African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Ashanti


A modern poem in the traditional manner of a praise for one’s clan, sent to us by Adjei Agyei-Baah. Here the history of the Ashanti people is celebrated with reference to the richness of their land, their gods, and their traditional rulers.

The edenic garden on a fertile land of gold

The Otumfuo of the Ashantis

A poem sent to us by Adjei Agyei-Baah on the theme of the Ashanti royal house. The Ashanti people live within a wealthy, gold-rich region of Ghana. Otumfuo is an honourary title bestowed upon Ashanti rulers when they ascend the throne. The Ashanti Empire was officially established in 1701 by the Ashanti King Osei Tutu and his adviser and High Priest, Okomfo Anokye.

The Golden Stool (Ashanti-Twi: Sika ‘dwa) is the royal throne of the Ashanti king, and is also believed to house the spirit of the Ashanti nation. According to the legends of the oral tradition, the Golden Stool descended from heaven and into the lap of Okomfo Anokye when the Ashanti army defeated their rivals, the Denkyira, in 1701. The entire surface of the Golden Stool is inlaid with gold and hung with bells to warn the king of dangers.

In 1863 the British army attacked the Ashanti kingdom to take control of the Gold Coast. Six hundred troops massed on the border of the Ashanti kingdom during the dry season, but left it too late to launch their invasion. When the rain season began the troops rapidly came down with malaria and dysentery and eventually abandoned their supplies and retreated without a shot being fired. This led the then Ashanti King, Asantehene Kwaku Dua, to remark “The white man brings his cannon to the bush, but the bush is stronger than the cannon”.

He who knows not the Otumfuo
Let me present him…

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!..

The Adae Kese Festival

This is held annually in Kumasi as the culmination of the Ashante year, and draws a vast audience. The burial grounds of chiefs are swept clean along with family houses, and a sheep is sacrificed to the Golden Stool, the Ashante royal throne. Among other ceremonies, the paramount ruler is carried in procession through the streets of Kumasi. While the crowds are waiting for him to appear, the following commentary is broadcast on the talking drums.

Oh, Divine Drummer,
I am scarcely awake and have risen up…

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…

Poor Fowl

A song of the Ashanti people from Ghana, humorously pretending to sympathise with the poor chicken which is always used in sacrifices.

Fowl, condolences, poor, poor, poor fowl;
Fowl, condolences, poor, poor, poor fowl…

The Path and the River

An Ashanti poem from Ghana, an extract from a drum poem in praise of the river God Tano, addressed as “Kokon Tano” and “Birefia Tano” (see also Drum Address To The Earth Spirit).

The path has crossed the river,
The river has crossed the path…

Drum Address to the Earth Spirit

An Ashanti drum poem from Ghana. The poem is praising the Earth which supports us in life and receives us in death.

Earth, condolences,
Earth, condolences…

African Poems