Reflections on the Presence and Praxis of the Akan Calendrical System of West Africa

Dr. Kwasi Konadu

Abstract The relevance of indigenous calendrical systems in the context of modernity appears to be a footnote to cultural preservation efforts that characterize much of the literature on indigenous African knowledge systems. Even with those few investigations that discuss indigenous calendrical systems, one gets the impression that those systems, which are employed in some contexts and discarded in others, have little to offer the culture in which they are a part. In fact, many of these cultures of the African world have been seduced by the Western worldview and find themselveslosing themselvesin a whirlpool of competing agendas and foreign institutions that purport to be life-sustaining. The object of this essay is to delineate an indigenous African calendrical system through a sort of reflective narrative giving careful consideration and priority to a praxis-based view of that calendrical system for the benefit of the African world. To that end, the Akan calendrical system of West Africa will be employed to accomplish the foregoing objective; herein, a multitude of Akan terms are used to facilitate the aim of the essay. There is neither a hypothesis to evaluate nor a theory employed, since the conceptual proposition and anchor of this essay is that theory derives from praxis and in the praxis of this (or another) calendrical system one may arrive at a theory to explain or interpret the scope thereof. Thus, the implications for the use of the Akan calendrical system in the African world exist in the fact that Africans from or who have an affinity to the Akan expression of African culture are found in places such as West Africa, Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Antigua, and parts of the United States.
INTRODUCTION The cultural-linguistic term Akan refers to an African people that occupies the greater parts of Ghana and to a lesser extent Côte dIvoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. The Akan are defined by a shared cultural-spiritual system, indigenous calendrical and political system, language, and ethos. The present Akan constellation includes the Adanse, Ahanta, Akwamu, Akwapem, Akyem, Anyi, Aowin, Asante, Assin, Baule, Bono, D[nkyira, Guan, Gyaman, Fante, Nzema, Twifo, and Wassa peoples. This constellation suggests that the notion of Akan civilization corresponds to the development and expansion of one cultural-linguistic people.1 To the Akan, nna nyinaa ns[, all days are not the same (Ampem, 1998, p. 98). Embedded in this proverb are ageless notions of time, cyclicality, and life (as lived by a temporal design) as well as the meanings ascribed to the nna (days) of the Akan calendrical system. The relevance of indigenous calendrical systems as ways to perceive and organize reality in a conceptual scheme is at once peripheral and at the same time core to many in the African world. From the standpoint of those who write about but do not experience life and living as an African, with an appropriate and consummate African orientation, the applicability of indigenous calendrical systems in the context of modernity is a moot question. A careful reading of the literature on indigenous calendrical systems, including other indigenous African knowledge systems, reveals a kind of cultural voyeurism at work. Cultural voyeurism refers to the act(s) of someone, obibini (African) or ]h]ho (foreigner), who derives gratification from observing the sacred practices or cultural acts of others, especially from a secret vantage point, but divorce from the reality in which he or she observes. This phenomenon
1 The Akan occupy a position in the indigenous Mande cosmology, as represented by a rainbow whose arc is based on Kangaba (west), Lake Debo (east), and on Dia (north) and Accra (south). The Akan are included in the 44 clans of the Mande world and are referred to as either Tõ (Akan) or Tõ-na (Akan country) in Malinke (Wilks, 1982, pp. 342-344). The Hausa term Tonawa is also used to refer to the Akan.
1
is not a recent development. In fact, it characterizes much of what passes as African studies or Africanist scholarship in both content and intent (Ayittey, 1998; Gyekye, 1997; Gyekye, 1996; Mudimbe, 1994; Mazrui, 1986; Sarpong, 1974; Kingsley, 1964; Griaule, 1953; Meyerowitz, 1958; Meyerowitz, 1952). The credibility of the aforementioned statement is also embedded in Akan thought: [ka nea ]k] aburokyiri nko a, anka abibibman ab], if it only depended on those who went to Europe, Africa would have been destroyed long ago. Methodologically speaking, the data for this essay derives from a larger research project in the Bono-Takyiman area and constitutes only a significant fraction (of that project) which has been expanded with the use of secondary sources and the authors knowledge of Akan culture and language.2 My intention in this essay is to first bring the readers attention to some indigenous African calendrical systems and, secondly, to present a praxical view of the Akan calendrical system through a sort of meditation. At the end of the essay, the reader will find a (re)useable adaduanan cycle, which will be explained herein, to be of utility in his or her own personal and community life. AFRICAN CALENDRICAL SYSTEMS Indigenous calendrical systems exist(ed) among most African societies, with the exception of some, such as the Ethiopians and the Waswahili, who adopted and modified the Julian and Islamic calendars, respectively.3 In the case of Ethiopia, the Julian calendar is divided into twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five or six days at the end of the year. In East Africa, the Waswahili calendar is based on the Islamic calendar and the Waswahili lunar
2 See Konadu, Kwasi (2004). The Concept of Medicine as Interpreted by Akan Healers and Indigenous Knowledge Archives among the Bono-Takyiman of Ghana, West Africa: A Case Study. PhD dissertation, Howard University, Washington, DC. 3 The irony here is that the adopted Julian calendar is actually of Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) origin. For a greater discussion of the origin of the Julian calendar, see Rekhety Wimby Jones. 1997. The Calendar Project. In Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris (ed.), African World History Project. Los Angeles: Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.
2
months are determined according to Islamic rules. How most indigenous peoples of the African continent organize their lives, and life sustaining activities, depends much on the varied phenomena of seasons. The seasonal cycles of the African landscape are broadly characterized by the dry and wet seasons. Within this broad scheme are local and regional variations depending upon where one is located, movement and settlement patterns, primary life sustaining activities, and cosmological disposition. In West Africa, the Bamana/Mandinka year falls into two major cycles, respectively, tilema (tile-sun; ma-season; dry season) and samiyè (san-sky/year, sanji-sky water; rainy season). For the Dogon it is nam bana (sunny/dry season) and jinèga (rainy season), and amongst the Songhay and Hausa (Niger) it is, respectively, jamda (dry/malaria season) and kediya (wet season) and fari (dry season) and damena (wet season). The Bamana/Mandinka term for year and sky is san, which derives from sanji, since a persons age is reckoned by the number of rainy seasons one has lived through (Koné, 1994: 88; Arnoldi, 1995: 110).4 San yèlèma, the year turns over, begins in late May and opens each new agricultural and fishing year as a result of the first rains in early June (Arnoldi, 1995: 108). Dry season activities include hunting, masonry, weaving, smithing, pottery, entertainment, and rituals such as the Fonio harvest festival, weddings, initiation and association ceremonies (e.g., Kòmò, Kònò, Nama, Ciwara, Jara). The Bamana year has three hundred and sixty days that consists of four ninety-day periods, while the Dogon year is thirteen months of twenty-eight days or twelve months of thirty days (divided by five-day weeks). The Dogon calendrical system uses tools, such as taña bo, stick with notches, to mark the succession of each month of the year. In taña bo, there are twelve vertical notches drawn with
4 Samiyè da, the rain begins, marks the beginning of the rainy season, which is a focal point of the rural calendar. It is used as a measure for calculating a persons age as well as the years a woman has been married into her husbands household (Arnoldi, 1995: 110). Furthermore, this period of samiyè da denotes each age-sets move into, through, and out of the Kamalen Ton (a type of indigenous association). 3
a stick and every month the head of family moves a string along each notch (Koné, 1994: 86). Similarly, Bamana children keep twelve pebbles in a spot and subtract one every new moon or add one to another. Bear in mind that the Bamana kalo is a term used to denote moon as well as month. Both the Bamana and Dogon use a waati jate jiginyè (time-computing granary) to measure the movements of the earth, stars, and the sun.5 The notion of a cylindrical granary reflects the conceptualized movement of the sun and stars around the earth, and the projection of shade(s) produced by the granary helps determine the dates of solstices and equinoxes. The indigenous Bamana week contains four days, while the Dogon week consists of five days (Arnoldi, 1995: 110; Koné, 1994: 85; Griaule, 1965: 62).6 The Dogon tie a knot on a piece of rope each five days. The five-day week is in fact a cycle of market days, of which the bay no (fifth day) is a day of rest or private work that is also referred to as dambay (sacred day). On dambay no work is done in ritual fields. The Dogon dyugu (week) is as follows: iye (today), yugo (tomorrow, next farming season/year), yugo dene (day after yugo), bay nay (fourth day), and bay no (fifth day). By the logic of the five-day cycle, there would be six weeks in the Dogon month or 5.6 weeks if we were to go by the twenty-eight day month and thirteen months calendar. The Dogon calendrical system is punctuated by major rituals of each season.7 Those rituals include the Bada festival of elders in the spring, Bulu festival of sowing during the summer solstice, Bago harvest festival in the fall, and the Gogo/Guru in the winter (Koné, 1994: 92). According to Koné
5 According to Arnoldi (1995: 107), the term for time, waati or tuma, is conceptualized as firmly linked to the rhythm of activities, according to diurnal and/or seasonal patterns. 6 The indigenous Kongo week is four days, which, similar the Bamana/Mandinka and Dogon weeks association to market (days), correspond to the four Kongo markets of Bukonso/Konzo, Mpika, Nkoyi, and Nkenge/Nsona (Fu-Kiau, 1994). The Kongo day is also divided into four time periods. The indigenous Yoruba-Ifa calendar consists of a five day inclusive cycle, wherein the fifth day begins the new cycle, corresponding to observances associated with specific Orishas (e.g., Sunday Ifa; Monday Ogun; Tuesday Shango (Jakuta); Wednesday Obatala; Thursday Ifa; Friday Ogun; Saturday Shango; Sunday Obatala; and so on). 7 The Dogon calendar new year begins toward mid-October with the millet harvest and coincides with the harvest/first moon or month (i.e., turu), which signals the beginning of the lunar year. According to Griaule and Dieterlen (1986: 510), the solar year begins at the winter solstice, which determines the Gogo/Guru ceremony.
4
(1994: 83), it is not necessarily a (Kòmò farming) ritual that sets in motion the farming season or the ritual that tells one when to farm or do some other activities, but rather its significance lies in its role in the social construction of time and as a tool for maintaining social and political balance. Thus, it is the cyclical activities or events that are the consequences of the conceptual cycle. The same holds true for the Bantu-Kongo for which time is both a cyclical and cosmological thing that has no beginning and no end; time is both abstract and concrete (Fu-Kiau, 1994: 20). Though the author is unaware of a Bantu-Kongo calendar, the Bakongo recognize the cosmic, natural, vital, and social realms of time, at which both the cosmic and the vital are cyclical notions of time that begin at a point, end at that same point, and begin a new cycle after undergoing transformation (Fu-Kiau, 1994: 22-26). THE AKAN CALENDRICAL SYSTEM The Bantu-Kongo and the West African societies mentioned above share a view of timecyclical, abstract, and concretethat is also held by the Akan civilization of West Africa. The available written sources on the Akan calendrical system share a common concern for the study of the system (or aspects of it) as more of an academic exercise rather than a praxis-based exploration. Both McCaskies (1980; 1995) and Wilks (1982) essays are concerned with notions of time, movement, governance, and diplomatic matters, while Adjayes (1994) essay is more extensive in terms of its primary focus on time concepts, personhood, and the calendrical system. Adjaye (1994: 58) regards time among the Akan as an essentially cultural, environmental, and economic phenomenon. He posits that the most fundamental calendar system to the Akan is an ecological calendar based on changes in the climate and weather and human responses to those changes. He goes on to explain that the Akan have a parallel annual calendar of nine 40-day
5
cycles and that this calendar is essentially a ritual calendar, since the cycles are employed to determine ritual days (Adjaye, 1994: 63). Adjayes statements will be addressed in the course of the discussion to follow with the intention of addressing the conceptual as well as the praxical dimensions of the Akan calendrical system. If we are to believe that calendrical structures function as cultural mechanisms for demarcating temporal units, then surely those demarcated temporal units function within a greater cultural reality that in fact gives meaning and vivacity to those mechanisms (Adjaye, 1994: 75). In other words, calendrical systems, such as the Akan, codify the core underpinnings of a cultural reality in which they are a part and provide a temporal design for daily life and living. The most fundamental unit of time for daily life and living is the [da (pl. Nna), the day of twenty-four hours and its periodicity.8 The two broad categories of adekye[ (day time) and anadwo (night time) constitute a [da, of which the constituents of each category number ten in total (see Table 1.1). Table 1.1 The Akan {da (day)9 Adekye[ (when things can be seen) Anadwo (the cool of the day) An]pa-hema (day break) }dasuo baako (before midnight) An]pa (early morning) }dasuo mmienu (around midnight) B]me boseawia (mid-morning) }dasuo mmi[nsa (after midnight)10Awiagyinae[(noon

, .