The period in which these Ashanti Ballads are set is the late 1950's when the Gold Coast became Ghana - the first African colony to achieve independence. Much has changed since those days.
The ballads record aspects of a traditional way of life with which the modern Ghanaian city dweller is losing contact. For the benefit of strangers to Ghana, the following notes have been provided to give a background to the Ashanti Region around the time of independence. The name Ashanti was used by British colonial administrators to describe the Kingdom of Asante.
The area of Ashanti is 9400 square miles (approximately one fifth that of England) with a population of about one million at the period independence, to which the ballads refer.
Typical crops were yam, plantain, cassava, maize, okro, pineapples, oranges and paw-paw. From the forest came game (bush meat), palm-wine and timber. The railway wagons leaving Kumasi were packed with logs for export. The gold mines explain why Ghana was called the Gold Coast before independence. The majority of the population lived in villages and worked on their farms, using a system of shifting cultivation. To create a farm it was necessary to clear part of the natural forest, although cocoa could be grown between existing trees.
There have been substantial changes in the years since independence, principally the growth of the towns and the decline of cocoa growing.
In each village there are people of particular importance. The Chief ( odikro ) together with the Elders maintains traditional customs and ceremonies and deals with disputes. The fetish priest ( okomfo ) and the herbalist ( odunsini ) provide a medical service which can be partly paid for in local produce (a hen, eggs etc.) as opposed to Western medicine which requires cash payment, and usually a considerable journey to the nearest hospital.
The fetish priest, when possessed by the gods, is particularly powerful at dealing with spiritual problems (e.g. protection from the witchcraft of enemies). The herbalist relies on local medicines to effect a cure.
The linguist ( okyeame ) has no corresponding role in western society. A man wishing to consult the fetish priest or the Chief addresses his remarks to the Linguist, who then passes them on and returns the reply (even though all three people are present together). The linguist is an intermediary, acting as a buffer to reduce the severity of utterances and so save delicate situations. If the Chief should make a harsh pronouncement, it is the duty of the linguist to euphemise and clothe the statement in proverbs.
In Asante, the family line (abusua) passes through the mother to her children. A man is strongly related to his mother's brother but only weakly related to his father's brother. This must be viewed in the context of a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond.
As a result, in inheritance, a man's nephew (sister's son) will have priority over his own son. Uncle-nephew relationships therefore assume a dominant position. (Legislation was introduced in 1984 to change this traditional pattern of inheritance.)
Traditional religion does not require regular attendance at particular buildings. Religion is not something that is remembered for one hour a week. The Gods and the spirits of the ancestors are always present.
Numerous experts have commented on the similarities within the traditions of kingship and cultic practice centering on the mystical nature of gold between imperial Ghana and the Akan peoples of the forest (even the linguistic derivatives from Ghana of Guan and Akan).
In many cases, this has been taken as confirmation of a diffusion of ideas from the Sudanese grasslands to the forest of West Africa. Some authorities have looked back even further, tracing the origins of the traditions of divine kingship to Pharaonic Egypt.
Similarities in language such as the word "Ka" for spirit, which in Twi is "Kra", have been noted along with the parallels in ceremonial objects such as the use of funeral masks on royal tombs in Asante and the king's flail, battle axe, crooked sword and fly whisk.
Extreme positions have been adopted on either side; some denying any influence at all, others seeing similarities in every sphere. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle with a gradual diffusion of Iron Age culture throughout the continent.
Further confirmation of cultural parallels can be found in the writings of Arabic scholars. Al-Bakri, commenting on the customs of ancient Ghana, was fascinated by the matrilineal tradition of succession: "The Kingdom is inherited only by the son of the King's sister". Tunkamanin, the king during the time of al-Bakri, was the nephew of the previous King, King Basi.
The matrilineal succession of ancient Ghana is paralleled exactly within the chieftaincy traditions, which still determine succession among the Twi-speaking peoples of Ghana.
Al-Bakri, coming from a patrilineal culture, explains: "The King has no doubt that his successor is the son of his sister, while he is not certain that his son is in fact his own, and he does not rely on the genuineness of this relationship". Maternity is certain, paternity is often open to question. Al-Bakri's account of the splendour of the court of Ghana, its etiquette and ritual observance is almost indistinguishable from Bowdich's descriptions of the splendours of the Asante court in 1817. Both describe pages or messengers with shields and breastplates decorated with gold and the "awesome sounds" of massed drummers and horns of gold. Although historians cannot be certain about the authenticity of the ances= tral "long march" from ancient Ghana, the parallels in cultural identity indicate a historical legacy, which is more than just coincidence.
Pronounced As: dshdnt or Asante dsdnt , historic and modern administrative region, central Ghana, W Africa. The region is the source of much of Ghana's cocoa. It is inhabited by the Ashanti, a matrilineal Akan people who constitute one of Ghana's major ethnic groups. Before the 13th cent., Akan peoples migrated into the forest belt of present-day Ghana and established small states in the hilly country in the neighborhood of modern Kumasi.
By the late 17th cent. the states had been welded by the Oyoko clan into the Ashanti confederation, with the capital at Kumasi and the Oyoko chieftain as king. After subduing neighboring states the confederation came into conflict with British settlements on the coast, although treaties of friendship were negotiated (1817, 1820).
A series of Anglo-Ashanti wars in the 19th cent. ended with the defeat of the confederation (1896) and its annexation (1901) to the Gold Coast colony. The British exiled King Prempeh I to the Seychelles and, in spite of great resistance, broke up the confederation. It was restored in 1935. In 1945 the Ashanti were given representation in the executive and legislative councils of the Gold Coast. They supported an unsuccessful attempt to give Ghana a federal constitution in 1954 and resisted the centralizing measures of the Nkrumah government. The Ashanti king remains influential in S Ghana. The Ashanti are noted for the quality of their gold work and their colorful kente cloth, and are famous for the gold-encrusted stool that is the symbol of the kingship.
Source: African Eldorado - Ghana from Gold Coast to Independence.