Fante Tribe of Africa - African People

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Location: Southern coast of Ghana, Africa

Population: n/a

Language: Fante (Akan cluster of Twi)

Neighboring Peoples: Nzima, Denkyira, Kwahu, Asante, Ewe

Types of Art: Woodcarving includes stools, which are recognized as "seats" of power, and wooden dolls (akua ba) that are associated with fertility. There are also extensive traditions of pottery and weaving throughout Akan territory. Kente cloth, woven on behalf of royalty, has come to symbolize African power throughout the world.

History: Fante peoples, along with Asante, comprise two of the largest and best known ethnic groups that make up the Akan. Akan is a generic term used to refer to a large number of linguistically related peoples who live in southern Ghana and southeastern Côte d'Ivoire. The rise of the early Akan centralized states can be traced to the 13th century and is related to the opening of trade routes established to move gold throughout the region. It was not until the end of the 17th century, however, that the grand Asante Kingdom emerged in the central forest region of Ghana, when several small states united under the Chief of Kumasi in a move to achieve political freedom from the Denkyira. The Asante confederacy was dissolved by the British in 1900 and colonized in 1901. Although there is no longer a centralized Akan confederacy, Akan peoples maintain a powerful political and economic presence.

Economy: Early Akan economics revolved primarily around the trade of gold and enslaved peoples to Mande and Hausa traders within Africa and later to Europeans along the coast. This trade was dominated by the Asante who received firearms in return for their role as middlemen in the slave trade. These were used to increase their already dominant power. Various luxury goods were were also received and incorporated into Asante symbols of status and political office. Local agriculture includes cocoa cultivation for export, while yams and taro serve as the main staples. Fante, who live along the coast, rely heavily on fishing, both for local consumption and for trade with inland peoples. The depleted forests provide little opportunity for hunting. Extensive markets are run primarily by women who maintain considerable economic power, while men engage in fishing, hunting and clearing land. Both sexes participate in agricultural endeavors.

Political Systems: Each Fante family is responsible for maintaining political and social order within its confines. In the past, there was a hierarchy of leadership that extended beyond the family, first to the village headman, then to a territorial chief, then to the paramount chief of each division within the Asante confederacy. The highest level of power is reserved for the Asanthene who inherits his position along matrilineal lines. During the height of the Asante empire extensive tribute systems required Fante to contribute to the confederacy's coffers. The Asantahene still plays an important role in Ghana today, symbolically linking the past with current Ghanaian politics.

Religion: Akan believe in a supreme god who takes on various names depending upon the particular region of worship. Akan mythology claims that at one time the god freely interacted with man, but that after being continually struck by the pestle of an old woman pounding fufu, he moved far up into the sky. There are no priests that serve him directly, and people believe that they may make direct contact with him. There are also numerous gods (abosom) who receive their power from the supreme god and are connected to the natural world. These include ocean and riverine spirits and various local deities. Priests serve individual spirits and act as mediaries between the gods and mankind. Nearly everyone participates in daily prayer, which includes the pouring of libations as an offering to both the ancestors, who are buried in the land, and to the spirits who are everywhere. The earth is seen as a female deity and is directly connected to fertility and fecundity.

Credits:  Christopher D. Roy also see credit page
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa