Akan Spirituality - An Interesting Note on its Nature
6-17-2009

Why is there a lot of material about Yoruba and Mande and other African spiritual traditions but seemingly little about the Akan?

I think that there is a difference between the spiritual traditions of matrilineal and patrilineal cultures. The Akan have been great warriors in the past. But like their ancient ancestors in Egypt and in Ancient Ghana, they are very matrilineal in orientation. If you look at West Africa, most if not all of the big African groups (Ewe/Fon, Igbo, Mande, Yoruba and so on) are predominantly patrilineal in orientation. The Akan, although they have some patrilineal aspects to their culture, still hold on to the matrilineal system, which is more ancient.The Ewe, Guan, Mande and Yoruba are among the West African people who have powerful magical systems. I think that patrilineal Native Earth human groups approach magic in a different way than matrilineal ones. Matrilineal groups are more 'feminine' in their approach.

Let me explain what I mean. Patrilineal West African groups have more links with fire, thunder and lightning nature spirit entities. The Akan do not seem to have this as part of their culture but are aware of these hierarchies. The Akan are more into earth and water nature entities (the mmoetia and the abosom of the rivers and lakes). But the Akan Obosomfo, Okomfo, Dunsifo and Sumankwafo can commune with the other deities as well (mframa, egya, etc). So, what am I saying the difference between the patrilineal and matrilineal spiritual systems is? I think the African patrilineal 'magical-spiritual' systems (masculine) are more outwardly potent, while the matrilineal magical-spiritual systems (feminine) are more receptive and Earth-based, but that is an observation on my part. This is perhaps the reason why there is more material out there on the patrilineal West African (masculine) traditions.

For the Akan people one can train to become an Okomfo. This in itself is a good path for those for whom it is meant to be. Otherwise, farmers and hunters know a lot about magic, about the names of entities of the forest, about the spirits that live in trees and the various animals and about the rituals that protect, heal and maintain the ecosystem. For instance, unlike some Western hunters, a traditional Akan farmer/hunter will not shoot a pregnant animal (he will have ways to know that the animal is pregnant) but rather one whose departure is 'acceptable'. Like the Native Indian people, the Akan farmer will then carry out the necessary rituals.

Take the example of the Plains Indians. The Sioux people are quite similar to the Crow people (same language group, the Siouan languages) but in some respects the Crow and the Sioux Native Indian peoples are like the Akan and the Yoruba. The Akan and the Yoruba both belong to the Kwa group of languages but each have distinct cultures. The Akan matrilineal system is identical to that of the Crow while the Yoruba patrilineal system is identical to that of the Sioux. The Sioux are well known among the plains Native Indians for their magical religion while the Crow are less well known (Crow were a historically smaller group though) but it also appears that the Crow traditional spirituality is centered round prayer, communion with their version of Abosom and around ritual dance. The Akan and the Yoruba are comparable in this way as well.

In any case, I also think that it is a good thing that Akan traditional religion is not relegated to books, that is sometimes a sign of a system either in decline or under threat. Akan traditional systems are alive, it's only that there is secrecy surrounding what is learned at initiation. There are however some clues for everyone to notice.

First of all the name 'Akom' which refers to hunger, can also be seen in another context as making reference to fasting. Fasting, the seeking of visions (sometimes in dreams), prayer, drumming and dancing are some of the aspects of the Akan traditional initiation. There is also training to become a diviner. It also appears that there are other forms of mental training but these are kept secret (maybe one day someone will write about their personal experiences). Interactions with the Abosom leads to gaining knowledge about their songs and other incantations, as well as their taboos and specific rituals.

Second and perhaps most important is the role played by libation in Akan spirituality. Libation is where it's at! Everyone can practice libation. It can be done in an individual way as well as playing an important role in large state functions. With libation it is possible to directly commune with the Divine, with the spirits of the Abosom as well as the Asamanfo. You can even commune with Asase Yaa, the Earth Planetary Spirit, the Nsoromma and beyond. There is no limit to what can be achieved using this form of real prayer...it is even possible to learn directly from Spirit, through libation.

Libation is the way the Akan express their spiritual intent but it is not only the Akan who pour libation, the Ewe and others do as well. One can receive protection, advise, knowledge, inspiration etc through libation. No limit. Both initiated and non-initiated can partake of libation.

Like the Native Indian peoples who offer their sacred pipe (they offer their smoke and their tobacco) to the Great Spirit, we offer drink (and sometimes food like Eto) to Odomankoma Borebore (The Creator) because they are air and fire Native Earth people while the Akan are water and Earth Native Earth peoples (forest dwellers who sometimes live by lakes and rivers)...so we partake primarily of water and earth.

Those interested in Akan spirituality can learn how libation is done. It is a way to commune and share with Odomankoma Borebore (The Creator), with Asase Yaa, with the Nsoromma (the stars), with Awia (the Sun), with Aprana ne Anyinam (thunder and lightning), with the various Abosom and with the Nsamanfo/Nananom.


Libation photo
(Photo credit:  www.scn.org)