Sefwi people


Sefwi / Sanwi

The Sefwi are an Akan people. The Akan sub-group live predominantly in Western North Region of Ghana. The Akan sub-group speak the Akan dialect Sefwi language.

The term Sefwi, which refers to the language spoken and the Sefwi people mythically originated from the withering of the Twi phrase, "Asa awie" which translates "War is over", by immigrants from Bono-Techiman, Wenchi, Adanse, Denkyira, Assin and Asante who settled on the territories of Aowin (modern-day Sefwi) escaping the 17th century wars.

Geographically located on the Western North Region, Sefwi is about 200 kilometers from the coast, and covers an area of 2,695 square miles crossed by the Tano and Bia rivers.

The Sefwi like other Akan tribes originated from the ancient world; Northern part of modern Africa. Through wars many families forced their ways out to live in their present domains. For example, Obumangama of Sefwi Wiawso fume was told to have established his domain at Ewiaso because of its strategical position. Evidence suggests that by the end of the 17th century, Aowin's ambition to expand economically and politically led to confrontations with a strong new forces that try to control the trade routes and gold sources around 1715. This made Aowins eventually lose much of their territory to the new forces. New immigrants were victorious in their wars. They settled with many of their captives such as Aowin. This reveals why their language is seemly influenced by their closed tribes such as Bono, Wassa, Ahanta, Asante. Many of the families of Sefwi also stayed at different places among other tribes such as Adanse, Denkyira, and Asante, Bono, Aowin, Nzima before they finally settled at their new environment. Through these different staying at different places many of the Sefwi trace their origins from the immediate past where their memory can recall. For example, many of the families that trace their root to Denkyira, also classify themselves as Agona Royals.

Sefwi, collectively is made up of three traditional states namely Anhwiaso, Bekwai, and Wiawso, all of which have a mutually independent paramount chief and share a common deity Sobore and a common yam festival called alluolue or Elue.

With a total population of about 572,020 (2010), Sefwi has 7 Districts and 7 Constituencies, comprising Bia West, Bia East, Bibiani/Anhwiaso/Bekwai, Bodi, Juabuso, Sefwi Akontombra and Sefwi Wiawso. Sefwi shares the Western Region with the Aowin, Wassa, Nzema and the Ahanta.

Sefwi is endowed with natural resources such as gold, bauxite and timber. The fertile nature of the land, has served as bait for farmers from other regions mostly Northern, Krobo and Ashanti. With cocoa farming as the main occupation of the people, Sefwi produces about 2/3 of Ghana's cocoa. Sefwi Wiawso, Bibiani, and Sefwi Bekwai are the largest townships within the Sefwi land. The Sefwi land is a great place for investment given that it is blessed with almost all resources there is in Ghana.



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.


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.

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.

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.



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.