Côte d' Ivoire

The eastern coast of the Côte d'Ivoire comprises the area of lagoons. The population here is divided into twelve language groups with Akye being one of them. The Akye numbering 55,000 constitute a part of the Akan group of ethnicities.  Before colonization each village was autonomous and, when threatened, they united to form a 'confederation'. Usually these people are not governed by chiefs, although a man's social position is determined by his age.

Early Akan economics revolved primarily around the trade of gold and enslaved peoples to Mande and Hausa traders within Africa and later to Europeans along the coast. This trade was dominated by the Asante who received firearms in return for their role as middlemen in the slave trade. These were used to increase their already dominant power. Local agriculture includes cocoa cultivation for export, while yams and taro serve as the main staples. Along the coast, fishing is very important. The depleted forests provide little opportunity for hunting. Extensive markets are run primarily by women who maintain considerable economic power, while men engage in fishing, hunting and clearing land. Both sexes participate in agricultural endeavors.

Royal membership among Akan is determined through connection to the land. Anyone who traces descendence from a founding member of a village or town may be considered royal. Each family is responsible for maintaining political and social order within its confines. In the past, there was a hierarchy of leadership that extended beyond the family, first to the village headman, then to a territorial chief, then to the paramount chief of each division within the Asante confederacy. The highest level of power is reserved for the Asanthene, who inherited his position along matrilineal lines. The Asantahene still plays an important role in Ghana today, symbolically linking the past with current Ghanaian politics.

Akan believe in a supreme god who takes on various names depending upon the particular region of worship. Akan mythology claims that at one time the god freely interacted with man, but that after being continually struck by the pestle of an old woman pounding fufu, he moved far up into the sky. There are no priests that serve him directly, and people believe that they may make direct contact with him. There are also numerous gods (abosom), who receive their power from the supreme god and are most often connected to the natural world. These include ocean and river spirits and various local deities. Priests serve individual spirits and act as mediators between the gods and mankind. Nearly everyone participates in daily prayer, which includes the pouring of libations as an offering to both the ancestors who are buried in the land and to the spirits who are everywhere. The earth is seen as a female deity and is directly connected to fertility and fecundity.

Woodcarving includes human statues, stools, which are recognized as "seats" of power, wooden dolls (akua’ba) that are associated with fertility, and also ivory and brass objects. Lost-wax casting processes were highly developed among the Akan – both gold and brass were caste. There are also extensive traditions of pottery and weaving throughout Akan territory. Kente cloth, woven on behalf of royalty, has come to symbolize African power throughout the world.

Standing and seated statues with bulbous arms and legs produced by the Akye show strong Baule influence, but they are very marked by their distinctive style. Often  the hairdo is geometric. What is unusual is that the relief scarification marks are achieved by insertion of small wooden plugs into the carving. Representing the forces of female fecundity, these statues were used in rituals to make these forces work. This type of statue was known under the tribal name of alangua.


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