Traditional Lifestyles of the Akan

While the Akan states are famous for their gold, their average historic family lived off the land as farmers. Traditionally, each matrilineal group within a village controlled its own lands. These territories were then parceled out to smaller family units to work for several years at a time. In the forested Akan regions, staple crops include starchy tubers like the yam, cocoyam, sweet potato, and cassava, along with plantains, corn, cocoa, chili peppers, and oil palms. Kola nuts, which contain caffeine, are a common energizing snack. Yams, cassava, plantains, and similar roots can be ground and processed into a dough known as fufu, the staple food of many Akan peoples. Among coastal groups like the Fante, fishing is still an important industry. Soups, breads, seafood stews, and street foods are also popular in modern Akan cuisine.

A typical Akan home in pre-modern times consisted of four rectangular structures forming a square, with a central courtyard between them. Husbands and wives did not always live together, though they remained linked by their children and finances. Instead, married individuals might stay with a maternal uncle or brother and his close female relatives. Larger, urban homes could be built from sun-dried brick and decorated with adinkra symbols. More temporary houses were walled with wattle and daub. Families thatched their roofs with oil palm leaves. Modern homes may still follow this general floor plan but use concrete or corrugated iron as materials.

The Akan nobility wore kente cloth, a fabric produced exclusively by men. It is made by picking apart and reweaving silk threads into complex and colorful designs. The patterns hold symbolic meaning, quote proverbs, and provide identifying information for those who know how to read them. Adinkra symbols stamped onto fabrics with calabash shells also convey proverbs based on ancestral wisdom. Kente cloth, sometimes made with cotton or rayon, is now worn by people of all social classes on formal occasions. It may be wrapped around the body or cut and sewn into shape. Western-style apparel is more common on a daily basis.

Modern Lifestyles of Akan People

Today, urbanization and export industries play a major role in the average life of Akan communities. Commercial crops, wage labor, and urban careers are, in many areas, now seen as more important than subsistence farming. As a consequence, the traditional system of allocating land within families has been strained or abandoned altogether. Housing has seen similar changes. Instead of living with maternal kin, nuclear families may now rent apartments or smaller homes in urban centers. The extent to which different communities practice their older customs is generally determined by wealth and proximity to major cities.

Further Reading:

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Manoukian, Madeline. Akan and Ga-Adangme Peoples. Vol 1. Routledge. 2017.

McCaskie, T.C. State and Society in Pre-colonial Asante. Cambridge University Press. 2002.

Opokuwaa, Nana Akua Kyerewaa. Akan Protocol: Remembering the Traditions of Our Ancestors. Authors Choice Press. 2005.

Wilks, Ivor. Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order. Cambridge University Press. 1989.

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