Nana Aberewa Theology
Nana Aberewa is a mythological figure among the Akan of Ghana who is believed to be full of wisdom and is always consulted whenever the people are confronted with any problem and would need to take decision. In this paper, I will seek to use this Akan concept of consultation and decision-making to reflect on the need for the Christian community in general, and the Anglican community in particular to do a deeper consultation as they dialogue to arrive at an acceptable decision that will be beneficial to the entire people.
The Concept of Nana Aberewa in Consultation and Decision Making among the Akan
Yere Kobisa aberewa, meaning “we are going to ask the old lady”, is a common refrain that is heard among the elders whenever they are confronted with the need to take a decision.
In order to understand how this concept of Nana Aberewa is used among the Akan in their consultation and decision making, I will refer to two incidents. One pertains to the process that led to the nomination and enstoolment of the current Asantehene, Otumfou Osei Tutu 11. The other incident happened in the court of the Omanhene.
Hagan and Odotei, writing on the nomination and enstoolment of the current Asantehene, indicated that “the overriding principle in the selection process is consensus, on which candidates win the acceptance of chiefs and the Asante people and even the contending parties’.
Before the choice of the Asantehene was made, the Asantehemaa (queenmother), who is customarily expected to make the nomination, consulted the head of the Royal Oyoko Family, Nana Kofi Kakari, the chiefs of Kokofu, Juaben and Bekwai, considered traditional brothers to the occupant of the Golden Stool. Others consulted were the chiefs of Nsuta and Kuntenase.
With the choice made, the next step was to present the nominee to the Gyaase division, who must approve of the nomination. When this stage was completed, the next step of consultation was with the Kumasi Traditional Council. The council also consulted and deliberated among themselves as to the suitability of the choice. After they had accepted the choice, the nominee was referred to the whole Asanteman Council where the nominee was led into the assembly at Dwaberem. He was formally introduced to the chiefs gathered, where he was informed that after a lengthy consultation and deliberation he had been accepted as their king and they whole-heartedly gave him the stool of his ancestors. With this stage completed, Barima Kwaku Dua’s nomination went through the whole consensus building process.
This whole consensus building process in arriving at an acceptable decision is amply demonstrated vividly in an Akan proverb: tri kↄr nkↄ agyina, meaning “one head does not take council”. Gyekye sees this proverb as emphasizing “the political value of consultation or conferring, the idea that discussion and deliberation by several heads (that is minds) on matters of public concerns are always better, more fruitful”.
This proverb ties in with another proverb which says: nyansa nyi nyimpa kor tir, meaning “wisdom is not in the head of one person”. The two proverbs together say: Because wisdom is not in the head of one person, then one person cannot or should not go into council, where the exercise of wisdom is required.
Another important avenue among the Akan in which consultation and consensus are reached before decisions are taken takes place at the chief’s council. The chief’s council, according to Gyekye, “is the real governing body of the town. The councilors are the representatives of the people and, as such, have to confer with them on any issue that is to be discussed in the council. The councilors:
Freely discuss all matters affecting the town or state.
And, in any such an atmosphere of free and frank expression
of opinions, disagreement are inevitable. But in the event of
such disagreements the council would continue to listen to the
arguments until a consensus was achieved with the reconciliation
of opposed views.
Implications for Continuing Indaba: A Consultation and Decision Making Process from the Akan
The Church universal and the Anglican Communion have faced, and continue to face, crises; at each point of the crisis, people must meet and dialogue, build consensus and take decisions to deal with the ensuing crisis. The early church was faced with a similar crisis when, in Acts 15, the church was faced with a problem that threatened its early life. This crisis was precipitated by some false teachings that unless one was circumcised according to the custom of Moses, one could not be saved.
In trying to solve this crisis the early church met, in what scholars have described as the Jerusalem Council, to deliberate on the problem at hand. After much debate and consultation, the early church managed to resolve the problem. We see in trying to resolve this crisis the use of what I call Nana Aberewa Theology. This is clearly seen in the passage because it was the apostles and elders of the early church who met and consulted among themselves before a decision was taken. The decision was warmly received by all and the crisis that threatened the unity of the church was averted.
As a communion, the Anglican Church can apply this theology to help deal with all manners of crisis that are threatening the unity of the Anglican Communion. In the Continuing Indaba, people must be ready to listen and consult among themselves to arrive at decisions that would be welcomed by the generality of their members. In the Continuing Indaba if you do not listen, you will not hear anything. The actors of the listening process must be ready to listen to others in the dialogue. Failure to listen will lead to disillusionment and apathy as far as the Anglican Communion is concerned.
As Ikenye rightly puts it: “In the context of the Anglican conflict ,there may not be conformity or consensus especially with regard to interpretation of scripture and the implication for our common life, but justice in hearing one another and a commitment of maintaining the unity of Anglican Communion is more important than the differences.”
In discussing the chief’s council, it became clear that the decision was not arrived at until everybody had gotten the opportunity to speak. Where disagreement lingers, the council continues to listen before a consensus is reached. This teaches us that in the Anglican Communion before any decision is arrived at, every one involved in the decision making process must be given the opportunity to speak to the issues under discussion. It is only when this is done that indaba would have been achieved.
It must be made clear that since the Nana Aberewa is a mythological figure, the people who are involved in the listening are human beings. The chances are that people may be biased in the handling of the issues at hand. What makes this process preferred, despite this short-coming, is the fact that people are always listened to before decisions are arrived at.
The Akan believe in consultation and giving people the opportunity to speak before any decision is arrived at. They do not fail to listen before decisions are reached. The Anglican Communion must learn to listen to others as they deliberate among themselves to resolve whatever differences that may exist among them. As the early church in the Jerusalem Council consulted and deliberated among one another to resolve the crisis that threatened the church, the Anglican Communion must learn to do the same to remain united. People must be ready to listen. As I earlier stated, if you fail to listen, you will not understand.
1 Nana –ordinarily means grandfather or grandmother or any ancestor, and it is the same word which is used as the appellation of a chief.
2 Aberewa- old woman, matron, mother.
† Editor’s Note: The Akan people are an ethnic group of West Africa predominantly in Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. Ethnic Akans are the largest group in both countries and have a population of roughly 25 million people.
3 Asantehene- King of the Asante People of Southern Ghana.
4 Irene K. Odotei and G. P. Hagan, The King Returns, (Legon: Institutte of African Studies, 2003), 5-32.
5 The family from which the king of the Asante is selected.
6 This is the royal house responsible for the household of the chief.
7 The assembly of the chiefs of the Asante Kingdom.
8 The former name of the current king of the Asante.
9 Odotei and Hagan, The King Returns, 14.
10 Kwame Gyekye, African Cultural Values: an Introduction (Philadelphia, PA: Sankofa Pub Co, 1996), 117-118.
11 Ibid., 118.
12 Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections On the African Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1997).
13 N. Ikenye, Njung’wa Theology. A Kikuyu System for Conversation and Healing of Community. (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/continuingindaba/resources/pdf/h1p1.pdf), 29-33.
Ackah, C.A. Akan Ethics: a Study of the Moral Ideas and the Moral Behaviour of the Akan Tribes of Ghana. Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 1988.
Gyekye, Kwame. African Cultural Values: an Introduction. Philadelphia, PA: Sankofa Pub Co, 1996.
Gyekye, Kwame. Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections On the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1997.
Odotei, Irene K. The King Returns: Enstoolment of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and the Ayikεseε (Great Funeral) of Otumfuo Opoku Ware II. Legon, Accra: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, 2002.