The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Akan Leadership Art and Ceremony

by Michelle Gilbert
Trinity College

Akropong-Akwapim (Akuapem) Odwira festival, Ghana. Photo by Michelle Gilbert.

Akuapem, a small ethnically heterogeneous Akan kingdom in southern Ghana, was founded in 1733.  The king is believed to be sacred: his well-being is linked to that of his people.  A symbol of the unity and continuity of the kingdom, he is also feared.  The king’s power is legitimized by his ancestors and revitalized each year in a rite called Odwira (purification), in which the king symbolically dies and is given renewed life, the history of the kingdom is recapitulated, and history and space are ritually combined.  Odwira has an established canon which is fixed and timeless; in reality, each performance changes in response to local contemporary political situations.  Regalia and royal artifacts are visible extensions of the king’s person: they are the public representation of the hidden power that lies within the kingship, their display during Odwira is crucial to the public legitimation of royal authority.