- Local Knowledge: An Akuapem Twi History of Asante
In 2003 Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I’s eighty-nine page manuscript ‘The History of Ashanti Kings and the whole country itself’ of 1907 was published in an annotated scholarly edition alongside a selection of allied texts.1 The same publisher is to produce a related volume containing the four hundred and fifty pages of Asantehene Osei Agyeman Prempeh II’s ‘History of Ashanti’ written in the 1940s (and edited by myself). Both of these texts are written in English. However, the huge range of sources on the Asante past recorded in Akan Twi have yet to receive equal attention and treatment. This short paper introduces and contextualises one source of this kind that was researched in Asante between 1902–1910 and finished in written form in Akan Twi in 1915.2
The Akuapem (Akwapim) kingdom is located less than thirty miles northeast of Ghana’s capital at Accra. It has always been and remains a small [End Page 169] polity. It comprises only seventeen historic towns scattered among hills on two parallel ridges about fifteen hundred feet above sea level. There are more towns today, many created by the cocoa economy of the early twentieth century, but Akuapem remains a compact entity. It is a Twi-speaking Akan kingdom, but an unusual one in that it is ethnically diverse.
Patrilineal Guan-speaking farmers settled on the Akuapem ridges in the early decades of the seventeenth century. They were oppressed by the matrilineal Twi-speaking Akan of the nearby Akwamu kingdom. To end this situation the Guan recruited other Akan Twi speakers as allies. These were military adventurers from the Akyem Abuakwa polity to the west. The Akyem incomers succeeded against the Akwamu but stayed on to establish their own conquest dynasty in 1733.3
The consequence was a kingdom ruled from its capital at Akuropon (Akropong) by a king or omanhene supported by titled office holders of the standard Akan kind. Akuropon and one other town were peopled by Akyem Abuakwa incomers. Three other towns were populated by resident Akwamu. The remaining Akuapem towns were home to the descendants of the original Guan settlers, many of whom came to be bilingual in Twi.
Guan-speaking indigenes and remnant Akwamu formed a subordinated majority, uneasily and often resentfully incorporated into the new political order. Thus the seven Kyerepon Guan towns in north Akuapem were organised into the ‘right wing’ or nifa in the new Akan structural dispensation. Two of these towns, the divisional capital at Adukrom and neighbouring Awukugua, play a part in the story set out below.
Akuapem is not like Asante, the optimally developed Akan state. It lacks gold or any other significant natural resource. In particular good farmland is scarce among the hill slopes and ridge scarps. Famously, Akuapem success in the colonial cocoa economy was achieved through migration to cultivable land in other parts of the Gold Coast. Asante was a centrally controlled and monitored polity dedicated to the accumulation of wealth for its king, chiefs and their chosen clients. Chiefship in Akuapem had no such power. Ruling over an ethnically heterogeneous, quarrelsome and often violently divided population, Akuropon never commanded the resource base needed to stamp its authority on society. Among the Akan more generally the kingdom is infamous for its dynastic conflicts, stool disputes and periodic outbreaks of communal disorder. [End Page 170]
The best informed commentator on Akuapem has described its weak chiefship order as being predatory upon society and geared to exploiting division and despair amongst its own people to sustain itself. The legacy of this today is that Akuapem chiefship is depleted not only of substance but also of resonance and relevance in the daily lives of its subjects who are now Ghanaian citizens. Symptomatic of this state of affairs is the increasing trend for the ritual props of Akan chiefship to fall into disuse and forgetting. What it might mean or purport to be Akuapem today is a difficult question and perhaps one that is increasingly otiose.4
Chiefship however is only one lens that affords a view of past and present. Consider the historic place of the...