AFRICAN POEMS AND CULTURE

: AKAN , WAR POEMS
The Akan peoples of Ghana include
the Ashanti, Fanti, Akim, Akwapim
and Asen. One distinct style of Akan
oral poetry are the poems recited by
the masters of ceremonies to
paramount chiefs. These poems
remind the chief of the clans historical
enemies and the victories in war that
his predecessors attained.
The master of ceremony performing
the poem half covers his mouth with
his left hand whilst pointing a sword
in his right hand to the chief in front
of whom he stands.
He is one who hates to see an enemy
return victorious
He delivers old and young from the
ravages of war
He is one of whom armies of enemies
get tired
He is bulletproof: when you fire at
hime you waste your ammunition
He is so powerful as to be able to
bring the divinations of priests to
naught
He catches priests and snatches their
bells from him
He is not to be challenged. If anyone
dares him, the one is sure to lose his
head
He cannot be caught and decapitated
at the battle front
He is like the tough trees, as well as
the old, wet half dead tree neither of
which can be cut
Between each poem drums and horns
play an interlude whilst the master of
ceremonies prepares their next verses.
In Akan society musical horns made
from the tusks of elephants are played
for paramount chiefs, and it is only
the chiefs that will have such
ensembles.
In this verse of praises for
Amaniampong, the founder of the
state of Mampong Ashanti, dialogues
appear between a father and son and
also between what appears to be a
rival of Amaniampong who confesses
his failure to defeat his enemy to his
wives (I may be mis-interpreting this,
any readers of this site with
knowledge of Akan history are
welcome to write-in to correct me!).
He is the one!
O father wake up.
What is it my child?
It is the Toucans crying. (1)
Really!
You are a good boy to mistake the
horns of Amaniampong for the crying
of Toucans. (2)
Don’t be too quick to shoot at a great
man.
Before you can fire, he snatches your
powder.
He says: Help! Help!
He says: Akosua, Adwoa!
Quick get me my torch.
What is it she asks?
He replies, is it not what happened the
other day that has happened once
more?
Again? This child is really a child!
When I was a mighty one, I could not
overthrow him
The mighty one could not overthrow
him
The entangling one could not
overthrow him
Aku that eats the snails of small
children.
Poems collected by Kwabena Nketia,
from “Akan Poetry”,
Black Orpheus 3, p5-27 (1958)

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