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The story of Nzema (1) and (2)pdf print preview print preview
04/12/2010Page 1 of 1

The story of Nzema (1)

Know the origin of towns

Story by: Kwame Ampene (founder of the Guan Historical Society)

Nzema, bounded on the south by the Gulf of Guinea, on the West by the international boundary with Cote d’voire, on the north by the States of Aowin and Wassa, on the west by Ahanta forms the south – west corner of Ghana.

The Portuguese who landed on the Nzema coast on the feast – day of St. Apollonia gave the name APOLLONIA, but in December, 1927, the indigenous name NZEMA was officially readopted as the Portuguese name meant little to the inhabitants. This paper has a limited purpose - to trace Nzema traditions of origin, migration routes and settlement patterns as derived from Ghana National Archives (GNA), the repository of official documents and historical traditions. The best account of this period is provided by C. W Welman: “Native States of the Gold Coast; showing us that the Nzema have a very long history.

There is the problem, of firmly establishing the ethnic identity of the nuclear Nzema, including the matter of determining the possibly early presence in the area of people speaking kwa-Akan or Kwa-Guan. However, entries from Provincial commissioner’s File, Sekondi, dated 25th October, 1924, indicates that “the Nzema language has an affinity with the Aowin dialect and with Gwira, Ajumoro (the dialect of the Apatem village) and Evalue (Axim).” Despite profound dissimilarities and a wide range of variation in their ancestral backgrounds, these heterogonous groups still share a distinctive substratum of cultural and linguistic identity with the Guan – speaking people of Ghana after their going off from the common ancestral society.

For more details on a close genetic relationship, see, for example, J, G Christaller (1881). D. Westermann (Berlin, 1922), and colin Painter – “the Distribution of Guan in Ghana” (Journal of West African Languages IV, 1967).

Oral traditions among the Nzema are unanimous on the point that their founding ancestors originally lived somewhere along the N’Zi River which runs parallel to the Comoe River in north-eastern Cote d’Ivoire. As the autochthonous people along the Comoe River became known as the “kimbu people” (later Akuamu people), the N’Zi dwellers were nicknamed the N’Zi people, hence Nzi-mba became corrupted into NZIMA.

During this period, there were strife and unrest in the neighbouring regions of Kankyeabo and Bouna near the Kong Mountains. For the Mande, at an unknown date and for reasons no longer remembered, invaded the region. They were ferocious fighters who were said to hack their enemies into pieces. This single catalysmic event, namely the invasion of the autochthonous inhabitants urged the Kumbu (Akwamu) people to migrate southwards to Heman, and was still wending their way through war-ridden territories till they arrived at the coast where they set up their first capital at Nyanawase. Shortly afterwards the Nzi-mba under their great leader called Annor Asaman, moved unobtrusively in a south – western direction, subsequently settling on the west coast in order to avoid being caught in crossfire.

For a time there was a struggle with the people of Krinjaho and others in Cote d’Ivoire over the land lying between the Tano lagoon and the sea, an area which the Nzema had since effectively occupied for the past years. Upon their arrival on the west coast at Ahumazo near the Tano Lagoon, there were many shaded trees, so they moved to a place where they found a tall palm tree which didn’t bear fruits, and decided to settle there permanently. The new site was accordingly named BEYIN, meaning “tall Palm-tree”.

Certainly, the tribal history is dominated by one man who rose to an eminent position from the debris of internecine wars in the far north and finally settled his people at BEYIN. This man was Annor Asaman.

The first formative period of Nzema history really ended in his life-time. By then all the important settlements had been established. Annor Blay Acka might have succeeded the gallant leader, and reigned longer than his predecessor. When he died his brother, Annor Broma I succeeded him. He in turn was succeeded by Bua Panin who became a powerful paramount chief. The next person to rule was Anihere Panin in whose reign the Fort Beyin was built in 1691 by the Royal African Company at the invitation of the Nzema people. (King Charles II and James, Duke of York were members of the Company, successor to the defunct Company of Royal Adventures of England Training to Africa which promised to send 3,000 slaves a year to America)

Before Amihere Panin ascended the Stool, he was cultivating on a land where Atuani trees grew. His predecessor permitted him to build a new settlement at the site, and the place was named ATUABO (“Atuani” is plural). He lived at ATUABO with his followers. After his death, his nephew, Birimponi Kwesi was enstooled (Birimponi: means paramount chief in Nzema). The elevation apparently increased Beyin’s bitterness and made them more incensed against Atuabo Tradition further asserts that the Nzema welcomed some refugees from Asante led by Ahii Nobia. After swearing the Oath of Allegiance to Birimponi Kwesi they were settled at Abata. Through inter-marriage, it came to light that Abini Nobia practiced human sacrifice secretly.

The story of Nzema (2)

Story: Kwame Ampene (founder of the Guan Historical Society)

Abini Nobia was ejected forcibly together with his followers and they escaped to Mowaso near Grand Basa – a settlement on St John River in Liberia.

Successive Paramount Chiefs were Azu Ekyi (1700-1741), Annor  Breman II (1746-1789), Mensah Ohie (1789-1820). Kamma Panin was followed by his nephew Kweku Acka who preferred to stay at Atuabo where he had been nurtured by a respectable person on a farm land. It was soon detected that King Dweku Acka had tyrannical traits and perverted tasted for blood, and therefore chose to stay at Atuabo in order to evade surveillance at Fort Beyin.

He himself visited the Fort in 1828, and was very popular with the youth who nicknamed him “Ngutan” to which he responded “Omiamenia-ba”.

In 1835, a British man – of – war was dispatched to punish King Kweku Acka and his subjects for practicing human sacrifices. He remained quiet for some time when Captain Maclean was appointed Judicial Assessor 1843 – 1847. He then resumed the executions and acquired a pervasive influence throughout the west coast.

The new Governor, Commander Hill, appointed in 1843, threatened to punish him exemplarily for this action of brutality. But with sheer impudence, Kweku Acka sent a message to the Governor saying “he would raze Cape Coast Castle to the ground and dine off the Governor’s liver!. There might be some exaggeration in this, but the Governor became enraged and immediately set up a task force against the recalcitrant king. He was captured and imprisoned at the Castle of life where he died on December 28, 1851. The governor’s prompt action ultimately restored peace and tranquility in the sub-region.

In appreciation of his services, the Governor made Benjin who had been instrumental in capturing Kweku Acka, a chief of Atuabo as a sub-chief for the purpose of settling disputes. Kweke Acka’s successor, Amakye, had his seat at Beyin as the overall head of Nzema. The Atuabo were resentful of this new dispensation since their chiefship had been subordinated to that of Beyin.

In about 1867, by a convention between the British and the Dutch merchants, Nzema became subjects to Dutch interim administration. As a result, Atuabo in Eastern Nzema decided to break away from the Dutch who sent messengers to ascertain the truth of this move from the Elders Atuabo. Unfortunately, the messengers were murdered. Immediately a Dutch gun boat went and destroyed Aturabo.

Soon afterwards, Avu of Atuabo hastened to Wassa where he managed to solicit the help of some men who accompanied him to fight Amakye at Beyim when Amakye learnt of Avu’s advance, he also sought help from the Asante who had supported the Dutch move.

Then under the command of Pani Yanna Acka of Naba, the Western Nzema army marched on, and defeated the Eastern Nzema, killing Avu in the process. Benyin, therefore, gained complete success in the Avu War, in 1869. His death gave rise to a more severe and universal wave of persecution of opponents and forced many people to flee into exile to save their lives.

In order to maintain peace and tranquility in the sub-region, Nzema was split into two separate states under different paramount cites. Beyin became the capital of Western Nzema Traditional Area, while Atuabo remained the capital of Eastern Nzema.

The people of the two states who originated from one common stock entered a period of rehabilitation and reform, and have since shown remarkable stability and persistence centuries later. On the 29th October, 1969, a century after the Avu War, Count Vinigi Grottaneli, Professor of Ethnology in the University of Rome, Italy, gave a lecture on RESEARCH ON NZEMA TRADITIONAL CULTURE, under the distinguished chairmanship of Prof. J. H Kketia as part of Museum Lectures. I was then a first-year student at the instituted of African Studies, Legon. I had then began to develop interest in conducting research particularly into the traditions and the past of the Akan and Guan people of Ghana, which eventually led to the publication of my book ATETESEM, Waterville Publication, 1978, and subsequent establishment of the Guan Historical Society of Ghana; 1982. The society has since compiled twelve volumes of the Guan Research Papers –


            The Spectator              Page:   31                    Saturday, December 4, 2010




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