Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What "Nana" Means In Akan Culture & The Use Of The Word In Jamaican Maroons & By African Americans

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post continues a pancocojams series that explores the meaning of certain Akan (Twi) names and other words that are used by people of the African Diaspora. This post focuses on the use of the Twi word "nana" and its derivative "nanny" by Jamaican Maroons and by African Americans.

Other posts in this series can be found by clicking on the tags "Akan culture" or "Akan Day Names".

The content of this post is presented for cultural and eytmological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the Akan people throughout the world. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, all those who are featured in these videos. And thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

[in] "the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast, Nana is a gender-neutral title representing the highest office in society. It is also a term used to denote Grandmother, Grandfather, Elderess, Elder, venerable Ancestress and venerable Ancestor."

"Nana is a Ghanaian title.

Amongst the Akan clans of Ghana, the word Nana generally denotes social eminence derived from either nobility or advanced age. It is most often used as a pre-nominal honorific by individuals who are entitled to it due to the former of the two ( E.g. kings and chieftains such as Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, the reigning Asantehene of Asanteman )."

Jamaican Maroons - Granny Nanny
"Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.

She was particularly important to them in the fierce fight with the British, during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Although she has been immortalised in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or “Granny Nanny”, as she was affectionately known) have also been documented.

Both legends and documents refer to her as having exceptional leadership qualities. She was a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes. Her influence over the Maroons was so strong, that it seemed to be supernatural and was said to be connected to her powers of obeah. She was particularly skilled in organising the guerilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them.

Her cleverness in planning guerilla warfare confused the British and their accounts of the fights reflect the surprise and fear which the Maroon traps caused among them"...
A video of a song that mentions "Granny Nanny" is given in Example #2 below.

"Queen Nanny or Nanny (c. 1685 – unknown, circa 1755), Jamaican National Hero,[1] was a well-known leader of the Jamaican Maroons in the eighteenth century. Much of what is known about Nanny comes from oral history as little textual evidence exists. However, historical documents refer to her as the "rebels (sic) old obeah woman," and they legally grant "Nanny and the people now residing with her and their heirs . . . a certain parcel of Land containing five hundred acres in the parish of Portland . . ." (quoted in Campbell 177, 175). Nanny Town was founded on this land.

"Nana" as a referent for a person's grandmother:
The word "nana" is sometimes used in the United States, including by African Americans, as a referent for a person's grandmother. However, that word may have come from multiple sources. My sense is that most African Americans or other Americans who used or use "nana" as a referent for "grandmother" aren't aware that that word has that meaning in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Be that as it may, I've included a video below [Video Example #3) of Sweet Honey In The Rock's song "No Mirrors In My Nana's House".

"Nana" as a title for an African American spiritual leader"
From;wap2 "Nana Dinizulu"
"In 1965, the late Nana Yao Opare Dinizulu I, whose research had revealed to him that his ancestors came from Ghana, traveled to the Akonedi Shrine in Ghana for an oracular consultation, which was done by Okomfohemmaa Nana Akua Oparebea's mother. Nana Dinizulu was directed to his ancestral home through divination. He was completely overwhelmed. He was initiated and upon his return brought to the USA, Nana Asuo Gyebi, Esi Ketewaa and Adade Kofi shrines. In 1967, he established the traditional African religious and cultural organization, Bosum Dzemawodzi in New York.

In 1971, the late Nana Dinizulu requested, received and established the Akonedi Shrine in the U.S.A. Nana Dinizulu was given the titles of Omanhene and Okomfohene of Akans in America, as he was the first to introduce Africans born in America (African Americans) to the Deities of Ghana, West Africa. He invited Okomfohemmaa Nana Akua Oparebea to visit the USA.

In 1971, Okomfohemma Nana Akua Oparebea accepted the invitation and traveled to America. Once here she established Nana Asuo Gyebi, Esi Ketewaa and Tegare shrines in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, California and Toronto, Canada. When returning to Ghana, she took young men and women to train at the Akonedi Shrine at Larteh . She taught Nana Dinizulu how to train Okomfo" (traditional Priests and Priestesses) to serve the Deities. Since that time, many other Shrines and Deities have been brought to America by other Akomfo who were trained in Larteh, at other Shrines in Ghana, and by accomplished Akomfo in the USA."...


oupipeestudios Uploaded on Apr 6, 2007

Ghana's great king visit to Atlanta [in 2004]

Example #2: Forward Forever United- Saluting Jamaica's National Heroes

Jamaican Sinting Published on Oct 15, 2012

Remember our Primary school song about the Jamaican National Heroes?...
The words to the Jamaican patriotic song "Forward Forever United" are given in the publisher's summary. The first verse is:
"Granny Nanny of Nanny Town
symbol of unity and strength
lighted the flame of freedom
in the hearts of earlier Jamaicans"

Example #3: No Mirrors In My Nana's House

tubelogin, Uploaded on Nov 18, 2009
Here's the first verse of that song by Y.M. Barnwell ©1992

"There were no mirrors in my Nana's house,
no mirrors in my Nana's house.
There were no mirrors in my Na's house,
no mirrors in my Nana's house.
And the beauty that I saw in everything
was in her eyes (like the rising of the sun)."
Click for a pancocojams post about that song.

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  1. In south American Suriname "winti" culture. The supreme god is referred to as "ananna keduamang keduapong"

  2. Hello, Unknown.

    Thanks for sharing that information about the name for the Supreme God in Suriname "Winti" culture.

    Here's a quote that I included in this pancocojams' post about that religion:

    "The majority of Africans shipped to Surinam between 1650 and 1800 came from the Akan-Fanti speaking regions (today’s Ghana) and the Ewe-Fon-Nago speaking areas (Togo, Benin, formerly Dahomey, and Western Nigeria) which together formed the greater Kwa-languages and culture zone. Also a considerable number came from the areas surrounding the estuary of the Congo River, namely the Loango (or Luwango) region belonging to the so-called Northwestern-Central Bantu culture zone."
    -end of quote...

    The name of the Supreme God in the Winti religion clearly points to the influence of Akan cultures.