The town of Anomabu (also spelled Anomabo and Anamobo), founded in the 16th century as a fishing village, is located in the hilly, coastal grasslands along the Gulf of Guinea, about fifteen miles east of Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Region, and one hundred miles west of Accra, the capital of Ghana (see above maps).
The settlement got its name from offshore rock outcrops on which seabirds alight (Anomabu = “stone for birds” or “bird rock”). The 1984 population of Anomabu was estimated at 6,700.
The majority of adult residents are involved in the fishing industry–men do the actual fishing as well as maintenance of nets and boats, women dry the fish and then distribute them to local and distant markets. Some residents run small businesses in town or carry out small scale farming of maize, plantain and cassava yams outside of town.
The soil is of poor quality, so farmers employ the slash and burn technique timed to the local pattern of seasonal rainfall.
Life is economically tough for the vast majority of residents, most of whom I would describe as living just above subsistence level. At the same time, a few residents have achieved success in the local business world and
possess some of its material trappings such as cars, ownership of which is far beyond the means of the vast majority of Anomabu residents. Natives of Anomabu for the most part need to relocate themselves, typically at great distance (e.g., Accra or abroad in Europe or America), in order to achieve economic success.
Most of the residents of Anomabu speak Fante and would identify themselves culturally as Fante. They belong to the larger cultural complex known as the Akan, who constitute the majority ethnic group throughout much of the southern half of Ghana (see area 26 on the Linguistic Map of Ghana).
The Fante trace their origins back to the inland area of Techiman, from where they believe their ancestors emigrated in the 13th- or early 14th-century. Their first settlement in the coastal area was a town called Kwaman, which is now known as Mankessim. From Mankessim subgroups spread out over the sparsely populated coastal region and formed small autonomous states, one of which was centered in the town of Anomabu.
Contacts with Europeans began as early as 1640 with the establishment of a Dutch trading lodge. Over the ensuing decades, the Danes, Swedes, French, Dutch and English vied with one another for trading concessions along the West African coast. In Anomabu, the British finally prevailed; they built a fort in 1674 (destroyed in 1731) to protect their trade interests from sea attack, and a second one in 1756, Fort William, which still stands today (it is currently used as a prison). Some of the earliest evangelistic efforts by Methodist missionaries in West Africa took place in Anomabu in the 1830s, and quite soon thereafter much of the church activity they initiated was being carried out by Fante converts. In the 1890s an impressive Methodist church–still standing–was built in the town that could accommodate several hundred worshippers. During the late 19th- and the first half of the 20th-century, Anomabu was subsumed under the British colony called the Gold Coast. In 1957, residents of Anomabu became citizens of sub-Saharan Africa’s first post-colonial nation state of Ghana.
What does it mean to be a Fante?
In addition to speaking Fante as one’s mother tongue, it seems to me that four other relationships are central to one’s identity as a Fante: membership in an abusua (a matrilineage), affiliation with an asafo (warrior organization), allegiance to oman (a state headed by a paramount chief), and awareness of, if not subscription to, beliefs in obosom (local nature spirits). These latter four components of Fante identity will be briefly introduced in the following paragraphs and explored in greater detail throughout the website.
Like other Akan peoples, the Fante organize themselves into matrilineal clans called abusua that bind together all those individuals in a town that can trace themselves back four generations to a common ancestress. These local matrilineal clans are an essential component in an individual’s life, especially at death when it is the responsibility of the deceased’s clan to provide proper burial rites to send their kin to the realm of the ancestors. In addition to one’s clan membership, one also inherits membership into a local warrior organization, called an asafo, through one’s father. The presence of this paternally-inherited affiliation within an otherwise matrilineal kinship system has led to the anthropological description of the Fante as practicing dual descent.
A Fante also views him- or herself as belonging to one of about eighteen autonomous traditional states, called oman, each of which is headed by a paramount chief. Although the Fante are governed today under the administrative umbrella of district and regional levels of the Ghanaian national government, many cultural matters are addressed by local bodies of authority such as the traditional council of each oman. This council, headed by the paramount chief (omanhene) and including representatives of the areas abusua and asafo as well as lesser chiefs and several religious specialists, is responsible for setting and overseeing important traditional rituals and ceremonies that are believed to safeguard the welfare of the community as a whole.
As straightforward as the generalizations presented in the preceding two paragraphs may sound, in the reality of the daily lives of Fante individuals facets of their identity in regard to abusua, asafo, and state affiliations can be very complex. For a deeper explication of these complexities of Fante identity see Tsukada (2001).
Both indigenous animistic religious beliefs and Christianity are to be found among the Fante. Like many West Africans, the Fante believe in a supreme god they call Nyame who, although not worshipped directly, is thought to have created the world and humans and is felt to be omnipresent and omnipotent. This supreme god created a number of lesser deities or nature spirits (obosom) who are believed to watch over the activities of mankind and to punish those who act contrary to customs of the society. A priesthood has long existed to act as intermediaries between the people and these nature spirits. It consists of individuals, both male and female, who have been possessed by a spirit and thus called into its service–they are called akomfo, “the possessed ones.”
It is estimated that over half of the Ghanaian population is Christian in their religious orientation, and this approximation probably holds true for the residents of Anomabu. Proselytizing on the part of a number of Catholic and Protestant denominations began in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, among the contemporary Fante one finds, in addition to animists, many Methodists and Catholics as well as numerous adherents to a wide range of Pentecostal sects.