Twereduampong Kwame: A Peep Into Akan Religious Cosmogony
Among many other names, the Akan of Ghana refer to God as Twereduampong Kwame. While there is consensus about the etymology of 'Twereduampong', a number of people have been asking why the day name 'Kwame' for God. Several attempts have been made to answer this question. Some pastors of the Seven-day Adventist Church, in order to find a justification for the perceived universality of Saturday worship, argue that God revealed Himself to the Akan on Saturday. This line of taught is flawed for two main reasons.
First, Akan primal religion is not a revealed religion. Thus, unlike Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is no prophet in Akan primal religion, who received revelation from God. That explains why there is no Bible or Qur'an in the religious repertoire of Akan primal religion. There is also no written text and founder for Akan primal religion. Scholars are still debating the evolution of African primal religion. But there are scholars like Prof. Kwame Gyekye, who have averred that African traditional religions emerged from the African's observation of and interaction with nature.
Thus, to the Akan, the cosmological argument for the existence of God is well founded. The knowledge of God in Akan cosmogony is part and parcel of the existential realities of life. This assertion dovetails with the Akan maxim that, 'No one teaches the child about the existence of God.' The knowledge of God is evidently obvious in nature. So, we may surmise that Akan primal religion is a natural religion. The naturalness of Akan religion explains the ease with which the Christian missionaries propagated the Christian message in Akan societies. The late Prof. Kwame Bediako used to say, and I summarize, that, 'France made him an atheist, but Africa made him religious.' Classical atheism is thus foreign to the worldview of traditional Akan.
The second reason why we cannot accept the revelation theory is linked to the fact that there is no special day for the worship of Twereduampong Kwame, the Ultimate Reality. Again, unlike Christianity and Islam, which have special days for congregational worship of Yahweh of the Christians and Allah of the Muslims, there are no special days, Sunday/Saturday and Friday, respectively set aside for the worship of Twereduampong Kwame. Each day is suitable for the worship of Twereduampong Kwame. A study of Akan religion would reveal that it is rather the deities, the so-called lessor gods, who have special days set aside for their worship. Thus, while the deities, the creatures and assistants of God, could have special days for worship, the Ultimate Reality in Akan primal religion does not have a chosen day of worship. All days are hallowed for worship.
The European missionaries' fixation with Sunday worshipped explained why the Akan called the 'white' man 'Kwasi Broni.' Some explanations have been advanced to explain why the Akan call the 'white' man 'Broni'. Well, I am inclined to take the Afrocentric explanation given by some prominent Ghanaian Afrocentric scholars I have interacted with. Accordingly, the word 'broni' is a contraction of the etymology, 'Abro ni' literally, a 'Mischievous person.'
This etymological explanation of the word dovetails with the imperialistic and exploitative nature of the colonial enterprise. As scholars like the late Prof. Adu A. Boahen have rightly observed the colonial enterprise was not a philanthropic adventure. A Marxist scholar, Walter Rodney, in his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, also points out the extent to which slavery and colonialism derailed the prospects of Africa. So, historically, the name 'Broni' is consistent with the outcome of the interactions Africans had with the Europeans beginning from the 15th C.
Again, the Akan reckoning of the days do not lend itself to a simplistic explanation of the origin of the day attached to Twereduampong. The Akan conceptualization of days is different from the Greco-Roman calendar. Among the Akan, a week is called 'Nna wodwe' to wit eight days not 'nna nson,' seven days. Several arguments have emerged about this issue. The question is do the Akan have eight days making one week or seven days? If the Akan have eight days making one week, then what is the name of the eighth day?
Well, I don't think we need to split hairs over this issue. The point is that the Akan reckoning of the week is couched in a principle or formula known as 'Inclusive Time reckoning.' Inclusive Time Reckoning begins the counting of days by the first day of event. So for example, if one is born on Friday, the counting of the person's existence begins right from the first day (Friday) of the person's existence. The counting, unlike the Greco-Roman calendar, does not begin a day after the event. So, a child born on Friday will be named on the eighth day. The baby is personalized after it has proven to belong to the living after seven days of exclusion.
The Inclusive Time Reckoning is used to explain the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the elect. It is therefore a mistake for critics like the late Ahmad Deedat to have argued that Jesus did not actually remain in the grave for three days and three nights. There is a great deal of affinity between Akan culture and Ancient Israel's culture. I reserve these similarities for another article.
Finally, to the question, why 'Twereduampong Kwame?' The etymology of Tweredumpong is a common knowledge to most Ghanaians. The name is a contraction of the expression 'wo twere no a won pon,' to wit, 'if you lean on him you don't slip to fall.' In consequence, among the Akan, God is the only being that one can depend on in all situations. One could depend on God because He is great and almighty. This resonates with injunctions in Jeremiah 17:5 and Psalm 146:3, which condemn the practice of man depending on his fellow man instead of God. We have proven that the name 'Kwame' cannot be associated with any particular day God revealed Himself to the Akan. So, where from the name 'Kwame'? The answer is not difficult to find.
The appellation for Kwame is 'otenanduro' to wit he who has the antidote to the bite of the snake. 'Nanka' is a poisonous snake whose bite may lead to the death of a person. Death is seen as a negative life existential reality. It truncates the free flow of earthly life and shatters the family of the deceased. Every effort is therefore made to reverse death in order to prolong life on earth. This explains the well-grounded assertion that the quest for immortality is ingrained in the deepest hearts of men. In Christianity, death is seen as an enemy (I Corinthians 15:26).
Thus, since the beginning of time, man has been very much engaged in finding an antidote to death. All the 'logies' of secular education are meant to promote life and to slow down or if possible reverse the occurrence of death. Though death is an inevitable reality, man never ceases to be overwhelmed when it happens. Death constantly reverses and disrupts the order in nature. There are several myths to explain the origin of death. Anyone interested in knowing more about these myths can make reference to John Mbiti's classic, African Religions and Philosophy.
In Akan, God, in the sense of anthropomorphism, is the greater Kwame, who alone has the medicine to death. The Akan therefore looks up to God for the solution to death. In Christianity, it is believed that it is only Christ, who has the key to unlock the power of death. His death, resurrection, and ascension are believed to have disarmed the forces of death (Revelation 1:18).
As students of western education, we are always tempted to interpret African cultures in the light of western perspective. Most of the post-independence nationalist scholars were in such a rush to undo the harm and damage European slavery and colonialism had done to Africa and African cultures. So, in an attempt to prove to the erstwhile colonizers that Africans had a culture, they ended of conflating sometimes very different cultural practices of Europe and Africa. And since most of these nationalist scholars had received and been influenced by western education, they used western concept to explain the logic of African cultures.
Sometimes, this practice ended up obscuring the true identity of African cultures. Thus, it is insightful to learn from the advice of Okot p'Bitek, who has suggested in his book, African Religions in Western Scholarship, that we need to guard against dressing African deities in the garb of Judeo-Christian traditions. Finally, since it is tempting to read African cultures in light of western worldview, it is appropriate to reinstate the teaching of Cultural Studies in our schools in order to curb the distortion of the Ghanaian culture. This is because it is permissible to be a stranger in a foreign land, but unpardonable to be an alien one's own culture.
Makerere University, Kampala
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