The Nzema are an Akan people have a Global Population of 658,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2023) living mailnly in southwestern Ghana and and Ivory Coast. In Ghana the Nzema area is divided into three electoral districts: Nzema East Municipal, also known as Evalue Gwira; Ellembele; and Nzema West, also known as Jomoro.
The language of Nzema people is also known as Nzima (in Ghana) or Appolo (in the Ivory Coast). Their various versions of the Nzema language differ only very slightly in very few insignificant ways. It shares 60% intelligibility with Jwira-Pepesa and is close to Baoule. There is however only one standard written Nzema language.
The Nzema are mostly farmers. According to their traditional calendar, days are ordered in cycles of seven, and these follow each other in a three-week cycle. They have a matrilineal kinship system, with descent and property passed through the maternal lines.
A religious Kundum Festival is held annually all over the Ahanta and Nzema areas. Its start is timed to coordinate with the harvest period, so local communities determine when that will be. It begins in the easternmost part of Ahanta and advances southwestward together with the harvest period. Ritual drumming, singing and dancing take place for four weeks, and are considered the way the community expels devils and protects its good fortune. This festival is the main occasion on which the satirical avudewene songs are performed by young men.
The Nzema area runs along the Gulf of Guinea and it is composed by three Districts, or
administrative units: Jomoro District, with its capital being Half Assini (Awiane); Ellembelle
District, with its capital being Nkroful; and the Nzema East Municipality, with its capital located in
Axim. The Jomoro District’s territory coincides with the Western Nzema Traditional Area, the ancient pre-colonial kingdom of Western Nzema whose traditional capital is at Beyin. In turn, the Ellembele District coincides with the Eastern Nzema Traditional Area, the ancient pre-colonial kingdom of Eastern Nzema, whose traditional capital is Atuabo. The Nzema East Municipality includes the Nzema-Evaloe territories East of the Ankobra River, and comprises five traditional areas: Upper and Lower Axim, Apateim, Edwira and Nsein. The Evaloes consider themselves part of the Nzema community, though their dialect differs slightly.
Traditional rule in the Nzema area follows the basic Akan model. The governance of the territory is based on four levels of hierarchy:
The feminine element of the traditional power is represented by the Pbahema, a twi word to mean
“Queen Mother”. Typically the Pbahema is one of the Chief’s sisters, but may also be the Chief’s
mother or a sister of the Chief’s mother. She is the official holder of the genealogical recollection of
the lineage. Besides the Chief and the Pbahema there is also the abusua kpanyinli, a male elder of
matrilineal lineage considered as the head of the family.
A variety of dignitaries make up the remainder of the Nzema Chief court. Among them is the kpPmavol¡, the linguist, who speaks for and runs errands for the Chief. Other administrative positions of the town are primarily of a militaristic origin. For instance, the tufuhene, principal
advisor to the Chief, was once Captain General of the advance-guard of the army, and presently is the community’s representative to the Chief. Under the tufuhene there are asafohene, formerly the captains of the asafo (military companies), who at present maintain public order, as well as organize festivals and developmental projects.
The Kundum festival is celebrated by the Ahanta or Nzema people of the Western region of Ghana. It is celebrated to thank God for the abundance of food as it ushers in the harvest period of the area.
History. The festival is believed to have first been celebrated in the 16th century. The first record of the festival was made by Bossman, Dutch explorer, who traveled to the Gold Coast in the 17th century and observed the festival.
Origin.The origin of the festival was passed on through folklore and involved a hunter, Akpoley, who during expedition, chanced upon some dwarfs dancing in a circle. He observed the dance and upon his return to the town introduced it to his people. This dancing eventually developed into a way to drive the devil and evil spirits from towns and villages. During the festival, the dance is performed ritually by most inhabitant of Axim and surrounding towns.
Festival type. Kundum is both a harvest and religious festival. The start of the festival is based on the day the fruit of a certain palm tree became ripe.
The celebration. Originally, the festival lasted for four weeks but due to modernity, it has in recent years been reduced to eight days. The festivals occur separately in each town that make up the Ahanta paramountcy with town scheduling the Sunday in which their festival will start independent of each other. The celebration consists of three main components:
Festival attire. Nzema chief on palanquin being carried to the festival grounds during Kundum festival at Axim,Ghana
The people who partake in the celebration wear distinctive dress, footwear, and sometimes masks. The festival begins by taking the drums to the five different shrines on outskirts of town. At the shrines, requests for the good of the town are made and rum is poured on the ground as libation.
Programme of activities. In the traditional four week celebration the drummers will spend the next three weeks in the outskirts practicing and preparing for the fourth week. No drumming or dancing is done on the Monday of the fourth and final week. The ritual Kundum fire is lit at the chief’s palace and is kept burning throughout the festivities.
The fire serves as a center of activity and heat source for preparing the main festival meal. On Tuesday, sacrifices of fowl or sheep are offered in the stool room. The stool room is a sacred palace where the stool of departed chiefs and elders are kept. All of the sacrifices in the stool room are performed privately by a small designated group.
Finally a public sacrifice of a fowl is performed in the court yard. Singing begins on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the chief joins festivities. He enters on a palanquin accompanied by a parade of people singing and drumming. Each night there is a large meal which culminates in a great feast of the final Sunday. All the food is collectively prepared using the Kundum fire by the women and directed by the elder women.
The remainder of the week is spent performing the ritualized Kundum dancing. There are dances performed by men and others by women and some by other unclassified people. The dancing concludes in front of the castle in Axim. The traditional purpose of the dancing is to drive the evil spirits and devils from the town and therefore preserving another successful year.