Nzema people


Nzema / Ndenye

The Nzema are an Akan people numbering about 328,700, of whom 262,000 live in southwestern Ghana and 66,700 live in the southeast of Côte d'Ivoire. In Ghana the Nzema area is divided into three electoral districts of Nzema East Municipal also referred to as Evalue Gwira, Ellembele District and Nzema West, which is also referred to as Jomoro District of Ghana. Their language is also known as Nzima (in Ghana) or Appolo (in the Ivory Coast).

The Nzema are mostly farmers. According to their traditional calendar, days are ordered in cycles of seven, and these follow each other in a three-week cycle. They have a matrilineal kinship system, with descent and property passed through the maternal lines.

A religious Kundum Festival is held annually all over the Ahanta-Nzema area. Its start is timed to coordinate with the harvest period, so local communities determine when that will be. It begins in the easternmost part of Ahanta and advances southwestward together with the harvest period. Ritual drumming, singing and dancing take place for four weeks, and are considered the way the community expels devils and protects its good fortune. This festival is the main occasion on which the satirical avudewene songs are performed by young men. The pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was an Nzema. Anton Wilhelm Amo, who was born in the Axim region and taken to Europe as a boy, was raised in Germany as one of a duke's family and educated in the best schools and universities. He became a philosopher in eighteenth-century Germany, teaching at two universities, before he returned to his homeland. Also a member of the tribe was the religious leader Maame Harris Tani.

The Nzema are mostly farmers with some sizable numbers also engaged in fishing. Their sea boundary, Cape Three Point gave Ghana its oil-fields. The Nzema sea in giving Ghana crude oil has cemented the famous saying in Ghana that "The Best Always Comes from the West."

The language of Nzema people is also known as Nzima (in Ghana) or Appolo (in the Ivory Coast). Their various versions of the Nzema language differ only very slightly in very few insignificant ways. It shares 60% intelligibility with Jwira-Pepesa and is close to Baoule. There is however only one standard written Nzema language.

"The Portuguese who landed on the Nzema coast on the feast – day of St. Apollonia gave the name APOLLONIA, but in December, 1927, the indigenous name NZEMA was officially readopted as the Portuguese name meant little to the inhabitants. This paper has a limited purpose - to trace Nzema traditions of origin, migration routes and settlement patterns as derived from Ghana National Archives (GNA), the repository of official documents and historical traditions. The best account of this period is provided by C. W Welman: “Native States of the Gold Coast; showing us that the Nzema have a very long history.

There is the problem, of firmly establishing the ethnic identity of the nuclear Nzema, including the matter of determining the possibly early presence in the area of people speaking kwa-Akan or Kwa-Guan. However, entries from Provincial commissioner’s File, Sekondi, dated 25th October, 1924, indicates that “the Nzema language has an affinity with the Aowin dialect and with Gwira, Ajumoro (the dialect of the Apatem village) and Evalue (Axim).” Despite profound dissimilarities and a wide range of variation in their ancestral backgrounds, these heterogonous groups still share a distinctive substratum of cultural and linguistic identity with the Guan – speaking people of Ghana after their going off from the common ancestral society.
For more details on a close genetic relationship, see, for example, J, G Christaller (1881). D. Westermann (Berlin, 1922), and colin Painter – “the Distribution of Guan in Ghana” (Journal of West African Languages IV, 1967).

Oral traditions among the Nzema are unanimous on the point that their founding ancestors originally lived somewhere along the N’Zi River which runs parallel to the Comoe River in north-eastern Cote d’Ivoire. As the autochthonous people along the Comoe River became known as the “kimbu people” (later Akuamu people), the N’Zi dwellers were nicknamed the N’Zi people, hence Nzi-mba became corrupted into NZIMA.

During this period, there were strife and unrest in the neighbouring regions of Kankyeabo and Bouna near the Kong Mountains. For the Mande, at an unknown date and for reasons no longer remembered, invaded the region. They were ferocious fighters who were said to hack their enemies into pieces. This single catalysmic event, namely the invasion of the autochthonous inhabitants urged the Kumbu (Akwamu) people to migrate southwards to Heman, and was still wending their way through war-ridden territories till they arrived at the coast where they set up their first capital at Nyanawase. Shortly afterwards the Nzi-mba under their great leader called Annor Asaman, moved unobtrusively in a south – western direction, subsequently settling on the west coast in order to avoid being caught in crossfire.

For a time there was a struggle with the people of Krinjaho and others in Cote d’Ivoire over the land lying between the Tano lagoon and the sea, an area which the Nzema had since effectively occupied for the past years. Upon their arrival on the west coast at Ahumazo near the Tano Lagoon, there were many shaded trees, so they moved to a place where they found a tall palm tree which didn’t bear fruits, and decided to settle there permanently. The new site was accordingly named BEYIN, meaning “tall Palm-tree”.

Certainly, the tribal history is dominated by one man who rose to an eminent position from the debris of internecine wars in the far north and finally settled his people at BEYIN. This man was Annor Asaman.

The first formative period of Nzema history really ended in his life-time. By then all the important settlements had been established. Annor Blay Acka might have succeeded the gallant leader, and reigned longer than his predecessor. When he died his brother, Annor Broma I succeeded him. He in turn was succeeded by Bua Panin who became a powerful paramount chief. The next person to rule was Amihere Panin in whose reign the Fort Beyin was built in 1691 by the Royal African Company at the invitation of the Nzema people. (King Charles II and James, Duke of York were members of the Company, successor to the defunct Company of Royal Adventures of England Training to Africa which promised to send 3,000 slaves a year to America)

Before Amihere Panin ascended the Stool, he was cultivating on a land where Atuani trees grew. His predecessor permitted him to build a new settlement at the site, and the place was named ATUABO (“Atuani” is plural). He lived at ATUABO with his followers. After his death, his nephew, Birimponi Kwesi was enstooled (Birimponi: means paramount chief in Nzema). The elevation apparently increased Beyin’s bitterness and made them more incensed against Atuabo Tradition further asserts that the Nzema welcomed some refugees from Asante led by Ahii Nobia. After swearing the Oath of Allegiance to Birimponi Kwesi they were settled at Abata. Through inter-marriage, it came to light that Abini Nobia practiced human sacrifice secretly.
Abini Nobia was ejected forcibly together with his followers and they escaped to Mowaso near Grand Basa – a settlement on St John River in Liberia.
Successive Paramount Chiefs were Azu Ekyi (1700-1741), Annor  Breman II (1746-1789), Mensah Ohie (1789-1820). Kamma Panin was followed by his nephew Kweku Acka who preferred to stay at Atuabo where he had been nurtured by a respectable person on a farm land. It was soon detected that King Dweku Acka had tyrannical traits and perverted tasted for blood, and therefore chose to stay at Atuabo in order to evade surveillance at Fort Beyin.
He himself visited the Fort in 1828, and was very popular with the youth who nicknamed him “Ngutan” to which he responded “Omiamenia-ba”.

In 1835, a British man – of – war was dispatched to punish King Kweku Acka and his subjects for practicing human sacrifices. He remained quiet for some time when Captain Maclean was appointed Judicial Assessor 1843 – 1847. He then resumed the executions and acquired a pervasive influence throughout the west coast.

The new Governor, Commander Hill, appointed in 1843, threatened to punish him exemplarily for this action of brutality. But with sheer impudence, Kweku Acka sent a message to the Governor saying “he would raze Cape Coast Castle to the ground and dine off the Governor’s liver!. There might be some exaggeration in this, but the Governor became enraged and immediately set up a task force against the recalcitrant king. He was captured and imprisoned at the Castle of life where he died on December 28, 1851. The governor’s prompt action ultimately restored peace and tranquility in the sub-region.

In appreciation of his services, the Governor made Benjin who had been instrumental in capturing Kweku Acka, a chief of Atuabo as a sub-chief for the purpose of settling disputes. Kweke Acka’s successor, Amakye, had his seat at Beyin as the overall head of Nzema. The Atuabo were resentful of this new dispensation since their chiefship had been subordinated to that of Beyin.

In about 1867, by a convention between the British and the Dutch merchants, Nzema became subjects to Dutch interim administration. As a result, Atuabo in Eastern Nzema decided to break away from the Dutch who sent messengers to ascertain the truth of this move from the Elders Atuabo. Unfortunately, the messengers were murdered. Immediately a Dutch gun boat went and destroyed Aturabo.

Soon afterwards, Avu of Atuabo hastened to Wassa where he managed to solicit the help of some men who accompanied him to fight Amakye at Beyim when Amakye learnt of Avu’s advance, he also sought help from the Asante who had supported the Dutch move.

Then under the command of Pani Yanna Acka of Naba, the Western Nzema army marched on, and defeated the Eastern Nzema, killing Avu in the process. Benyin, therefore, gained complete success in the Avu War, in 1869. His death gave rise to a more severe and universal wave of persecution of opponents and forced many people to flee into exile to save their lives.

In order to maintain peace and tranquility in the sub-region, Nzema was split into two separate states under different paramount cites. Beyin became the capital of Western Nzema Traditional Area, while Atuabo remained the capital of Eastern Nzema.


Nzema kundum festival (Ghana)

The Kundum festival is celebrated by the Ahanta or Nzema people of the Western region of Ghana. It is celebrated to thank God for the abundance of food as it ushers in the harvest period of the area.

History. The festival is believed to have first been celebrated in the 16th century. The first record of the festival was made by Bossman, Dutch explorer, who traveled to the Gold Coast in the 17th century and observed the festival.

Origin.The origin of the festival was passed on through folklore and involved a hunter, Akpoley, who during expedition, chanced upon some dwarfs dancing in a circle. He observed the dance and upon his return to the town introduced it to his people. This dancing eventually developed into a way to drive the devil and evil spirits from towns and villages. During the festival, the dance is performed ritually by most inhabitant of Axim and surrounding towns.

Festival type. Kundum is both a harvest and religious festival. The start of the festival is based on the day the fruit of a certain palm tree became ripe.

The celebration. Originally, the festival lasted for four weeks but due to modernity, it has in recent years been reduced to eight days. The festivals occur separately in each town that make up the Ahanta paramountcy with town scheduling the Sunday in which their festival will start independent of each other. The celebration consists of three main components:

Festival attire. Nzema chief on palanquin being carried to the festival grounds during Kundum festival at Axim,Ghana
The people who partake in the celebration wear distinctive dress, footwear, and sometimes masks. The festival begins by taking the drums to the five different shrines on outskirts of town. At the shrines, requests for the good of the town are made and rum is poured on the ground as libation.

Programme of activities. In the traditional four week celebration the drummers will spend the next three weeks in the outskirts practicing and preparing for the fourth week. No drumming or dancing is done on the Monday of the fourth and final week. The ritual Kundum fire is lit at the chief’s palace and is kept burning throughout the festivities. 
The fire serves as a center of activity and heat source for preparing the main festival meal. On Tuesday, sacrifices of fowl or sheep are offered in the stool room. The stool room is a sacred palace where the stool of departed chiefs and elders are kept. All of the sacrifices in the stool room are performed privately by a small designated group.
Finally a public sacrifice of a fowl is performed in the court yard. Singing begins on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the chief joins festivities. He enters on a palanquin accompanied by a parade of people singing and drumming. Each night there is a large meal which culminates in a great feast of the final Sunday. All the food is collectively prepared using the Kundum fire by the women and directed by the elder women. 
The remainder of the week is spent performing the ritualized Kundum dancing. There are dances performed by men and others by women and some by other unclassified people. The dancing concludes in front of the castle in Axim. The traditional purpose of the dancing is to drive the evil spirits and devils from the town and therefore preserving another successful year.