Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga Culture and Society -Book Review: by Gyau Kumi Adu


Book Review: Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga Culture and Society, by E. A. Ammah, edited by Marion Kilson (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2016).

By Gyau Kumi Adu

The thesis of the book is to inform readers about the Ga culture and society in general covering the time of the beginning of the Ga culture and ends at the turn of the 20th century. It uses an interdisciplinary-approach[1] of Ga philosophy, theology, politics, linguistics, religion, history and sociology. One significant theme running through all these essays is that the African culture is very rich, for that matter the Ga culture, in a wide range of subjects (as mentioned earlier).

Pertaining to how rich the Ga culture is in philosophy Ammah writes: “In the Ga Bible, wisdom is translated as nilee (knowledge of all things). But in kple, we have Oleete for wisdom. When used as Teteoleete, it means “the man who dwells in appearance and show of sense,” as Plato remarked long ago.”[2]

Concerning the depths of the Ga culture in sociology Ammah notes: ‘The sense of Ga community is built on the concrete foundation of… May our brooms be “thick,” may we obtain bestowable things to bestow on it, may it work for us that we may enjoy.…  It can be readily seen from this that the question of the group and that of the individual is not a problem in the Ga society.’[3]

In my view the book meets its main objective by covering these areas. It is a very classical book which will endure for many generations to come. It is very revealing. It covers many important subjects that the youth of Ghana are not privy to. One reason is that many Ga writings are difficult to come by. Some significant writings are also out of print.

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Sixty Years of Ga Politics[1] – E. A. Ammah

I have been posting articles by E.A. Ammah, one of the foremost 20th century authorities on Ga culture and traditions over the past year.  This article, written almost 50 years ago, puts the present wrangling on who must be the Ga King in better perspective for most of us and explains in part some of the difficulties facing the traditional leaders in modern day urbanised Ga.

I do not know what the contestants and the many chieftaincy ‘eaters’ agents would have made of this article if they had read it when it was first written, at the start of the late Boni Nii Amugi II reign in 1965.  But i have learnt a lot reading it now and will welcome whatever comments that people would want to make on this  blog.



Sixty Years of Ga Politics[1]

By E. A. Ammah

 The internal and external political struggles of the Ga people from the time that they left Nubia until they settled at their resting place of Ayawaso or Kplagon are unknown.  Ga history in Ghana probably dates from the latter part of the thirteenth century (1275).  Critical and comparative study of the history of Ghana suggests that if Ga people were not the first to arrive here, then they were among the first peoples who settled here in the 13th century.  The names of the Ga sovereigns from 1275 until the time of Ayi Kushi are not known.  Ayi Kushi is reputed to be the first Ga monarch at Kplagon.

Before discussing the past 60 years of Ga politics, we shall review briefly Ga political history from the time of King Ayi Kushi to the death of King Taki Tawia II.  The dynastic name of the Ga kingdom is Tunma We.  This House has provided the Ga kingdom with sovereigns down the centuries.  It is a great credit to the elder statesmen of Tunma We that the Royal House has never changed.

Apart from aggressions from neighbouring tribes in which Ga was always victorious, the internal history of Ga is one of incessant political upheavals, well-calculated intrigues, and treachery of the highest order, which were contrived sometimes by different branches of the royal family and sometimes by people outside Tunma We.

The first known stool-dispute in Ga history was the attempt of the Asere to take the Ga throne by force which compelled King Ayi Kushi to retire to the place from whence he came (1452).  We do not hear of any political turmoil until the reign of Manpong Okai.  From the time of Mangpong Okai to that of his grandson King Ofori, the political upheavals were so intense and callous that three monarchs were tragically killed; they were King Mangpong Okai, his wife Queen Dode Akaibi, and his son King Okai Koi.  After the sack of Great Accra at Ayawaso, King Ofori, the son of King Okai Koi, fled to the coast and established the capital on the coast at small Accra.  King Ofori eventually went to Little Popo and established Tugba Dynasty there.  It is important to state here that after the death of Mangpong Okai, one Dua Kwei championed the cause of the Royalists, he crowned Dode Akaibi; he acted after the queen’s death and enthroned King Okai Koi.  But for this strong man and the intrepid Awutu elements in the royal courts, the infuriated terrorists might have put an end to Ga monarchy.  The political history of Ga closed at Ayawaso with the migration of the remainder of the people to small Accra.

Among the significant political events which occurred after the Ga capital was moved to the coast and before the beginning of the twentieth century were the following:  After the death of King Ayi a great constitutional change was made when a female line was introduced with the enthronement of Ayi Kuma Tieku Bah son of Mangpong Okai’s daughter Okaile (1700-1733).  After the death of King Ofori, there were two claimants to the Ga stool, Okaidza and Tetteh Ahene Akwa; the latter was enstooled and reigned from 1740 to 1784.  This action of the vigilant elders of Tunma We had a devastating effect in Ga; the Gbese area was founded, Tetteh Ahene Akwa took the original Ga ivory stool to Little Popo, and Princess Momo married a Nai priest which created Amugi We.  In 1782, there were again two claimants to the Ga stool: Teiko Din and Teiko Tsuru; Teiko Tsuru was enthroned.  A civil war (Agbungtse) broke out between James Town and Ussher Town in 1884.  Taki Tawia closed the line of old Ga sovereigns (1482-1902).

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E. A. Ammah, “Annual Festival of the Ga People,”

IMG_4996                                                                                                                                    [In the August and September 1961 issues of The Ghanaian, E. A. Ammah, “an authority on the Ga language, history, and customs” discussed parallels in the Ga Homowo and the Jewish Passover celebrations.  These “parallels” included similarities in calendars, prayers, protective rituals, and festive harvest meals.   In the October 1962 Ghanaian, Mr. Ammah laid out four possible explanations for these ritual parallels without committing himself to any of them.  M. Kilson]

I.             E. A. Ammah, “Annual Festival of the Ga People,” The Ghanaian (August 1961): 9,11.

W. C. Willoughby in his book “The Soul of the Bantu” shows the value and significance of festivals in the life of the African people as a whole.  Wherever these festivals are celebrated, the background is identical.  The most remarkable and striking point is that the origins are associated with the Israelites.

Writing about the feast of the first fruits, Willoughby quotes Kidd as “this feast is divided into two portions, a little festival which is attended only by the great festival men of the nation and the great which all warriors are obliged to attend.”  The former, we are told, is agricultural and the latter is pastoral.  Willoughby concludes: “the tribes amalgamated an agricultural and a pastoral spring festival, somewhat as the Hebrew nomads did after they settled down to agricultural life in Canaan.”

Further, writing about the joyful features of feast, Willoughby has this to say: “The feast of the Lord in Shiloh, and the vantage feast in Shechem, are so much after the pattern that one cannot possibly mistake of thinking it peculiar to the Bantu.”  The Hebrew feasts, he continues, “were occasions of joyful merry-making, when the festive throng expressed itself in a type of jubilant exultation….It is a far cry from the Bantu idea of worship to the noble conception set forth in the Gospel According to St. John; but the path that man has travelled is being travelled by man.”

This sketchy introduction indicates that the African Personality is immanent in our culture; therefore, we are potentially united in spirit and in truth.  The interesting point to repeat is that, the cultural identity or background of the festivals pervasive in other areas of States in Africa, are also pervasive in Ghana.  The Ga  Homowo Festival, which is identical to the Hebrew Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, is a typical example.

It would scarcely be appropriate to write on the Homowo Festival without making a brief reference to the origin of the Ga People.  The general opinion is that “Ga civilization is as original as the Hebrews’.”  It is distinctly also true in all that stands for Hebrew worship.

The basis of Ga religion is enshrined in their three great annual festivals, namely, Homowo, Nmaayeli and Nmaatoo which have a very close and intimate parallel connection with those of the Jews or as one aptly put it “are reminiscent of the three annual festivals of the Jews,” namely the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering.  One very essential characteristic of them is that all are harvest  festivals in which their religious feeling finds practical and inward expression in rituals and ceremonies.  No one who has made a critical study and impartial comparison of the Ga forms with those of the Jews will fail to be struck by the very close similarities between them.  One is indeed tempted to draw the conclusion that the ancestors of the Ga people interlard with the Jews or were probably an offshoot of them.  The collective name of the Ga people is Ga or Gaga, or Loiabii or Olai abii.

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