Akan - Religion



Indigenous Akan religion is based upon the worship of a High God, various spirits or deities, and ancestors. The High God—known as Onyame, Onyankopon, and by other names—is the Creator, now otiose; he is accompanied by Asase Yaa, the goddess of the earth. The ancestors live in the land of the dead and may demand offerings, in the past including those of slaves. The royal ancestors are at the heart of the ritual protection of a kingdom. They are "fed" at shrines in the form of blackened stools of wood and kept in the "stool rooms" in palaces and houses. Traditionally, the stools were anointed with human blood, gunpowder, and spider webs, and given alcoholic drink; human sacrifices are no longer made. Spirits or deities are many, and the living can communicate with them through prayer, sacrifice, and possession. Each has its own oso/o, or priest; an okomfo is a living spirit medium who interprets the words of a spirit who is consulted to remove sickness and human disasters. Each kingdom and town has, or had in past years, an annual purification ritual, known as odwira, in which the king, the office of kingship, the kingdom, and the town are purified of the pollution of the preceding year; this is often known in the literature as a "yam festival."

The Akan have largely been Christian since the nineteenth century, except for most kings, who have had to retain their indigenous religious status and practices. European Christian missions were highly successful, bringing not only Christianity but also education, and most Akan have been literate for a long time. Islam has a long history among the Akan, having been introduced by early traders from the north. Royalty made use of Muslim scribes for court duties. The Akan have a long history of "prophets" of many kinds—Christian, Muslim, and "heathen"—and of separatist Christian movements. All these various forms of religious belief and activity exist side by side, and most people have recourse to all of them, according to their particular needs and wishes.


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