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Women in Ashanti

Ye ko bisa aberewa "We are going to consult the old woman", places the woman as the final arbiter in all decisions in the Ashanti community. When a tribunal sits to settle a case, its members finally retire to take a decision and this final act culminating in giving justice is referred to as "consulting the old woman." The woman is the custodian of all knowledge and treasures of the community.
In Ashanti men rarely defy the women in this respect. Women are known as reputed connoisseurs and must not be challenged in their specialty. It is only among themselves that criticisms may be whispered and even insinuations made. However inferior an Ashanti woman may appear to an outside observer she is the final decisive factor in all the activities of the en and the arbiter of what is good or bad for the whole community.
 

Wars have been started because a Queen Mother said the war should be fought although the men and the chief would have been satisfied with a lesser punishment for the offending state. Nana Yaa Asantewaa

A whole village has been sold into slavery because the wife of a chief had led him to enter into an unholy alliance with her people. Tyrants whom the people could not remove have fallen easy prey to the wiles of a woman and then the whole effort of warring section spared. From time immemorial the Ashantis have recognised the powers of a wise woman and have made use of them. The woman as a Queen Mother was invaluable.

There is very little distinction of s*x in the social grouping or organisation in Ashanti. Boys and girls mingle quite freely. Boys or men have a natural inclination to predominate, and are expected to, and they do the lion's share of the services necessary for the proper upkeep of the group. And yet there is no disregard of the status of women in the organisations. In their dance bands there are Agrohene and Agrohemmaa, the " KING" of the band and the "QUEEN". The King (Agrohene) is directly responsible for the ales and the "QUEEN" (Agrohemmaa) for the females and both are jointly responsible for the whole group. And no member repudiates either's authority their assistants and other ranks are similarly regarded and respected.

It is only in the fighting forces that women may not play a major part although there are several instances when wars have been started by women. In war time their duty is to care for the young and infirm at home and daily they keep up the home-front with dirges, prayers and patriotism (Mobeme) for the men at the front. No man of fighting age can stay at home or hide anywhere to hear the face the challenge in these songs without taking arms immediately. The insinuation can cause him to take his own life. He is Kosannkobi, wokasa obaa ano a Kobiri nku wo. Deserter, may Kobiri (an important goddess) kill you if you dare speak as a man to a woman. The man who evades going to, or escapes from, the battle-field has no claim to adultery fee if his wife commits adultery. He is not a man. He is but another woman. This is the source of the supremacy of the Ashantis fighting force. The challenge to play one's part as a man is irresistible. Added to this is the unflinching loyalty to ancestral stools and to the Golden Stool of mystery and legend.

Ashanti women are as brave and daring as the men. But for the impediment of motherhood that keeps them at the home-front they might even have outshone the men in triumphing in wars. For the situation changes when villages are attacked. The women stir the men up with war cries and supply them with stones and sticks

It is only in the fighting forces that women may not play a major part although there are several instances when wars have been started by women. In war time their duty is to care for the young and infirm at home and daily they keep up the home-front with dirges, prayers and patriotism (Mobeme) for the men at the front. No man of fighting age can stay at home or hide anywhere to hear and face the challenge in these songs without taking arms immediately. The insinuations can cause him to take his own life. He is Kosannkobi, wokasa obaa ano a Kobiri nku wo. Deserter, may Kobiri (an important goddess) kill you if you dare speak as a man to a woman. The man who evades going to, or escapes from the battle-field has no claim to adultery fee if his wife commits adultery. He is not a man. He is but another woman. This is the source of the supremacy of the Ashanti fighting force. The challenge to play one's part as a man is irresistible. Added to this is the unflinching loyalty to ancestral stools and to the Golden Stool of mystery and legend

Ashanti women are as brave and daring as the men. But for the impediment of motherhood that keeps them at the home-front they might even have outshone the men in triumphing in wars. For the situation change when villages are attacked. The women stir the men up with war cries and supply them with stones and sticks for offence or defence. If an attack was too sudden and caught the men unprepared the women especially those nursing young babies, filled in quite adequately by bringing out all accessible defensive weapons.

The last war in Ashanti history was fought under the leadership of a Queen mother in 1900. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mottates in Ashanti to take up arms against the British. She was immediately obeyed by all, whom she inspired with her unquenchable sprit. It was a typical example of the leadership which women could produce in extreme emergencies. Today there are no wars and the Ashanti woman has shifted her energies to other things particularly retail trade in which she holds, together with her other colleagues elsewhere in the county, about 80 percent of the trade returns of the country.
Girls are generally assistants in domestic duties and offer services which in other countries would be done by maid-servants. They are discouraged from spending time in games and sports as they boys do. Mothers are often blamed if their daughters turn out to be uninterested in house-keeping. In the main, sports are considered out of reach of girls. They too weak and prone to accidents for that, Their strength and energy is to be preserved and conserved for the strenuous life of motherhood that awaits them. A woman is considered to born with too much responsibility to lend herself to sports. Laziness is generally detested in an Ashanti community but it is especially despised in a woman. A woman of whom the term 'Lazy' or 'idle' can be used id utterly discredited in Ashanti. Obaa huhuni, a vagrant hoodlum of a woman, dapaafoo, the idler and kwadwofo, the lazy one, are names no woman wants to be called. She is perfectly aware of the adverse effects they could have on her and may prevent her from enjoying a successful marriage, that is if these words had not already debarred her from the romantic approach of men. Marriage with such a woman is said to be the proverbial 'nine days wonder' and the victims have usually been strangers. This is one reason why Ashanti parents rarely allow their children to marry strangers. They think that such marriages are hazardous and only indulged in by the unguided ignorant, who generally turns out to be a stranger. And, unless he has very sound reasons, no Ashanti man may in vexation or anger call his wife such names.

No Ashanti community exists without a social group or some sort and from girlhood to womanhood the daughter must seen t play an active part in the social life of the community. Withdrawal from the social life of one's age group is especially frowned on and is thought to be a serious blemish of character. One who cannot mix in a group is considered unfit for either human or animal society - Ommpe nnipa, onnse nipa nnse aboa. The strength of the belief in the importance of social communion can be seen where reference is made to the other world in these terms- Asamanfo po pe dodo na etese teasefo (Even the dead pray for increase in their number in Hades how much more the living).

The Ashanti spends time and much energy to fit his off-spring into society. Lessons on greetings and repries start very early in life. Youth are taught to comport themselves at gatherings. Parents are blamed for the impoliteness and uncouth bearing to their children. Bad breeding produces bad citizens and parents are blamed for bad citizens in Ashanti.

Except in the matter of passing death sentences and enforcing them nothing in the organisation of social life is peculiar to Ashanti. It is Akan . All Akans of Fanti, Assin, Denkyira, Buem, Akwamu, Akwapim, Akim, Kwahu, Ashanti and Brong are the same in their organised social communities. Apart from slight variations in customs they are one and can be welded into an inseparable unit in this if not in all other aspects of life. The word "AKAN" is said to drive from Kann (patently clean and free from adulteration, or light and free from darkness). And so the people in Ghana known as Akans feel that their social heritage is distinctive.

By Editor K 02/10/2011 21:49:00
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