Asante, the dialect of Akan spoken in the Ashanti region of Ghana, is a tonal language, meaning roughly that the intonation of a word will change its meaning, even if the pronunciation is otherwise the same. One consequence is that verbal messages can be conveyed by highly skilled drumming, as in the following example. What the drummer conveys are the tones, the number of syllables and the punctuation of phrases. The actual vowels and consonants cannot be transmitted. This sets certain conditions. To be comprehensible, a drum message will contain many stock phrases, and a good deal of repetition.

Mampon is a town in the Ashanti region of Ghana, and this drum poem is similar to other Clan Praises in that it preserves the lineage of the clan’s chiefs. Even at the time of the recording c1920, some of the names, and especially their titles, were already obscure. They are presented here, without translation, in the original Asante dialect of the Akan language. Osai Kojo, the drummer, was chief drummer to the Ashanti chief Osai Bonsu, Omanhene of Monpan. The drums themselves are called Ntumpane, and there are two of them, male and female, tuned to different pitches.

Parts 1 to 7 are an invocation to the spirits of the various materials which have gone towards the making of the Ntumpane drums – wood from the Kodia tree for the base, rope from the Obofunu plant, pegs from the Ofema tree, drum skin from the ear of a female elephant. The gods of Earth and Sky are invoked, and the hated witches are pacified lest they seized the drummer’s wrists and lead to mistakes.

1

Kon, kon, kon, kon,
Kun, kun, kun, kun,
Funtumia Akore,
Cedar tree, Akore,
Of Cedar tree, Kodia,
Of Kodia, the Cedar tree,
The divine drummer announces
Had he gone elsewhere, (1)
He has now made himself to arise;
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early.
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

2

Earth, sorrow is yours,
Earth, woe is yours,
Earth with its dust,
Sky, who stretches to Kwawu, (2)
Earth, if I am about to die,
It is upon you I depend.
Earth, while I am yet alive,
It is upon you that I put my trust.
Earth, who receives my body.
The divine drummer announces
Had he gone elsewhere,
He has made himself to arise.
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

3

The mighty one, Ankamanefo,
He and the drummers will set out together,
The mighty one, Ankamanefo,
He and the drummers will return together.
You of mighty bulk, Gyaanadu, the red one,
The swamps swallow you up, oh elephant, (3)
elephant that breaks the axe,
elephant, the divine drummer declares
he has started up from sleep,
he has made himself to arise.
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

4

Fibre of rope, Ampasakyi, (4)
Where are you?
The divine drummer announces
Had he gone elsewhere,
He has made himself to arise,
He has made himself to arise,
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

5

Oh pegs, the stump of the Ofema tree, (5)
Gyaanadu Asare,
Where is it that you are?
The divine drummer announces
Had he gone elsewhere,
He has made himself to arise.
He has made himself to arise.
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

6

Kokokyinaka bird, (6)
How do we give answer to your greeting?
We salute you, Anyado, (7)
We salute you as the dummer’s child,
The drummer’s child sleeps,
he awakes with the dawn,
Very early, very early, very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

7

Oh Witch, do not slay me, Adwo, (8)
Spare me, Adwo. (9)
The divine drummer declares
When he rises with the dawn
He will drum for you in the morning
Very early,
Very early,
Very early,
Very early,
Oh Witch, that slays the children of men
before they are fully matured,
Oh Witch, that slays the children of men before they are fully matured,
The divine drummer declares
When he rises with the dawn
He will sound his drums for you in the morning
Very early,
Very early,
Very early,
Very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

8

Asiama Toku Asare, (10)
Opontenten Asi Akatabaa, (11)
Asiama from the God of the Sky,
Asiama of the Supreme Being,
The divine drummer declares
Had he gone elsewhere
He has made himself to arise,
He has made himself to arise.
The fowl crowed in the early dawn,
The fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early,
Very early,
Very early,
We are addressing you
And you will understand.

9

Boafo Anwoma Kwakyi, (12)
Kwakyi, the tall one,
Kwakyi Adu Asare,
Where did you come from?
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi,
the place where the rock wears down the axe,
Mampon Kontonkyi
Aniampam Boafu Anwoma Kwakyi,
Kon!
Who destroys towns, Firampon,
Alas! (13)
Alas!
Alas!

10

Friend of the Shield,
We gave you a Shield,
Friend of the Shield,
We gave you an Afona, (14)
The Shield which we gave was so terrible
That in just three days
It devoured backbones. (15)
Obirempon Antiedu,
Son of Antiedu Gyedu Asare,
Antiedu, the short one, Firampon,
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!

11

Shield with its dust,
Gyirampon Agal and Ampam,
Agai Boaete, Maniampon,
The dust of whose battle caused the little
Kukuban to fall from its tree,
Kukuban Birempon,
Where did you come from?
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.

12

Adu Boahen,
Boahen Kojo,
Where did you come from?
You came from Mampon Akurofonso,
The place where the Creator made things,
Adu Gyamfi with an eye
like flint, Ampafrako.

13

The shadows were falling cool,
They fell cool for me at Sekyire, (16)
The day dawned,
It dawned for me at Sekyire.
Who is chief of Sekyire?
The chief of Sekyire is Kwaitu,
Kwaaye knows Afrane Akwa,
Boatimpon Akuamoa,
Akuamoa, whom we even grow weary (17)
of thanking for his gifts,
Akuamoa, you were of the royal blood
since long long ago,
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.
Kon!
Akuamoa Firampon,
Alas!
Alas!

14

Otieku Amosoansan, (18)
Atakora the elder,
Where did you come from?
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.
Kon!
Akatora Firampon,
Alas!

15

Kra hi gede gede gede gede
kra hi ka,
Kra hi kata kata kata kata kata
kra hi ka,
Kra hi kra hi kre,
Kra hi kra hi kre,
The Creator made something.
What did he make?
He made the Herald, (19)
He made the Drummer,
He made Kwawuakwa, the Chief
Executioner,
They all, they all declare
that they came from one Atepod, (20)
Konimisi Amoagye,
Gyaneampon Amoagye,
Esene Konini Amoagye,
Come hither, herald, and receive your
black monkey-skin cap. (21)
What was your heritage?
Your heritage was a good master,
Your heritage was Atopere, (22)
Gyaneampon Sakyi Amponsa,
Asumgyima Birempon,
Kon!
Asumgyina Firampon, (23)
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!

16

Osafu, the tall one, (24)
Osafu, the tall one,
Gyamfi Agyai,
Osafu Gyamfi Agyai,
Osafu the red,
The child of Osai Tutu,
Osafu Gyamfi Agyai,
Where did you come from?
You came from Kumasi, (25)
whose title is Aduampafrantwi.
Oh path, you cross the river, (26)
Oh river, you cross the path.
Which of you is the elder?
We cut a path, and it went
and met the river,
This river came forth long, long ago,
It came forth from the Creator
of all things,
Kon!
Gyamfi Agyai Firampon,
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!
Alas! Osai, (27)
Alas! Osai,
Alas! Osai,
Alas! Osai.

17

Asiase Pepra, (28)
Okwawuo, slayer of men,
Drummer Pepra,
Where are you?
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.
Buafo who fought, fought, fought,
fought, fought, fought.
Pepra Firampon,
Alas!
Alas!
Alas!

18

We salute you as Chief, Kwa, (29)
We salute you as Birempon, Kwa,
Chief, Kwa
Birempon, Kwa.
Who is chief?
He is chief who is worthy
of the title ‘Master’,
He is Birempon who is worthy
of the title ‘Master’,
Yerefie and Ampasakyi,
man among men,
Atakora the hero,
Atakora, the royal of royals,
Atakora Kwaku Firampon, (30)
Alas!

19

Yerefi Ankamafo Akyaw Wusu,
Akyaw Birempon,
Owusu the last born,
Child of Osai Tutu,
Owusu Akwasi,
Owusu Sekyire, (31)
Onoborobo Osai Kojo Birempon,
Child of Osai Tutu.

20

Osafu the tall, (32)
Osafu the tall,
Gyamfi Agyai,
Child of Osai Tutu,
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.

21

We salute you as chief, Kwa,
We salute you as Birempon, Kwa,
Chief, Kwa
‘Birempon, Kwa.
Who is chief?
Who is chief?
He is chief who is worthy
of the title ‘Master’,
He is Birempon who is worthy
of the title ‘Master’,
Yerefie and Ampasakyi,
man among men,
Atakora the hero, (33)
Atakora, the royal of royals.

2

Kra hi gede gede gede gede
kra hi ka
Kra hi gada gada gada gada
kra hi ka
Kra hi gede gede gede gede
kra hi ka
Kra ka ka hi
Kra hi gada gada gada gada gada
Kra ka ka hi
Gada gada kra ka ka hi
Kra hi kra hi kra hi kra
Ka ka ka hi kra his kra ka ka hi
Two or three to one
potopodie birds he fought, (34)
What part will the vulture eat?
The vulture will eat the head,
Oboadu Gyabaa Antwi, (35)
Gyaba the man of great bulk,
The divine drummer,
Okwawuakwa the chief executioner.

23

Boafu Fosu
Boafu Aduanwoma,
Boafu Badu,
Boafu Aduanwoma,
Ofuso, who in a fit of anger took
his wife and gave her, (36)
Child of Oduru the elder,
Kwaante Bosomtwe,
A white fowl is a fit offering
for Lake Bosomtwe. (37)

24

We salute you as chief, Kwa,
We salute you as Birempon, Kwa,
Chief, Kwa
Birempon, Kwa.
Who is chief?
He is chief who is worthy
to be called ‘Master’,
He is Birempon who is worthy
to be called ‘Master’,
Yerefie and Ampasakyi,
man among men,
Atakora Kwaku, (38)
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi,
from Botaase. (39)

25

Ofie Banyin Agyepon Ntara, (40)
Agyepon the last born,
Agyepon Ntara,
where did he come from?
Agyepon Ntara came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.
Agyepon Ntara, you were a hero,
You were ever a man.

26

Atakora the warrior, (41)
Where did you come from?
You came from Mampon Botaase,
Atakora, if we are going to fight anywhere,
We speak of it to you.

27

Apia Kusi, (42)
Kusi Oboadum,
Apia Kusi,
You were a hero, you were ever a man,
Boafo who fought and fought and fought.

28

Berefi Ankamafo Akyaw Wusu,
Owusu the last born,
Owusu Sekyire, (43)
You came from Mampon Kontonkyi
where the rock wears down the axe.
Boafo who fought and fought and fought
and fought.

29

Onoborobo Osai Tutu,
Bonsu, who fought and seized kings, (44)
Osai Tute Birempon,
You are a warrior,
You are ever a man.
‘Were I alone, I should go and fight’, (45)
Onoborobo Osai Tutu,
The hero who holds a gun and a sword
when he does to battle,
Bonsu who fought and seized kings,.
Osai Tutu Birempon.

from Ashanti
Captain R.S. Rattray,
Oxford, 1923


Footnotes

  1. Had he gone elsewhere: That is, had he been sleeping.
  2. Kwawu: A town on the coast.
  3. Continuing the invocation to the spirits of the various materials which have gone towards the making of the Ntumpane drums – the drums skin is from the ear of a female elephant.
  4. The rope used in the making of the Ntumpane drums comes from the Obofunu plant.
  5. The spirits of the Ofema tree are praised for providing the pegs for the Ntumpane drums.
  6. Kokokyinaka bird: A dark blue forest bird regarded as every drummer’s totem. It’s call goes kro-kro-kro-kro-ko-kyini-kyini-kyini-kro-kyini-ka-ka-ka-kyini-kyini-kyini-kyina-ha, and they say it was this taught the Ashanti the art of drumming.
  7. A standard salute to drummers.
  8. After the invocations to the spirits and the gods of Earth and Sky, the witches are pacified lest they seized the drummer’s wrists and lead to mistakes.
  9. Adwo: A title of respect, given to chiefs, by women to their husbands, and by children to their elders.
  10. Asiama Toku Asare: The main poem beings with a salute to Asiama Toku Asare, the first Queen Mother of the Beretuo clan before their migration to Mompan. According to legend, she descended from the sky on a chain.
  11. These titles are no longer understood.
  12. Parts 9, 10, 11 and 12 commemorate ancestral chiefs or whom nothing is known but their names and their obscure titles.
  13. Alas!: Rattray comments, “The names of dead kings are not to be spoken lightly, and with the recounting of such a history comes no small sadness.”
  14. Afona means sword.
  15. The central part of the frame of a shield was called its backbone. The line refers to the destruction of the enemy’s shields.
  16. Sekyire is the name given to the whole district of which Mampon forms part.
  17. Akuamoa: The sixth ruler.
  18. Otieku Amosoansan: The seventh ruler (“he who declares war and does not turn back”).
  19. In Ashanti myth, the Creator made a herald (osene), a drummer (okyerema) and an executioner (obrafo), observing this order of precedence at court.
  20. Atepod:The fruit of a type of forest creeper.
  21. Black monkey-skin cap: The herald wore a cap made from the skin of a Colubus monkey, with a gold disk in front.
  22. Atopere: the dance of death.
  23. Asumgyima: the eighth ruler, was the son of a herald called Amoagye.
  24. Osafu: The ninth ruler. His father was Osai Fwidie.
  25. Kumasi: The Ashanti capital.
  26. Compare these lines with The Path and the River.
  27. Osai is an honorary title.
  28. Asiase Pepra: The tenth ruler, with a reputation for killing his enemies. The title Okwawuo, “slayer of men”, was still applied to Ashante chiefs in 1920. Everyone called Pepra is nicknamed “drummer” whether he is one or not.
  29. Kwa: An honorary title.
  30. Atakora: The sixteenth ruler, named out of sequence. In the nineteenth century he briefly subjugated the Akan state of Gyaaman, today part of the Ivory Coast.
  31. Owusu Sekyire: The eleventh ruler.
  32. Osafu: The twelfth ruler.
  33. Atakora the hero: Again a reference to the sixteenth ruler, named out of sequence. At this point in the recording, the drummer Osai Kojo, became distressed at losing the correct sequence, and was replaced by less skilled drummer, who is not named. In the confusion, the fourteenth and fifteen rulers are omitted.
  34. Potopodie birds, not identified. The line means he fought them at odds of to or three to one.
  35. Oboadu Gyabaa Antwi: The thirteenth ruler.
  36. That is, gave her to a slave.
  37. Lake Bosomtwe: A lake near Kumasi, capital of Ashanti, and today a luxury holiday resort.
  38. Atakora: The sixteenth ruler.
  39. Botaase: Part of the town of Mampon.
  40. Ofie Banyin Agyepon Ntara: The seventeenth ruler.
  41. Atakora Kwaku: the eighteenth ruler.
  42. Apia Kusi: The nineteenth ruler.
  43. Owusu Sekyire: The twentieth ruler.
  44. Osai Bonsu, the twenty-first ruler, and at the time that this poem was transcribed, was the current Omanhene of Mampon, who sponsored the recording.
  45. Were I alone, I should go and fight: The Omanhene’s motto.