AKAN COSMOLOGY
AKAN CULTURAL SYMBOLS PROJECT

  Hye anhye - Unburnable

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The Akan believe that the universe was created by a Supreme Being, whom they refer to variously as Oboadee (Creator), Nyame (God), Odomankoma (Infinite, Inventor), Ananse Kokuroko (The Great Spider; The Great Designer), etc. The Akan religious thought is essentially theocentric and theistic, with the Supreme Being, God at the center of it all. From this perspective, the Akan use their cultural symbols to portray their beliefs about God, their attitudes towards God and His creation, and the Akan's relation to God and His Creation.

The Akan also believe that human creativity affects the universe positively or negatively. In essence, the Akan believe the universe is both a natural and social creation. Social creation is in the form of institutions and products human beings have invented. The Akan is required to safeguard the environment of the universe for a continuum of society members consisting of the dead, the living, and the yet-to-be-born.

The Akan claim the Supreme Being created life and death, and death overcame the Supreme Being. However, the Supreme Being, having the antidote to the venom of death, was able to overcome death. This Supreme Being, Nyame or Nyankopon, has eternal life.

The Akan believe the Supreme Being is spiritual in form and is unburnable or indestructible (hye anhye). The Supreme Being puts part of His/Her spiritual form into human beings as the human soul (kra). This soul in the human being never perishes. That is why the Akan say Nipa wu a, na onwuee - When the human being dies, he/she is not dead. This soul reincarnates. When a child is born, the Akan give the child a soul name (kra din) such as Kojo (boy's name) or Adjoa (girl's name) for the child born on Monday because that is the name for day of the week the human soul appears in this physical world.
 

SAMPLES OF SYMBOLS THAT ENCODE ASPECTS OF AKAN COSMOLOGY


GYE NYAME - EXCEPT GOD
EXCGOD
GYE NYAME - EXCEPT GOD Symbol of the OMNIPOTENCE and the OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD From the Akan aphorism: Abode santann yi firi tete; obi nte ase a onim ne ahyease, na obi ntena ase nkosi ne awie, GYE NYAME. Literal translation: This great panorama of creation dates back to time immemorial; no one lives who saw its beginning and no one will live to see its end, EXCEPT GOD. The symbol reflects the Akan belief of a SUPREME BEING, the CREATOR who they refer to by various names - e.g., OBOADEE, NYAME, ONYANKOPON TWEREAMPON.
 

ABODE SANTAAN - TOTALITY OF THE UNIVERSE
ABODESAN
ABODE SANTAAN - TOTALITY OF THE UNIVERSE Symbol of the TOTALITY OF THE UNIVERSE - NATURAL AND SOCIAL CREATION From the expression: Odomankoma boo adee; oboo awia, osrane ne nsoromma, oboo nsuo ne mframa; oboo nkwa, oboo nipa, na oboo owuo. Ote ase daa. Literal translation: God, the Creator; He created the sun, the moon and the stars, the rain and the wind; He created life, the human being, and He created death. He lives for ever. The symbol incorporates the eye, the rays of the sun, the double crescent moon, and the stool. The sun, the moon, and the eyes depict natural creation by a supreme being. While the stool depicts the socially created institutions and the creativity of human beings.
 

HYE ANHYE - UNBURNABLE
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HYE ANHYE - UNBURNABLE Symbol of the IMPERISHABILITY OF THE SELF, PERMANENCY OF THE HUMAN SOUL and TOUGHNESS This represents the idea that GOD, the SPIRIT, never dies, or GOD lives forever.The Akan belief is that the human soul, an image of God, the Spirit, lives in perpetuity. Thus, there is liFe after the death of the physical part of the human being.
 

ADWERA - WATERY SHRUB
ADWERA
ADWERA - WATERY SHRUB Symbol of PURITY, SANCTITY, CONSECRATION, CLEANLINESS, CHASTITY, and GOOD FORTUNE From the expression: Adwera nsuo, wo ne nkwansuo, nsu korogyenn a wohuru nso wonhye. Literal translation: Water of life, you are the pure crystal clean water that boils, but does not burn. Adwera is a watery shrub that is used in esubo (purification) ceremony and akradware (soul washing) ceremony. For example, when one recovers from a long bout of illness, one performs an esubo ceremony to sanctify one's soul and appease the spirits for protecting one's life. This ceremony starts with a bath of water that has been seeped in adwera leaves.
 

AWIA REPUE - RISING SUN
AWIA
AWIA REPUE - RISING SUN Symbol of VITALITY, LIFE SPARK, WARMTH, and ENERGY From the maxim: Ohene ye awia. Literal translation:The king is the sun. God is king. God is referred to as OMAWIA - SOURCE OF THE SUN'S ENERGY and VITAL FORCE. This symbol became associated with the Progress Party in the 1969 general parliamentary elections in Ghana. To the Progress Party this symbolized the rising sun (awia repue) as an indication of progress.
 

KERAPA - SANCTITY

KERAPA

KERAPA - SANCTITY Symbol of SANCTITY OF SELF, SPIRITUAL STRENGTH, GOOD SPIRIT, GOOD LUCK, and GOOD FORTUNE
From the aphorism: Kerapa ye Nyame ahoboa: ote se okra, okyiri fi na okram fie te se pete nti na Nananom de no yi mmusuo.
Literal translation: Sanctity is part particle of the good; it is like a cat, it abhors filth; and it clears filth like the vulture does; that is why it is used to drive away evil and diseases.
This symbol was woven into the bedside mat on which the king would step three times for good luck before going to bed. Every year, a cleaning ritual (mmusuyidee) was performed in the past. During the ceremony all streets of the townships were swept clean each morning and evening to remove mystical danger and to prevent disease or death from entering the township.
 

ASASE YE DUR - LAND IS MIGHTY 
ASASE
ASASE YE DUR - LAND IS MIGHTY
Symbol of POWER, LIFE'S SUSTAINER, MIGHT, WEALTH, and AUTHORITY 
From the maxim: Tumi nyinaa ne asase.  Literal translation: All power emanates from land. 
This symbol reflects the importance of land to the Akan. Even though land is communally  owned among the Akan, land ownership by group or individuals is an important source of economic and political power.
The Akan consider asase (land) as the physical and feminine aspect of the dualistic nature of the universe. God, the Creator is the spiritual and masculine aspect of this duality. Hence, the Akan refer to asase as Yaa (among the Twi-speaking Akan) or Afua (among the Fantse-speaking Akan), and God as Kwame.
 

NYAME DUA - GOD'S ALTAR
nyamedua

NYAME DUA - GOD'S ALTAR
Symbol of the PRESENCE OF GOD, GOD'S PROTECTION, HOLY PLACE, and SPIRITUALITY The symbol represents God's presence everywhere and every time. The Akan used to place the God's altar in front of the house as a sign of God's presence and protection.
 
nyameduaor
Actual
Nyame Dua tree stump that is placed in front of houses
 

OWUO KUM NYAME - DEATH KILLED GOD
owuokum
OWUO KUM NYAME - DEATH KILLED GOD Symbol of the INVINCIBILITY OF DEATH, and the POWER OF GOD TO OVERCOME DEATH From the maxim: Nyame boo owuo na owuo kum Nyame; na Nyame na ote nanka aduro nti odii owuo so nkonim. Literal translation: God created death and death killed God; yet the Eternal One also created the antidote to the venom of death, and God, therefore, overcame death. The Akan believe that The Creator created things; When He created things, He created Life; When He created Life, He created Death; When He created Death, Death killed Him; When He died, Life came into Him and woke Him up; Thereafter, He lived forever.
 

BIRIBI WO SORO - THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE HEAVENS
BIRIBIWO
BIRIBI WO SORO - THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE HEAVENS
Symbol of HOPE, EXPECTATION, and ASPIRATION
From the aphorism: Nyame, biribi wo soro na ma emmeka me nsa.
Literal translation: God, there is something in the heavens, let it reach me.
This symbol was hung above the lintel of a door for the king to touch three times repeating the words of the aphorism for good luck, high hope and good expectations as he went out to carry out his duties each morning.

 


OSIADAN NYAME - GOD, THE BUILDER
osidan1
OSIADAN NYAME - GOD, THE BUILDER
Symbol of GOD, THE BUILDER AND CREATOR
In Akan belief, God is the Supreme Creator. His creation is considered as housing construction within which He provides abode for all His creation.
This symbol is found in
Akan architecure.
 

 

CHURCHES AND AKAN SYMBOLS

HSCATHEDRAL1Holy Spirit cathedral, Accra

 

Kerapa
KERAPA
       The picture above shows some of the Akan cultural symbols that have been incorporated into the liturgical art of the sanctuary of the Roman Catholic Holy Spirit Cathedral, Accra, Ghana. Other religious denominations have incorporated several of the Akan symbols in various aspects of church activities and church symbolisms. Church choir robes, for example, often incorporate some of the Akan symbols (particularly, the Gye Nyame and Kerapa symbols) that encode aspects of Akan spirituality and religious beliefs.
 
The Gye Nyame symbol on the altar in a Catholic Church, Tema
TemaasorThe altar in a Catholic Church, Community One, Tema



The Emmanuel Methodist Church at Labadi, Accra has arranged a number of adinkra symbols, including the following (as shown below), to apparently declare that "God's Son became the Sacrificial Lamb for the Household" - see Arthur (2001, p. 34-35).
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God            Son        Sacrifice         Lamb       Household

 


EGMAN EXGOBAA
The two pictures on the left and on the right, respectively, show a man and a woman wearing clothes in which the Except God symbol had been embroidered. These people were coming from Sunday church services.