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Puberty and Initiation Rites among the Akan People


Akan is a term employed in referring to Ghana's largest ethnic group. Represented as a percentage of the entire Ghanaian population, the Akan is approximately 49.1%. The Akan have inhabited close to 67% of the whole land in Ghana. They are mostly ...Read More


~Posted on Mar 2018

Puberty and Initiation Rites among the Akan People

Akan is a term employed in referring to Ghana's l...

Akan is a term employed in referring to Ghana's largest ethnic group. Represented as a percentage of the entire Ghanaian population, the Akan is approximately 49.1%. The Akan have inhabited close to 67% of the whole land in Ghana. They are mostly settled between the Guinea coast and the Black Volta. The Akan people exhibit vast homogeneity, culturally, and linguistically. Combined with the political authority the Akan people exercise over their neighbors, their unique culture is behind the extensive assimilation of the Akan people and their neighboring communities. The Akan is composed o the Adanse, Asanste, Akwamu, Akuapem, Twifu, Sefwi, Gomoa, Kwahu, Akyem, Bono, Assin, Fante, and Dankyira. Due to their diminishing attachment to the cultures of the Akan people, the Nzima and Aowin are considered to be half-baked Akans. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Anyi and Baule are considered to be part of the Akan community due to their strong cultural and historical ties (Wiredu & Gyekye, 1992).

 

            The first and one of the most important rites in the Akan community is the naming ceremony. This occurs a few days after the child has been born and marks the beginning of social life for that child. After this ceremony, the next most crucial rite of passage is the puberty rites.  Designed as a set of rituals, puberty rites are an essential tool of social status transformation for all the children in the Akan community. The Bragoro puberty rites of the Ashanti community and the Dipo puberty rites of the Krobo are the two most well-preserved nubility rites. Initiation rites for men are not as prominent as those for young women. There is a lot of secrecy attached to the initiation rites of men and are the reserves for some of the communities that come from the northern parts of Ghana (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 1996).   Puberty and initiation rites among the Akan people represent one of the most critical topics to both the Akan people and researchers outside the community. Among the Akan people, the various nubility rites represent an important aspect with regards to social life. Usually, the rite of passage lasts for a whole week, but preparations take place over three weeks in advance. The entire rite of passage is designed to ensure the girl is effective – and in accordance with cultural laws – transitioned from girlhood to womanhood. Until their initiation, girls in the Akan community are expected to remain virgins. Commonly referred to as Bragoro the nubility rites are vital as they act as a platform through which a girl is provided with the permission and rights to sex life and marriage. Other than this rite of passage, no other institution or occurrence within the community has the powers to provide a girl with the rights and permissions contained in the nubility rites. The entire course of the rite of passage is not only a proclamation but also an advertisement to the community as a whole that a girl is of age to get into marriage. Any girl who fails to preserve her virginity until the day she gets married is considered to be the source of a curse not only for her family but for the entire community at large. In the course of the ceremony, there are numerous gifts provided to the girl by her family and the community. These gifts range from money and clothes to decorations and suitcases. These gifts are supplied as an appreciation for maintaining one’s virginity until the day of the initiation (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 1996).

 

            To adequately understand the net worth of the nubility rites of passage presented in the Akan community, it is important to analyze the place and role of a woman within the Akan community. In the Akan culture, women are considered to be a symbol of purity, dignity, and beauty of society.  This is the main reason behind the ever-increasing investments geared towards ensuring women are guarded. Traditional rules and regulations have been presented as the most effective tool through which women in the Akan society are guarded against moral corruption. For the children, the character and most lasting impressions with regards to life are molded throughout the course of the early and formative years. These years are usually spent with the mothers as opposed to the fathers. This is one of the main reasons why Akan society is continuously investing in ensuring that the nature and level of motherhood within the community is maintained at high and effective standards in both the short and the long terms. Mothers who possess good morals and are well trained represent one of the most enormous wealth of the Akan community. These are the reasons behind the nature and level of prominence that is attached to the rites of passage through which girls are initiated into adulthood (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 2004).

 

            Young women in the Akan community that has had their first menstrual cycle are usually secluded from the rest of the community. This seclusion ensures that they are not in touch with the rest of the community for a period of between two to four weeks. During this period of isolation, the girls are given extensive tutoring on lessons ranging from opposite-sex interaction and birth control to sex during marriage and family nourishment. Dignity and womanhood grace are some of the important topics that feature throughout the course of this rite of passage. While in seclusion, women are taught about how they should not only invest in getting into a good marriage but also maintaining a good marriage and bringing the best out of it (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 2004).

 

            When the end of the seclusion period draws near, preparations for durbar begin. The durbar ceremony is not only attended by the authoritative figures of the community, but it also incorporates leaders from other communities. During this ceremony, the women come from the seclusion while scantily dressed, and men from their village and other neighboring communities flock to the ceremony to view and selected prospective wives. There are invocations that take place amidst the dancing and drumming designed to ensure all the participants are blessed with fertility and other blessings as well as remaining protected throughout the course of their motherhood. Among the Akan people, the spirit of Asase Yaa and Oynankopong Kwame are some of the common ancestors involved in the invocations (Snyper, 2003).

 

            According to the Akon traditional laws, women who have not undergone this rite of passage can not be allowed to enter into a marriage. Before this rite of passage, the virginity of a woman should remain assured. These laws are designed to ensure women grow up not only maintaining their purity, but also controlling their sexuality. These laws are so strict that women who get pregnant before this rite of passage or ruin their virginity not only condemn themselves but also the men involved. There are other rites involved in the cleansing and purification of the people who go against these rules and regulations before they can transition into marriage (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 2004).

 

            Conclusively, there are numerous elements of importance attached to the Akan cultural rites of passage. Through this rite of passage, the young girls involved are not only taught to be obedient to their parents, but also submissive to elements of authority in the community. This rite of passage has and still is, one of the most important tools through which purity is maintained and unwanted pregnancies in the community are prevented. This rite of passage is important is it ensures a girl is able to bring honor to herself, her family, her parents, and the greater community when she completes it. The gifts provided to the girl during and after the course of this rite of passage act as capital through which she begins and develops her adult life. Girls who have undergone this rite of passage are certified to be people of good moral, and this improves their chances of getting married and being associated with honorable events and institutions within the society. Priceless knowledge about womanhood is imparted on the girl throughout the course of this rite of passage, and this acts as the foundation through which she not only builds her adult life but also enhances the people in and around the life. The rite of passage is essential in teaching a girl on how she should relate with people from the same gender and the opposite sex (Nkansa-Kyeremateng, 1996).

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Puberty and Initiation Rites among the Akan People