Akan - Political Organization

The several Akan peoples each consist of a single kingdom ruled by a king, omanhene (lit., "state-chief "). The king comes from whatever clan provides the royal line in a particular kingdom, and is chosen in rotation from one of this clan's kingly lineages (there are often other, nonkingly, lineages within a royal clan). He is elected by various officials, of which the most important is the ohemmaa (or similar terms; lit. "woman-chief" and usually translated in the literature as "queen-mother") although she is typically not the actual mother but a senior woman of the clan, who "knows" genealogy and may have her own court and be assisted by various officials. Criteria for the selection of a king include assumed competence, general personality, and the fact that kingly lines usually rotate in providing the king. Once selected, the king is "enstooled"—that is, seated upon the stool of kingship. His former status is annulled symbolically, his debts and lawsuits are settled, his clothing and personal possessions stored; he is then symbolically reborn and given the identity of one of his forebears. He assumes the royal name and title borne by that previous ruler.

A king has his palace, in which work members of his court. Details vary considerably, but, in general, the royal officials comprise several categories: those from the royal clan itself; those representing the remainder of the people; and ritual officials, drummers, and others who were considered the "children" of the king, being recruited from many sources, including royal slaves, and often observing patrilineal descent.

The king is a sacred person. He may not be observed eating or drinking and may not be heard to speak nor be spoken to publicly (speaking only through a spokesman or "linguist," okyeame ). He is covered from the sky by a royal umbrella, avoids contact with the earth by wearing royal sandals, and wears insignia of gold and elaborate and beautiful cloth of royal design. In the past, an Akan king held power over the life and death of his subjects and slaves. These powers were eroded during colonial rule, but today an Akan king remains extremely powerful, representing his people both politically and ritually and acting as a focus for the identity of his kingdom. By far the most powerful is the king of Asante, who has the largest of all the Akan kingdoms, the Asantehene at Kumasi.

Warfare has historically been a central institution, a means of extending of territory and controlling external trade. An Akan state is typically divided into five or six military formations or "wings," each under the authority of a wing chief. Beneath the wing chiefs, who are chosen by the king, are the chiefs of the main towns of a kingdom. The latter are from the town's ruling line.

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