Some believe that River Ankobra is a female deity called Yaa Ankwoaw (or Ankowao). Others further believe that she is a powerful female deity full of gold bracelets. Another school of thought has it that the Ankobra is made up of two deities, a husband and wife. With the latter, the female is the most powerful, and the male supports and undertakes missions for his wife.

Unlike some other rivers, she does not have her own fetish priest, and any traditional seat of authority can claim property on her territory. Whenever anyone wants to work on the Ankobra, rituals are performed to her. Though Yaa Ankwoaw gives wealth, she can also be cruel. It is said that when miners working in the Ankobra die, it is because they must have offended her.

River Ankobra has been a part of lives of many since their birth. Children are bathed in the river as a way of being introduced to the Ankobra and asking to be protected instead of being killed in its waters.

The Ankobra Gold Route is home to the Ahanta, Nzema and Wassa ethnic groups, all part of the Akan family of ethnic groups. Each has their own particular culture and practices, a few of which are mentioned below. Some of these are shared across cultures: one strong example of this is the Kundum Festival, celebrated throughout both the Ahanta and Nzema ethnic groups. During the Festival, you can join the festivities at any of the villages on the Ankobra Gold Route.

Kundum is a festival of thanksgiving for the harvest of crops and fish, and it has some association with the goddess of fertility. The festival kicks off at the top of the Bakabo Hill, at the mouth of the Ankobra River. During this Festival, libations are poured, fires are lit, problems are solved, family differences are settled, and a durbar of chiefs is held. There is drumming and dancing every evening, and the crowning of Miss Kundum. It is not to be missed! This is a beautiful picture of shared harmony, history and peace across our people groups, which is one of the reasons some refer to Ghana as the ‘diamond in the rough’.

If you visit the settlement of Awurozo during harvest time, you can experience the Odwira Festival. This gives thanks for the good yam harvest, with much food, rejoicing, dancing and appropriate libations. It is not celebrated widely, but is held annually within Gwira districts, and is sometimes seen as an alternative to the Kundum Festival.

The communities inhabiting the Western Region of Ghana belong to the Akan group of peoples. The name Akan comes from the word Akane, meaning ‘foremost’ or ‘genuine’. This in itself is derived from the word kan, meaning ‘first’. According to many different traditions and stories, the Akans settled in their present homeland after migrations that brought their ancestors to different parts of West Africa.

Akan culture is strong and distinctive, with many interesting features. One that many children will identify with, are the traditional Kwaku Ananse stories, or the stories of the trickster spider-man. These have infiltrated the world, as Ghanaians have spread out, and to the Americas in particular. Around the Caribbean Islands, you will hear similar tales of a spider-lady who bears a strong resemblance to Kwaku Ananse. Another distinctive feature of the Akans is the strong maternal bonds between mothers and their children. The bond between a man and his nephew on his mother’s side is stronger than the bond with his own son, and so it is the nephew who traditionally inherits first.

The Nzema ethnic group is part of the Akan family. The Nzema make up a large part of the Western Region, and many Nzema communities dwell along the Ankobra River. The Nzema are unique among the Akan family of ethnic groupsTraditionally, the Nzema fish inland with small traps and nets, and they fish in seas with seine nets. They breed small animals; cultivate using a hoe; and develop small businesses and trade. These small businesses often reflect the Nzema’s creativity with handicrafts.

The Nzema are divided into seven matriclans:   Ndweafo (or Ndwea or Ahwea), MafolE (or AsEmangama), Nvavile, Ezohile, Adahonle (or Madwole), Alnwba (or Allba) and Azanwule.  The Nzema have many beliefs, some of which are shared with a few other Akan ethnic groups, and some which are unique to them. They believe that the mbowule (bones) and the nwonane (flesh) are inherited from one’s mother. They also believe that one’s mogya (blood) and sumsum (personality) are inherited from one’s father. They maintain that the ekela (soul), however, is from god. Like many Akans, the importance of the soul is illustrated in naming babies with an ekela duma (day name). This can also be called a ‘soul name’, as it is considered to be the day that god gave you soul! The bones inherited from the mother are a symbol of the strong matrilineal links, as bones are structurally strong and durable, just like the bond between a mother and her children, which is illustrated in traditional inheritance laws. It is believed that at death, one’s ekela returns to god; the sumsum is silenced; the mogya ceases to flow; and the mbowule will be placed in the earth, to remain for all time. Funeral traditions reflect these beliefs, and there are designated tourism guides in each Nzema village along the Ankobra Gold Route who will gladly tell you more and show you these intricacies during funeral rites.

Another wonderful celebration of Nzema culture is amongst the women of the community. Nzema women are known to sing maiden songs, although both single and married women take full part in these events. They are not planned, but they respond to the needs of the women in the community to share with their friends and neighbours what is going on in their lives. The women gather in an open place and begin to sing of their marital problems, neighbourly disputes, or even joyful occasions. These are called Ayabomo. The community around - or other women - join in the songs as they develop, sometimes as a lone voice or a chorus. This practice is exceptional in its ability to unite all women, irrespective of age, marital status, social standing or any other barrier.

Interestingly, Ayabomo developed at the beginning of colonial rule as women began to desire to change their marriages and encourage the empowerment of women. As money, education, trade, and other factors changed society, they affected and changed the nature of the women’s songs as they sang to encourage each other to stay morally pure and faithful. During these evening songs, you can experience an honesty and openness that is not always heard in conversations. During Ayabomo, some women feel much freer to express themselves without fear of consequences, much more than if just chatting to the participants involved in their dispute. These dialogues are not just limited to song, although this is the key component, but the women dance, mime, laugh, tell jokes, make fun, clap, stamp and shout in their expression. The performance takes place within a closed circle, illustrating the bonds between the participants. It is truly a sight to behold.

The Nzema villages all have a leader who is traditionally the Omanhene (Oman meaning ‘state’ or ‘political’, and hene meaning ‘master’). Many of these amanhene (plural) are involved in their local communities, promoting education, development, conservation and harmony. Should you visit, you may see them in the traditional chief palaces; hear the history of their linage; and possibly see some of the relics and treasures of the people.

Another example of unique practices, traditions and cultures within the Akan family of ethnic groups, is the Wassa dance, for which the Wassa are renowned. There are dances in Mali that appear to have similarities, perhaps indicating a link in ancient times. This dance is full of energy, movement and rhythm. It originates in the ground and creates harmony between body, soul and music. The dance is accompanied by vibrant drumming on both djembe and kpanlogo drums; balofon (traditional wooden xylophone); moro and gonje (traditional stringed instruments); ashiwa (thumb piano); and atenteben (bamboo flute). There are traditional dances and newer, modern dances that tell the story of changing times and the pressures on society today. It is possible to be taught some of the moves by a master in the Wassa dance: just talk to the Town Tourism Development Committee for details!

Through and along the Ankobra, several political realities came in contact with the ethnic groups living in the area, and they dealt in different goods: salt, pepper, foodstuffs, crockery, clothes, timber and gold. The importance of the Ankobra was clearly visible to the Europeans, who since the end of the XV century traded in this region of the so-called Gold Coast and later on tried to penetrate the Ankobra River to get a bigger control of gold trade by overcoming the African middlemen.

It is no wonder, therefore, that apart from the cultural contribution of the various indigenous African cultures along the Ankobra Gold Route, the area has also been impacted by cultural interactions with travellers from afar, some of whom settled in the area: from Malian gold and salt merchants, to the Portuguese who arrived in the 15th century, to the Dutch, who followed at the end of the 16th century, and beyond...

The Ankobra Gold Route Project concentrates on two historical periods: from the mid-17th to the second half of the 18th century, and the decades between the 19th and 20th centuries that saw the rise of modern mining enterprise in the region. The operational focus of the project revolves around three historical and archaeological sites that were to a large extent marked by the interaction between Ghanaians and Europeans (Dutch, but also Portuguese): the first is the hill overlooking the mouth of the Ankobra, on the Axim bank: it was the location of a Dutch toll-house, then a trade warehouse and later a real fortress – Fort Elise Carthago – that had a few years of life in the first part of the 18th century.

The second historic and archaeological site is a warehouse at the confluence of the Duma and the Ankobra rivers, near present-day Bamianko in the Nzema East District. The warehouse was built by the Portuguese in the early 17th century.

The third site is a complex of African and Dutch settlements in  the  so  called  ‘Old  Awudua’  (Awudua  Dada)  area  in  the Preseta-Huni Valley District. In 1654, the area, which hosted an important town called Abaqua and a settlement of salt traders from Axim, saw the creation of a small fortified warehouse by the Dutch, who called it Fort Ruychaver. The Fort was destroyed five years later in a conflict between the Dutch factor and some area chiefs.








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