The ancient Akan were a matriarchal culture ruled by a Queenmother. In this cosmology, the Queenmother earns her title by birthing daughter “goddesses,” the Abosom, through the power of the moon. They in turn function as leaders of the culture. The Queenmother conceives these daughters through the kra of the Goddess Nyame. According to the Akan, the kra is the lifeforce or enlivening spirit. We each have a kra. They are sparks of the original fire Goddess, Nyame. They are our souls.
Once she has birthed these goddesses, The Queenmother becomes the elder and rules through her daughters. These daughter goddesses, the Abosom were seen as women possessing the divine within them. The Abosom represented a “small part of Nyame’s power.” Nyame is the “the original genetrix, the one Supreme Being without beginning or end.”*
The word Nyame derives from nyam meaning brightness and splendor. Nyame was seen as the primal fire of the cosmos. The kra was one of her sparks she could shoot as an archer into humans and enliven them. The Goddess Nyame was eventually made a male god by Christian missionaries.
The Queenmother could also birth a state, combining clans to do so. Matriarchal societies are “sacred cultures,” bonded through relationship not dominance. In their travels, migrating away from invading cultures that did not share their belief system, the Queenmother moved into a new territory and formed alliances through marriages and friendships with the other local clans. In this way the clans became related and unified to create a new state. The state could only be created by the Queenmother, even in the time where she shared power with the king.
In her book Matriarchal Societies, Heide Goettner-Abendroth traces the rich lineage of the Akan culture all the way back to the Paleolithic. Much of her information was derived from the research of Eva Meyerowitz who studied in Africa for a number of years in the 40s. Meyerowitz compiles a history of the Akan that shows the deepest past being this matriarchy, which slowly gets overtaken with the encroaching worldviews of dominance and male power. With her observations and communications with the Akan peoples, Meyerowitz was able to catch the remaining light from this matriarchy before it was almost completely swallowed up by kingship and the European worldview.
Meyerowitz, painfully aware of what she was seeing, writes in The Sacred State of the Akan: “ The last century onwards, when the religious concepts started to change, once the power had begun to pass from the Queenmother to the King, a transference accelerated by the complete disregard and contempt of the Europeans for the political power of the women, Nyame became finally made a male deity and to-day only very few know of the female aspect of the Supreme Being. Furthermore, the men became more and more ashamed at having allowed themselves to be ruled or dominated by women and the sacred symbolism which reminded them of the past was conveniently forgotten.”**
In Meyerowitz’ vast body of work are the treasures of the memories and symbols of the deep past that we can use to reassemble and remember the Goddess Nyame, her Queenmothers and Abosom and the matriarchal roots of this culture and others.
~Theresa C. Dintino
*The Akan of Ghana, Eva L.R. Meyerowitz, Faber & Faber, London, 1958., p.24
**The Sacred State of the Akan, Eva L.R. Meyerowitz, Faber & Faber, London, 1951., p. 93