African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Akan

Akan praises of the Paramount Chief

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…

As I came from the bush I met a demon

An Akan song from the Ashanti region of Ghana, complaining about the work conditions during the colonial period. For this singer, colonial rule began with the recruitment of carriers.

As I came from the bush I met a demon:
Come and help me carry!..

Hold back the Sun

An Akan song from the Ashanti region of Ghana, sung by women at work on their farms. See also Farming Song.

Where is the owner of the bush farm?
Hold back the sun!..

The Jilted Woman

An Akan song from the Ashanti region of Ghana. Note the triumphant mixture of tenses, something that only happens in oral literature. The first line begins like an empty threat, and ends with a boast.

If you won’t marry me,
someone else has married me…

Death Does Not Like Money

An Akan Highlife song from Ghana, popular in the 1970s. It is by the late, well-known singer Alex Konadu (1950-2011).

Death does not like money oo! Konadu ee!
We shall all enter a hole in the earth, this death hmm!..

The Drum-History of Mampon

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…

Is the chief greater than the hunter?

An Akan song from Ghana, sung by professional hunters. The song’s argument is that hunters, with all their skills and bravery, are greater than chiefs, who depend on hunters for their luxuries.

Is the chief greater than the hunter?
Arrogance! Hunter? Arrogance!…

Valiant Owusu

An Akan dirge from Ghana. Owusu was a Mass Education Officer, killed in a car accident in 1952. The dirge is sung by his former landlady, a trader called Koramma, who mourns him as if he were her brother.

Valiant Owusu,
The stranger on whom the citizen of the town depends,

The Warrior’s Homecoming

An Akan poem from Ghana, sung by women in praise of the returning warrior. The camel blanket and the sandals on which Agyei is described as treading are metaphors for the men who are carrying him in triumph on their shoulders.

He is coming, he is coming,
Treading along on camel blanket in triumph.

African Poems