Black History Fun Fact Friday – How I Almost Learned an African Language

Welcome back to another Black History Fun Fact Friday. Technically, I am still doing research on the article I had hoped to finish in time for you today. (I am actually sitting here trying to finish it.) Instead of publishing anything, I am going to push it back to next week. However, I don’t want us to miss out on any episodes! So, with Black Panther as the latest craze, here is how I almost spoke an African language. (This is also a lesson in not giving up!)

When I was in College I mistakenly signed up for a Twi class. I walked around my house repeating “aane”, “dabi” to my husband (then boyfriend) like my cousin did in first grade when he learned to spell cat, house, and dog for the first time. I eventually dropped the class but I still remember “aane” and “dabi” which means: “yes- aane” and “no-dabi”. Twi is a dialect of the Akan language spoken in Ghana by about 6–9 million Ashanti people as a first and second language. I had no idea.

The Ashanti Empire was a powerful Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana and they were rich in gold (i.e. The Gold Coast). According to Wikipedia:

“The name Asante means “because of war”. The word derives from the twi words asa meaning “war” and nti meaning “because of”. This name comes from the Asante’s origin as a kingdom created to fight the Denkyira kingdom.

The variant name “Ashanti” comes from British reports that transcribing “Asante” as the British heard it pronounced, as-hanti. The hyphenation was subsequently dropped and the name Ashanti remained, with various spellings including Ashantee common into the early 20th century. An alternative theory is that the name derives from the Hindi word Shanti, meaning peace, the opposite of which is Ashanti, meaning war.”

Ashan was also the name of a city located in southern Israel. The word Ashan in Hebrew means “smoke” “smoke city” or “burning city” which makes Ashanti “the people of Ashan or the people of the smoke city”. This was a reference to the city of Ashan after the Israelites took it over during the conquest of Canaan (1 Ch 4:32, 1 Ch 6:59) but that’s not all. The Ashanti people also had many Hebrew customs and traditions as part of their way of life. For example, for eight days after the birth of a child, the Ashanti mother is considered unclean. It is only on the eighth day that the child receives his/her personal name, and on the 40th day, a still further ceremony has to be observed. This mirrors Leviticus Chapter 12. Further, the Ashanti women were also unclean during their menstrual cycles as instructed in Leviticus 15:19-20.

In brief, the Ashanti were an organized and disciplined people who spoke both Akan or Twi and I sometimes wish I’d endured the class a little while longer. In 1701 Osei Kofi Tutu, chief of the small Akan city-state of Kumasi helped form the Ashanti Empire by unifying other Akan groups under the Golden Stool which is the Ashanti Seat of Power. He unified the people and conquered several other neighboring states, expanding the Ashanti wealth, power and influence.

If ever you have an opportunity to do something, do it! Even if you don’t end up liking it, there is still something you may learn from it in some way. You can also mark it off your bucket list as something you did.  Although I only know two words, it still feels awesome to say: “I know how to say yes and no in Twi!”

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