Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Akan live between the Volta river and the Atlantic coast in southern and central Ghana and in southeastern Côte d'Ivoire. They include a large number of ethnic groups, the most well-known of which are the Ashanti (Asante) and the Fanti (Fante). The Akan share a common language, Twi, which belongs to the Akan branch of the Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo family of languages. The Akan peoples have a long history beginning around 1000 AD with the migration of Twi-speaking Gbon people from the Niger bend south to the Ghanaian coast where various kingdoms were founded in succession.The different ecological zones have contrasting types of agriculture. In the south there has been widespread development of major commercial crops.


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Africa --Western Africa



Cote d'Ivoire


OWC Code


Collection Information

Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

There are 45 documents in the Akan file. Most of the works are on the two major Akan groups, the Ashanti (22 documents) and Fanti (8 documents). Thirteen documents refer to two or more Akan groups. Overviews of Akan culture can be found in Warren (1986, no. 29) and Danquah (1945, no. 50). Meyerowitz (1974, no. 52) wrote on the early history of the Akan peoples up to 1701. Wilks (1993, no. 28) covers some of this earlier period but writes mostly about the Greater Asante (1701-1901). In the 1920s, the British anthropologist R. S. Rattray published in three volumes the classic ethnography on the Ashanti (Rattray 1923, no. 1; 1927, no. 2; 1929, no.3). Sarbah (1968, no. 47) and Hayford (1970, no. 45) wrote important histories of the colonial period regarding the relations between Britain and the Fanti and Ashanti, respectively. Both of these works contain excellent discussions of Fanti and Ashanti political institutions and customary law, as does another work by Sarbah (1904, no. 18) on the Fanti and Busia (1951, no. 6) on the Ashanti. Studies of different Akan communities are found in Fortes (1950, no. 5) on the Ashanti, Warren (1975, no. 54) on the Techiman-Bono, and Danquah (1928, no. 19) on the Akeym. Steel provides a historical demography of the Ashanti in the first half of the 20th century (1948, no. 9). Specific accounts of historical events are found in Allman (1990, no. 57) on the failed Ashanti National Liberation Movement and Austin (1996, no. 38) on the 1883 overthrow of the Ashanti king Mensa Bonsu. Political studies include Wilks's examination of the extent of the Greater Asante territory in the 18th and 19th centuries (Wilks 1992, no. 40) and McCaskie (1983, no. 30) discussion of the meaning of wealth and accumulation in Ashanti culture. Arhin (1983, no. 35) discusses whether or not precolonial Ashanti society was a peasant society. McLeod (1981, no. 39) discusses Ashanti material culture. Rattray also wrote on Ashanti proverbs (Rattray 1916, no. 14) and Akan folktales. Other studies in oral culture are Yankah's study of Akan proverbs (Yankah 1989, no. 55), Arhin's study of Ashanti praise poems (Arhin 1986, no. 34), Mensa-Bonsu's study of Ashanti oaths (Mensa-Bonsu 1989, no. 33), and Nketia's study of Akan funeral dirges (Nketia 1955, no. 53). Discussions of Akan religion include studies of witchcraft by Debrunner (1961, no. 51) and Field (1940, no. 23), and Field's related study on mental health and spirit possession (1970, no. 27). Johnson (1932, no. 24) and Ross (1979, no. 46) write about Fanti military organization. Other Fanti studies include Ffoulkes early study of Fanti family (Ffoulkes 1908, no. 10) and marriage (Ffoulkes 1909, no. 11), Kronenfeld's study of changes in Fanti kinship terminology (Kronenfeld 1991, no. 36), and Vercruijsse's study of the impact of the market on Fanti domestic organization (Vercruijsse 1972, no. 48). Abu (1983, no. 31) and Okali (1983, no. 37) examine kinship and social change among the Ashanti. Studies that focus on Ashanti women are Clark's work on women traders (Clark 1989, no. 32; 1994, no. 58), Sarpong's study of nubility rites (Sarpong 1977, no. 42), and Arhin's discussion of women's positions in military and political organizations (Arhin 1983, no. 43). Vellenga (1983, no. 44) discusses the history of marriage customs and law in the Gold Coast and Ghana. [IS]

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

The culture summary is compiled from the works of three authors, Michelle Gilbert [MG], Robert O. Lagacé [ROL], and Ian Skoggard [IS]. Michelle Gilbert's complete article, "Akan," can be found in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9. 1995. John Middleton and Amal Rassam, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. Robert O. Lagacé's complete article, "Twi" is from Sixty Cultures: A Guide To The HRAF Probability Files. 1977. Robert O. Lagacé, ed. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, Inc. Ian Skoggard is entirely responsible for the selection and editing of the above works.

Collection Indexing Notes

Aborigine Protection Society--668

ABUSUA--matrilineal blood-clan--613, 614

ASAFO--military company--701

ASANTHENE--King of the Ashanti--643

chop money--422

golden stool--royal throne--643, 352


KRA--life soul--774

linguist--political spokesman--537, 631

NKWANKWAA--young men--561

NTAM--oath--782, 641

NTORO--patrilineal spirit-clan--613, 614

OHEME OHENE--chief--631

OHEMMA--queen mother, or wife of chief--890, 643, 631 OMAHENE--chief or king-643, 631

OMAN--autonomous political community--631


stool--principal political office--631 --personality-soul-828

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