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Stool Wives

A brief Note

by Phil Bartle, PhD

There are two kinds of stool wives, (1) כman stool wives and (2) twins.

An כman is a political structure, usually translated as “state” and which also refers to a town political structure. It is a confederation of matrilineages. Their union is symbolised by a marriage between the chief and a woman from each of the various lineages in the confederation.

Note: The chief is married to all the lineages that make up the כman or state political structure. Those marriages symbolize the bond that holds the lineages together in the confederation. Thus if an כman is made up of 32 lineages, then the chief will have 31 wives, one for each lineage (plus any others he may have personally).

The stool is a sacred item, that holds the spirit of a royal lineage.

Note: Akwasidae is one of the days on the 42 day cycle. The death of a person may not be announced on an adae day. On Akwasidae libations are poured on the sacred ancestral stools which are kept in the ancestral stool rooms of each lineage. See Forty Days.

When a chief dies, his lineage will elect a successor who inherits all the assets and liabilities, including the wives, of the dead chief. The new chief also becomes the father of all the children they bore. I had been adopted as the son of the previous chief, and when I returned to Ghana to do my PhD, the current chief said I was his son, although he never really said if I were an asset or a liability. As fathers contribute to their children's education, he asked all the elders and priests to open their doors and answer all my questions, if I promised not to reveal any secrets. They all complied. Without that help, I doubt if I could have done as thorough an ethnography of Obo for my doctorate at the University of Ghana.

Note: it is impolite to say the chief is dead, so a euphemism is used, such as s/he has “gone to village.”

The wives of the chief are called “stool wives” because they are considered to be married to the lineage of the chief. The sacred ancestral stools are important parts of the lineage and the system of chieftaincy. If one of them dies, her lineage is required to provide a replacement.

Note: All the women work, most as farmers. That includes female chiefs, priestesses, the Queen Mother, wives of important men. All.

When I was in Obo, the chief, a former police sergeant, already had his personal wife. But he then inherited 31 stool wives, one from each of the lineages that constituted the Obo כman. They were all old, and he did not have conjugal relations with them (so I was told). For them it was a form of old age security, as he provided food and clothing to them.

Twins are a special case. Twins are treated specially throughout the rain forest, and in some societies one or both of them are killed at birth. Twins are particularly difficult for a woman, i.e. a farmer, to raise. In Akan society twins are automatically the wives of the chief if female, or are elephant tail bearers if they are male. The support, especially of food and clothing from birth onwards, eases the burden on the mother of twins. They are well known. If an elephant tail bearer carries the chief's elephant tail (and only a chief may own elephant tails), and summons a person to the chief's court, then that person must go to the chief's court. (This is often done if that person is needed as witness at an ongoing court case).

Wives of the chief, on the basis of being twins, are also called stool wives, but are not so as part of the כman confederation structure. They are as highly respected, and supported by the chief and elders as those who are wives as members of confederated lineages.

Conjugal relations and birth are optional parts of those marriages, but lineage members prefer that children are born as offspring of the chief.

Note: Many thanks to Fatima Gouveia who suggested this topic, and asked many questions from reading my Three Souls paper. Here is some of the dialogue we had together: "Each lineage is required to provide a member of their lineage as a wife of the chief. When he dies, she continues as the wife of the new chief. When she dies the lineage must provide a replacement. She is referred to as a "stool wife" because she is considered to be married to the royal lineage of the chief, symbolized by its sacred stool. No one has offered me a wife. In Obo, as I was a member of the Gyaasewa's lineage, there were plenty of young women who were interested. When the Gyaasewahene died they wanted me to inherit the stool but I declined. In Obo, most of the stool wives were old, and there were no conjugal relations between any of them and the chief. He had his personal wife and he was, de facto (in practice), monogamous. However, the relationship was a kind of an old age pension for the stool wives, because he provided them with money for food and clothing." See also Cross Cousin Marriage.

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