AKAN (ASHANTI, SHANTI, ASANTE; TWI; Ghana) (2,2+,3,3+,3+,4-;2,2;G3;AB) (EHRAF)



IndexAfricaGhana → Akan

(also featured: Thsi-Speakers, Tallensi, Fanti, Kokomba, (S)Isala, Ga, Ewe, Vagla, Krobo


The practice of early betrothal has been mentioned.


“Betrothal, the binding of two people with the promise to marry, does not have a limit in terms of age. Betrothal could be between a male and female of the same age-group or different age groups. Sometimes, when a girl is born, she is betrothed to a man who obviously is much older than her. The reasoning behind betrothing a girl child to a man is to ensure that the girl will be assured of a life partner in the future. More often than not, the girl child is betrothed to a relatively wealthy man to ensure her future financial security. Also, a man who is perceived as being fertile (he may already have many children) is an ideal candidate for the family of the girl child who is to be betrothed. The thinking is that if the girl child eventually marries the fertile man, she will have many children and thereby gain the respect of members of the ethnic group because, among the Akan, the more children a woman has, the more respect and prestige she commands”[1].


In precolonial Ghana, Akan and Ewe girls were not to become sexually active and get pregnant before the celebration of puberty rites, which were held soon after menarche so as to reduce the possibility of an unsanctioned birth (Smock, 1997). These nubility rites “are considered as preliminary to marriage; indeed many Ashanti girls are betrothed before they enter them” (Sarpong, 1977)[2]. Nubility chants “make blunt, almost obscene, allusions to sex and love”. To asses a nubile girl’s moral integrity “no factor is taken into account more than the condition of her breasts: loose dropping breasts are, rightly or wrongly, taken as symptomatic of pre-nubility sexual intercourse (p30-1). After the rites, a girl “has now access to the sexual life which previously was absolutely forbidden her”[3]. Sexual intercourse under the age of puberty “[…] is an abominable crime. Girls must refrain from it at all costs” (p82).

Boys are refrained from masturbation and sex play by paternal prohibition (Rattray, 1927:p69[4]; Rattray, 1929:p13[5]; Ford and Beach, 1951:p180[6]). However, infant’s buttocks and penises are tickled (Kaye). Rattray (1932:p137)[7] quoted a Gurensi informant as saying that, formerly, there was much rivalry between lads who acted as cattle herds, who competed in wrestling and archery, and “youths who attempted early sexual intercourse or masturbation, lost their prowess and skill, and were derided”. Lystad (1958:p57)[8] states that girls and boys approaching their teens “are kept pretty well separated in their play, so as to avoid both the temptation and the appearance of wrong […]” (see also Fortes, 1949:p251). Akan boys would think that salt, milk, coffee and spirits increased penile size (Bleek, 1976)[9]. Children use everyday terms for genitalia (Kaye). In Benim, “small boys who hold or play with their genitals are often threatened with castration”. In Bompata, “only a few parents were aware that their children masturbate. […] Parents believe that masturbation in children leads to a bad life, and boys are punished by being beaten, girls by having pepper rubbed in their genitals and sometimes in their eyes”. In Jakabo, “masturbation, by boys and girls, is said to be common”. In Bosofo, “children often play such games [fathers and mothers] when they are left alone, involving mutual masturbation and actual sexual intercourse. The investigator cites a case of a girl of seven who had sexual intercourse with a boy of two and a half years of age by directing his actions”. In Jaisi, “ “sex games are common and frequent among children”, involving mutual examination of genitals”.

The Shanti practised prenatal/ infant betrothal (McCaskie, 1981:p491-2)[10]. The betrothal was normally solemnised following the nubility rites that marked the girl’s passage through menarche. Puberty was awaited for the consummation of a betrothal.


“The actual ceremonies on the day prior to the consummation of marriage seem few, simple, and unostentatious. The following is an account of a wedding of a girl to a man to whom she had been betrothed since infancy. On the sixth day after she has menstruated for the second time, the bride, dressed in her best clothes and gold ornaments, is led by her mother to the bridegroom’s hut, where he is sitting ready to receive them. The bride and her mother thank him for all his gifts; after which she and her mother again return home. After dark the bride is again escorted by her mother to the man’s house. They all sit on a mat and converse, and the man gives his mother-in-law some tobacco. Then the mother-in-law departs, leaving the young couple alone together” (Rattray).


“The Asante believe that by the time of puberty men and women, but especially the latter, should ideally develop a neck with a series of rings or folds running around it. These are a mark of beauty and sexually exciting” (McLeod, 1981:p173)[11].


“If a girl is not already betrothed she is expected to become so after this ceremony. If she has been “married”, i.e. is a “child wife”, the husband is immediately informed. In times not so very remote, any laxity of morals prior to reaching puberty was commonly punished by death or expulsion from the clan of both the guilty parties; if a man had sexual intercourse with a young girl prior to the appearance of her first period it was considered as an offence for which the whole community would suffer” (Rattray).


“Quite little girls are married and go to live with their husbands, cooking and engaging in the household work, though the man does not usually have sexual intercourse till she “grows up” (Rattray, 1916)[12]. Sexual connection with a girl before she had reached puberty would fall under the category of “murder”[13].


Debrunner (1961)[14]speaks of “[…] the fact that the impact of Western culture, far from imposing asceticism, has gone a good way towards breaking down the still existing rules of partial sex-restraint and control through tribal religion, e.g. the customs of puberty rites, before which a girl had to be chaste, are no longer considered of such importance”.









Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1]Yeboah, A. (nd) An analysis of traditional cultural practices and how they protect the African girl child: The Akan example. Institute for the African Child , Girl Child Symposium Selected Papers [http://www.ohiou.edu/afrchild/PAPERS/girlchid_conference/aberta_yeboah.htm]

[2] Sarpong, P. (1977) Girl’s Nubility Rites on Ashanti. Tema, Ghana: Ghana Publ. Co.

[3] “In times not so very remote, any moral laxity prior to a girl’s attainment of puberty was punished by death or expulsion of the two guilty parties from their matrilineages. Sexual intercourse by a girl before the inception of her first period was considered to be “blood-shedding” and therefore as an offence affecting the community[3]”. “[…] sexual intercourse by a girl under the age of puberty is an abominable crime. Girls must refrain from it at all costs”. “With adulthood comes access to sexuality, and this is brought home forcefully, especially during the women’s dances. The orgiastic movements of their bodies sometimes reach a point quite out of keeping with the normal Ashanti standards of propriety. Many of the songs, Ashanti would agree, would, in the normal circumstances, be intolerable on account of their blunt reference to matters intimately concerned with sex […] Children who make a habit of mentioning the reproductive organs by name are punished. During the nubility rites, however, both young and old mention sexual intercourse and the sex organs without the slightest qualms of conscience or shame”.

[4] Rattray, R. S. (1927) Religion and Art in Ashanti. Oxford: Clarendon Press. “I have never been able to discover any analogous rites for boys who have reached adolescence. A father will, however, instruct his son in sex matters and warn him not to masturbate”.

[5] Rattray, R. S. (1929) Ashanti Law and Constitution. Oxford: Clarendon Press. “A son is warned by his father against the evils of masturbation, owo ne kote afeko (making a pestle of his penis) [...]”.

[6] Op.cit.

[7] Rattray, R. S. (1932) The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press

[8] Lystad, R. A. (1958) The Ashanti. New York: RutgersUniversity Press

[9] Bleek, W. (1976) Birth Control and Sexual Relationships in Ghana. Amsterdam: Antropologisch-Sociologisch Centrum

[10] Bowdich, T. E. (1819) Mission from CapeCoastCastle to Shantee. London, p302, 383. Quoted by McCaskie, T. C. (1981) State and Society, Marriage and Adultery: Some Considerations Towards a Social History of Pre-Colonial Asante, J African Hist 22,4:477-94

[11] McLeod, M. D. (1981) The Asante. London: BritishMuseum Publications

[12] Rattray, R. S. (1916) Ashanti Proverbs. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press

[13] Busia, K. A. (1951) The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of the Ashanti. London: OxfordUniversity Press for the International African Institute

[14] Debrunner, H. W. (1961) Witchcraft in Ghana: A Study on the Belief in Destructive Witches and its Effect on the Akan Tribes. Accra: Presbyterian Book Depot Ltd.