Akan Spirituality - An Interesting Note on its Nature
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
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,
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
(Photo credit: www.scn.org)