Edited by Azizi Powell
In the United States and other Western cultures, crows and vultures are rarely considered positive symbols. However, in some African nations and elsewhere in the world vultures had and/or still have spiritual and/or positive connotations.
This is Part I of a three part series on spiritual and/or positive symbolism of vultures or crows in certain traditional African cultures. Part I provides some information about the crow totem in Akan culture (Ghana, Ivory Coast)
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/03/spiritual-symbolism-of-vultures-in.html for Part II of this post. Part II provides some information about the spiritual significance of vultures in traditional Yoruba culture and traditional Edo culture (Nigeria).
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/03/symbolism-of-vultures-in-egyptian.html for Part III of this series. Part III provides some information about the spiritual significance of vultures in traditional Egyptian culture.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/03/positive-connotations-of-crows-vultures.html for a related post. I believe that it's likely that 18th century and 19th century representations of buzzards or crows in Jamaica and among Black Americans (in the United States) were greatly influenced by the West African positive/spiritual connotations of vultures & crows.
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Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: WHAT TOTEMS MEAN IN GHANAIAN CULTURE
From http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/features/14916-totems-are-they-of-significance.html Totems: Are they of significance? By: Daily Graphic / Ghana, Monday, 30 December 2013 11:05
"What comes to your mind when somebody asks you which clan you are from? “Ye gye wo sen?” the Twi-speaking would ask. I know you are now responding to the greeting or mentioning your clan or thinking about it.
“I feel very proud when I see my totem which is the crow, but I don’t understand its meaning,” Kwamena said laughing, when I asked him about how he sees the usefulness of totems as family and clan symbols.
Most of the people I interacted with were clueless about the meaning and how to respond to traditional family and clan greetings...
Ghana as a country is not only unique with its people, geographical location, food, skin type, marriage, funerals, naming ceremonies, chieftaincy, hospitality, way of dressing, language but most importantly, its unparalleled family system distinguishes it from the rest of Africa and the world at large.
Oyoko, Ekuona (Kona), Bretuo ne Tena (Twidan), Agona Abusua (Eguana in Fante), Asenie Abusua (Atwafo), Asakyiri Abusua (Anona) and Oyokuo (Yokofo or Dehyena) are all Akan clans or families in Ghana.
These clans are represented with totems known in the Akan language as “akyenaboa”.
Cultural diversity in Ghana cannot be over-emphasised. Over the years, Ghanaians have continued to hold on to the traditions handed over to them by their ancestors.
It is therefore not surprising that Ghana has become the pinnacle of the African continent in many aspects due to its monumental cultural heritage. Many people in the diaspora prefer coming to the country to experience what the African culture is all about.
Totems which are artistically designed by experienced wood carvers and goldsmiths have several implications on one’s ethnic identity.
...the Ebusuapanyin of the Omanhen of Mankessim, Kwame Ababio, explained the idea behind the use of the totems and its significance in Ghanaian societies. Ebusuapanyin Ababio said totems could be classified into two main categories – the family totem and the town or king’s totem. According to him, the purpose of the family totem is for identification, adding that the town totems are proverbial symbols which carry a hidden message, doctrine or powers of a king or the traditional area. In his explanation, Ebusuapanyin Ababio cited an example where a king in the Central Region used a totem that nearly brought a war between two communities because of the meaning of the totem. In his response to the significance of the totems, he said the totems were made out of the people’s past history, adding that Mankessim as a town has even made a totem of the three leaders who led the Fantes to their present settlement as a symbol of honour. As to whether the use of totems is still useful in the current generation, Ebusuapanyin Ababio said the use of totems would forever continue to be important so far as culture plays an integral role in Ghanaian society."
UPDATE March 17, 2016:
Quote from Symbolizing the Past: Reading Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust, & Eve's Bayou by Sandra M. Grayson (University Press of America, 2000), Page 36 [Google books]
"Among the Akan, the scarab and the vulture symbolize self-begetting, self-creation, and self-birth. An Akan maxim says of Odomankoma [the infinite, the interminable, absolute being], ‘The animal that symbolizes Odomankoma who created the world is the vulture.’ “Odomankoma a oboadee ne kyeneboa ne opete. (Meyerowitz . The Divine Kingship in Ghana and Ancient Egypt. See also Danquan, The Akan Doctrine of God"
Note from that book: 7. "Opete is the Akan word for vulture"
EXCERPT ABOUT THE AKAN ASONA TOTEM
From http://www.theakan.com/Akan-Asona-Avian-Feline-Reptile.html Akan-Asona Avian-Feline associations and the Asona Red Snake, April 2010
"This article will focus on the Akan-Asona clan bird, feline and reptile totems.
Although it has already been mentioned that the crow is one of the main 'tweneboa' (Akan/Twi word for 'totem' animal) of the Asona (The Akan Book chapter four), there is another important 'tweneboa' of the Asona clan, which is actually a 'negative totem' or one that is dreaded by the Akan people of the Asona clan. It is called the 'Asonawɔ', the 'red snake' of the Asona. There are at least two versions of the story of how this red snake became a 'dreaded totem' of the Asona clan of the Akan people. The first version comes from an Akan-Asante clan linguist called 'Okyeame Boateng' from Ejisu in the Asante region of present-day Ghana. This account was obtained by Gerard Pescheux in 1996 and was written in his book Le Royaume Asante (page 275 of chapter 6, "Les Clans Matrilineaires: Mmusua Kεse"). Below is the English translation:
"The great ancestor of Asona, Aso Boada, retained a large quantity of gold dust in a copper container. [On one occasion when she went] to withdraw a certain amount, she found a red snake (Asonawɔ) had placed itself around the container, preventing anyone from obtaining the gold. One day a crow arrived, grabbed the snake, and killed it. In remembrance of this service, the crow became the 'tweneboa' (totem animal) of this clan [Asona] and the red snake the clan taboo. If a clan member sees an Asonawɔ, it is considered bad omen such as the announcement of the impending death of a member of this clan"
In this story, obtained from Okyeame Boateng of Ejisu, we see a deep connection to the idea of Avian influence trumping reptilian influence. This can also be seen in the Akan Adinkra symbol 'Anoma-ne-ɔwɔ', which I wrote about in February 2010 in the article "Avian-Reptilian symbolism in Akan and other African Art and Spirituality". In this article, one sees a bird (a crow) "eating a serpent". Some more dots can be connected from this concept/glyph.
The second story concerning the 'Asonawɔ tweneboa' can be found in Anthony Ephirim-Donkor's book African Spirituality: On becoming ancestors (1997, p. 31) and it goes as follows:
"...One day the archetypical community discovered a pot full of gold, but coiled around the pot was a snake. Every one of the matrilineal families was afraid to retrieve the gold. But Asona [i.e. same as Aso Boadi of the first account] made a decision to retrieve the gold, telling her brother that she would rather retrieve the gold for her children and be bitten, than bequeath nothing to them at her old age. True, she was bitten and afterwards died, but not until she brought the gold to her children. Hence it is said of the Asona Ebusua [Asona clan] that they hustle for a cause [i.e. the proverb/saying "Asona, wɔ nnpir kwa!...which means "Asona clan members don't hustle for nothing!]"
One interpretation of these two versions of the same story is that this feline-avian clan (leopard, bush cat, crow and vulture totems) , the Akan-Asona, "slept with the devil" (Sirian-Reptilian Annunaki) in order to obtain "the gold" (i.e. knowledge). A similar account is given in the Christian bible of how Eve the wife of Adam was deceived by 'the serpent'. The serpent being referred to here is of course Ea/Enki and his bunch of Sirian-Reptilians who created the 'snake brotherhoods' in various parts of the world from since a long time ago.
Below is an account from chapter 6 ("Les Clans Matrilineaires: Mmusua Kεse") of Gerard Pescheux's book Le Royaume Asante which pertains to the Asona clan of the Akan people:
[Kokobiante = Ku-ku-bia-nte, similar to Koroma-nte]
The home of the great clan of Asona
The people of Kuntunkununku
[ku-ntu-nku-nu-nku-- Bantu-Akan bird tribe]
They are the many
Lineage of heaven's god
That feed on the meat supplied
By the white vulture
[link to Sirian bird tribe]
The white-crested raven
[Another bird tribe link]
That says nothing disturbs him
Or else he would not be
Arrayed in white
Mourning his deceased mother
[Reference to two versions of story above about Asona/Aso Boadi]
Kokobiante is his domain
Asona! Horde Irrepressible!
Legions who never desert their cities
Red terrific serpent
[Asonawɔ tweneboa. See chief's chair in photo below]
Completely the queen's progeny
[Revelation! Avian-Reptile matrilineal culture]
Lineage of heaven's god
Before who no battalions stand
[See the photo on this page]
Feeding on the meat of his compeers
Oh the glittering beautiful crow!
With the forbidden flesh-not-edible
My forefathers come from
The great street in Akyem Abuakwa Kyebi
[Head of Asona clan, in Okyeman. See photo of chief, below]
My people are noble
And live in affluence
Grandfather of Nana Wiafe Akenten
Innumerable as the sea sand
My symbol is the red snake
Indeed, I am wonderful!"
This concludes Part I of this series.
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