Teacher Adoko was explaining the seven major Akan clans to us. The Akan believe that man is made up of soul, spirit, blood, and family. Family is very important. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the bloodline on the mother’s side determines the family group. A family includes all descendants from one great-grand-mother on the mother’s side. A clan consists of four or five family groups with one recognized head. Marriage between clan members is permissible, but marriage between family members is not permissible.
The Fante people do not call someone their uncle or aunt. For instance, your father’s older brother would be called your senior father (papa panyin) in Fante; your father’s younger brother would be called your junior father (egya kuma). Your mother’s older sister would be your senior mother (maa panyin), and your mother’s younger sister would be your junior mother (me nakuma or maakraba). There is a Fante word for uncle (wɔfa), but an aunt is always called “your mother.” This makes it very difficult to find out who is someone’s actual father and mother; they call everyone their mother and father or their brother and sister, even if they are aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Akan Clan System
Akan Ebusua (Akan Clans) Totem symbol
1. Nsɔna Akonkoran (raven)
2. Anɔna Ekoo (parrot)
3. Ntwea/Ntwa Bɔdɔm (ɔtwea) – dog
4. Aboradze borɛdze – plantain
5. Twidan twi – leopard
(They also call this a tiger because they have never seen one.)
6. Adwenadze nam – fish; odwon – odwon tree
7. Kwɔna/Kɔna nantwinyin – water buffalo (bull)
Teacher Adoko told us that he is from the clan that is represented by the raven, and he said that the Ghanaians believe that the raven that was sent out from Noah’s ark died because it did not return, leaving only one raven. They think that the raven is neither male nor female; so, it steals eggs from other birds’ nests. When it sits on the egg to hatch it, the egg will always hatch a raven, no matter what laid the egg, “just like the Bible says” (according to Fante tradition). He was quiet for a minute when I told him that the raven did not die. At first, he said, “No Ghanaian would ever believe that.” After he heard me explain it, he thought that it was very interesting and wanted to study it more. The next day, I printed out a sermon that I had preached about the raven. He considered sharing it on his Friday Ghanaian Culture Radio Broadcast but decided against it; he said that maybe we should just let them think that because they would just never believe it!
Teacher Adoko wanted me to meet his wife’s family who had just arrived for a funeral. As we were walking down a pathway between rows of houses, people were greeting us in Fante as we went. An older lady was talking to us in Fante. I did not understand all that she said and just kind of nodded my head. The next thing I knew, a rather large young woman came running out of the house and picked me up. Apparently the older woman was trying to give me the younger woman. I was fighting tooth and toenail and yelling “Gyae” in Fante (STOP!). I did not think that a woman could pick me up, let alone run while carrying me down an alley! I got away. Teacher Adoko was in shock; all he could do was stand there with his mouth hanging open. We told him that people are always giving us marriage proposals when we are out and about; he thought people were just joking until today!
The next day, Laura and I went with Teacher Adoko to the wake keeping for his sister-in-law. We practiced different conversations in class that day and then got to put them to practice. The funerals here are usually a three-day ordeal. On Friday, the family gathers outside the house for a wake-keeping. That lasts all night. Then, they have the burial on Saturday and a thanksgiving service on Sunday. On Friday, different people drop in to greet the family and give them their sympathy. Most of those people saw a “borɔnyi” (“white man”) for the first time in a long time that day. We were quite the sideshow!
When you greet a large group of people here, you say, “Agoo!” which means “Attention!” Then, they all reply with “Amee” which means “You have my attention.” Then, you say “Mema hom akye!”” which is “Good morning” (or whatever time of day it is). If you are a true Fante speaker, you don’t stop with “Good morning.” It is followed by another statement. The “family word” is passed down through the father. So, whatever your father was, that is what you are. Since we were not born here, we had to choose a word. My word and Laura’s are different because I am not her father. So, the teacher said that I should go with “abrow” (meaning bravery) and that Laura should go with “ahenwa” (meaning royalty). So, my greeting is “Mema hom akye, wɔgye me abraw!” (Good morning, call me brave!) They reply with, “Yaa abraw!” (You are brave.) Whenever the borɔnyi (white man) says those words, it causes quite a stir!! I gave my greetings. Then, it was Laura’s turn.
On Saturday, I went to the funeral. At first I could not find Teacher Adoko. I called his phone, but he did not answer. So, I parked the car and started walking down the infamous path toward the family’s house. I was by myself and a bit afraid! By the time I reached the end of the path, I had quite a following of people. As I came around the corner, I saw two familiar faces – Teacher Adoko’s two oldest daughters. They took me to their father.
At the funeral, they seated me right next to the heads of the family – by the clan chief and the clan totem. The man who was preaching came over and apologized, right in the middle of his sermon, for not translating his sermon into English for me. I told him in Fante that I could understand some Fante. Then, all of the ladies that we had introduced ourslves to on Friday stood up and danced around while chanting, “Yaa a-braw!” There is never a dull moment at a Ghanaian funeral!