The people of Nzema (Ghana) – How they emerged
You probably know Ghana’s first President Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is from Nzema and you may have heard that the people of Nzema celebrate Kundum Festival. Does the tourist site Nzulezu (the village built on waters) ring a bell? And the tasty Akyeke with coconut or fried fish could not have escaped you at the mention of Nzema. But the origin of Nzema is rooted in a very intriguing history; one that is rarely told yet worth knowing. That is why today we dig into Ghana’s Western corridors to learn about the people of Nzema and their true origin.
Nzema is located at the south western part of Ghana bounded to the west by Ivory Coast, and Ahanta, North by Aowin and Wassa and on the south by the Gulf of Guinea. According to the founding ancestors, Nzimas originally lived somewhere along the N’Zi River which runs parallel to the Comoe River in north-eastern Cote d’Ivoire. As the people along the Comoe River became known as the “Kimbu people” (later Akuamu people), the N’Zi dwellers were nicknamed the N’Zi people, hence Nzi-mba which evolved into what we now know as NZIMA (Nzema).
Historical accounts indicates that years ago, there was strife and unrest in the neighboring regions of Kankyeabo and Bouna near the Kong Mountains. It was during this time that the Mandes, at an unknown date and for reasons no longer remembered, invaded the region.
They were fierce fighters who were said to hack their enemies into pieces. This event, namely the invasion of the autochthonous inhabitants urged the Kumbu (Akwamu) people to migrate southwards to Heman, travelling through war-ridden territories till they arrived at the coast where they set up their first capital at Nyanawase.
Shortly afterwards the Nzi-mba under their great leader called Annor Asaman, moved unobtrusively in a south – western direction, subsequently settling on the west coast in order to avoid being caught up in the clashes at the time.
For some time, there was a struggle with the people of Krinjaho and others in Cote d’Ivoire over the land lying between the Tano lagoon and the sea, an area which the Nzema had since effectively occupied for the past years.
Upon their arrival on the west coast at Ahumazo near the Tano Lagoon, there were many shaded trees, so they moved to a place where they found a tall palm tree which didn’t bear fruits, and decided to settle there permanently. The new site was accordingly named BEYIN, meaning “tall Palm-tree”.
Nzema tribal history is dominated by one man who rose to an eminent position from the debris of civil wars in the far north and finally settled his people at BEYIN called Annor Asaman.
The first formative period of Nzema history really ended in his life-time. By then, all the important settlements had been established. It is believed that Annor Blay Acka might have succeeded this gallant leader, and reigned longer than his predecessor. He was also succeeded by his brother, Annor Broma I after whom Bua Panin who became a powerful paramount chief was enthroned.
The next person to rule was Anihere Panin in whose reign the Fort Beyin was built in 1691 by the Royal African Company at the invitation of the Nzema people.
Before Amihere Panin ascended the Stool, he was cultivating on a land where Atuani trees grew. His predecessor permitted him to build a new settlement at the site, and the place was named ATUABO (“Atuani” is plural). He lived at ATUABO with his followers. After his death, his nephew, Birimponi Kwesi was enstooled (Birimponi: means paramount chief in Nzema). The elevation apparently increased Beyin’s bitterness and made them more enraged against Atuabo. Tradition further asserts that the Nzemas welcomed some Ashanti refugees led by Abini Nobia. After swearing the Oath of Allegiance to Birimponi Kwesi they were settled at Abata but later on through inter-marriage, it came to light that Abini Nobia practiced human sacrifice secretly.
Abini Nobia was forcibly ejected together with his followers and they escaped to Mowaso near Grand Basa – a settlement on St John River in Liberia.
Successive Paramount Chiefs were Azu Ekyi (1700 – 1741), Annor Breman II (1746 – 1789), Mensah Ohie (1789 – 1820). Kamma Panin was followed by his nephew Kweku Acka who preferred to stay at Atuabo where he had been nurtured by a respectable person on a farm land. It was soon detected that King Kweku Acka had tyrannical traits and perverted tasted for blood, and therefore chose to stay at Atuabo in order to evade surveillance at Fort Beyin.
He used to visit the Fort in 1828, and was very popular with the youth who nicknamed him “Ngutan” to which he responded “Omiamenia-ba”.
In 1835, a British man – of – war was dispatched to punish King Kweku Acka and his subjects for practicing human sacrifices. He remained quiet for some time when Captain Maclean (During colonial times) was appointed Judicial Assessor 1843 – 1847. He then resumed the executions and acquired a pervasive influence throughout the west coast.
The new Governor, Commander Hill, appointed in 1843, threatened to punish him exemplarily for this action of brutality. But with sheer impudence, Kweku Acka sent a message to the Governor saying “he would raze Cape Coast Castle to the ground and dine of the Governor’s liver!
Though it is believed this report might have being exaggerated, the Governor became enraged and ordered for his arrest. He was captured and imprisoned at the Castle for life where he died on December 28, 1851.
The governor’s prompt action ultimately restored peace and tranquility in the sub-region.
In appreciation of his services, the Governor made Benjin who had been instrumental in capturing Kweku Acka, a chief of Atuabo as a sub-chief for the purpose of settling disputes.
Kweku Acka’s successor, Amakye, had his seat at Beyin as the overall head of Nzema. The Atuabos were resentful of this new dispensation since their chiefship had been subordinated to that of Beyin.
In about 1867, by a convention between the British and the Dutch merchants, Nzema became subjects to Dutch interim administration. As a result, Atuabo in Eastern Nzema decided to break away from the Dutch who sent messengers to ascertain the truth of this move from the Elders Atuabo. Unfortunately, the messengers were murdered. Immediately a Dutch gun boat went and destroyed Atuabo.
Soon afterwards, Avu of Atuabo hastened to Wassa where he managed to solicit help from some men who accompanied him to fight Amakye at Beyim. When Amakye learnt of Avu’s advance, he also sought help from the Asantis who had supported the Dutch move.
Then under the command of Pani Yanna Acka of Naba, the Western Nzema army marched on, and defeated the Eastern Nzema, killing Avu in the process. Benyin, therefore, gained complete success in the Avu War, in 1869. His death gave rise to a more severe and universal wave of persecution of opponents and forced many people to flee into exile to save their lives.
In order to maintain peace and tranquility in the sub-region, Nzema was split into two separate states under different principal cities. Beyin became the capital of Western Nzema Traditional Area, while Atuabo remained the capital of Eastern Nzema.
The people of the two states who originated from one common stock entered a period of rehabilitation and reform, and have since shown remarkable stability and persistence centuries later.
Kwame Ampene (Founder of the Guan Historical Society)
The story was based on research by Count Vinigi Grottaneli, Professor of Ethnology in the University of Rome, Italy, gave a lecture on RESEARCH ON NZEMA TRADITIONAL CULTURE, under the distinguished chairmanship of Prof. J. H Nketia as part of Museum Lectures.