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According to the Akan people of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa, nkwa is a concrete reference to life. Nkwa does not refer to life in the abstract sense, but to life in its most palpable form. Nkwa is commonly referred to as an abundance or fullness of life. Beyond mere existence, the full manifestation of nkwa includes long life, fertility, vigor, health, wealth, happiness, felicity, and peace. To achieve the full manifestation of nkwa, abonyade (possessions, prosperity) must be present, adding wealth and riches to the meaning of life. Additionally, asomdwei (peace, tranquility) is also required to achieve the full manifestation of nkwa. Although a community must have peace and harmony to be completely located in the realm of nkwa, it is also necessary to encourage, support, and maintain the creative energy necessary for fertility in both the sense of agriculture and the productive sense of human procreation. It is the source of eternity for the community. Without nkwa, nothing exists because life does not exist.
The ultimate end of one's existence on Earth is the enjoyment and fulfillment of nkwa in its fullest expression. The Akan believe that nkwa, in its truest form, can be obtained only through the mediation of and spiritual connection with divinities and the ancestors. As a result, nkwa is the focus of many Akan prayers that call for rain, food, children, health, prosperity, power, success, and wealth.
Nkwa is connected to the Akan concept of the supreme manifestation of the abundant and joyous life. The Twi term nkwagye refers to nkwa (life in all its fullness) and gye (rescue, retake, recapture). In that sense, nkwagye represents the preservation, protection, and sustaining of life. Of course, this can only be done by activating the continuing involvement of the ancestors in everyday life. One must always carry out rituals and perform ceremonies that cleanse the people, reconnecting the disconnected to their spiritual roots, in an effort to secure the everlasting flow of spiritual energy. One can be protected from those who would do harm, such as evil persons with bad spirits (abayifo), false teachers and priests (akabereky-erefo), and quack doctors (asumantufo). By staying in contact with the nsamanfo, that is, the ancestors, the people can maintain nkwa as the main frame of their entire society's existence because it remains the creative and productive force of the community.
Some scholars believe that the power of nkwa in Akan may have been one reason that enslaved Africans survived capture and the brutal transport to the Americas. In the purificatory rites of the Akan, when one goes to the abisa (shrine priests), we find the connectedness to the idea of the appeasement of all offended ancestors who have been disturbed by the enslavement of Africans. Thus, nkwa remains a key component to the traditional African religion's concept of the circularity of the community.



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Further Reading

  • Busia, K. A. (1968). The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti. New York: Frank Cass.
  • Danquah, J. B. (1968). Akan Doctrine of God. New York: Humanities Press.
  • Opoku, K. A. (1978). West African Traditional Religion. Accra, Ghana: FEP International.