The Akan peoples of Ghana include the Ashanti, Fanti, Akim, Akwapim and Asen. One distinct style of Akan oral poetry are the poems recited by the masters of ceremonies to paramount chiefs. These poems remind the chief of the clans historical enemies and the victories in war that his predecessors attained.

The master of ceremony performing the poem half covers his mouth with his left hand whilst pointing a sword in his right hand to the chief in front of whom he stands.

He is one who hates to see an enemy return victorious
He delivers old and young from the ravages of war
He is one of whom armies of enemies get tired
He is bulletproof: when you fire at hime you waste your ammunition
He is so powerful as to be able to bring the divinations of priests to naught
He catches priests and snatches their bells from him
He is not to be challenged. If anyone dares him, the one is sure to lose his head
He cannot be caught and decapitated at the battle front
He is like the tough trees, as well as the old, wet half dead tree neither of which can be cut

Between each poem drums and horns play an interlude whilst the master of ceremonies prepares their next verses. In Akan society musical horns made from the tusks of elephants are played for paramount chiefs, and it is only the chiefs that will have such ensembles.

In this verse of praises for Amaniampong, the founder of the state of Mampong Ashanti, dialogues appear between a father and son and also between what appears to be a rival of Amaniampong who confesses his failure to defeat his enemy to his wives (I may be mis-interpreting this, any readers of this site with knowledge of Akan history are welcome to write-in to correct me!).

He is the one!
O father wake up.
What is it my child?
It is the Toucans crying. (1)
Really!
You are a good boy to mistake the horns of Amaniampong for the crying of Toucans. (2)
Don’t be too quick to shoot at a great man.
Before you can fire, he snatches your powder.
He says: Help! Help!
He says: Akosua, Adwoa!
Quick get me my torch.
What is it she asks?
He replies, is it not what happened the other day that has happened once more?
Again? This child is really a child!
When I was a mighty one, I could not overthrow him
The mighty one could not overthrow him
The entangling one could not overthrow him
Aku that eats the snails of small children.

Poems collected by Kwabena Nketia,
from “Akan Poetry”,
Black Orpheus 3, p5-27 (1958)


Footnotes

  1. Toucans are tropical birds with large bills.
  2. Amaniampong was the founder of the state of Mampong Ashanti. The boy has mistaken the sounds of the elephant tusk horns that play in praise of Amaniampong for the sound of Toucans.