In the Akan tradition, abosom (deities/divinities/ lesser gods; singular: obosom) are the children and messengers of Nyame (Creator). Similar in function to Yoruba orisha and Vodun loa, the abosom are spiritual forces evincing and operating throughout the Akan universe, assisting Nyame in the task of managing Creation, namely humanity. They are found throughout Ghana and are a major part of Akan cosmology. Abosom may be male or female or have the ability to embody both. Although the abosom often embody various manifestations of nature (i.e., wind, bodies of water, trees, mountains, hills, animals, etc.), these objects are used only as temporary dwelling places and should not be confused with the abosom themselves. The abosom are essentially spirit.
Created by Nyame to fulfill specific functions, the abosom derive their power from Nyame and serve as the mediators between Nyame and human kind. Because the Akan believe that Nyame is too great to be reached directly, the abosom, who represent certain aspects of the power of Nyame, serve as intermediaries and immediate objects of reverence. Although their power is a function of that of Nyame, they have the full power to act in the realm of their specific area of specialization. Each obosom performs different functions and has the ability to reward, punish, protect, and guide human kind in all aspects of life.
Because they are innumerable, the abosom fall into various categories. First, there are those of a tutelary nature who are recognized at the national and/or community level and whose main function it is to protect the community from harm. They are known as tete abosom. Second, there are family abosom, sometimes known as egyabosom (father's deity), that are inherited patrilineally and govern and protect particular families. The primary function of the egyabosom is to assist their attendants in the actualization of their nkrabea (destiny; Divine function). There are also abosom associated with each of the various Akan clans (Abusua) who are connected with particular areas or localities. The Akan connect the tete abosom, egyabosom, and Abusua abosom with the origins of Creation and have thus recognized and revered them from time immemorial. However, the Akan also believe that in the same way that Nyame continues to create the universe, he continues to create abosom. These contemporary abosom can be thought of as a type of medicine in that they are “owned” by highly specialized spiritualists who use them in the manipulation of cosmic energy. The continued reverence of these abosom largely depends on their ability to satisfy their intended purpose.
As intermediaries, the abosom are fundamental to humanity's ability to maintain a connection to and relationship with Nyame. Nyame communicates with humankind through the abosom who carry messages on Nyame's behalf. These messages, as well as the specific powers and energies of a particular abosom, are invoked through rituals and ceremonies performed by akomfo (traditional priests; singular: okomfo), also known as bosomfo (people of the abosom). After being “called” (“mounted'V'possessed”) by a particular obosom, akomfo undergo an elaborately intense initiation, usually no less than 3 years in duration, in which they essentially “marry” the obosom by dedicating his or her entire life to the service of the obosom and learn the laws, taboos, songs, dances, and so on of the obosom.
Thus, akomfo are highly specialized spiritualists capable of communicating with and intermittently embodying abosom for the purpose of transmitting and sometimes translating Nyame's messages. To provide a space in and means through which humans can communicate with Nyame via an obosom, akomfo build bosomfie (literally “house of obosom”; shrine house) in or near the locality the obosom is said to inhabit. Akomfo are held with the responsibility of presiding over the bosomfie, which function as spiritual healing centers and houses of divination. It is here that akomfo perform rituals and other tasks required of the abosom and that members of the society visit to facilitate their connection to both the abosom and Nyame.
Some Key Abosom
The role of the abosom in the Akan tradition is of great importance. As such, there are multitudes of abosom found throughout Ghana, some well known, some less well known. What follows is a brief listing and description of some of the more celebrated abosom.
Akonnedi/Nana Akonnedi/Akonnedi Abena is a female obosom whose bosomfie is located in the Larteh Kubease region of Ghana. She is regarded as the mother of all abosom, the head of the pantheon, and is said to mete out justice and give the final decision in difficult disputes.
Nana Asuo Gyebi is a wandering ancient river obosom originally from the northern region of Ghana who resides in various places throughout the country, although he has made the Larteh Kubease region a special home. He also traveled as far as the United Sates to help the lost children of Africa reclaim their spiritual past. He is credited with bringing the Akan tradition to the United States because his priests were among the first to be initiated here. He is a male obosom who is a protector and a great healer.
Nana Esi Ketewaa is a deified female ancestor originally from the Akuapem region of Ghana. It is said that she became pregnant in her old age and died during childbirth. As an obosom, she functions as a protector of children and fertility. Women often seek her protection during pregnancy and delivery and after childbirth.
Nana Adade Kofi is a male warrior obosom of strength and perseverance and is from the Guan area of Ghana. He is said to be the youngest of Nana Akonnedi's children. He is the obosom associated with iron and metals, and his sword is often used to swear oaths of allegiance.
Tegare is the general name for a pantheon of abosom from the Northern region of Ghana. Popular throughout Ghana, Tegare lives in the forest and is a hunter who seeks truth and exposes liars, thieves, and evildoers.
Mmoetia is a system of abosom who are most often recognized as “dwarfs” whose feet turn backward. They live throughout Ghana in the forests and are highly skilled in the use of herbs. Considered the great spiritual gatekeepers of the Akan tradition, they specialize in working with nature spirits for the purposes of healing.
- Opoku, K. A. (1978). West African Traditional Religion. Accra: FEP International Private Limited.
- Opokuwaa, N. A. K. (2005). The Quest for Spiritual Transformation: Introduction to Traditional Akan Religion, Rituals and Practices. New York: iUniverse.