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June 8, 2012


The “Abrewa / Old Lady” Model In Conflict Resolution In Ghana

by Admin

By Stella Ansah (Mrs)

Anglican Diocese of Accra.



Conflict as a phenomenon is inevitable in any human society since no two people think exactly alike. Conflict as a disagreement, a fight or a struggle if not properly managed and resolved leads to misunderstanding, unhappiness, destruction and tragedy. If properly resolved it leads to peace, unity and harmony despite differences.

In seeking peace and unity in diversity in the Continuing Indaba in the Anglican Communion, Many African models of conflict resolution, such as the hand model, the broom model and the. Talking Drum model have been proposed. The” Abrewal Old lady” model in the Ghanaian traditional society is one such model which can be looked at.


In the Ghanaian culture, old age is accorded a lot of respect. The “abrewa” concept views the old lady as a custodian of wisdom which is crucial to settling disputes much like the wisdom of Solomon in the Bible. In a dispute when there is a difficulty in finding a solution, the team of arbitrators retire aside to consult each other i.e consult the real or proverbial “abrewa”, the decision they make is generally accepted by all parties. Though women are generally not part of the arbitration team yet the wisdom of the “old lady” is accepted.


The nature of the family as exists in all African societies is not nuclear or made up of husband, wife and children as exists in European societies, for example. The African family or Ghanaian family, for that matter is made up of an amalgamation of a large number of blood relations who derive their descent from a common ancestor. In this extended family system, every one matters and each has a role to play like the five fingers of the hand.

The family consists of the elderly, the middle – aged, children, men, women, boys, girls, widows, widowers, single parents, the married, the unmarried, polygamous and monogamous relations and children born out of wedlock. In Ghana no child is considered illegitimate and the laws of the state accept such children and their rights.

This extended family considers the ancestors, the living and children yet unborn as family members. Hence illegal abortion of a pregnancy is frowned upon. This is just as the Church is considered to comprise the saints- the Church triumphant; the living Christians, the Church militant and Christians yet to be born.

Just as in the Ghanaian society the ancestor is the inner wheel around which everything revolves, so in the Anglican Communion the common denominator is Christ, despite differences in race, colour, language, culture, geographical location etc. However, the fact of importance and equality cannot be over emphasized. The harmony which should exist in the African extended family and the Anglican Communion is like the harmony which exists in the spiritual family of – The Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Living in community brings interaction between individuals. There is solidarity, co-operation, mutual helpfulness, inter-dependence, a sense of sharing a common social life, a sense of sharing a common good and mutual aid. The Akan proverb in Ghana, “the left arm washes the right arm and the right arm washes the left” attests to this, The Anglican communion can perfectly fit into this picture of the Ghanaian extended family and the benefits to be derived from it. The Holy family of Jesus Christ is an example of a family living in peace and harmony. Joseph showed love and maturity in accepting Mary as his wife though she was found with child before the marriage was fully contracted.


The Holy Family of Jesus is made up of Joseph, Mary the mother of Jesus, Jesus’ half brothers – James and Jude (Galatians 1: 19, Jude 1: 1). There is also Mary, the wife of Cleopas. Jesus and his disciples formed a perfect family, complementing each other. There was Peter, the outspoken and impulsive fisherman; doubting Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James and his brother John – “the sons of thunder; Judas Iscariot, the treacherous and greedy. This is similar to the composition of the African extended family and the Anglican Communion.


Though the Ghanaian family on the face value makes for all that is good in society yet areas of conflict abound. Some such areas are the interference in marriages by in -laws; between members of the family; parents and children; and among siblings. Conflicts bring anger, bitterness, selfishness, infidelity because of lack of sexual satisfaction etc.


Conflict prevention is very important in the traditional setting before a marriage is entered into. Puberty rites are some of the tools for conflict prevention. The woman undergoes the rites to prepare her adequately for marriage, sex and family life and her role as a wife and mother. In modem times professional counsellors have taken over this role though in the rural areas such puberty rites are still performed.


Before a marriage us contracted, it is very important in the Ghanaian family to seek investigation into the background of the intending couple. The listening process is set in motion as secret investigations are made as to the existence of any hereditary diseases in the partner’s family e.g madness or conditions like childlessness. Other areas investigated are whether the woman is respectful, whether she is morally good, whether her mother is adulterous, whether the man is a known womanizer or not. This listening process can· help avoid a marriage which will be conflict ridden.

In the Anglican Communion, there is the need for the grassroots in all Provinces, Dioceses and parishes to be educated on. the true nature of Anglicanism and changes in the face of globalization. Various shades of opinion have to be listened to and accommodated to eradicate ignorance and prejudice.


Marriage though in the traditional system can be arranged yet there is room for democracy when at the betrothal ceremony, the woman is asked ifher family should accept the gifts from the man’s family. Hence marriage is between two families and not individuals. There is no imposition of ideas. The same can be done in the Anglican Communion where there should not be any imposition of ideas. Where there is conflict each side should be listened to.


In the family, when conflicts build up and nothing is done about them they can lead to depression, abuse, and break – up of marriages etc. When individuals fail to resolve their differences amicably, the matter is taken up on the family level or in the chief’s palace depending on how serious the matter is. Here the team of arbitrators needs to know and accept that there is a problem. There is a mutual understanding of the problem. They have listening skills including body language. They also need to know how to manage difficult people.

At such a family gathering an impartial listening ear is given to both parties in the dispute to state their case. An opportunity is given for the parties to know their strengths and weaknesses. The aim is not condemnation but arbitration, mediation, reconciliation and peace. Where a party is guilty and is in some cases fined he or she is not condemned but is made to feel at ease diplomatically.

Where there is a stalemate in the arbitration and no solution seems to be in sight, the elders withdraw from the rest of the family to consult each other or to consult the real or proverbial “abrewa”. They may pray for the ancestors to intervene. In a similar vein prayer should be very important in conflict resolution in the Anglican Communion. So whatever the consensus of the arbitrators come up with, it is accepted by all. The Bible endorses peaceful living, “If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody” (Romans 12: 18). 

Peace makers are an asset to the family. The Bible endorses such peacemakers in the “Beatitudes”

“Blessed are the peacemakers 

For they will be called sons of God ” (Mathew 5: 9) 


In the Ghanaian legal system there is a system called alternative conflict resolution where certain delicate matters are referred to the family for resolution. There is some good things in the African cultural practices which can be adopted in modem times. The Ghanaian Akan symbol “Sanko fa” which depicts a bird bending over backwards to pick something from behind sums it all up- go back to the past, return for it. A return to the past must however be guided by critical examination. It is no use throwing away the baby with the bath water. In the globalized world of sophisticated information technology (lCT) conflicts are rampant but they can be solved.

The Anglican Communion must recess impartially to consult the “abrewa”, like the “Sankofa” symbol to pick ~p the gems from the past to understand cultural differences geographical differences, personality differences, gender and sexuality differences etc. with the aim of dwelling together in peace, love and in unity in diversity.


Conflict is inevitable in life. Many African models have been proposed in the Continuing Indaba for conflict resolution .One such model is the “abrewalold lady” model where the aim is arbitration, consensus, mediation, reconciliation peace and unity in diversity.


1. Ansu – Kyeremeh, K. (ed) Indigenous Communication in Africa, Ghana

Universities press, Accra 2005

2. Gyekye, Kwame, African Cultural Values: An Introduction, Sankofa Publishing Company, Philadelphia Pa / Accra, Ghana 1996

3. Karen, Mannering, Managing Difficult People, UBS Publishers’ Distributors PVT Ltd,

New    Delhi, 2002

4. Kisseadoo, Samuel V.A Conflict Resolution and Agreement: Dealing with Resentment Anger and Quarrels, Asempa Publishers, Accra, Ghana, 2002

5. Quarcoo, Alfred Kofi, The language of Adinkra symbols, Sebewie Ventures Publications, Legon, Ghana 1972 & 1994.

  1. Jun 13 2012

    Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was looking for!

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