Part Seven/Cultural Impact of Indonesia/Twi

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.

Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Twi mind-mapping diagram

Part Seven
Cultural Impact of Indonesia
— 32 —

If the reader compares Map 4 and Map 13, he will observe that the zone of tropical rainforest along the Guinea coast is interrupted for a strectch at the western border of the Southern Nigerian province. The break marks the beginning of another province, which extends westward acrosss southern Dahomey, Togo, and Ghana to the eastern Ivory Coast. It is inhabited by kindred Negro peoples speaking languages of the Twi branch of the Kwa subfamily of the Negritic stock. The newly independent state of Ghana, which occupies the heart of the province, has adopted the name of the old Mande empire discussed in Chapter 11, but no relationship whatsoever exists between the two. Despite attempts to invent a connection through a misreading of legendary evidence, the inhabitants of the ancient and modern states of Ghana belong to separate branches of the Negro stock which differ markedly both in culture and in language.
Because of the geographical difference noted above, the original Sudanic agricultural complex may have become somewhat more firmly established in the Twi province than in the Southern Nigerian province. Akee, ambary, cotton, cow peas, earth peas, fluted pumpkins, gourd , Guinea yams, millet, oil palms, okra, roselle, sesame, sorghum, and yergan are all grown today in at least certain sections of the province. But only on the northern fringe, particularly in the hill region of central Togo, do they retain a significant position in the agricultural economy. Elsewhere they have been in very large measure replaced by Malaysian plants, especially yams and taro, which have wrought a revolution comparable to that already noted for the Southern Nigerians.
Culturally and linguistically the Twi peoples fall into four major clusters, under which their component tribes are classified below.

Ewe Cluster

Several populous nations, who exhibit a considerable degree of cultural homogeneity, inhabit the eastern part of the province, mainly in coasta Dahomey and Togo.

  1. Adangme (Adampa), embracing the Ada, Kpone, Krobo, Ningo, Osuduku, Prampram, and Shai. Together with the adjacent Ga, they probably number at least 200,000.
  2. Ewe (Eibe, Ephe, Krepe), embracing the Anglo, Glidyi, Ho, and numerous other subtribes. They number about 700,000.
  3. Fon (Dahomeans, Fonnu), with the Adja, Agonglin, Aizo (Aizangbe, Whydah), Djedj, Ilwelanu, Mahi (Maxi), and Watyi (Wachi). Together with the Gun, they number nearly a million.
  4. Ga (Gan), with the Awuru (Afuru, Ofuru), Gomwa (Domwa), and Gwan (Akripon).
  5. Gun (Egun, Goun, Popo), with the Tofinu and Wemenu.
  6. Popo, embracing the Ge (Anecho, Gen, Mina), Hula (Pla), and Peda. They number about 70,000.

Central Togo Cluster

In the highlands of Central Togo reside a number of so-called “splinter tribes” that appear to have been driven into the region by the expansion of more vigorous neighboring peoples like the Ashanti, Dagomba, Fon, and Yoruba. In many respects their cultures are transitional toward those of the Voltaic peoples who adjoin them on the north.

  1. Adele (Adeli, Bedere), with the Delo and Lolo. They number about 5,000.
  2. Akposo (Kposo), embracing the Litimc, Otadi, and Sodo. They number about 30,000.
  3. Atyuti (Atjud, Atyode), with the Anyana (Agnagan) and Chambuli (Bassen, Tchumbuli). They number a few thousand.
  4. Avatime (Afatime, Kedemane, Siya), with the Logba, Nyangbo (Nyankpo), and Tafi (Trugbo). They number a few thousand.
  5. Basila (Akpenu, Baseda, Windjinwindjin), with the detached Bazanche (Podo). They number a few thousand.
  6. Buem (Balemi, Boem, Bwenum, Lafana, Lefana), with the Ahlo (Achlo, Bogon, Ogo), Akpafu (Lolobi, Maruka, Siwu), Boro, Likpe (Bakpele), and Santrokofi. They number at least 10,000.
  7. Kebu (Akabu, Akebu, Ekbebe, Kabu). They number about 15,000.
  8. Krachi (Kratyi), with the Basa (Ayesegn), Cangborong Nchumbulung, Nchumuru, Tchangbore, Tchimboro), Chimboro (Agnamkpase), Kunya (Ahenklo, kogna, Nkunya), and Nawuri (Nawuli, Nawura, Nkatshina). They are akin to the Guang of the Akan cluster and probably number at least 20,000.
  9. Tribu (Ntribu). This intrusive tribe, numbering a few thousand, belongs to the Tem branch of the Voltaic linguistic subfamily.

Akan Cluster

About two-thirds of the entire Twi province is occupied by peoples of the Akan linguistic subdivision, who likewise exhibit marked cultural uniformity.

  1. Akyem, with the Akwamu, Akwapim, and Kwahu (Akwahu). They number about 65,000.
  2. Anyi (Agni), embracing the Arichin, Asaye (Sadqi), Berye (Berrie), Binye (Ano, Bini), Bonda (Bonai, Bonna, Bouanda), Brisa (Aowin, Brossa, Brussa) , Butesya, Dadye (Asikaso, Asuamara, Diabe), Kumwe, Moro (Morunu), Ndenye (Indenie) , Sanwi (Brofi, Sanwign), Sefwi, and Sika. They number about 100,000.
  3. Ashanti (Asante), with the Ahanta, Asen-Twifo, and Wasa. They number over 700,000.
  4. Attie (Akye), embracing the Bodde, Kuroba (Krobu) , and Nedde. They number about 55,000.
  5. Baule (Baoule), with the Agbegnyau, Ayahu, Bomofwe, Ndamefwe, Ngannufwe. and Wure. They number about 400.000.
  6. Brong (Abron). They number in excess of 75,000.
  7. Fanti (Fante). They number ar least 200,000, and some estimates run much higher.
  8. Guang (Bandja, Ghandja, Gibya, Gonya, Gwan, Gwanya, Ngbanye). They number about 50,000 and have been Islamized to some extent.

Lagoon Cluster

Along the lagoons which line the southern shores of the Ivory Coast, and in the hinterland immediately behind them, reside a number of small groups that depend for subsistence very largely upon fishing but otherwise affiliate culturally with the tribes of the Akan cluster.

  1. Abe (Abbe, Abi, Aby). They number about 30,000.
  2. Ajukru (Adioukrou, Agyukru, Butburi, Ogykru). They number about 27,000, including the Aizi, an intrusive Kru people.
  3. Alagya (Aladia, Alladians, Aragya, Jackjack). They number about 5,000.
  4. Ari (Abidji, Adidji). They number about 10,000.
  5. Assini (Issinesc, Issynois), embracing the Abure (Akapless, Asoko, Essouma, Esuma), Afema, Evalue (Sahue), and Nzima (Amanya, Apollonians, Zema). They number about 12,000.
  6. Avikam (Avekwom, Brignan, Brinya, Gbanda, Kwakwa). They number about 5,000.
  7. Ebrie (Gyuman, Kyama, Tyaman), with the kindred Mbaro Agwa, Goua, Gwa, Gwabyo). They number about 16,000.
  8. Mekyibo (Byetri, Ewoutire, Ewutile, Vetere, Virte, Vyetere). They number about 4,000.

Hunting and gathering contribute little to the food supply, but the Ga, the Gun, and all the Lagoon tribes except the Abe and Ari depend heavily upon fishing. The remaining peoples of the province live primarily by agriculture, with shifting hoe cultivation and fallowing. For most of them yams are the staple crop, but bananas and taro are also widely cultivated, and assume first place among the Anyi and Assini. The Sudanic plants, as previously noted, retain a significant position only in the Central Togo cluster, and even here they rarely attain the tarus of staples. Hyacinth beans and pigeon peas have been adopted from the Indian complex, and rice, though only recently introduced, has come to occupy a prominent place in the economy of the Buem. Through the slave trade the Twi have acquired a number of American crops—notably maize, manioc, peanuts, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes—and cacao ranks with the indigenous oil palm as a major modern commercial resource. Although introductions from the New World clearly overshadow the original Sudanic cultigens, they have not succeeded in supplanting the Malaysian food plants, except among the Adele and Krachi, where manioc and maize, respectively, have become leading crops.
The Twi peoples keep sheep, goats, dogs, chickens, and smaller numbers of pigs, cats, guinea fowl, ducks, and pigeons. early all possess a few cattle, though they never milk them, and horses appear sporadically in the Central Togo and Ewe clusters. Regular markets, normally held every fourth day in all towns and most villages, facilitate the distribution of agricultural produce, the products of local handicraft industries, and articles traded between the north and south. In general, the men hunt, clear land, and do most of the fishing; women engage in petty trade; and both sexes participate in agricultural labor.
Except for the Anyi and some Adele and Guang, who live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads, the Twi peoples occupy compact villages and towns, commonly divided into quarters, or wards, and into family compounds. The latter are sometimes aligned on either side of a single village street, as among the Attie, Baule, and Ebrie, but more commonly along narrow paths radiating from a central market place. Dwellings conform in the main to the type prevalent throughout the Guinea coast—rectangular houses with thatched gable or shed roofs and walls of reeds or of wattle and daub, arranged around a quadrangular interior courtyard. In the Lagoon cluster they are sometimes elevated on piles. The Guang and most tribes of the Central Togo cluster differ from the rest of the area in building cone-cylinder huts of the Sudanic type. The Buem and some Akposo and Krachi, however, construct rectangular dwellings with mud walls and flat roofs like those of some adjacent Voltaic peoples.
Marriage normally entails the payment of a substantial bride-price in livestock, cowrie shells, or other valuables; and the Ajukru, Attie, Brong, and the tribes of the Ewe cluster require premarital bride-service as well. Nearly all groups prefer cross-cousin unions, and some of them even forego the bride-price in such cases. The Adangme, Popo, and some Ga differ from the overwhelming majority in permitting marriages between parallel cousins. General polygyny prevails throughout the area, but only the Fon allow it in the sororal form. The first wife enjoys a preferred status, but each co-wife has a hut or apartment of her own and the husband spends an equal period with each in rotation. A preference for local endogamy appears to be universal.
Kin-group organization reveals significant regional variations. The tribes of the Central Togo cluster adhere to the patrilocal rule of residence and to the patrilineal rule in descent, inheritance, and succession. The Akposo, Atyuti, and Kebu, at least, have totemic patrisibs, and lineages appear to be localized as clans. The tribes of the Ewe cluster exhibit structu res of essentially the same type. All of them have localized patrilineages, which are exogamous except among the Adangme, Ga, and Popo, and with the same three exceptions lineages are aggregated in noncorporate patrisibs. The Ewe and Ga use cousin terminology of the Hawaiian type, and the Fon follow the descriptive pattern. Despite the patrilocal and patrilineal character of the present social systems of the Ewe peoples, these yield faint intimations of possible former matrilineal descent. Thus in certain subtribes of the Ewe, e.g., the Anglo and Glidyi, the eldest sister’s eldest son inherits a man’s movable property although his land and social status descend to his eldest son. The Fon are noted for a bewildering array of alternative modes of marriage, and some of these, which do not involve a bride-price, result in the affiliation of the children with the mother’s rather than the father’s lineage.
In all societies of the Akan and Lagoon clusters matrilineal descent, inheritance, and succession become, not a hypothesis, but a present reality. The Ashanti, Fanti, and perhaps other tribes, however, also possess partially exogamous patrilineages and are thus characterized by double descent. Cousin terminology follows the descriptive pattern among the Fanti and Guang, the Crow pattern among the Akyem and, with complications, the Ashanti. Variable residence rules produce an extraordinary complexity in household composition. Only for the Ashanti do we possess descriptive data sufficiently accurate and detailed to make possible a satisfactory analysis.
Marriage among the Ashanti begins with duolocal residence. The young wife continues to live for several years with her own parenrs and does not remove to her husband’s home until about the time when her older children begin to require a father’s attention. When his first wife joins him, a man may still be living in his father’s compound, which consequently assumes the structure of a patrilocal extended family. More commonly, however, he will already have shifted to the home of a maternal uncle and, if not, will usually do so within a few years. This change in residence produces an avunculocal extended family. Unless he is his uncle’s heir, a man, as soon as he has means to afford it, builds a new home, where he establishes his mother and perhaps some of his younger siblings (but not his father), and removes there with his own family. When his mother dies, he succeeds her as head of the household and is gradually joined by his sisters’ sons as his own sons leave him to live with their uncles. As an old man, consequently, he again finds himself a member of an avunc ulocal extended family, this time as its head and not as a dependent.
Slavery and debt slavery prevail throughout the area, and the Attie have a class of hereditary serfs, but endogamous castes are unknown and a special class of nobles occurs only in the societies with complex political institutions. Some of the societies of the Lagoon cluster, e.g., the Ajukru and Ebrie, possess age-grade systems of considerable complexity. The Twi peoples do not practice clitoridectomy, and only the Guang and the tribes of the Ewe cluster subject boys to circumcision. Human sacrifice is confined to the larger societies of the Akan and Ewe clusters, but cannibalism and headhunting are completely absent.
A headman and a council of elders, usually representing the local lineages, handle public affairs within the village. Districts of varying size are politically organized under petty paramount chiefs, who commonly exercise sacerdotal as well as secular functions, and the Assini, Fon, and most societies of the Akan cluster have evolved complex states with kings, hierarchical administrative organizations, and courts with titled ministers and specialized palace officials. The Fon kingdom of Dahomey, which conquered a series of petty coastal states in the early eighteenth century and thereafter prospered extraordinarily for a century and a half through a virtual monopoly of all external trade on the Slave Coast, merits a summary description.
The King of Dahomey was an absolute monarch, ruling the country through an administrative hierarchy of provincial governors, district chiefs, and local headmen, who were responsible for tax collections. At the capital town of Abomey he maintained an elaborate court, where all who approached his person had to prostrate themselves and throw dust on their heads. One of his sons, not necessarily the eldest, held the honored position of heir apparent, but to guard against insurrection, no other kinsman was allowed to hold any post of power or influence. The royal princes and princesses led idle and profligate lives. The leading ministers at court, all appointive officials and commoners, included:

  • the Minga, who was commander in chief of the army, prime minister, and chief executioner
  • the Meu, chief of protocol, collector of taxes, and guardian of the royal princes and princesses
  • the Yovoga, governor of the port of Whydah and a sort of foreign minister, charged with all dealings with Europeans
  • the Adjaho, supervisor of the palace and head of the secret police and espionage systems
  • the Saga, commander of cavalry and overseer of the king’s slaves
  • the Tokpo, minister of the interior and supervisor of markets and agriculture
  • the Benazo, royal treasurer and chief commissary
  • the Totonu, or chief eunuch, who had charge of the king’s harem and personal attendants

Each official had a deputy and a female counterpart called his “mother,” who took precedence over him at court. The king, similarly, was technically outranked by a Queen-Mother. The power of the state and the steady flow of lucrative slaves were maintained by a large standing army, whose shock troops were the redoubtable Amazons, a corps of 2,500 female warriors.
Once a year the royal lineage paid tribute to its ancestors in the Annual Custom, an extravagant ceremony culminating in the sacrifice of about a hundred war captives and slaves, but even this was dwarfed by the sanguinary Grand Custom which followed the death of a ruler.

Selected Bibliography


Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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