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Gods II; Nansing

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Nansing, A River Inside a Cave


The remote and tiny village of Aboam, residence of the powerful tutelary deity, Nansing

Nana Kofi Amoah, Head Man of Aboam

Aboam has no ancestral stools, so has no chief.

Nansing is a river inside a cave on the northern slopes of the Kwawu escarpment, looking out over the Afram plains. About a half kilometre away is the little village of Aboam. The farm lands around Aboam belong to the Amoakade (Aduana) matriclan and are relatives of the chief of Obo.



Elder pouring palm wine libation to the god Nansing at the mouth of the cave

A single person can not just become an כkomfo (priest or priestess) alone , but needs the help of many people. On this visit to the cave, all these people in the photos are members of the entourage of the priestess. The elder who pours the libation is the abusua panyin or her matrilineage. The man on the left is her linguist. The two boys are drummers and otherwise support persons. She needs people to play the music for her to become possessed in public, and to help her into her various costumes depending upon which of the five personalities of the god comes into her.

The word kom in Akan means possession or trance. An כkomfo is a person who is a recognised priest or priestess of a tutelary deity who will possess that person as a medium through which the god will talk to humans. The possession usually begins by fainting, then shaking as if in an epileptic fit. Neither "possession" nor "trance" are very good words in English to explain the process. The word kom is a verb meaning both to possess and to be possessed.


Nana Adwoa, Priestess of Nansing, in Aboam


Adwoa, not possessed, poses, dressed in two of the costumes of her God's five personalities

Linguist of Nansing

A Tutelary Deity may have several personalities. Nansing has five identifiable personalities. When the oldest of them possesses the medium (priestess) she will wear the grass skirt with the cowry shells on her belt, and will not speak Twi, but will speak Guan. Adwoa cannot speak Guan in daily life.

While the god is a river inside a cave, it has a shrine in a room in a compound in Aboam.

Most doors in Akan compounds have a curtain which provides privacy and shade during the day when the door is left open. In the case of a room dedicated to a god, the curtain is usually white. Outside this room is a staff or alter on which certain parts of sacrificed animals, some fruit, eggs and other gifts are put for the god. Above the door is partially enscripted warning that no one who is in her menses can enter the room.

Each traditional, or stool compound has an Onyame Dua (alter) in it

One of the few compounds that has two sticks, one for God, one for the Deity.

The priestess acts as a counsellor for people in her area, like a parish pastor


See Gods III; Health and Fertility


Abena went into what looked like an epileptic fit. Her parents took her to an old כkomfo to determine if she were sick or what. (Although her father was not a member of her matrilineage, he was part of the decision making process). The old woman was able to determine that an identified god was trying to possess Abena, but could not do it successfully because she was not prepared for it. She asked if Abena and her family would agree to Abena becoming an כkomfo (possessed one = priestess) for that god. She and the relatives agreed. She needed to become an apprentice of an established כkomfo, learn the customs, learn the taboos of that particular god (each is different), and how to prepare her body to receive the god in possession or trance (kom).

Abena, Apprentice to Adwoa

The old women recommended that Abena be sent to Adwoa for her apprenticeship. After sacrificing a sheep for the god of the old כkomfo, and a sheep for Nansing, Abena was established in Adwoa's compound and entourage for three years of apprenticeship. During that time she would learn from Adwoa, act as a servant and acolyte for Adwoa, avoid sex, and follow the food taboos and other restrictions of both Nansing (who was hosting her) and the god that was trying to possess her.

Afahye for Gods


The Chief with some of the priestessses in his area.        Adwoa with her baby, cleaned and dressed in preparatation for possession

At an Afahye for the Gods

In a small town near Aboam, the Chief is hosting an afahye (festival) for the gods. He is wearing white in honour of the festival. Sitting in front of him are two established priestesses of local gods. The one with white around her eyes is the senior כkomfo in the chief's area. Behind the pole on the right is Adwoa's linguist. In front of him is another established כkomfo, and in front of her (next to my telephoto case with the Chicita banana sticker) is Abena, the apprentice of Adwoa. Abena does not go into a complete trance, but is in a semi state of possession for most of the festival.

Starting on the day before a festival, Adwoa must avoid even more foods than she does even on ordinary days, to prepare herself for possession or trance.


Chief Priestess Possessed


Adwoa possessed by one of the personalities of Nansing

Here are some of the many acolytes and servants of Nansing. They are playing the god's drums. The man second from left is the same elder you saw at the cave above; he is playing a dawuru. In Akan music the drums recite poetry and do not keep the beat or rhythm. The dawuru (like a cowbell in sound) keeps the rhythm. The man on the left is the linguist of the god.

The god has full knowledge of Adwoa and her memories during a trance. Adwoa has no knowledge or memory of what the god did or said during the trance. The linguist must tell Adwoa, after the trance is over, what the god had done and said.

In trances in her compound, in the god's room, Adwoa might not change into a costume as she would at an adae. If a supplicant comes to her to ask for help, the god may agree to help, and will also give instructions for Adwoa to go to the forest and collect certain herbs to make medicine for the visitor. The linguist must tell her all that when the god leaves her body.

Visiting the University


Later at the University

A few days later I took Adwoa to where I was teaching at Cape Coast University. She wrapped her mpesempese hair inside a cloth, and it was not recognisable. We had tea on the university campus with some expatriate colleagues. I show these to demonstrate the contrast with her possessed at an adae. No one would guess, looking at her taking tea with her son, that she was an כkomfo of one of the most powerful abosom in the rain forest of Southern Ghana.

Extra slides


Files in the Religion set:

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