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Kwahu refers to an area and group of people that live in Ghana, part of the Twi-speaking Akan group. The region has been dubbed Asaase Aban, or the Natural Fortress, in view of its position as the highest habitable elevation in the country. Kwahu lies in the Eastern Region of Ghana, on the west shore of Lake Volta. The region is shared with their fellow Akans: the Akyem and Akuapem, as well as the Adangbe-Krobos. A significant migrant population from the Northern and Volta Regions and some indigenous Guans from the bordering Oti and Brong East Regions live in the Afram Plains area. They work as farm-hands, fisherfolk, and caretakers in the fertile waterfront 'melting pot'.
The "h" spelling is the official spelling from the African Studies Centre, University of Ghana and resembles the pronunciation. The "h" was put in by Swiss missionaries from Basel, who added the "h" to ensure that Kwa, the first syllable, was not pronounced as "eh." The "h" is not separately pronounced in the name. For Anglo-Germanic speakers, Ku-A-U may be an easier pronunciation help whilst Franco-Roman natives would say KoU-AoU with ease.
Nkawkaw (pronounced "In-core-core" for English/ In-kor-kor for German) is roughly 3 hours by car from the outskirts of Accra and approximately 140.9 km in distance. It serves as a mid-way in the road journey from Accra to Kumasi and the gateway to a cluster of towns set within the hills. Although the region doesn't have a lake or identical weather fauna, the profile resembles the Italian region overlooking Lake Garda in Lombardy. It is also similar to the surroundings of Interlaken in Switzerland with winding roads uphill towards Beatenberg. An aerial view of portions of the Allegheny Chain in the United States provides a good description of the Kwahu Plateau.
First-time drivers are strictly advised to ensure the roadworthiness of their vehicles, with extra attention paid to break functions and gear shifts. The steep climb with sharp s-curves is quite demanding even for experienced drivers. However, there are also registered (PROTOA/GPRTU) cab and lorry drivers for hire at the main Nkawkaw Station who will safely chauffeur or accompany drivers for a small fee.
During the descent from Mpraeso or Obomeng to Nkawkaw, it is recommended that drivers remain in bottom gear (1st or 2nd shift positions) at all times until level ground. Be mindful of visibility/fog situations at dawn and in early mornings.
Language, History, and Culture
The term Kwahu also refers to the variant of Akan language spoken in this region by approximately 1,000,000 native speakers. Except for a few variations in stress, pronunciation, and syntax, there are no markers in the dialect of Akan spoken by the Kwahu versus their Ashanti or Akyem neighbors. Choice of words and names are pronounced closer to Akuapem Twi as in Mukaase (Kitchen), Afua (a girl's given day name for Friday), Mankani (Cocoyam), etc. but not with the Akuapem tonation or accent. These three examples above can quickly indicate the speaker's origin or source influence: Ashanti speakers would most likely Say Gyaade, Afia and Menke-i.
Originally of Ashanti stock, oral history details the phased migration of the Kwahu from the Sekyere-Efiduase-Mampong and Asante-Akyem Hwidiem areas to Ankaase, which is today near the traditional capital of Abene, before spreading out on other settlements with clan members from peripheral Akyem and from parts of the vast Ashanti heartland. The group that first settled at Abene was led by (M)Ampong Agyei, hence his acceptance as the founder of Kwahu. Historical material supports this view and further gives credence to their links to Akyem Clans who built their Capital at Oda. The fallout with Frimpong Manso, Chief of Akyem (Oda) triggered a second wave of migration, believed to have resulted from the refusal of Kwahus to swear an oath of allegiance, making them de facto subjects, upon arrival at Hwidiem. Attempts by the Oda Chiefs to claim new Kwahu territories on the plateau would subsequently earn them the title "Okofrobour": one who takes the fight to the mountains.
If Ashanti Twi is by and large the accepted language standard, it is appropriate to view Kwahu Twi as the precious stone from which the jeweler styles a gem. There is a certain purity of pronunciation, call it crude, with no effort to polish sounds: Kwahu speakers would opt for "Barima" (Man) instead of "Berma" and pronounce "Oforiwaa" not "Foowaa". Another slight difference is the preference for full sentences among the Kwahu: "Wo ho te sen?" (How are you?) in place of the shorter "Ete sen?" in Ashanti; Wo b3 ka s3 / As3 (you might say, looks like); Ye fri Ghana / Ye fi Ghana (We are from Ghana) and other minor name or word pronunciations, sentence length, etc. that usually pass unnoticed.
The Mamponghene, who is next to the Ashanti King in the hierarchy, and the Kwahuhene, are historical cousins, hence both occupy Silver Stools with the salutation Daasebre.
The name derives from its myths of origin, "The slave (akoa) died (wu)," which was based on an ancient prophecy that a slave would die so the wandering tribe of Akan would know where to settle. This resonates with the etymology of the Ba-wu-le (Baoulé) Akans of the Ivory Coast. The myth was part of the historical stories of the Agona matriclan, the first paramount lineage of Kwawu, and was later adopted by the Bretuao-Tena matriclan (Twidan) who later replaced them. Other historians trace the name Kwahu to the dangers associated with making the mountainous terrain a habitat as it became known as a destination of no return: go at your own peril or "ko wu" in the Twi language. This latter version is thought to have come either from their ancestral people in Mampong who did not support fragmentation or from enemies who perished in trying to take fighting to the Kwahu in the treacherous mountains.
The paramount king and the royal matrilineage of the Kwawu reside at Abene, north of Abetifi on the banks of the highlands. The strategic location of Abene and a dreaded militia that guarded the route was led by Akwamu warriors who fiercely repelled attempts by colonial forces to capture the Omanhene. Till today, the road from Abetifi to the small enclave housing the king is plied with some unease, given the stories recounted.
Before their leaders seized upon the opportunities presented with the Bond of 1844, Kwahu was thus an integral part of the Ashanti Kingdom, attested by available maps of the period. Ashanti waged punitive and protracted wars against fellow Akans including Denkyira, Akwamu, Akyem, Fanti, Assin but never fought Kwahu. Abetifi (Tena matriclan) is the head of the Adonten (vanguard). Obo (Aduana, Ada, Amoakade) is the head of the Nifa (Right Division) Aduamoa (Dwumena, Asona) is the head of the Benkum (Left Division). Pepease is the head of the Kyidom or rear-guard division.
As part of the Asante Empire, Kwawu had an Asante emissary, governor or ambassador at Atibie, next to Mpraeso, of the Ekuona matriclan). To indicate its independence from Asante in 1888 the Kwawu assassinated the Asante emissary in Atibe, about the time of the arrival of the Basel missionaries from Switzerland. Fritz Ramseyer had been granted a few days of rest during a stop at Kwahu while en route to Kumasi with his captors. He recovered quickly from a bout of fever while in the mountains. Upon gaining his freedom later from the Asantehene, he sought permission to build a Christian Mission in Abetifi, thereby placing the town on the world map and opening the area to vocational and evangelical opportunities. Although it remains a small town, Abetifi still draws the reputation of a Center of Excellence in Education with various institutions from the ground up. A Bernese country house built by Ramseyer, typical of the Swiss "Oberland" is well-kept and remains a symbol of early Christian Missionary Zeal. Obo, traditionally pro-Ashanti, led the opposition to the Swiss.
Until recently, they shunned political activism and are under-represented in government appointments, in comparison to other Akan groups such as the Ashanti, Fanti, Brong or Akyem.