Sefwi cocoa farmer holding her basket of cocoa
It is bounded on the north-east by Ashanti (Asante), on the east by Denkyira and Wassa-Amenfi, on the south by Aowin and on the west by the Anyi-Baoule of the Ivory Coast. It also shares a common boundary with Brong Ahafo in the north. All the three states share a common dialect Sefwi but almost all the people speak Twi (Akan). In Addition they have a common tutelary deity, Sobore, and a common yam festival – the Alluolie. They celebrate a common annual yam festival which is called the Alluolie or Eluo.
The Sefwi were vassal states of the Denkyira. After Denkyira was defeated by Asante, the Sefwi gained their independence but soon were taken over by Asante. Sefwi was rich in gold, ivory and rubber that led to their prosperity.
Sefwi people are also noted for their traditional religious practice which is of Jewish origin. Before Christian missionaries had come to convert much of Ghana nearly a hundred year ago, the Sefwi people followed many "unusual" traditions. Though they were farmers like most others in their region, the Sefwi strictly adhered to a Saturday day of rest.
Community leaders punished members who broke the prohibition against work on the day of rest, sometimes even by death. Members of the Sefwi community followed dietary restrictions that forbade them from eating pork. Male community members were circumcised in youth; women in the community were forced into isolation during their menstrual period, just as ancient Jews were according to the Torah.
Jews of Sefwi Wiaso
The Sefwi are Akan sub-group that speak the Akan dialect of Sefwi language. Sehwi (Sefwi) language is a Central Tano language of Ghana which belongs to the larger Niger-Congo phylum. As a result of Denkyira and Asante influence, most of the Sefwi people speak Akan Twi.
Since the middle of the seventeenth century this vast stretch of territory has served as a centre of refuge for people escaping from the political centralization policies of their neighbours to the north and east. Refugees from Bono-Takyiman Wenchi, Adanse, Denkyira, Assin and Asante found ready welcome in this territory. It appears that the Aowin (Awowin) rulers who formerly controlled modern Sefwi territory adopted an open door policy as a measure to increase the population of their state. Nor has the influx of people info Sefwi ceased up to the present day. Its virgin forest serves as a bait for cocoa farmers and timber merchants from all over Ghana.
It is not known for certain when the name Sefwi came to be applied to this area. The etymology of the word “Sefwi” indicates that the state is of comparatively recent creation. Sefwi is said to be the contraction of the Twi phrase, “Esa awie” or “Esa hie” meaning “War is over”. It is interesting to note that it was only in the early 19th century that the name appeared in the European records. The first mention of Sefwi, known to the writer, is in Bowdich. Before his time the early writers referred to the area as Inkassa, Inkassa Igyina, Great Enkassa or Encasser. In 1819 Bowdich mentioned a state of “Sauee” as lying eight journeys west north west from Kumasi. Five years later Dupuis showed two states Safey and Showy on his map of Wangara. These states were located to the northwest and southwest respectively of Asante. The latter state (Showy) which he placed between the Bia and Tano rivers may be identified with Sefwi Wiawso, whilst the former (Safey), although widely placed off its present location, may stand for either Anhwiaso or Bekwai or both. Perhaps the significance of Dupuis’ map lies in the fact that for all the time Sefwi has been known to comprise of more than one independent state.
Both written and oral evidence indicate that until the rise of the Akan states of Denkyira and Asante the most powerful state in the southwestern region of Ghana was Aowin. It was not until the last two decades of the 17th century that Denkyira succeeded in bringing Aowin under its rule. Even so the Denkyira victory did not much affect the power of Aowin since all that the victorious power was interested in was to obtain free passage for its traders to and from Aowin and to collect it annual tribute. The evidence would seem to suggest that by the end of the 17th century Aowin had not only regained its former power but had embarked on a policy of economic and political expansion which was to bring it face to face with the rising power of Asante in the 1710’s. Its control over the sources of gold and the trade routes to the northern market of Begho and the coastal town of Apollonia was one of the causes which led to the Asante-Aowin War of 1715. By the beginning of the 18th century the wars with Denkyira and Asante had led to a loss of much of Aowin territory to the west of the Tano to many of the Twi-speaking people from the east. Although the new immigrants were victorious in the wars, they seemed to have lost their language, which now is so heavily overlaid with the dialect of the Aowin as to render it virtually incomprehensible to the other Twi speakers. In spite of their linguistic affinity with the Aowin, very few people in the three states of Sefwi may be said to have remotely directly originated from the Aowin. Among such towns are Bonzan (Moinsea), DaTano, Benchema, Kwodwokrom, and part of Bodi. Although they do not consider themselves to be Aowin, there is no doubt that they were once a part of or under the Aowin.
Phases of Settlement
One of the problems of the researcher into the history of Sefwi is how to determine the various phases of settlements and migration. This problem is made more difficult by the incessant land succession disputes and litigation among the three paramount stools on the one hand, and between the paramount stools and some of the divisional chiefs on the other. All are however agreed that the Anhwiaso state was the first of the three to be established. Bordering on Asante to the northeast, it is most probable that this was the state, which was known to Dupuis as Safey. The traditions of many of the towns of Anhwiaso trace their original homes to southern Asante and to Brong Ahafo. The most important of these towns is Wenchi, the name of which is, at times, used to describe the whole of the Anhwiaso traditional area. Now ruled by members of the Asona clan who trace the home of their lineage to Ansa in Adanse, Wenchi appears to have been founded by people from Brong Ahafo. It is interesting to note that the Asona of Kesekrom and Ahibenso in the Wiawso area who claim to have come from Anhwiaso Wenchi, emphatically assert that their original home was in Wenchi in Brong Ahafo. There is enough circumstantial evidence to show that people from Wenchi in the Bono-Takyiman area may have founded Anhwiaso Wenchi and named it after their old home. This is partly evidenced by the similarities in the yam festival of the two towns and partly by the traditions of Bono Wenchi which assert that early in the reign of Osei Tutu the Asante sacked and destroyed their old capital, Ahwene Koko. As a result of the destruction, the tradition continues, many of their people moved and settled in Sefwi, Aowin and Nzema areas. It is most probable that many of the refugees from Ahwene Koko moved into Anhwiaso Wenchi, the original founders of which might have been related to them. Now enjoying the status of a divisional chief (the Benkumhene) to the Anhwiaso Omanhene, Wenchi has for a long time disputed the claim of the Adum-Aduana of Anhwiaso to occupy the paramount stool. To Wenchi the Adum-Aduana are usurpers. According to the Asona traditions of Wenchi they lost virtually all the male royals of their clan as a result of wars with their neighbours. In order that the necessary customary rites would be regularly performed they entrusted the custody of the stool to one Nipa Panyi, the eldest of the stool sons. Until that period their sons of the Aduana clan were the principal state executioners (Adumfo). Unfortunately for the Asona it took them a long time to be able to get a male royal capable of occupying the stool. But because of this long period of regency, and the love of the power which their sons had wielded they refused to hand over the stool to them and thereby, made permanent an arrangement which had been intended to be temporary.
The confusion in the Anhwiaso state is made worse by the existence of two rival groups of Aduana each claiming to be the rightful rulers. The chief of Chirano, who is said to be the head of the Aduana clan in Anhwiaso, and whose branch of Aduana is collectively known as the Sawua, maintains that the Adum-Aduana have worked themselves into a position which had formerly been occupied by them. The Sawua claim that they once lived at old Wenchi with the Asona, with whom they were only separated by a brook. Both the Adum-Aduana and the Sawua people maintain that they are autochthonous. Whilst the former assert that they brought their stool from their old home at Old Anhwiaso, where they emerged from a hole in the ground, the latter also claim that their ancestors emerged from a hole at a place near old Wenchi. It appears that the claims of both the Sawua and the Adum-Aduana are mere rationalizations to support a position which the Aduana have come to occupy not by right but by force.
The traditions of Sefwi Bekwai assert that the Anhwiaso people were already settled in their present territory when they arrived there. Perhaps because of the smallness of their number, Bekwai was not prepared to fight it out to capture land from the original settlers. This may explain why it is the smallest of all the three states. The Ekoona of Bekwai who occupy the Omanhene’s stool, claim to have emigrated from Adanse, where they belonged to the royal family at Fomena. Owing to family disputes they moved away. First passing through Denkyira, Wassa and Nzema they were later granted land near the Sobore River by Obumankoma, chief of Agona in Wassa Amenfi, then a vassal of the powerful Aowin king. Sometime in the 18th century the strained relationship between Bekwai and Wiawso, who had lately arrived in the area, led to a war in which Bekwai was forced to take refuge in Asante. They were however, later granted land by the Anhwiaso stool, thanks to the intercession of the Asantehene.
The history of Sefwi Wiawso is closeiy connected with Asante-Awowin relationship. Of all the three states Wiawso appears to have been the one which was much more directly influenced by developments in the Asante capital – Kumasi. Indeed the evidence seems to suggest that the vast tract of territory which Wiawso came to control was obtained with the help of the Asante whom they faithfully supported after the Asante-Denkyira War. Like the other states, many of the people in Wiawso trace their origins to Asante and Denkyira. Here the important clan is ‘Asankera’ which occupies the paramount stool. The beginnings of the settlement of the Twi-speaklng people in Wiawso may be traced to the rise of Denkyira to power between 1640 and 1660. Reluctant to submit to Denkyira rule, some members of the Asakyiri clan left Adanse Akrokeri and eventually settled a few miles west of the Tano at a place known as Bauko. Together with the Agona rulers of Bonzan, which had once been a powerful Aowin out-post, the Asakyiri of Bauko, succeeded in despoiling Aowin of much of its land lying between the Bia and the Tano. But the period of Bauko rule in this area was soon to be cut short during the last phase of Denkyira imperial drive towards the end of the 17th century. From about the 1680′s refugees from Wassa and Twifo came pouring into the area to avoid being brought under Denkyira rule. It was at this time that the modern state of Wiawso was established. It appears however, that for some time there existed a mutual working relationship between the Asakyiri of Buako and the new Asankera people who had lately arrived from their former home near Asankaragua, in the Wassa Amenfi area.
The foundations of the modern state of Wiawso are associated with two early rulers, Obumankoma and Nkoa I. Tradition has it that it was Obumankoma who led the migration of the people from Wassa Amenfi to their first settlement at Bosomoiso, by the Sobore. It is not known whether it was the fear of Denkyira which urged Obumankoma on to move westwards. Not long after his settlement at Bosomoiso, however, the ever victorious armies of Boa Amponsem I of Denkyira overran the new settlement. Obumankoma once again moved and founded his capital at the strategically superior site on top of the hill where the modern town, Wiawso, stands. By correlating traditional with documentary evidence one may be able to establish the period of the foundation of both the Wiawso town and state.
It is traditionally remembered that very early in his reign, Nkoa I, the second ruler of Wiawso, was presented with the Etwie drum by Boa Amponsem. Although Wiawso traditions describe this as exchange of gifts, yet it appears that by accepting this all important drum from Boa Amponsem, Nkoa was acknowledging his vassalage to Denkyira. Boa Amponsem is known to have died in 1692. It is therefore highly probable that Nkoa might have been enstooled around 1691. If Nkoa was the second ruler as Wiawso traditions assert, then it is most likely that the foundation of Wiawso state goes back not earlier than the 1680′s or late 1670′s. It is most probable that the Asante soon followed the victory over Denkyira with the capture of Wiawso and Bekwai. Asante traditions maintain that the defeat of Sefwi took place at the time of Osei Tutu. From all appearances, the Sefwi soon learned to adjust themselves to their new situation. This enabled them to play a leading role in the Asante drive towards the southwest in the 1710′s. Nkoa I (Ntwan) whom the Europeans mistakenly identify as king of Wassa, instead of Wiawso, was known to have played a leading role In the Asante-Aowin War when the Asante forces under General Amankwatia carried all before them to Apollonia in 1715. In the Sefwi Wiawso people the Asante found brave and willing allies competent to guard their southwestern frontiers against Aowin. It might be due to Nkoa’s services to the Asante in the war that Wiawso was allowed to annex much of the land west of the Tano, which had formerly belonged to the Aowin. It is significant to note that the traditions of Wiawso describe Nkoa I as the warrior king and credit him with the conquest of Aowin and the extension of their territory to much of its present frontiers.
Sefwi and Their Neighbours
Whatever the intentions of the founders of the Sefwi state in moving westwards from the centre of Akan politics, they soon learned that ‘War is not yet over” as they had hoped. They had to fight with some of their neighbours over land or fight wars for their allies and overlords. In spite of the traditions of early settlements in Wassa country by both the Bekwai and Wiawso states, their relations with the former soon deteriorated. It is said that Obumankoma of Wiawso defeated Wassa (presumably Amenfi) probably towards the end of the l680′s. Wiawso hegemony over Wassa could not have lasted long because Obumankoma was himself defeated by Boa Amponsem. To the period of Denkyira overlordship in Wiawso may be traced the influx of the large number of Denkyira immigrants, as testified by the many stools occupied by people of the Agona clan. Indeed, Denkyira political institutions were greatly copied by Wiawso. It is interesting to note that two of the most warlike towns, Amenfie and Bodi, trace their origins to this period. Although most of the stools interviewed in this area tried to play down their subjection to Denkyira, there is enough evidence from their war songs which lends support to the early phase of Denkyira dominance. It is not unlikely that Nkoa I of Wiawso, like Osei Tutu of Asante, learned much from the military tactics and political organisation of Denkyira.
It was not only the Wiawso state but Bekwai and Anhwiaso also came under Denkyira rule. The traditions of the last mentioned state hold that they were once overran by latter power while most of their able-bodied men were away to war with their northern neighbours. By the end of the 17th century the Denkyira army under their fearful general, Agya Ananse Obooman, had carried their arms to as far west as the Bia and south westwards to bring Aowin under their rule.
As Bosman and the other European observers reported, all the former tributary states of Denkyira were anxious for its downfall because Denkyira rule tended to be harsh. Indeed it is known that most of the tributary states overtly supported Asante. To them the Asante war of liberation would also win them their independence. Unlike Akyem Abuakwa, little did they realize that Asante which had objected to Denkyira rule, was itself embarking on an imperial drive. It was perhaps with a view to gaining the confidence of the Asante that Anhwiaso immediately transferred its allegiance to Asante after 1701. It is not certain when and why Wiawso and Bekwai came under Asante rule. If the information collected by Bowdich at the beginning of the 19th century is to be believed then the defeat of Wiawso soon followed that of Denkyira. It is known that Osei Tutu’s General Amankwatia, conquered “Sawee Bomancumma”. By 1700, however, Obumankoma was dead and had been succeeded by Nkoa. Any Asante war against Sefwi then would be against Nkoa but not Obumankoma. It is interesting to note that within less than a decade and a half, Nkoa I had so successfully adapted himself to the changed political situation as to play a prominent role in the Asante-Aowin War of 1715. Nor could Anhwiaso preserve its friendly relations with Asante for long. In 1715, Amankwatia’s army on its way to Apollonia overran its capital and thus completely reduced Anhwiaso to a tributary status. Perhaps the role played by the Bantamahene Amankwatia in bringing these states completely under Asante rule explains why Wiawso and Anhwiaso served the Asantehene through the Bantamahene.
Throughout the period between 1715 and 1887, when Sefwi finally came under the British, Asante maintained its rule in the area. By the reign of Osei Kwadwo, Asante power had stretched farther westwards into part of the Anyi-Baule region of the Ivory Coast. The whole of modern Sefwi had been brought under Asante rule by the 1770′s, when Osei Kwadwo is said to have defeated the former Aowin principality of Bonzan. Bonzan traditions agree that they came under Sefwi Wiawso at the suggestion of the Asante. To pacify the former powerful Bonzan Wiawso agreed to make it the Krontihene of the state.
One of the mysteries in Sefwi history is its relationship with Ebiri Moro. Fuller, without citing his source of information, asserts that one Ebiri Moro, King of Sefwi, sacked Kumasi when the Asante armies were gone to war against Akyem. This happened according to Fuller, during the reign of Opoku Ware. It is interesting to note that none of the chiefs interviewed could tell of Ebiri Moro’s identity. Perhaps one may argue that since his actions brought the state into disrepute the Sefwi people have deliberately struck out his name from the king lists. I am inclined to believe that no such an attempt has been made. Judging from the intense rivalry among the paramount stools, it is not unlikely that one of them would have shown who Ebiri Moro was as long as he was not connected with their stool. All the available information, however, makes Ebiri Moro either a ruler of Ahafo or Aowin. Indeed, Wiawso traditions assert that it could not have been a ruler of Sefwi since they were at that time fighting with the Asante army.
Nor do the 19th and early 20th century traditions collected associate him with Sefwi. Reindorf asserts that Ebiri Moro was the ruler of Parana and that Amankwatia fought and defeated Obumankoma and not Ebiri Moro. Kumawu traditions collected by Rattray in the 1920′s associate Ebiri Moro with Wassa. Judging from Sefwi relations with Asante at the beginning of the 18th century, it is difficult to believe that they would have been bold enough to have carried an attack to the capital of their overlord. It appears that the historian interested in finding more about this mysterious Ebiri Moro must search for him in the Aowin states which are in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast or in the Bono Takyiman-Wenchi area.
Social and Political Organisation
With the influx of people from many parts of the country especially from Adanse which is known to be the first organized Akan state “from which other states learned the art of government”, the social and political systems of Sefwi have been much influenced by the immigrants. The present basic social structure may be said to be the super imposition of the highly developed pure Akan clan system on one which had hitherto been organised primarily around living quarters and in Asafo or warrior company groups. The outcome on the whole has not been a very satisfactory marriage. This explains the confusion about the various clans who claim to be eligible to occupy important stools. In Anhwiaso and Wiawso it appears that the struggles between the various clans are primarily due to the unsuccessful merger of the two dissimilar institutions i.e. the pure Akan clan system on the one hand, and the Aowin-Bono system on the other.
Nowhere is this situation as pronounced as in the Wiawso state. There the clan in which the paramount stool is vested is known as the Asankera. One would expect that all the members of this group would belong to one known Akan clan group. But far from it, There are, at least, three different clans who claim to belong to the Asankera group. The present Omanhene of Wiawso, for instance, asserts that he is of the Oyoko clan, while Buako and Asafo which are also Asankera are of the Asakyiri and Bretuo clans, respectively. In the Anhwiaso area perhaps the origins of the struggles between the Asona of Wenchi on the one hand, and the Adum-Aduana and the Aduana (Sawua) on the other, stem from a similar unsuccessful arrangement of merging clans with living quarters.
In the political sphere, however, most of the Akan institutions have been easily adopted. The politico-military division of the state into the left, right, and vanguard wings each under a leader who led his men in time of war and administered the division in peace-time is a common feature of the Sefwi constitution. Also all the states have such purely administrative posts as the Kronti, Akwamu, Gyaase, Ankobea, and a host of others which are common with all the other Akan states. In spite of these arrangements, however, it appears that, with the exception of a few important stools in some places the all important office of the queen-mother was unknown or her role was relegated to an inferior status.
Like most of the forest states of West Africa Sefwi’s economy was based on trade. Gold mining and panning as well as ivory hunting were two of the most important occupations. Gold and ivory were exchanged for manufactured goods.
Sefwi cocoa farmers
A town like Bonzan (when translated the name means the river which spits out gold), owed its fame and importance to its gold industry. Gold from Sefwi and other Aowin towns was regularly sent to Begho to the north and to the European forts at the coast.
Sefwi cocoa farmer
The route connecting Kumasi to Sefwi was one of the important arteries of trade at the beginning of the 19th century. Towards the end of the 19th century when rubber became one of the principal items of trade in the forest region of Ghana, Sefwi appears to have been active in the tapping of rubber. The abundance of both the tree, Funtumia elastica, and the vine, Landolphia Owarensis, in the area greatly made rubber exploitation a lucrative occupation for the people. It was undoubtedly during this period of rubber boom that Debiso in Sefwi became an important stopping place and market centre for people who journeyed to Kankyaabo (Krinjabo) and other places in modern Ivory Coast. While it may not be denied the importation of European manufactured goods, especially iron implements helped to make possible this economic exploitation, Sefwi and its immediate neighbourhood had had traditions of iron working going back to the pre-European period. To both Denkyira and Sefwi the iron working towns of Tonsuosim (Maudaso) by the Bia, and Bopa-Piri, by the Tano had long provided the much needed hoes and machetes (adre), for the exploitation of the forest.
Festivals and Traditional Deities
As was pointed out earlier on all the three states of Sefwi share a common culture in spite of the fact that they all came from different places. They share a common dialect, Sefwi, have a common Yam Festival, Alluolie, and a common deity, Sobore. Although the Sefwi dialect is grouped with other Akan languages, it is mostly unintelligible to the other Akan speakers. Linguistically the incoming Akans from the east and other regions have had their language very much overlaid with the Aowin-Bono dialect. Now Sefwi shares this common dialect, with the Aowin, Nzema and Anyi-Baule in the Ivory Coast.
In their common yam festival,the Alluolie,they celebrate the end of the farming year, and offer food and drinks to their ancestors – a practice which is not dissimilar from the Ohum and Odwira festivals of the Akans. On the other hand the second festival, the Alie, is not celebrated by all the stools, but only by members of the Asona clan in the three states. The importance of this festival lies perhaps in the fact that it serves as one of the only connecting links between the two Wenchis of Bono and Sefwi. Formerly celebrated only in Wenchi, but not taken up by the Omanhene of Anhwiaso and such places as Chirano, Subiri and Kesekrom, it has much in common with the celebration of the annual Apo festival of Wenchi in the Bono states. In both the Alie and the Apo food which is cooked for the ancestors is placed at the outskirts of the town and merry-making women dance up and down the streets at times exposing their naked but well decorated bodies to the onlookers.
Sefwi students dancing traditional dance
In the worship of the tutelar deity Sobore, the three states also have a common identity. The deity is supposed not only to protect the states from all calamities but it is also a fertility god. Admittedly each state had its own shrine and priests but in all essentials the method of worshipping is similar. It appears that the Sobore predates the establishment of the modern Sefwi state. This may explain why only the local dialect and not Twi and only locally made wine from the raffia palm are used in worshipping Sobore. It is highly probable that the worship of this stream Sobore, was taken over from the Aowin.
Tree of God (Nyame Dua)
It is located at Nyamebekyere, a distance of about 5km from Sefwi Wiawso. It is said that about one hundred and fifty (150) years ago, a farmer struck a machete into the stump of the tree which is still visible in the trunk of the tree. Today the trunk of the tree is completely surrounded by the machete.
Abombirim Sacred Tortoise Forest
It is located at Sefwi Boako, a 21km distance away from the municipal capital. A sacred forest is preserved in which a giant tortoise lives. It is believed hen one picks the tortoise, there turns to be total darkness in the forest. Until such a time that the tortoise is left for light to re-appear, one will not be able to find a way out of the forest.
It is at Bosomoiso about 4km away from Sefwi Wiawso. It is believed that the royal family of the said community originated from this hole. It is believed to be a bottomless hole. It is surrounded by trees but no leaf falls into it. The hole is alleged to have healing powers.