Akan Kin Terms

The Akan terminology is in essence an Iroquois system but involves the transformation of terms according to Crow rules in the process of matrilineal succession. What actually occurs is that a change in cross cousin designation on the occasion in which a man's heir assumes his position and property and in the process incurs a responsibility for the deceased's children. The general system can be depicted as follows:

Akan Kin Terms

Note that the dialect used is Akwapem. Ashanti terms would be slightly different but would follow exactly the same logic.

The plan follows the basic Iroquois pattern of merging father's brother and father (agya) and mother's sister and mother (ena), while  distinguishing mother's brother (wofa) and father's sister (agyawa). Parallel cousins are grouped with brothers and sisters (nua) without any intrinsic gender distinction. Cross cousins get a separate term, and, unlike the Yanomamo Iroquois pattern, matrilateral and patrilateral relations are distinguished. The terms are actually descriptive rather than fully classificatory, i.e., wofaba is wofa's child and agyawaba is agyawa's child. In the next generation, (male) ego's children and his brother's children are grouped together and his sister's child receives a special term, wofase.

A Crow pattern emerges when a man dies and is inherited by his sister's son, Ego's agyawaba, in the event that Ego's father dies. (Actually status and property would initially go to any surviving brothers but would eventually pass on to the next generation.) At that point his agyawaba assumes the status of agya insofar as his father's heir will take on a variety of paternal responsibilities for ego. The other side of this arrangement occurs when Ego's wofa dies, and Ego assumes his status and responsibilities for his wofa's children who now become Ego's mba (plural of ba). As such the Akan actively apply the Crow skewing rule to raise one set of cross cousins up a generation and the lower the opposite set down. These changing relationships are further complicated by the practice of cross cousin marriage in which wofamba and agawamba are preferred marriage partners.

The following diagram maps out the kin terms against the matrilineal connections of Ego and his father and indicates the direction of succession and inheritance.

Akan Terms according to Matrilineal Descent

The following table relates Akan kin terms to kin types (male terms only).

Iroquois Form Kin Types Crow Transformation
Agya F
Wofa MB
Nua B
Agyawaba FZS --> Agya
Wofaba MBS --> Ba
Ba S
Wofase ZS

© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: January 2001
Last Updated: