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Kra Tri – 3

The Universe Has Three Souls
Notes on Translating Akan Culture (1)
By Phil Bartle, Journal of Religion in Africa, Volume XIV, Number 2, 1982, pp 85-114

Part 2


The Twi word usually translated as “culture” is amane, but I soon discovered it meant only traditional customs and rituals. Its meaning is equivalent to high culture of western society: ballet, coronations and the fancy wigs of high court judges; it includes drumming, dancing, etiquette and dress in priests’ and chief’s courts. Culture means all learned human behaviour, high and low. To be learned, culture must be transmitted by symbols, and it is those symbols to which we now turn. Names of people, group identity and behaviour rules such as food avoidances, rites recognising status changes, and the assumed characteristics of colours, are some of these. What is significant in the examination of the ways these signs are used is the reflection of the tripartite cosmology (mentioned above) in these symbols.

Let us begin with labels: how do Akan people get names? Red: Naming is not matronymic in this Continue reading

Kra Tri – 2

The Universe Has Three Souls
Notes on Translating Akan Culture (1)
By Phil Bartle, Journal of Religion in Africa, Volume XIV, Number 2, 1982, pp 85-114

Part 1

Behind each of these three physical elements of the individual there are a series of spiritual personalities or identities which can be seen as parts of increasingly general categories. Behind the flesh and blood is a blood spirit or matrilineal ghost; behind the semen and cleansing fluids is a morality spirit or personality spirit; behind the breath and anima is a destiny soul. Each of these have individual and communal or shared elements, so let us discuss them in turn:

The body belongs to its lineage: so does its “ghost” (saman). When a chief pours a libation on the ancestral stool(s), he is praying to his matrilineal ancestors (Nananom Nsamanfo) and asking them, and, indirectly, God to bring good luck. The word “ghost” is a very poor translation. I prefer to think of saman as “blood spirit” rather than either ghost or soul, because it is different from the other two spirit Continue reading

Akan Soul

A Critique of the Concept of Quasi-Physicalism in Akan Philosophy
MOHAMMED MAJEED, African Studies Quarterly | Volume 14, Issues 1 & 2| November 2013


The philosophical ideas of any culture, including the Akan, may be obtained from the language, beliefs, and practices of that culture. In this regard, an examination of some Akan cultural beliefs and language should aid in the understanding of the Akan concept of a person. In Akan language, the human body is referred to as honam, but there are two other expressions, ōkra and sunsum, which, together with honam, seem to suggest belief in the existence of two distinct components of the human being. These expressions are sometimes translated as “soul or mind” and “spirit’ respectively and designated as being spiritual.

Akan thinkers who hold spiritual conceptions of these entities include Asare Opoku, Peter Sarpong, and Kwame Gyekye.1 Even though Sarpong, for instance, correctly translates sunsum as “spirit,” he nonetheless sees it as deriving from the father—an error that Gyekye points out.2 It is also held in Akan thought that the ōkra does not, just like the sunsum, form part of the brain or the body Continue reading

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