Kwahu Easter and the history of the people

BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah

From the beginning of this month, the Ghanaian populace and visitors to the country have been inundated with myriads of blitz and glitz of advertising messages extolling the arrival of much awaited and famed Kwahu Easter. This annual event has become a class act and a unique assembly for socialites, holiday-makers, tourists and Kwahu natives to pilgrimage to the Kwahu Hills to celebrate the three-day spectacular festivities unparalleled around this time in the Ghanaian festive calendar.  

The Kwahu Easter, which has now been accepted as part of Kwahu culture and national celebration, courtesy Ministry of Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts has a flurry of socio-cultural activities in addition to how the indigenous Kwahus use the Easter to meet their families, resolve family problems, engage in festivities and observe quite time. The grandeur of the activities that marked the Easter includes paragliding, hiking, carnivals and street jams. Thus, the Kwahu people now see the Easter as an annual homecoming, whilst the holiday revelers looks at it as an occasion for celebrations. 


Taking advantage of the Kwahu Easter to promote tourism, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) and Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts (MoTCCA) have since 2005 continued to run the Kwahu Easter Paragliding Festival as the core part of the three-day event. Corporations and businesses in the country have also sponsored the programmes as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSO) programmes. 

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This year, MTN Ghana, the nation's mobile telecommunications giant, unveiled a mouth-watering support package to boost the event's attraction to holidaymakers. In addition to huge sums of money given to traditional authorities for certain communal projects in tandem with the Easter festivities; MTN is sponsoring the street hip-life performances and concert in selected towns in the Kwahu area by celebrated artistes. The company will also engage in data activation throughout the festive period to give its customers smooth access to internet and data services. 

Who are the Kwahu people? 

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The Kwahu or Okwawu are hardworking mountain-dwelling agriculturalist and the famous business-oriented Kwa-speaking people that forms a subset of the larger Akan ethnolinguistic group living in the south-central Ghana, on the west shore of Lake Volta in the Eastern Region. The Kwahu live specifically on part of the Kwahu sandstone plateau, with the Afram Plains to the north, Akim Abuakwa to the south, Ashanti Akim to the west, and the Volta River forming an approximate boundary to the east.

Kwahu people speak a Twi-dialect of Akan language, which is within the Kwa language group (Twi, Sefwi, Mfantse, Chokossi, Nzema, Ewe, et al), but also falls in the larger Niger-Congo phylum. The derivative of Kwahu-Twi spoken in indigenous Kwahu towns such as Abene, Abetifi, Pepease, Atibie, Nkwatia, Obo, Bepong, Tafo, Akwasiho, Obomeng, Twenedurase, Nteso, Nkwakwa,  Mpraeso, Asakraka, Aduamoa, Pitiko, Sadan, Burukuwa, Nkwantanane, Ahinasie and Donkorkrom is slightly different from Asante-Twi, Akwapim-Twi and Akyem-Twi. According to Linguists Kwahus are fond of using the syllabi (La), (hunu) and the like. Thus they end their speech and pronunciation with words that end with "La" sound.  In most cases, you will find that instead of "saa" the Kwahu ends it with “Saala” (that’s it), “yei ala” (just this). Therein dwells the distinction, and the Kwahus especially Obos are noted for such trend in speech delivery. The Kwahu  slogan is Asase Aban, Yεnte Gyae (Protectors of the Land, We don`t quit) and also Oboכּ (Rock) or Oboכּba (Child of the Rock).

The beautiful Kwahu Scarps, their residential polity has received platitudes from historians and anthropologists alike. Historians Macmillan and Kwamena Poh (1965) describe the wonderful climate of their mountainous town, Abetifi as “… the Switzerland of West Africa, with nights as cool as May nights in Europe”. 

The people are very wealthy and successful traders who were the first to utilize their interior middlemen role to emerge as strong local business gurus. 

Sandwiched between Ashanti and the coast, by 1914 thousands of Kwahu traders had spread all over the colony, to some parts of the Northern Territories, and even to French West Africa. With their extensive adherence to mobility, the Kwahus immediately took advantage of the new opportunities for wage labor under colonial rule, both on public works and in the mines as far away as the Western Province. They also engaged in salt trading at Ada, carting copper bangles from Saltpond, commercial rubber business, sold cloth, and started tailoring work as sandals-makers as stepping stone to trade in the Gold Coast. Kwahu were the foremost in selling goods from Europeans of the Coast to the hinterlands and northern regions, whilst moving interior agricultural produce to the coast simultaneously. 

In his 1968 journal article, “The Development of Kwahu Business Enterprise in Ghana since 1874-An Essay in Recent Oral Tradition,” Peter C. Garlick avers that Kwahu business entrepreneurial dexterity is steeped in a fable of how the Pra River deity asked the Asante and Kwahu people what gift they desired most, and the Asante asked for food and drink, but the Kwahu went for trade. Garlick (1968) avers that the Kwahus are “The 'Jews of Ghana....and they are teased for their thriftiness by other groups. Many Kwahu will tell you that their trading abilities are in-born, though no Kwahu, in my experience, assumed that running a business was a simple matter. It was a skill to be acquired by training and experience, and this was a part of nearly every Kwahu child's upbringing, even if-especially in more recent years only during the school holidays.”

The Kwahus are victims of our usual Ghanaian stereotyping others without empirical facts. Due to their ability to put up huge and successful businesses and numerous wonderful mansions with expensive and advanced architecture on the mountains people ignorantly accuse them of indulging in ritual or blood money (sika aduro). Their competitors in markets claim Kwahus use Nzema Bayie or wizardry in making money business. And for being modest and highly frugal in any venture they undertake except business that brings them more money, they are perceived as 'pεpεe' (misers) as Garlick averred.

History of Kwahu and the Origin of their name                                                                                                                                     The Kwahu traces their historical origins to Adansi and Asante Mampong in present-day Ashanti Region. The first migration from the Adansi occurred when the Asante Kingdom or social formation had not been thought out by Osei Tutu I (founder of the Asante nation). Long before the Asante-Denkyira war of1699-1700, Nana Osei Twum, the first Chief Agonaman in the Adansi Morobem, his nephew Badu, his younger brother Kwasi Tititii and a slave Kofabra ("fetch it") together with Frempong Manso (who later founded Asante-Akyem stool land in the Asante Kingdom) Nana Ameyaw and Nana Adu Gyamfi, (founders of Asante Afidwase and Asante Gyamase respectively) fled from the cruelty of the King of Denkyira who had captured Adansi in about1650, to find a new land. The group got divided and the trekking Kwahu party led by Osei Twum moved up mountains and stopped first at Dampong, whereupon Osei Twum and his party then moved on and discovered the Mpraeso Scarp. The trekking Kwahus continued to search for suitable land settle, thus from Mount Apaku where they first settled, they came across a stream with a rock in it shaped like a stone jar, and Osee Twum interpreting this as a good omen decided to settle there and called the place Obo-kuruwa or Bukuruwa (meaning stone jar). They settled there for many years, until Twum died and was succeeded by Baadu. Bukuruwa grew to become a big town; it received emigrants from the Adumoa, the Obo and the Nkwatia people.

Historical accounts, “A Few Notes on Kwahu ("Quahoe," a Territory in the Gold Coast Colony, West Africa)” published by W. Perregaux in 1903 and “THE KWAHUS—THEIR CONNECTION WITH THE AFRAM PLAIN” published by J.R. WALLIS in 1953 confirms that the name Kwahu emerged as a name for a social formation as a result of expression of grief about the death of Kofraba, the slave. Perregaux (1903) asserts that "one day a nephew of Osei Twum, Kwasi Tititi, went with his slave Kofabra about the country to explore it. During this expedition the slave died. Kwasi Tititi returned to Bukuruwa to anoounce his death to his uncle. Full of griedf at this news Osei Twum exclaimed: O! akoa wu ui! (Lit: Oh, the death of my slave!). And from this time, the whole country was called "Okwa`u", (Kwawu). Wallis (1953) building on similar account, narrates that "In the course of time Kwasi Tititii and Kofabra died and Baadu, comparing the elaborate funeral of Kwasi Tititii with the poor one of Kofabra the slave, is reported to have said "Akoa wuo ni" (so this is a slave's death!) or "Akoa wu" (where a slave died) which corrupted became Okwawu or Kwahu.” Kofi Nkansa-Kyeremateng in his 124 Pages book: “Kwahu Handbook: Tips Galore for Investors and Tourists” published in 2000 also concurred with Perregaux (1903) and Wallis (1953) about the accounts (Kofraba`s death) on the origin of the name kwahu. Indeed, Nkansa-Kyeremateng (2000) went further to explain the origin of Nkwakwa, stating that “Bepong was said to be a formidable Kingdom with heavily guarded mountain passes. The fear the Kingdom evoked got its name “Kowu” which simply means “go there and die”. The name Nkawkaw (Nkכּ-Kowu) was a warning to people approaching the Kwahu chiefdom”.

The second wave of Kwahu emigrants were from Mamong Agyei, whose uncle was Esono Gyima of Asante Mampong, was chased away by his uncle Atakora for not helping in a war. Mampong Agyei in his trekking first settled at Hwediem, where he was defeated in a war with King of Dwaben (Juaben), before he moved to settle at Abene. The Abene, became the seat of the present line of the Paramount Chiefs of Kwahu. The Kwahu land continued to receive other migrants including the Ewes, Hausa and people of northern extraction who came to settle particularly in the Afram Plains. If other migrants came to settle in Afram Plain from the Volta enclaves, the Kwahu people also settled in some part of Volta region when they fought the Akwamu people at Asabi on the River Volta in the Akwamu-Accra (1669-1680). King Baadu was defeated and the remnants of his forces crossed the Volta into Togoland and settled at Tscheme, south of Kpandu. Wallis asserts that “It is from here perhaps that the seeds of the longa nd bitter dispute between the Kwahus and Ewe people over lands on the right bank of the river were sown.” Historian Debrunner confirmed Kwahu presence when relates that several centuries before the German occupation of Togoland (1884), an Akan people, the Kwahu Dukoman, settled north east of the River Menu. Most of the Akans in these areas now occupied by th Buems, Ewes and Akpossos have Kwahu ancestry. 

The Kwahus were closely connected with their neighbors, the Asantes and did not break away from the Asante overrule until 1874-1875. British control was formally established with the declaration of the Gold Coast Colony in 1901, when Kwahu and Akim Abuakwa were constituted as the Birim administrative district. Birim was subdivided in 1914, and Kwahu became a district of its own. 

As both Kwahu indigenes and visitors celebrate this year`s Easter festivities, attention must also be paid to the history of the people, their entrepreneurial skills, respect for appropriate socio-cultural and traditional values and rules as a bastion for regulating family matters and other laws regulating political and economic affairs of Kwahu State as enshrined in the 1915 comprehensive document, the Magna Carta of Kwahu, signed between Omanhene Kwaku Akuamoa and his subjects. Implementation of the document and amendment to certain portions can be used by Kwahu traditional authorities to check unscrupulous people who have turned the Easter celebration into ambushed condom marketing business, alcohol and sexual tourism and open display of sexual orgies. 

Kweku Darko Ankrah, is a media practitioner, historian and MA/MPhil student at the Institute of African Studies (IAS), University of Ghana, Legon.