The Akan Woman

Sun, 9 Apr 2006 Source: Fordjour, Asante


The increasing difficulty in accepting some Akan cultural practices in our democratic society calls for much research work to establish its real odds and influences. But research students might be beset with a series of troubles. Perhaps not even those born and bred on Ghana might be able to escape this. In fact, the varieties of our beliefs and inheritance customs pose a shocking problem.

Consider huge amount of money we spend on customs such as funerals which sometimes makes it tempting to talk ill about the importance of ancestor veneration. But then, it could be unexaggerated fact that almost all Akans, both at home and in diaspora, learned or not, believe in a world of spirits. Despite the fact that most of these indigenous religion is orally tutored and might be arguably, unreliable due to undecorated presumptions that some vital facts could be forgotten or even doctored to fit its desired reason, still little effort is made in hunting for its truth and consistency. One of such myths is the legend of our matrilineal inheritance custom, which besides its qualms to most spouses, it still anchors our customary order.

To preserve a tested tradition is generally speaking a duty of every new generation. Yes, but marriage could also be full of instances in which it must not be a wife's fortune to die but to live. Ordinarily, misfortunes of husband and wife are bound up together. Thus even where the husband?s business is the sole source of the family income, the wife has a lively interest in doing what she can to support the business. A woman?s affection and self-interest run hand-in-hand in inclining her to offer every support that she could to the husband. There are good reasons why every wife or partner might be willing to seek this optimistic wealthy future for themselves and posterity. It may be incorrect, therefore, to say that there is no absolute or unqualified necessity to preserve the joy of this widow or widower. So it must be the plainest and the highest duty to recognise this reality.

However, many arguments have been advanced to justify matrilineal inheritance custom. One of such reasons holds that a polygamous Akan man, who up till today, we have even given up in knowing where he did actually settle, entangled himself in what our Forefathers describe as a serious debt crises. His son, could have gone to serve. But as historians remind us all, his wife, plausibly also an Akan, categorically, refused to take up this marriage vow- for better for worse. And as blood is said to be thicker than water, his courageous and compassionate sister, perhaps, a single parent, sacrificed his son to save his brother from his creditor. So, we may be reasonably right in asking that how could an Akan woman bond herself to a failing or a belligerent marriage and wear out and finally die where she has brothers and uncles whom she can peacefully have rest?

This is simple to answer. However, as one non-Akan friend forcefully argues, we could be prone to corruption than other ethnic groupings in Ghana because of these double-jeopardy. First and foremost in fulfilling the aspirations of our nieces and nephews as well as our compelling obligations to our wives and children. She illustrates that apart from Dr Nkrumah, who had few mouths to feed, regimes dominated by Akans, such as the National Liberation Council, the Progress Party and the SMC I/II, were alleged and truly corrupted partly because of these practices. And that without the meddling hands of the Okutwers and the Kankams, President Dr Hilla Limann would have been spared the tempting sword of the Junior Jesus- the Flt Lt J. J. Rawlings.

In as much as one might not be moved by these platitudes, it must be cautioned, however, that these might also not be far fetched of those old unsubstantiated accusations levelled against General J. A. Ankrah and Mr Komla Gbedemah. Thus like in most customs in our homeland, name of places and personalities in oral tradition often tend to suffer unrealistic and inconsistence facts. In that most primary sources are extinct and a number of symbols, objects and architectural remains altered or destroyed. No wonder, most of us have little drive in patronising customary practices such as kyiribra rituals and their myths because legends are foreign or frowned by present generation?

As the desires of the Akan man fade from food assembly, hunting and cocoa farming to foreign exploration and expedition, equally true could be said of Akan woman. Today, she struggles not only over proprietary or equitable interest in stool lands or mud house for herself and kids but also over valuables such as treasure bills and bonds. Indeed, traditions have changed or are changing, so her interests overreach far abroad. Like most women of our time, her legal place is not only in the kitchen or at the mercies of paternalistic Ghanaian man in the context of childbearing and raring. The days of badudwan are waning. Thus she aspires to the highest position in our society. Therefore, she might be right in believing that she is ripe enough in embracing the guarding gun in her bosom instead of that of her domineering partner. A position that one might find it extreme. But if Nana Yaa Asantewaa invoked this spirit some centuries ago, why not this generation?

Our traditional wisdom shew the Akan woman that from the word go, she must live at the expense of her partner- a cunning individual in wealth creation. The sad discourse from which suspicion of divorce while exchanging marriage vows at wedding may be possible. Thus ?inevitabilis necessitas? that the fairly objective Akan man might speak as justifying polygamy and matrilineal custom as necessity of the same nature. Now, it is, no doubt, clearer that this tradition contended for is receiving less favourable support from the great principles of equal rights and justice.

It is unadorned in our present rule of law that the test which justified matrilineal inheritance is that only which has always been and is still erected on the double but rather, fragile standard validation that an Akan man needs to be confident that he was the biological father of his wife?s children. Uncertain about this in an era of no DNA, our tradition therefore, correctly ensured that inheritance passed along the blood line alone. Thus Akan man?s sister?s adultery, by contrast, did not confuse issues of the black stool for the children of her marriage. But how long can our customary courts wrestle with the intricacies and inconsistencies of this system, that appears to be full of antique and obscure language and which has been subject of many divorce litigations?

In most developed world such as in Europe and North America, the doctrine ?I will pay the rent so that you will buy the foodstuffs? is infesting deep in most Akan marriages. Even where the spouse is from the same village or town, neither of them, it appears, wants to be taken for granted. So, Amma must have her bona fide building plot at her village in the same way as Kwame. Few might venture to strike a compromise when it comes to family financing and economic planning. Separate accounts is therefore, the judicious counsel. It is unclear how many marriages have fallen on rocks and how many Akan men have been given ?keep-off perimeters? from once a joint-home as the result. If what was witnessed at one of the charismatic churches in this part of our hemisphere has something to be taken as the marital barometer in this research, then the result is hardly favourable.

Mr. and Mrs. Namenim cherish their marriage so much so that having lived abroad for so many years, thought it prudent to escape this inequitable aspect of our custom. So, they pitched and registered their joint-home on a neutral ground- Accra. Which could mean that legally, each holds the property in trust for one another for life and undoubtedly, the rest for their posterity. Having another property in their respective hometown is an issue which must be discussed and planned collectively. To cut long tale short, Family Namenim mutual agreement unfortunately, turned out to be that of Mpoansa-Ntiamoah and Okonore Yaa. Customarily, Mrs. Namenim has done nothing wrong [her misfortunes are for her husband] to have warranted or dictated the pace of his husband to have a mysterious tenant- Miss Obimpeh, later, Mrs. Namenim. A legal criss-cross, you may say.

It is true that law and morality are not truly lovers. Many things may be immoral that are not simply illegal, yet it is said that absolute divorce of law from morality would be of fatal consequence; and such divorce would follow as the temptation of Opanin Namenim complicates this on the fact that he sheds his blood behind him and marries, say, the Ewe, the Ga or the Northern woman who is not Akan. And whose offspring might be seen as an ?interloper? in her mother?s and father?s home? Yes, no one points his or her left finger at his/her fathers house. But it is not always true, at least, not where the Akan father?s death ignites protracted family dispute over inheritance provisions.

The faintest doubt is that if the government or any institution, were to confront this burning issue head on and embark on research both at home and abroad, it might reveal that a huge number of marriages that have been ruined and had been thrown apart with innocent infants and youths roaming about, could be found within the Akan ethnic group. But who is to be the judge of this sort of presumption? Of course it has been laid down in glowing and emphatic language as resulting from our history and customs that it is enough for the Akan to remind themselves of the Great Example of that Ancient Akan Sister. So we may say it is not needful to point out the awful danger of admitting the clich? that our sisters and mothers must stand tall and smarter in all their marriages.

It could be true that the Ancient Akan Woman did play a vital role in the evolution and development of history and culture of the Akans. For, today too, she is not only carrier of the black stool but rather embodiment of it. So this woman could be seen in a questionable pole position amongst non-Akan women as far as inheritance is concerned. She truly enjoys fast every legacies of her non-Akan spouse or civil partner and that of her brothers and uncles where they die intestate- thus without a valid will disposing of their assets that might have been achieved through combined efforts of the spouse. How could this be? Well, there had been no safe path for judges to tread but to ascertain the customary law to the best of their ability and judgment. And if in any case the law appears to be vague on individuals, they leave it to the Nananom to exercise their hereditary royalty and wisdom of mercy which the Constitution have entrusted to their fittest hands to dispense it.

But, it appears the expectations of the Akan woman had been huge and safeguarded. As queen and mother of future kings, she is the symbol of this political system that owes its strength, peace, stability and goodwill from spirit-power and spirit-ancestors. So in searching for an equitable inheritance law based on democratic Constitution, the modern Akan woman must be reminded that in as much as she can no longer be passed over automatically to her deceased husband?s brother as wife or subject her daughters to kyiribra rituals, confirm a new society that she has a vital role to play and which could also require pure and absolute necessity to preserve the joy of marriage vows?

Asante Fordjour
Department of Law, Governance and International Relations
London Metropolitan University, London, UK

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Columnist: Fordjour, Asante