The Elephant in Pre-Colonial Ghana: Cultural and Economic Use Values
Kwame Osei KwartengJournal of Philosophy and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2 June 2006
Rites Associated with Elephant Hunting Among the Akan
". . . McCaskie notes that ‘the elephant was both unpredictably dangerous–spiritually as well as physically–and the largest single source of animal food in Asante forest.’ This made elephant hunting a perilous venture. The Akan of Ghana have the intrinsic belief that just like mankind, some animals, including the elephant, have spirits which survived the death of the animal. Rattray, Nketia, and Sekyi–Baidoo state that hunters classified wild animals into two: those with spirit (sasammoa) and those without (mmoa). The former were deemed to have malevolent spirits which lived on after the animal had been killed by a hunter, and which could haunt its killer and cause calamity to befall him during subsequent hunting expeditions. Sasamoa include bongo, elephant, roan, waterbuck, duyker, black duyker, yellow–black duyker and antelope. Sekyi–Baidoo points out that, uniquely among these animals, the killing of the elephant reportedly brought honour to the hunter; for this reason, and in spite of the inherent risks, some hunters targeted the elephant, while others avoided it. Clearly, the elephant enjoyed special status among animals with spirit (sasammoa), because it was considered as the king of the jungle. This is illustrated by Akan proverbs such as ‘Ǥsono akyiri nni aboa’ ( there is no wild animal besides elephant), ‘wodi Ǥsono akyiri a hasuo nka wo’ (if you follow the trail of elephant you would not be drenched by dew’etc.)
"Nketia has documented the necessary ritual preparations which fortified elephant hunters spiritually before they embarked on hunting expeditions. This process of fortification involved undergoing a ritual bath.
"In the case of hunters celebrating their first elephant kill, a second ritual called abǤfuo, ‘elephant funeral’, was performed to appease the spirit of the animal. For experienced hunters, abǤfuo was not performed after every kill, since it was assumed that they possessed sufficient spiritual endowment to render them immune to any threat or danger posed by elephant spirits."
". . . Nketia states that a hunter who killed an elephant plucked a leaf and put it in his mouth and then went home to report the killing, after which he would undergo the necessary ritual bath, which made him acquire physical and spiritual power over animals.
"He suggests that the rationale behind the elaborate ritual was that a hunter was assumed to have died and been resurrected after killing a dangerous animal like an elephant. The occasion was thus both joyous and sobering. The king of all animals, which was thought to have a spirit like a human being, had been killed and this was equated to homicide. Thus while celebrating the elephant kill, cleansing rites needed to be performed to prevent the spirit of the elephant from haunting the hunters. In Kunso, these ‘elephant funeral’ rites commenced at 8.00 pm, and entailed the pouring of libation by the chief hunter to invoke the spirit of dead hunters for their permission and protection against any unforeseen events, which was followed by the singing of hunting songs, drumming and dancing. Failure to appease the spirit of the dead elephant could result in one or another of the following disasters striking the hunter: ‘he would never again be able to kill an elephant; he would grow immensely fat and die; he would always want to sleep; he would eat all day and never be satisfied.’ Rattray explains that these disasters would be caused by the sasa, the spirit of the elephant."
"While elephant hunting was undoubtedly a hazardous venture, the importance of the elephant and its products in the performance of important social, cultural and economic functions in society meant that hunters risked their lives to hunt the pachyderm."
36. R.S. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, Oxford University press, Oxford, 1927, p183–184.
37. Nketia, Abofodwom, Ghana Publishing Corp, Accra, 1973, pp7–9.
38. Sekyi–Baidoo, A Study of the Cosmological and Aesthetic Freatures of the Akan Hunters' Song Amoung the People of Kunso, M.Phil Thesis Submitted to the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, 1994, p41.
40. Nketia, Abofodwom, op cit, p8.
42. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, , op cit, p184–185, See also Ross, Doran H, ‘More than Meets the Eye: Elephant Memories Among the Akan’ in Elephant : The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture , Edited Doran H. Ross Hong Kong, Pear River Printing Company, 1992, p 140.
43. Nketia, Abofodwom, op. cit, p8. 44. Sekyi–Baidoo, op cit, p42.
47. Nketia, Abofodwom, op cit, pp8-9.
48. Sekyi–Baidoo, op cit, pp79–100. For full details on the elephant funeral rites read the above pages.
49. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, op. cit, p184.
50. Nketia, Abofodwom, op. cit, pp8–9.