Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Excerpts From R. S. Rattray's 1922 Book "Ashanti" & Other Quotes About Traditional Ghanaian (Asante) Religion

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides excerpts from the 1922 book Ashanti by R. S. Rattray and some other online articles about traditional Asante (Ashanti) religion.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, cultural, and religious purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

The excerpts from articles other than from Rattray's book are provided as an introduction to the information quoted from that book.

All of these excerpts are numbered for referencing purposes only.

This post does not purport to provide comprehensive information about traditional Asante religion.

Excerpt #1
"Ashanti, (rightly Asante) … are a nation and ethnic group native to the Ashanti Region located centrally on the Ashantiland Peninsula.

The Asante people speak the Asante dialect of Twi. The language is spoken by over nine million ethnic Asante people as a first or second language.[1][2] The word Ashanti is an English language misnomer. Asante literally means "because of wars".[3] The wealthy gold-rich Asante people developed a large and influential empire; the Ashanti Empire along the Lake Volta and Gulf of Guinea."...

Excerpt #2
Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology
Volume 11 (2006)
The Drumming of Traditional Ashanti Healing Ceremonies

By Benjamin Wilson - Brigham Young University
“Little, if any, research has been published on the music of traditional healing ceremonies of the Ashanti people of Ghana, West Africa. In an attempt to lay the groundwork for further research on Ashanti shrine music, I conducted a field study from May to August of 2004 in the district of Ashanti-Mampong in central Ghana. This paper discusses specific purposes of Ashanti shrine drumming and explores some of the specific rhythms that are typically played at shrines near the town of Ashanti-Mampong.
Ashanti Religious Ideology

In order to understand the role of Ashanti shrine music in healing, one must first have an understanding of basic Ashanti religious ideology.

Like people of Western religions, the Ashanti believe in one all-powerful, all-knowing god who created all things (Bannerman-Richter 1982). According to Ashanti beliefs, however, this god, known as Onyame, has withdrawn himself from the world and now has no direct contact with humans (Rattray 1923).

Just below Onyame in rank is a large group of lesser gods who have contact with both Onyame and man. These gods, known as abosom, are similar to humans in that they have a variety of interests and personalities. Unlike humans, however, the abosom have special knowledge and power in the spiritual realm, where they live (Rattray 1923). Along with their home in the spiritual world, abosom are usually associated with a physical place or object (such as a village or a river) which could be considered their earthly dwelling. Shrines are often built at locations near these abosom dwellings to provide a way for humans to contact the abosom (Bannerman-Richter 1982).

The human medium who has connection with both the abosom and the physical world is the okomfo – the Ashanti traditional healer (Rattray 1927). An okomfo typically lives at or near a shrine dedicated to a particular obosom (singular of abosom) or group of abosom. Ceremonies are held regularly at these shrines, where an okomfo becomes possessed by an obosom and, acting as the obosom, consults with people about how to solve problems they are facing (Twumasi 1972).

Traditionally, Ashanti people believe that many problems, whether spiritual, social, or physical, have spiritual roots. For example, if an Ashanti person fell sick unexpectedly, he or she would probably not attribute the illness to any type of biomedical problem. Rather, he or she would probably feel that the illness had a spiritual cause, like a curse from a relative or a punishment from the gods for misconduct (Twumasi 1975). To the Ashanti, even financial problems, like bad luck in business, often have spiritual causes (Bannerman-Richter 1982). Because of this belief, the Ashanti will often turn to the abosom, rather than a psychologist or medical doctor, for solutions to their problems (Twumasi 1975).

With this basic background about Ashanti religious ideology, one can better understand the proceedings of a typical Ashanti shrine ceremony.”...

Excerpt #3
Pancocojams Editor's Note: Excerpts from R. S. Rattray's book are given in numerical order and are presented "as is".

Ashanti, by R. S. Rattray
originally published in 1922, reprinted in 1969 by Oxford University Press

[page] 141
..."Again, there is nothing really incongruous of new in finding a belief in a Supreme Being side by side with 'multitudes of their Idol gods" (1)

As will be seen presently, every Ashanti temple is a pantheon in which repose the shrines of the gods, but the power or spirit, that on occasions enters into these shrines, is directly or indirectly derived from the one God of the Sky, whose intermediaries they are. Hence we have in Ashanti exactly that 'mixed religion' which we find among the Israelites of old. They worshipped Jehovah, but they worshipped other gods as well. It was only later after the reign of Solomon, when the Jews became a civilized people and a literary clas arose, that Jehovah assumed a purer form and was recognized as the one and only God. The whole subject is one of absorbing interest; as the design of this volume is not, however, to dogmatize or theorise, but merely to state facts, I must pass on to these.

From the very fact that 'Nyame, the Sky God, is considered to remote to be concerned very directly in person with the affairs of man, and has delegated His powers to His lieutenants, the abosom, or lesser gods, it would perhaps be natural to expect that His worship, sacrifice, priesthood, and temples

[page] 142
should be lacking, which is the view taken by Ellis in the extract just quoted. But it is hardly an exaggeration to say that every compound in Ashanti contains an altar to the Sky God, in the shape of a forked branch cut from a certain tree (Fig. 52) which the Ashanti call 'Nyame dua, lit. God's tree (1).
Between the branches, which are cut short, is placed a basin, or perhaps a pot, and in this receptacle is generally to be found (beside the offering) a neolithic celt ('Nyame akuma, God's axe).

These altars to the Sky God, together with the figure of the man making the offering, are on of the constantly recurring designs on ancient Ashanti weights (see Gig. 126, no. 10). Besides these rude altars, are to be found, hidden away in remote corners of the older palaces, beautifully designed temples to the Sky God. One such is shown in the frontispiece of this volume, with an altar and one of the priest beside it.

Moreover, Ashanti proverbs abound in references and allusions to the Supreme Being. Here are a few chosen at random:

Asase terew, na Onyame ne panyin.
Of all the wide earth, the Supreme Being is the elder.

Wope aka asem akyere Onyankopon a, ka kyere mframa.
If you wish to tell anything to the Supreme Being, tell it to the winds.

Me a meda anyannya menhu Ibtabkopon na wo a wubutuw ho.
I who am lying sprawling on my back do not see the Supreme Being, how do you expect to who are sprawling there on your belly?
(This proverb is the motif of the Ashanti weight shown in Fig. 125, no. 2.)

Onyame na wo yare a, oma wo aduru
If God gave you sickness he also gave you medicine.

Thee are many more which space forbids me to quote, but they may be found in my Ashanti Proverbs, The drum language and the set pieces known to every drummer in Ashanti are full of allusions to the Supreme Being.

These constant references, in their proverbs, in this ancient

[page] 143

and now almost forgotten art of metal-casting, in the records of their drum language, and in ancient architecture, are proof if further proof is necessary, that here is no new and adopted exotic thought.

It will be seen later, when the shrines of the gods come to be described, that the dominant power in these is nearly always derived from some object taken from water, and that certain waters themselves are looked upon as holy"...
Note (1) p. 141: "Bosman"
[Pancocojams Editor: "multitude of their Idol gods" is Rattray quoting 17th century Dutch anthropologist Bosman.

Note (1) p. 142 "The botanical name of which is Alstonia Congensis

[page] 143

...Quite apart from these ceremonial occasions, I do not suppose that a day passes among any of the old folk upon which some little offering is not cast upon the roof of the hut or placed on the altar beside the door to 'the great God of the Sky' who is 'of all the earth, the King and Elder'.

I shall presently proceed to describe rites in connexxion with the lesser, but for all practical purposes, really, the far more important, gods. There power emanates from various sources, the chief of which is from the great spirit of the one God, graciously delegated by Him, that the affairs of mankind may have attention given to them.

[page] 145


Genealogy if the gods.
There is known, from one end of Ashanti to the other, a popular myth, which I shall here only outline briefly; it gives in simple and childish form the very basis of Ashanti theological beliefs. This myth recounts how 'Nyame -the Sky God- had various sons of whom one in particular was a bayeyere (favorite song). 'Nyame decided to send these children of hid down to the earth in order that they might

[page] 146

receive benefits from, and confer them upon mankind. All these sons born the names of what are now rivers and lakes.

Tano (the great river of that name).
Bosomtwe (the great lake near Coomassie).
Bea ( a river).
Opo (the sea).

and every other river or water of any importance. Thus in diagrammatic form we have:
[Diagram showing The Supreme Being (Onyame or Onyankopon) and the gods named above under that Supreme Deity]

The tributaries of these again are 'their children'.

In Ashanti, any water that dries up in the hot season is known by the title of a 'dan' Nyame water (a rely-upon-God water).

Returning to our myth, I need not go into the while story of how, owing to the machinations of the goat (an animal hateful to this god and taboo to his priests), the final resting -place of all the waters was not as really intended by 'Nyame. What has been said is sufficient to show that waters in Ashanti, some in a greater, others in a lesser degree, are all looked upon as containing the power or spirit of the divine Creator, and thus as being a great life-giving force. 'As a woman gives birth to a child, so may water to a god', once said a priest to me.

page 183
Note (1) On Kwakuo, i.e. Kwa-Wednesday and upon Thurday, Ta Kora's temple is closed and no one has access to it. These days are bad for the god. The oath of Ta Kora is kwakuo.

[page] 199
"... We have been introduced to Ta Kora literally at his fountain head, i.e. the source of the great river, in his rock, and at his man-made and man -consecrated shrine. We have already heard of many of 'his children' and 'his grandchildren'. Their number is legion and there seems no limit set upon them, provide priests be found to interpret and intercept his spirit. We not only find offshots of Tano in villages remote from that water, but every ford and important crossing of the river seems to possess a local emanation of his spirit"...
Pancocojams Editor: "Ta Kora" is another name for "Tano", the most important abosom. "Ta" is a contraction of "Tano". Many abosom have "Ta" before their name, as shown in this next excerpt in this post from Rattray's book:

[page] 206
"The following is a translation of two songs that were song while the work was in progress. Lack of space prevents me from giving these and others, to be noted later in the original. (1)

Little helpers to call the spirit, let them come;
Little spirits, if they have gone to eat, let them come.
They who are the grandchildren of the priest Anotchi. (2)

I have water, I have water,
I come from the Tano river.
Little spirits from Lake Bosomtwe, I have water,
Otwedodo, son of Botsomtwe, I have water,
I come from the Tano river.
I am he who was created son of God.

Besides Konkroma, the chief of the gods at Ejura, the following gods were attending the ceremony. All were 'sons' of the great Tano already described:
Ta Kwame
Ta Konkroma Kuma
Ta Asubonten (a son of the Asubonten whose rites have already been described).
Ta Konkroma Kuma II.
Ta Kojo
Ta Bonia
Ta Kwesi.
Ta Amoa".

Note (1) These songs were later sung into a phonograph.

(2). Anotchi was the famous priest who lived in the reign of Osai Tutu and who by his magical powers is said to have brought the Golden Stool down from the skies. See Chap. XXIII
The excerpt from page 206 is from the chapter "The Afahye Ceremony". The work referred to "washing down the shrine of Konkroma and those of lesser gods" with fresh whitewash and replastering the floors. [page 205]

[page] 216
"We have seen that the 'Golden Stool" was never allowed to come in direct contact with the Earth-it must be placed upon an elephant's skin. The feet of the King of Ashanti were likewise never to touch the ground (1), 'lest a great famine should come to the nation'. Hence he always was followed about by a servant bearing a spare pair of sandals, lest the band across the instep of those he was wearing broke; and when he slipped his sandals from his feet at the Adae ceremony, when propitiating his ancestral ghosts, he stood upon his sandals so that his feet should not touch the ground.

It is not, however the Sky and the Earth deities who in Ashanti are held to the prime factors in shaping and influencing the actions and destinies of mankind. These great unseen powers are generally too remote or perhaps too mighty to be concerned very intimately with the individual clan, much less with the individual member of that clan, and the predominant influences in the Ashanti religion are neither ‘Saturday Sky god’* nor ‘Thursday Earth goddess’**, nor even the hundreds of god (abosom), with which it is true the land is filled, but are the samanfo, the spirits of the departed forbears of the clan.

They are the real landowners. who though long departed, still continue to take a lively interest in the land from which they had their origin or which they once owned."...

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