Of all the ethnic groups in Ghana, the Akan people are the largest and account for about 49% of the country’s population. With over 20 million people between Ghana and Ivory Coast, they’re also one of the biggest ethnic groups in West Africa. In this article, we take a look at the traditional Akan political structure.

Subgroups of the Akan people

The ethnic group of the Akan people include these subgroups:

  • The Asante
  • Adanse
  • Akwamu
  • Akuapem
  • Akyem
  • Assin
  • Denkyira
  • Bono
  • Ahafo
  • Fante
  • Wassa
  • Kwahu
  • Twifo
  • Sefwi
  • Gomoa and many more.

Akan clans and their totem

There are eight clans that make up the Akan Ethnic group. Each of these clans are associated and identified with a distinguished totem. These clans are:

AsonaCrow, Snake

Clans, generally, are the largest family groups, members of which believe in their common descent, by birth, from a common, however unknown, and nameless ancestor or ancestress. Families or “Abusua” as they are called descended from these clans. They all practice the matrilineal system of inheritance which determines the succession to Akan stools (power) and family inheritance of privilege and property.

Political structure of the Akan people

The political organization of the Akan is largely grounded on the association of each lineage being a political unit, with its own sub head acting as its representative on advanced councils.

These sub heads also called “Abusua panin” (family head) in the Akan language also act as the position holders in the larger Akan political unit and society. They are the household heads. Other major players include the village leader known as the “Odikro”, the territorial Chief known as the “Ohene”, the “Omanhene’s” power and influence exceeds the aforementioned as he is considered the paramount chief of the Akan society.

Functions of the Akan leaders

The leaders within the various levels of the Akan Ethnic group are responsible for overseeing numerous functions that consequently attribute to the daily lives of the Akan people.

The Abusua panin

For instance, the Abusua panin (family head) settles all manner of internal family disputes and ensures that members of his family adhere to customary and cultural rites. They also play a major role in social functions like marriage, naming ceremonies and funerals amongst others.

The Odikro

The Odikro (village or Town Head) on the other hand is responsible for overseeing community projects and the parcel of lands belonging to the stool. He reports directly to the divisional chief of his area.

In essence becoming his eyes and ears in the town and reporting back to him on the daily proceedings and happenings of the village or town. He also serves as a medium between the people of his governance, the ancestors and gods of their religion. He also presided over the village that settled disputes and issues.

An Akan chief with his sub-chiefs

The Ohene or sub-chiefs

Then there were the “Ohene” (sub-chiefs). These chiefs had various specific functions both in the royal court and society. They included the “Kontihene” who was the war head of the army, the “Gyasehene” who was the caretaker of the royal treasury and implemented the financial budget and oversaw the budget, and then there is the “Benkumhene”, “Adontenhene” and “Kyidomhene” among others.

The queen or Ohemaa was also an important figure in Ashanti political systems. She was the most important woman in the kingdom. She had the appendage of being consulted in the process of installing a new principal or the king, as she played a major part in the nomination and selection. She settled controversies involving women and was involved in decision-making alongside the Council of elders and chiefs.

Finally, the Omanhene was the paramount chief who existed as the ultimate ceremonial head and ruler. He was ruler of the individual states and performed executive, judicial and legislative functions. He ascends the throne through matrilineal system and appointment by the queen mother known as the Obaahemaa.

It is worth knowing that these queen mothers are not their birth mothers. While enjoying your stay in the country, it is worth having this information at your fingertips to help you understand the many facets of the Ghanaian society.

The Queen Mother or “Obaahemaa”

A queen mother with her subjects

In the Akan State, the Queen Mother or the “Obaahemaa” as she is called in the Akan dialect, is the co-ruler with the enstooled chief. She was a relative of the ruler who might have previously been his mother, aunt, sister or niece of the previous chief. One could become Obaahemaa when she sends a “reason” through a principal or an elder to the chief, stating her intention to occupy the stool.

If her request was accepted by the chief and elders, she is called before the royal gathering and her nomination is formally made public to the elders by the chief. In preparation for her new role, she is placed on a white stool three times to mark the new role as an Obaahemaa.

Functions of the Queen Mother

As the Queen mother, she is the only one who reserves the right to rebuke the chief and his elders publicly. This shows the sort of authority she held at the kings’ court. As part of her responsibilities, Obaahemaa remained concerned with women’s affairs, to ensure that they were not sexually exploited.

She passed strict judgment on men who contravened in this area (unauthorized sexual relation or adultery). Obaahemaa ensured that married men could not lay claim to their partners’ property seeing as they are not from the same family.

The Queen mother is the pillar and voice of women and her primary goal is to maintain women’s self-belief and respect. The queen mother has always been a part of rituals, Ghanaian festivals, puberty rites for women and girls in the state and sacrifices to appease gods.

She is also a vital cog in the enstoolment of a new chief. When a chief passes on, the Kontihene would call for an emergency meeting with the elders which he would preside over. Two elders from the others would be tasked to approach the Obaahemaa with a “plea” to choose a candidate for the throne as per tradition.

The Queen mother in response called for a gathering of all eligible men from the various royal families and selected one who was well suited to occupy the throne. When one thinks of feminism, they think of current advents that had been mainstay at the turn of this century, when in fact cultures like the Akan have propagated it throughout the ages.

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