THE AKANS: Birth of Two Kingdoms (Part One – Fa-atsewfo)
Through a historical sketch that depicts the traditional practices and beliefs of the Akan speaking people of modern Ghana, the play recounts the migration of the Akans from a geographical area of the Sahel region in the Sahara Desert to Krako, present day Techiman, where they founded the Bonoman Kingdom.
Having settled at Krako for over three centuries, a dispute arose over the rightful owner of a black royal stool called “Kasagua”, which embodied the spirits of their ancestors. The dispute caused a break away in 1400 AD that resulted in two major speaking dialects, namely Fante and Asante; which have their roots in the first tonal language spoken by the Akan people called Twi. It led to the formation of the present day Fante and Asante Kingdoms of Ghana.
‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ is a full-length play in three Acts, and has a large cast which includes war lords, armed warriors, royal court, executioners, towns people and gong-gong beater. The play is divided into various scene lengths; which number six for each of the three Acts.
The main setting of the play is at a historical place called Sahel, a region in the Sahara Desert of Africa. The play has sub settings of other places such as Nubia, present day Sudan; Kong, a location in the old Ghana Empire; and Krako, present day Techiman in modern Ghana.
Historically, the play recounts the migration of the Akan people of the present-day Ghana from a geographical area of the Sahel region in the Sahara Desert of Africa to present day Techiman in modern Ghana where they founded the Bonoman Kingdom.
Having settled finally at Techiman, a dispute arose among the Akan people over the rightful owner of a black royal stool they had in their possession called “Kasagua” which embodied the spirits of their ancestors. This dispute led to a break away that resulted in two major speaking dialects, namely Fante and Asante; which have their roots in the first tonal language spoken by the Akan people called Twi.
‘The Akans: Birth of two kingdoms’ has a simple plot that unfolds gradually and rises to a crisis, a climax and finally a resolution. With a simple style of presentation of incidents of historical significance which provokes much interest to the audience,
The playwright, Mrs Hajara Lydia Daniel, uses simple language to present a credible historical account of the origins of the Akan speaking people of Ghana today who had at one time been one united people identified with one kingdom, one destiny; but by virtue of subsequent events in the course of their journey of migration from their original home in Sahel they are now a people in modern Ghana in the 21st Century speaking different dialects of their original language Twi such as Fante, Asante, Akuapim, Larteh and Akyem.
Evaluating ‘The Akans: Birth of two Kingdoms’ from the perspectives of eco-criticism and relativism, I believe Mrs Daniel has a valid theme and message for her audience. This is based on the fact that ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’, has educative and historical importance, specifically for the Akan people of modern Ghana. And for that matter, people of modern Ghana, Akans in various parts of Africa; and the world at large.
The greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare, was an Englishman; and he wrote his evergreen plays numbering thirty-eight in the English language, thus projecting the English culture of the Elizabethan period of sixteenth century dramatic literature to the English people and the world at large.
Literature is basically the reflection of people’s culture; and culture is simply defined as the sum-total way of life of a people – the language they speak, the food they eat, their religious beliefs, their clothing, their music, dance etc. Culture brings about enlightenment and development in the lives of a people.
The ancient Greeks achieved their highest level of enlightenment and development in the 5th century B.C. during the reign of King Pericles. This was the Golden Age of ancient Greece’s evolution and development as a group of people. In this vein, it can be said that a people’s enlightenment and development invariably depend on their cultural practices. One can cite the Roman Empire, the British Empire etc.; and in our present 21st century, China’s high level of development and achievement as the result of Chinese cultural evolution and development as culture which is dynamic in nature but not stagnant.
The end-result of a culture is to bring about enlightenment and development and for that matter, knowledge. Matthew Arnold, a renowned English critic who lived during the nineteenth century stated the following: ‘Criticism is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best thought and knowledge in the world’. It is indisputable that knowledge is derived from culture, as the culture of a people embodies their aspirations and development directions in all fields of human endeavour.
‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ is indeed projecting the cultural practices of modern Akan speaking people of Ghana, who have evolved and advanced their culture up to the present day, since their settlement at Techiman in modern Ghana from their migration from the Sahel region of the Sahara Desert. The play projects a historical past culture which has gone through refinement and modernisation to suit the present time among the Akan speaking people of modern Ghana; and in this situation, the play can be described as didactic in the context of Plutonian Philosophy of creative arts such as literature in the case of ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’.
The 21st century is characterised with unprecedented achievements of man in science, arts and technology, which has raised man to incredible heights of knowledge and achievements that has enhanced the quality of living standards of man. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, thought that artistic works should project moralities which should lead to the creation of a healthy humane and just society. In the long run, the moralistic thought of Plato will ultimately lead to enlightenment; and consequently bring about total development in all spheres of human endeavour.
The present Ghanaian scene of artistic works and stage performance had experienced dearth since the time of theatre vibrancy coming from the works of playwrights like Asiedu Yirenkyi, Mohammed Ben Abdallah, Efua Sutherland, Bill Marshall, Ama Ata Aidoo etc. in the era between 1970’s and 1990’s. Undoubtedly, ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’, coming from an emerging playwright on the Ghanaian theatrical scene today will revamp and rekindle the Ghanaian theatrical scene and make it bounce back to life. Certainly, Ghanaian theatre enthusiasts who had for some time now been thirsting for play performances will indeed appreciate the performance of ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’.
‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ opens with a story teller who gives a concise account of the Akan people, citing their journey from Sahel in the Sahara Desert of Africa to Bonoman, the present day Techiman in the Brong Ahafo region of modern Ghana.
Act I, Scene 2, is heavily tensed and spellbound. The three mighty Warlords, Obrumankoma, Ɔdapagyan and Ɔson appear on stage in war clothes. Ɔson is clutching a stool with blood-stained hands. Obrumankoma declares angrily, ‘Gods of our ancestors! We have taken back what rightly belongs to us! It is time to leave! Time to break away!’ The dispute was about the lawful ownership of the sacred black royal stool, the talking stool, known as “Kasagua”, believed to have been taken from the ancient Ghana Empire following its defeat in 1076 AD. This scene is significant as it tells what caused the hitherto one strong, united, kingdom of the Akan people to break into two kingdoms.
Act I, Scene 3 and 4 exhibit the scenes of separation among the Akans as one group. The group referred to as Fa-atsewfo (those who broke away) begin their journey Southwards, whilst the Aso-antsefo (those who refused to listen) remain at Krako, modern day Techiman.
Act I, Scene 5 and 6 shows how the breakaway group, Fa-atsewfo, cross the River Pra with the help of the talking stool “Kasagua” and the spirits of their ancestors. This miracle happened at the invocation by Kɔmfo Amona, the traditional priestess of the Fa-atsewfo. After following the path of the Ɔkye river they finally arrived at Kwaaman. Kɔmfo Amona, in the presence of a ceremonial gathering involving Ɔson and the Asafo, traditionally and characteristically invokes the gods and spirits of her ancestors with the following speech: “Tell our people! Tell them! Our journey has ended. This place – the very ground on which we stand – will be our final destination. The black royal stool, our sacred stool, seat of our ancestors from the Ghana Empire, our talking stool has guided us here. You who cannot touch the ground; your job is done. You deserve a rest!’
Act II, Scene 2 and 3 presents the daily life style of the Fa-atsewfo group of the Akans and their interaction with the original settlers, the Etsi. The scenes portray the traditional customs and values that characterise communal life. Through crisp dialogue characters interact with each other.
In Act III, Scene 1, a deadly combat ensues between the Fa-atsewfo military group (Asafo) led by Ɔson and the giant leader of the Etsi, Akraman, and his troops. Ɔson appears with blood dripping from his hands as he waves the decapitated head of Akraman in the air. Kɔmfo Amona plants Ɔson’s blood-stained spear in the ground and declares: “Our victory over Akraman and his troops is marked by this spear! This place; the very ground on which we stand, will be known as Akyerem # This spear can never be removed by mortal hands! This will be sacred ground. All our important discussions will be held here. (Looks to the sky.) The gods have spoken!” The Asafo chant:
Obrumankoma! Obrumankoma! Obrumankomaee!
Obrumankoma! Obrumankoma! Obrumankomaee!
Ɔson ne akyir nye abowa!
In brief, ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ proceeds steadily by Acts and Scenes to recount the Fa-atsewfo way of life as a group of people; and these Acts and Scenes provide spectacles and scenes that go a long way to tell about how the various divisions of the Fa-atsewfo, such as Ekumfi, Mankessim etc. came about. The play also hints about the group of the Akan people who remained at Techiman, and their divisions such as Asante, Brong etc.
The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ deeply delves into the history of the Akan people, making it possible for one to have adequate knowledge of the Akan people of modern Ghana, to understand and to appreciate how the Akans of today live their lives. In my opinion, ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’ is a great play that will make an impact on the Ghanaian theatrical scene. It is a play that will go a long way to enhance the progress and development of Ghana and for that matter, Africa at large, because it projects a culture, which is prerequisite to knowledge and enlightenment for any group of people anywhere in the world who are determined to achieve greatness in their lives.
Finally, ‘The Akans: Birth of Two Kingdoms’, brings to the fore, the traditional cultural practices and beliefs of the Akan people of modern Ghana through a historical sketch that chronologically tells about the people called Akans in modern Ghana. Thus, the play gives a thought provoking account which in fact is highly interesting; and will be educative to many an audience when directed and put on stage anywhere.
The music, dance, dialogue, as well the spectacles which characterize the various scenes in the play greatly reinforce its message and makes it come alive in the theatrical outlook. The play easily lends itself to meaning, relevance and appeal in its entire structure; and these values make it highly appreciative in the spirit of the 21st century dramatic and theatrical vogue.
Review by Michael Akenoo, a former correspondent at the Ghanaian Times who majored in play writing and dramatic theory and criticism at the University of Ghana. His publications include various articles on theatre criticism and The People’s Choice, a play adapted and prescribed as a supplementary reader by the Ghana Education Service and produced by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.