Akan are a meta-ethnicity living in the southern regions of present-day Ghana. Akans who migrated from Ghana also make up the plurality of the ethnic population in Ivory Coast. The Akan language, also known as Twi or Fante, is a group of dialects within the Central Tano branch of the Potou–Tano subfamily of the Niger–Congo family. Subgroups of the Akan people include: Ashanti, Fante, Akuapem, Bono, Kwahu, Akyem, Agona, Wassa, and Akwamu.
The Akans consider themselves one nation. Akan means first, foremost, indicating the enlightened and civilized. Oral traditions of the ruling Abrade clan state that Akans originated from the ancient Ghana empire. Legend has it that the Akan people migrated from the north through Egypt and settled in Nubia. The Akans are believed to have moved west to establish small trading kingdoms around 500 AD or the 5th century. Their migration was due to the pressure exerted by the Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia, during which Nubia was shattered. These trading kingdoms grew and around 750 AD the Ghana Empire was formed.
Akan art is wide-ranging and renowned, especially for the tradition of crafting bronze gold weights, using the lost-wax casting method. Akan culture is also one of the traditional matrilineal cultures of Africa. Elements of Akan culture also include, but are not limited to: kente cloth, Akan Calendar, Akan Chieftaincy, Akan gold weights, and Akan religion.
Akan culture can also be found in the Americas, where a number of Akans were taken as captives. Roughly ten percent of all slave ships which embarked from the Gold Coast contained Akan people. Akan people, especially the Ashanti people, fought against European colonialists and defeated them on several occasions to maintain autonomy. This occurred during the Anglo-Ashanti wars: the War of the Golden Stool and other similar battles.
Yams are the staple food crop in the Akan economy, but plantains and taro also are important; cocoa and palm oil are major commercial resources.
Most Akan live in compact villages that are divided into wards occupied by the matrilineages and subdivided into compounds of extended multi generation families. The village is a political unit under a headman, elected from one of the lineages, and a council of elders, each of whom is the elected head of a constituent lineage. The lineage head is the custodian of the lineage stools, which are the symbols of unity between the spirits of the ancestors and the living members of the lineage; every lineage also has its own god or gods. There is a strong feeling of corporate responsibility among lineage members.
The most prominent aspect of Akan religion is an ancestor cult the rites of which serve to enforce tribal unity and morality. Other religious practices are based on belief in a supreme deity who created the universe and in lesser deities and spirits. Today, most Akan are now Christians.
Notable Akans include former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Laureate, Kofi Anna; Fashion designer and OBE recipient, Ozwald Boateng, Kwame Nkrumah, Actors Boris Kodjor and Idris Elba, Musician Sarkodie, footballers Michael Essien, Samuel Kuffour and Tony Yeboah.