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(Audio Interview) African Royalty: The True Origin and Functions of Asokwahene/Palace Orchestra in Ghana

Dear Compatriot,

In African traditional political setting, the king/ruler has other equally important sub-chiefs who help in the administration of the kingdom. Before the European invasion and acceptance of modern democracy, this political system was used throughout Africa for effective governance of states. However, some components of the system differ from kingdoms to kingdoms. This episode captures the origin and functions of Asokwahene of the Akan group in Ghana.

An interview was granted with the Asokwahene of Dunkwa-on-Offin, the administration capital of Denkyira Kingdom. Dunkwa-on-Offin which is located in the Central Region of Ghana is about 283 KM from Accra, the capital of Ghana. Before the battle of Feyiase, the leaders of the Akan group after migrating from the Old Ghana Empire were Adewu/Denkyira (the main leaders), the Akwamu (military wing) and Adanse (the first Akan state). In Gold Coast, all Akan kings and chiefs including the Asante (Kwaman, Ejisu , Offinso, etc) chiefs were sent to the royal home of the Adewus/Denkyiras to learn traditions and politics before they were enstooled. The popular Akan saying, ” Kotoko som Amponsem,” which is “the porcupine (Asante) is a servant of Amponsem (Adewu/Denkyira),” is there to remind us of the supremacy of the Denkyira kingdom before the Asante Kingdom was birthed in 1700s. In order to discover the origins and functions of Asokwahene of the Akan, there is the need to visit the original custodians of Akan traditions – the Denkyiras.

Baffuor Amankwatia Agyemang is the Asokwahene/Palace Orchestra of Dunkwa Traditional Council who also serve the Denkyira Traditional Council.  He is a professional Geological Engineer. Below is the interview granted with Epistlesofboadu.com:

WHAT IS ASOKWHENE?

Asokwahene is one of the sub-chiefs in Akan traditional political system. Many think Asokowahene is just the custodian of palace drums.  But that is just a tip of an iceberg. When ‘Odomankoma’ (Divine Providence) created the universe, he first created ‘Akyerema’ (Drummer or sound). So the drummer is in charge of conveying message to the people on behalf of the king. In most instances, the Asokowahene is the son of the chief because ‘Okyerema’ (sound) is one of the first three things (Season/Time (mmereson), Order (Esen) and sound (Okeyerema)) ‘Odomankoma’ created.

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE ASOKWAHENE?

In antiquity, survival and conquering of new lands depicted the supremacy of a king or kingdom. So most sub-chiefs in the Akan political system were military commanders. ‘Krontihene’ is charge of watching over the town and ‘Ankobeahene’ is also in charge of watching over the palace. So oral tradition has it that there was a war in which the ‘Benkumhene’ (left wing chief), the ‘Nifahene’ (right wing chief), the ‘Akwammuhene’, and ‘Krontihene’ went to war with their various ‘asafo’ (soldiers) and did not return home. So when that happened, the chief consulted the ‘Ankobeahene’ (commander/chief in charge of protecting the palace) and asked to go find out what was happening. In Akan system, ‘Ankobeahene’ is mostly the uncle of the king/chief. So the ‘Ankobeahene’ allowed the king to go find out what happened to the other sub-chiefs in the battle.

On leaving for the journey, the ‘Ankobeahene’ told the King to go with the ‘Okyerema’ (drummer), ‘Asofoakye/mmerantehene'(chief of the youth) and ‘sipi’ . These people were to lead the procession and announce the coming of the king. After travelling for several distance without meeting his sub-chiefs, their food and water
exhausted. So, the ‘okyerema’ (drummer) was asked to go search for some food for the king so that the “Asafoankye and Sipi’ would guard the king. The ‘Asafoankye’  and ‘Sipi’ gave the ‘drummer’ rifle and gun powder respectively. When the drummer was leaving, the king gave him his golden cup to be used as a drinking vessel.

The drummer went very far and discovered ripe bananas and pineapples. The ‘Okyerema’ ate some of the fruits and sent some to the entourage behind.  So when he returned, he told the king that he has discovered a place where the fruits are abundantly ripe which is ‘…nnuaba aso so kwa”. The king and other sub-chiefs followed the drummer to the place of ripe bananas. So when the king saw how ripe the fruits were, he said indeed, the fruits are very ripe. Henceforth, I will make you (drummer) ‘aso so kwa hene’ for bringing me food when all hope was lost. The ‘Aso so kwa hene’ later became ‘Asokwahene’ – the ‘okyerema’ was then made an ‘Asokwahene’.

Baffuor Amankwatia Agyemang (left), Asokwahene of Dunkwa Traditional Council

WHAT ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF ASOKWAHENE?

1) The Asokwahene is in charge of all drums and musical ceremonies at the palace.
2) The ‘Apagyahene’ and ‘Abentiahene’ and all leaders of choreographic groups at the palace report to him.
3) He is also in charge of making sure the King wears the proper apparel to all state functions.
4) The Asokwahene is also a a military commander. He got that status when the ‘Asafoankye’ and ‘Sipi’ gave him rifle and gun powder to go find food for the king.
5) The Asokwahene is also in charge of singing the appellations of the king at all state functions.

HOW DOES THE ASOKWAHENE SWEAR HIS OATH OF ALLEGIANCE TO THE KING?

The Asokwahene has a unique way of swearing his oath of allegiance to the king. Other sub-chiefs swear by using sword (afena) and recite the appropriate oath. However, the Asokwahene shakes the hand of the king as a gesture of swearing the oath of allegiance. This unique system was adopted because it was only the Asokwahene who drank from the cup of the king. From the narration, the king gave the drummer his golden cup on his journey. That was when that special love and trust was established between the king and the Asokwahene. Asokwahene simply shakes the hand of a king as a sign of swearing his oath of allegiance.

Third person from left: Okoforobuor Obeng Nuako III, Dunkwa-on-Offin Chief , during the 3rd 2018 Black Akwasidae (Addae tumtum)

IS THERE AN ASOKWAHEMAA (ASOKWA QUEEN)?

Yes! All Akan chiefs have their queens. In Akan, women play instrumental roles in the administration of every state. The queen also swears her oath of allegiance by shaking the hands of the King’s linguist. She helps the Asokwahene to carry out all the duties of the Asokwa division.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ASOKWAHENE’S LINGUIST STAFF?
The ‘Asokwahene’s’ linguist staff has a drummer (kyerema) on top of the staff. This signifies the first ‘Okyerema’ odomankoma created. It also explains the authority and jurisdiction of the Asokwahene.  At state functions, when such staff is recognised, one must know that Asokwahene is present at the function.


Linguist staff of Asokwahene

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR TIME BAFFUOR.

You are always welcome but kindly share this knowledge to educate the current generation. We need to preserve and protect our history and culture for generations unborn. So we all need to play our part. thank you.

I hope you enjoyed the rich traditional history. Kindly subscribe to page for more. Thank you very much.

EpistlesofBoadu.com: The voice for development, environment and culture!

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