An Etymology of “Bronya” (Christmas)

Fri, 23 Dec 2011 Source: Sagoe, Dominic

As 25th December approaches, the sweet-scented aroma of Christmas sweetly works its purpose out through the chilly harmattan air. To hark back, Christmas is the season when Christians and also some non-Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25th December. Empirically, “bronya” has become the most popular rendition of Christmas in Ghanaian vernacular. However, there is a paucity of literature addressing how the expression “bronya” came to replace the English word Christmas in Ghanaian vernacular. Many of us, although we use “bronya” diurnally especially in recent days, have not spared a thought to decode how Christmas metamorphosized into “bronya” in Ghanaian vernacular. As captioned, this article elucidates the linguistic genesis of the word “bronya” which, empirically, has become the most popular expression for Christmas in Ghanaian parlance.

Etymologically, according to some accounts, “bronya” is derived from a Fante phrase “bor na nya”: “bor” meaning “swim” or “dive”, “na” meaning “and”, and “nya” meaning “get”. Thus, “bronya” simply means “swim and get” or “dive and get”. Other accounts suggest that “bronya” is derived from the Fante phrase “br3 na nya”: “br3” meaning “tire” (emanating from the tiring nature of swimming long distances) and “na” and “nya” holding the same meaning as above. Thus, “bronya” to these sources means “tire and get”.

According to oral tradition, the Portuguese during their stay in Elmina in particular, and Fanteland in general, between 1471 until their defeat by the Dutch in 1627 used to celebrate Christmas by organizing swimming competitions for the inhabitants. They used to stuff canoes with goodies and anchor these canoes at ‘reasonable’ distances from the shores of the sea and sometimes the Benya lagoon in Elmina. The best swimmers were then lined up for swimming competitions. Whichever swimmer reached first the stuffed canoes won whatever goodies the canoe had been stuffed with. Thus, the swimmers ‘swam to get’ or ‘tired to get’ the goodies in the canoes. These swimming competitions became the hallmark of Christmas celebrations in Elmina and Fanteland in general and attracted people from faraway to these celebrations.

With time, the people of Elmina and Fanteland in general came to classically condition the advent of Christmas with the swimming competitions, and eventually came to refer to Christmas as “bronya”, the season of “swimming and getting” or “tiring and getting”. With time, and through interaction with other ethnic groups such as the Ga and the Ashanti, the expression “bronya” was passed on to them. Through such further cross-ethnic interaction, the expression “bronya” born in Elmina and Fanteland, has, empirically, become the most popular expression for Christmas in Ghanaian vernacular.

After the defeat of the Portuguese by the Dutch in 1627 and the eventual control of trading cum colonial activities in Elmina, the Dutch introduced a novel form of “bronya” to the people of Elmina. This festival came to be known as “Edina bronya” which translates as “Elmina Christmas”. “Edina bronya” has always been celebrated on the first Thursday of January each year. Historically, the celebration of “Edina bronya” coincided with a Dutch Festival which falls on the first Thursday of January of every year and signified the bond of friendship between the Dutch and the people of Elmina. Today, “Edina bronya” is celebrated to usher in the New Year and to pray to our ancestors for blessings for Edinaman and Mfantseman in general such as the recent gold discovery on the shores of Elmina. The swimming competitions that in the past characterized “Edina bronya” have however been replaced by elaborate ritual to signify peace and to pray to our ancestors for prosperity and good health in the coming year. However, merry-making, drumming and dancing are still an important feature of “Edina bronya”.

Thus did the Fante expression “bronya” come to replace Christmas in Ghanaian vernacular. On this note, I wish all readers a merry Bronya and a happy New Year. I also invite all readers, especially Elminians in the diaspora, to the celebration of this year’s “Edina bronya” on Thursday 5th January, 2011. Edina Botweku Asankoma Kantakranka Abrokyir Kaakra Mfr3 Yie!! Mfantseman Mfr3 Yie!! Ghana Mfr3 Yie!!

The author wishes to express his sincere gratitude to Sir Knt. Dr Anthony Annan-Prah and Nana Kwamena Essilfie Adjaye for the priceless dose of historical edification.

Dominic Sagoe

Amisano, Elmina



Columnist: Sagoe, Dominic