The term gender has come to attract a lot of attention in quite a short time, and most of the attention is centered on how one thinks the term should be defined. There are so many books of thought on this matter each presenting their own views in such a convincing manner, that one is bound to be more lost after all that research. I found out that, to better understand the concept of gender, one has to approach it as if it were a slice of cake, each piece of it has to be sliced away in other to get to the whole piece.
Gender is best understood as “an institution that establishes patterns of expectations for individuals (based on their body type), orders the social processes of everyday life, and is built into major social organizations of society, such as the economy, ideology, the family and politics”. Oyewumi, Oyeronke (1997), Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. In this paper, I seek out to take out a slice of the “gender cake” with the aid of Oyewumi’s article on inventing women and explore what the concept of gender meant for the Akan people of Ghana pre-colonial.
The Akan ethnic group is by far the largest ethnic group in Ghana accounting for about 45.7 percent of the country’s population, it comprises 13 different groups namely the Bono, Asante, Adanse, Twifo, Asen, Fante, Akuapem, Akyem, Akwamu, Kwahu, Sehwi, Awowin, Nzima and Ahanta. The Akans have three main dialects, Fante, Asante, Twi and Akwapim but Twi is the most widely spoken language not just for Akans but in the whole country of Ghana.
“But gender is socially constructed: it is historical and culture-bound, consequently, the assumption that a gender system existed in Oyo society prior to Western colonization is yet another case of Western dominance in the documentation and interpretation of the world, one that is facilitated by the West’s global material dominance”. Oyewumi (1997, p.32), Invention of Women.
In the above statement, Oyewumi calls it a clear case of Western dominance in documentation and interpretation of the world, in the assumption that a gender system existed in Oyo society prior to Western colonization, something that I completely agree with. The Akan people of Ghana in pre-colonialism had a society in place which was not based on gender but rather the fundamental basis of organizational principle was on the premise of seniority directly related to age. Due to this reason, I agree with Oyewumi and will employ her methodology as I examine social roles as they were articulated in a number of institutions in the Akan ethnic group namely, language and age.
The Akan language as already stated in this paper comes in three dialects and the most commonly used is the Twi dialect. First of all, I would love to point out that as opposed to the English term “Man”, used to represent both male and female, the Akans using the Twi dialect will say “Nipa”, a genderless term. Oyewumi cited how the word “woman” was supposed to mean “female of the species”, but the name of the species was “Man”. The same analogy cannot be applied to the Akan concept of “Barima” (Man) “)baa” (Woman). There is no exaggeration of differences here as the term “Man’ and “Woman” seems to imply, “Barima” is not a category of privilege nor is “)baa” a category subjugated to subordination. According to Gideon Asante (2019) in The Gender Discourse in the Philosophy of Yoruba and Akan Societies, to Fante speakers, the world of nature and of man can be divided into two gender categories ‘nyin’ (male) and ‘bere’ (female). In Fante ‘bere’ may mean ripe, or time. Therefore, ‘akokɔnyin’ is ‘akokɔ (fowl)’ + nyin (cockerel) - male and ‘akokɔbere’ is akokɔ (fowl) + bere (hen) – female. In the same way, some plants are categorized as male and female. An example is a pawpaw. A pawpaw tree with fruits is female and the one without fruits is male. The male pawpaw tree is normally used for medicinal purposes. When it comes to naming, there are several common gender-neutral names in the Akan language. Names like Konadu, Adom, Pinaman, and Manu are all gender-neutral names that are used for both genders.
Most African countries and especially the Akan people of Ghana solely relied on seniority and age as their basic principle of organization. Using binary gender as an organizational principle was a purely western style of socialization that was incorporated in mostly what can be referred to as misinterpretation of most African culture. And these misinterpretations were written down in the literature dominated by these same Western powers, making it seem believable.
Arhin, Kwame 1983, Political and Military roles of Akan women
Gideon Asante 2019, The Gender Discourse in the Philosophy of Yoruba and Akan Societies.
Oyewumi,Oyeronke (1997) The Invention of Women: Making sense of Western Gender Discourses.
© 2022 Akosua Ago Mansa