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Chieftancy Sphere

Nana Baisie IV, Chief of Amoanda, sits at a gethering
Nana Baisie IV, Chief of Amoanda

Anomabu is the seat of one of the eighteen Fante traditional states or oman. A paramount chief heads this state and has beneath him a number of lesser chiefs most of whom preside over the villages that comprise the state (the state of the paramount chief of Anomabu is called the Anomabu Traditional Area; in the past it has also been referred to as the Anomabu Paramount Stool [the “stool” in Akan cultures is similar to the “throne” in European autocracies and is used here as a synonym for “realm” or “domain”]). Only individuals in such positions of authority have the right to own certain sets of instruments and have them accompany their participation in public ceremonies and processions. Such instruments and ensembles become visual and sonic icons of their owner’s important social position.

Among the Fante, as well as with other Akan peoples of southern Ghana, one runs across a wide range of musical instruments associated with the social position of chieftancy. Types of instruments and ensembles reserved for use by Fante chiefs are: 1) speech surrogate instruments–such as individual side-blown horns and talking drums–on which are rendered praise poetry in honor of a chief; 2) a few instrumental ensemble types dominated by drums; and 3) side-blown horn ensembles.

As is the case with the asafokyen (the master drum of an asafo company, to be discussed below), it is often impossible to discern the cultural significance of chieftancy-associated instruments by their exterior appearance alone. Although some of these instruments might display a degree of artistic execution in their surface detail, the majority of them are rather plain in appearance. Their connection with chieftancy is a socially learned one that is conveyed and reinforced in villages, towns and cities during yearly community celebrations and during rites directly associated with chiefs. These instruments–some of them performed individually, others as components of ensembles–become part of the cacophonous soundscape of public social displays that reinforce in a viseral way the elevated position of chiefs in the Fante social order.

Large colored umbrellas shade the chiefs participating in a procession outside
Umbrellas of chiefs participating in a procession

Along with these sound-generating emblems of social position are displayed other objects that serve to visually reinforce the position of chief. These include large and brightly colored umbrellas, gold-encrusted carved wooden finials mounted on staffs and carried by a chief’s linguist, thrones and/or carved wooded stools carried on the heads of attendants, and heirloom weapons.

Court linguist holding a staff with sculpted finial, standing outdoors in a group
A court linguist holding a staff with sculpted finial

All of these visual and sonic symbols of power are effectively orchestrated on ceremonial occasions to project in no uncertain terms the legitimacy and importance of their owners.

Thrones, footstools, and animal hide rugs belonging to the two chiefs are carried by attendants in a line outdoors
Thrones, footstools, and animal hide rugs belonging to two chiefs are carried by attendants

The musicians who perform these types of music come from specific clans or villages that are traditionally obligated to provide performers for chiefs. However, such musicians are by no means professional since most of them make their livelihood as farmers or fishermen and are only occasionally called upon to serve their chief.



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