

for the controversial theory see, among others

  • Eva LR Meyerowitz: A Note on the Origin of Ghana. In: African Affairs . (London), 51 (205) (1952), pp. 319-323.
  • Eva LR Meyerowitz: Akan Traditions of Origin. London 1952.

on the mistakes and misunderstandings of Ms. Meyerowitz see among others:

  • Jack Goody: Ethnohistory and the Akan of Ghana. In: Africa. (London) 29 (1) (1959), pp. 67-81.

the old Arabic sources for the old kingdom of Ghana:

  • Es-Sa'di: Tarikh Es-Soudan (written 1627–1655), French translation by O. Houdas, Paris 1900.
  • partial confirmation of the ethnic relationships in: Mahmud Kati (and his grandson): Tarikh el-Fettach. (Written 1519 to 1665 apparently using essays from the 14th century), French translation by O. Houdas and M. Delafosse, Paris 1913.

for oral tradition, the families of origin and the etymology, see:

  • Thomas Edward Bowdich: Mission of the Anglo-African Company from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee. Weimar 1820.
  • Arthur Ffoulkes: The Fanti Family System. In: Journal of the African Society. 7 (28) (1908), pp. 394-409.


  1. Ffoulkes called familiy all those individuals who are within the tribe ( tribe are) in close blood relationship to each other and (but only in female bloodline) which are all derived jointly by the oldest surviving (female) family member. The author limited this term compared to "regular" ( tribe ), "clan" ( sept ) and "clan" ( clan or company ab).
  2. ^ Rhythms of Life, Songs of Wisdom. Akan Music from Ghana, West Africa. Smithsonian / Folkways CD produced 1996, title 7 ( booklet )