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Is the name 'Akan' a misnomer?

AKANS 7 File photo of a group of Akans

Wed, 10 Mar 2021 Source: Osei Tutu

The month of March has been declared Heritage Month. It is also the month of Ashanti History and Culture. As part of the observation of these two events, I wish to discuss the appropriateness or otherwise of the name 'Akan'.

The Fante and the Twi speaking people of Ghana refer to themselves as 'Akans'. The name 'Akan' comes from the root ward 'kan' meaning 'first'.

Thus the Akans see themselves as the first people to settle in the lands they now live. But is that the case?

The oral tradition of the Akan people themselves clearly suggests that they met some other people already living on the land when they arrived.

For instance the oral tradition of the Fantes indicates that when they reached at their present location, the people of Asebu were already in possession of the land. They had to fight bitter wars with the Asebus before they could subdue them and took over the land.

The people of Asebu are not Akans but Guans. Even now the word 'Asebu' is part of the great oath of the Fantes. The great oath of the Fantes is: "Fante Mankata ne Asebu."

In the same vein the people of Agogo in Ashanti recount their bitter wars with a warrior chieftain by name Otara Firam. This man, after whom the river Afram was named, ruled from the river Volta to the vicinity of Kumasi. Otara Firam and his people were Guans and the vestige of Guan Language and Culture still exist in the Agogo area up to today.

The Akan people of Akuapem also met the Guan people of Kyerepon and Larteh when they arrived at their present location. Even though the present Akuapem is a composite state, it is clear that the existence of the Guans precedes that of their Akan neighbours.

In spite of these strong indications that the Akans were not the first people to settle on the land, why do they keep on referring to themselves as 'Akans'?

Claridge, an eminent British historian, thinks it is a universal phenomenon and it is a way one group of people express their superiority over another. In other words, it is a way one group express the idea that the previous existence of another group in an area is inconsequential.

Such phenomenon abounds in the Americas. Even though the Europeans met the red Indians when they arrived in the Americas, they still see themselves as the discovers of the new world.

Does it suggest that the Akans see themselves as superior to the Guans? Certainly not. It is obvious that the name 'Akan' was acquired while the people settled in some other areas where they were indeed the first settlers.

The Akans were indeed the first people to settle in Bono, which is the citadel of Akan civilization. It was in Bono that the Akan Language in its present state took form. It is in Bono that the name 'Akan' was acquired.

So once the name was acquired wherever they move to, they still refer to themselves by that name whether they are first to settle there or not.

In that regard the name 'Akan' is not a misnomer.

Columnist: Osei Tutu