Ethnic Groups in Ghana

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    In 1960 roughly 100 linguistic and cultural groups were recorded in Ghana. Although later censuses placed less emphasis on the ethnic and cultural composition of the population, differences of course existed and had not disappeared by the mid-1990s The major ethnic groups in Ghana include the Akan, Ewe, Mole-Dagbane, Guan, and Ga-Adangbe. The subdivisions of each group share a common cultural heritage, history, language, and origin. These shared attributes were among the variables that contributed to state formation in the precolonial period. Competition to acquire land for cultivation, to control trade routes, or to form alliances for protection also promoted group solidarity and state formation. The creation of the union that became the Asante confederacy in the late seventeenth century is a good example of such processes at work in Ghana’s past.

    Ethnic rivalries of the precolonial era, variance in the impact of colonialism upon different regions of the country, and the uneven distribution of social and economic amenities in postindependence Ghana have all contributed to present-day ethnic tensions. For example, in February 1994, more than 1,000 persons were killed and 150,000 others displaced in the northeastern part of Ghana in fighting between Konkomba on one side and Nanumba, Dagomba, and Gonja on the other. The clashes resulted from longstanding grievances over land ownership and the prerogatives of chiefs. A military task force restored order, but a state of emergency in the region remained in force until mid-August.

    Although this violence was certainly evidence of ethnic tension in the country, most observers agreed that the case in point was exceptional. As one prolific writer on modern Ghana, Naomi Chazan, has aptly observed, undifferentiated recourse to ethnic categories has obscured the essential fluidity that lies at the core of shared ties in the country. Evidence of this fluidity lies in the heterogeneous nature of all administrative regions, in rural-urban migration that results in interethnic mixing, in the shared concerns of professionals and trade unionists that cut across ethnic lines, and in the multi-ethnic composition of secondary school and university classes. Ethnicity, nonetheless, continues to be one of the most potent factors affecting political behavior in Ghana. For this reason, ethnically based political parties are unconstitutional under the present Fourth Republic. 

    Despite the cultural differences among Ghana’s various peoples, linguists have placed Ghanaian languages in one or the other of only two major linguistic subfamilies of the Niger-Congo language family, one of the large language groups in Africa. These are the Kwa and Gur groups, found to the south and north of the Volta River, respectively. The Kwa group, which comprises about 75 percent of the country’s population, includes the Akan, Ga-Adangbe, and Ewe. The Akan are further divided into the Asante, Fante, Akwapim, Akyem, Akwamu, Ahanta, Bono, Nzema, Kwahu, and Safwi. The Ga-Adangbe people and language group include the Ga, Adangbe, Ada, and Krobo or Kloli. Even the Ewe, who constitute a single linguistic group, are divided into the Nkonya, Tafi, Logba, Sontrokofi, Lolobi, and Likpe. North of the Volta River are the three subdivisions of the Gur-speaking people. These are the Gurma, Grusi, and Mole-Dagbane. Like the Kwa subfamilies, further divisions exist within the principal Gur groups.

    Any one group may be distinguished from others in the same linguistically defined category or subcategory, even when the members of the category are characterized by essentially the same social institutions. Each has a historical tradition of group identity, if nothingelse, and, usually, of political autonomy. In some cases, however, what is considered a single unit for census and other purposes may have been divided into identifiable separate groups before and during much of the colonial period and, in some manner, may have continued to be separate after independence.

    No part of Ghana, however, is ethnically homogeneous. Urban centers are the most ethnically mixed because of migration to towns and cities by those in search of employment. Rural areas, with the exception of cocoa-producing areas that have attracted migrant labor, tend to reflect more traditional population distributions. One overriding feature of the country’s ethnic population is that groups to the south who are closer to the Atlantic
    coast have long been influenced by the money economy, Western education, and Christianity, whereas Gur-speakers to the north, who have been less exposed to those influences, have came under Islamic influence. These influences were not pervasive in the respective regions, however, nor were they wholly restricted to them.

    The Ga-Adangbe

    Population No estimate available.
    Region Border area with Togo directly east of Ho. Agotime are mainly in Ghana. Volta region. Ghana towns are Kpoeta and Apegame, and others. Also spoken in Togo.
    Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Left Bank, Kposo-Ahlo-Bowili.
    Comments Close to Igo. Different from Adangme. The Adan and Agotime are separate ethnic groups who speak Adangbe.

    The Ga-Adangbe people inhabit the Accra Plains. The Adangbe are found to the east, the Ga groups, to the west of the Accra coastlands. Although both languages are derived from a common proto-Ga-Adangbe ancestral language, modern Ga and Adangbe are mutually unintelligible. The modern Adangbe include the people of Shai, La, Ningo, Kpone, Osudoku, Krobo, Gbugble, and Ada, who speak different dialects. The Ga also include the Ga-Mashie groups occupying neighborhoods in the central part of Accra, and other Gaspeakers who migrated from Akwamu, Anecho in Togo, Akwapim, and surrounding areas.

    Debates persist about the origins of the Ga-Adangbe people. One school of thought suggests that the proto-Ga-Adangbe people came from somewhere east of the Accra plains, while another suggests a distant locale beyond the West African coast. In spite of such historical and linguistic theories, it is agreed that the people were settled in the plains by the thirteenth century. Both the Ga and the Adangbe were influenced by their neighbors. For example, both borrowed some of their vocabulary, especially words relating to economic activities and statecraft, from the Guan. The Ewe are also believed to have influenced the Adangbe.

    Despite the archeological evidence that proto-Ga-Adangbe- speakers relied on millet and yam cultivation, the modern Ga reside in what used to be fishing communities. Today, such former Ga communities as Labadi and Old Accra are neighborhoods of the national capital of Accra. This explains why, in 1960, when the national enumeration figures showed the ethnic composition of the country’s population, more than 75 percent of the Ga were described as living in urban centers. The presence of major industrial, commercial, and governmental institutions in the city, as well as increasing migration of other people into the area, had not prevented the Ga people from maintaining aspects of their traditional culture.


    Ashanti | Akuapim | Akyem | Fanti | Kwahu

    Population 7,000,000 (1995 WA), 44% of the population (1990 WA). 1,170,000 Asante Twi, 4,300,000 Fante, 230,000 Akuapem Twi (1993 UBS). 
    Region The Asante are south central, Ashanti Province. The Akuapem are southeast, in areas north of Accra. The Fante are south central, between Winneba, Takoradi, and Obuasi.
    Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Nyo, Potou-Tano, Tano, Central, Akan.
    Comments Dialects are largely inherently intelligible. The speech of the Asante and Akuapem is called ‘Twi.’ Dictionary. Grammar. SVO. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 5% to 10%. Roman. Bible 1871-1964.

    Bibliography about this language:

    Abakah, Emmanuel N. 1998/1999. “On the question of standard Fante.”

    Cahill, Michael. 1985. An autosegmental analysis of Akan nasality and tone.

    Savage, T. Dale. 1987. “Some abstract features of Kwa vowel harmony: An autosegmental approach to Engenni, Igbo, Akan, and Yoruba.”

    1. “A closer look at downstep in Akan” by Abakah, Emmanuel Nicholas. 2000. Afrika und Ubersee.

    2. “The low tone in Akan” by Abakah, Emmanuel Nicholas. 2002. Proceedings of the 14th Afrikanistentag.

    3. “Remarks on the Akan vocalic inventory” 2002. Ferstschrift in honour of the 3Ds (ie Prof. M.E. Dakubu, Prof. F.A. Dolphyne and Prof. A.S. Duthie


    Short History of the Akwamus

    The Akwamus like most Akans also migrated from Adanse to settle at the Twifo-Heman forest at the later part of the 16th century. This group of Akans belonged to the Aduana family and are blood brothers of Asumennya, Dormaa and Kumawu. According to oral tradition it was as a result of succession dispute that compelled Otomfuo (brass-smith) Asare to desert the family to form a new state or city called Asaremankesee- Asares big state. The modern city of Asaamankese was originally founded and occupied by the Akwamus.

    Akwamus expansion started between 1629 1710 and this took them to places like the whole Akuapem area including Kyerepon and Larteh, Akyem, Denkyera, Ga-Adangbe, the Ladoku states of Agona, Winneba, Afram plains, Southern Togoland and finally Whydah in present Benin. The powerful king Nana Ansa Sasraku l annexed the Guans and took over the traditional areas of the Kyerepons and ruled over them until Asonaba Nana Ofori Kuma and his followers after a succession dispute in their effort to form their own State engaged them in a fierce war after which the Akwamus were driven away from the mountains.

    These Asona family members and their followers then were given a piece of land from the original settlers the Guans, Kyerepons, to form the Akuapem state. However, most of the present Akuapems still have their roots at Akwamufie especially those bearing the names Addo and Akoto or from the Aduana family.

    Nana Ansa Sasraku also played an important role in the life of the King Osei Tutu of Asante. He protected him from the Denkyiras and when he was called to take over the Kwaaman stool Nana Ansa Sasraku provided him with 300 Asafomen from Akwamu to guide him to Kwaaman. When Nana Osei Tutu arrived, he gaved all the men to Kwaaman Asafohene and they became citizens of Asafo and that won the Kumase Asafohene the title Akwamuhene of Kumase. According to oral tradition, the whole structure of the Asante army that was started by Nana Osei Kofi Tutu l and helped the Asantes through many wars, was a replicate of the well organised Akwamu army.

    Nana Osei Tutu was also assisted by the Anumfuo (later Adumfuo) who accompanied him from Akwamu, in execution cases. A large number of the Asantes of today originated from Akwamu especially, people from Asafo and Adum as well as sections of people from Bantama and Barekese.

    After the death of Nana Ansa Sasraku, he was succeeded by two kings collectively, Nana Addo Panin and Nana Basua. It was during this time that the Akwamus took over the possession of the Danish Castle at Christianborg or Osu.

    Because of the cordial relationship that existed between Akwamu and Asante, during the 19th century expansion of Asante, the Akwamu unlike most states after war, was never annexed by Asantes but rather the Akwamu Stool became the wife of the Asante Stool during the reign of Nana Odeneho Kwafo Akoto l. That is the reason why during the Golden Anniversary of Nana Kwafo Akoto ll Nana Opoku Ware ll crossed the Pra river to spend two days at Akwamufie.

    At the peak of their power the Akwamus had embraced much of the Gold Coast and traditionally the Akwamuhene still has the jurisdiction of the Akosombo part of the Volta River. Sadly and unfortunately the Akwamus have however lost most of their lands to Akuapems, Akyems, Kwahus, Fantes and Krobos. I would like recall that the Kingdom of Akwamu was one of the most powerful among the Akans.

    Rulers of Akwamu

    • Nana Addo – 1699
    • Nana Akwamu Panin – 1702
    • Nana Ansa Sasraku aka Ansa Kwao – 1726
    • Nana Obuaman Darko – 1730
    • Nana Darko – 1772
    • Nana Akoto – 1815
    • Nana Kwaafo Akoto – 1830
    • Nana Kwaafo Akoto ll – 1936
    • Nana Kwaantwi Barima ll
    • Odeneho Nana Kwaafo Akoto lll 
    •     – not very sure of when he ascended the throne
    • Nana Owusu Agyare ll – 1997
    • Nana Ansah Sasraku lV – 1999
    • Author: Baafuor Ossei-Akoto (SIL)


    Dagbon and its People

    DAGOMBA (better pronounced as DAGBAMBA) speak Dagbani (better pronounced as Dagbanli). The language belongs to the More-Dagbanli sub-group of Gur languages. The More or Moshi now have their homeland in present day Burkina Faso, while the Dagbanli sub-group today has broken up into three ethnic groups: The Dagbamba, the Mamprusi and the Nanumba. Even though these groups today constitute three apparently distinct ethnic groups, their people still identify with each other and the bond is strongest among the Dagbamba and Nanumba.

    The homeland of the Dagbamba is called Dagbon and covers about 8,000 sq. miles in area and has a total population of about 650, 000. The area constitutes seven administrative districts in present day Ghana. These are Tamale Municipality, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nantong, Yendi, Gushegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatali and Saboba/Cheriponi.

    The overlord the Dagbon Traditional Kingdom is the Ya- Na, whose court and administrative capital is at Yendi. Yendi is reputed to be the largest village in West Africa. The Dagbon Kingdom has traditional administrative responsibilities for hitherto acephalous groups like the Konkomba, the Bimoba, the Chekosi, the Basaari, the Chamba, and the Zantasi.

    Though ethnic Dagbamba are in the majority, the people of the subject ethnic groups have equal citizenship rights in the Kingdom. The seat of the Ya Na literally translated as King of Absolute Power, is a collection of cow skins. Thus when we talk of the political history of Dagbon, we often refer to it as the Yendi Skin. (Not throne or crown).

    Na Gbewaa is regarded as the founder of Greater Dagbon (Present day Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung). Lacking in a writing culture, Dagbamba are one of the cultural groups with a very sophisticated oral culture woven around drums and other musical instruments. Thus most of its history, until quite recently, has been based on oral tradition with drummers as professional historians. So according to oral tradition, the political history of Dagbon has its genesis in the lifestory of a legend called Tohazie (translated as Red Hunter.).

    Culturally, Dagbon is heavily influence by Islam. Inheretance is patrilineal. Prominent festival they celebrate include the Damba, Bugum (fire festival) and the two Islamic Eid Festivals. The most cosmopolitan city of Dagbon is Tamale, which also serves as the Northern Regional capital.



    Population 1,615,700 in Ghana (1991), 13% of the population (1990 WA). Population total both countries 2,477,600 (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC). Including second language users: 3,000,000 (1999 WA).
    Region Southeast corner. Also spoken in Togo.
    Alternate names   EIBE, EBWE, EVE, EFE, EUE, VHE, GBE, KREPI, KREPE, POPO
    Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Left Bank, Gbe.
    Comments Language of wider communication. Grammar. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 75% to 100%. Roman. Christian, traditional religion. Bible 1913-1931.

    The Ewe occupy southeastern Ghana and the southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. On the west, the Volta separates the Ewe from the Ga-Adangbe, Ga, and Akan. Subdivisions of the Ewe include the Anglo (Anlo), Bey (Be), and Gen on the coast, and the Peki, Ho, Kpando, Tori, and Ave in the interior. Oral tradition suggests that the Ewe immigrated into Ghana before the midfifteenth century. Although the Ewe have been described as a single language group, there is considerable dialectic variation. Some of these dialects are mutually intelligible, but only with difficulty.

    Unlike the political and social organization of the Akan, where matrilineal rule prevails, the Ewe are essentially a patrilineal people. The founder of a community became the chief and was usually succeeded by his paternal relatives. The largest independent political unit was a chiefdom, the head of which was essentially a ceremonial figure who was assisted by a council of elders. Chiefdoms ranged in population from a few hundred people in one or two villages to several thousand in a chiefdom with a large number of villages and surrounding countryside. Unlike the Asante among the Akan, no Ewe chiefdom gained hegemonic power over its neighbor. The rise of Ewe nationalism in both Ghana and Togo was more of a reaction to the May 1956 plebiscite that partitioned Eweland between the Gold Coast and Togo than to any sense of overriding ethnic unity.

    Substantial differences in local economies were characteristic of the Ewe. Most Ewe were farmers who kept some livestock, and there was some craft specialization. On the coast and immediately inland, fishing was important, and local variations in economic activities permitted a great deal of trade between one community and another, carried out chiefly by women.



    Population 526,300 in Ghana (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC) including 400,000 in the Upper East Region, perhaps 100,000 in various towns and cities in other regions (1988 SIL). Population total both countries 551,400 (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC).
    Region Northeast Ghana, Upper East Region around Bolgatanga, Frafra District, and as far west as Navrongo. Also spoken in Burkina Faso.
    Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, North, Gur, Central, Northern, Oti-Volta, Western, Northwest.
    Comments The dialects are named after towns or localities. They consider Dagaare in particular to be a sister language. 5 major dialects and many minor ones, all able to use the published materials. They call themselves their clan or dialect name, and their language ‘Farefare’. Speakers of Talni are called ‘Talensi.’ Dictionary. Grammar. Literacy rate in first language: 1% to 5%. Literacy rate in second language: 5% to 15%. Roman. Taught at the University of Ghana. Radio programs, videos. Traditional religion, Christian, Muslim. NT 1986.

    Bibliography about this language:

    Grimes, Joseph E., editor. 1975. Network grammars.

    Naden, Anthony J. 1989. “Gur.”

    Niggli, Urs and Idda Niggli, editors. 2000. Ymais).

    Schaefer, Nancy A. 1975. “Gurenne clause structure.”

    Schaefer, Robert L. 1974. “Tone in Gurenne.”

    Schaefer, Robert L. 1975. Collected field reports on the phonology of Frafra.

    The Ga

    Population 300,000 in Ghana (1993 UMS). Population total both countries 300,000 or more.
    Region Southeast, coast around Accra. Also spoken in Togo.
    Alternate names   AMINA, GAIN, ACCRA, ACRA
    Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Nyo, Ga-Dangme.
    Comments Ga is the major language of Accra, the capital. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 75% to 100%. Traditional religion. Bible 1866, in press (1997).
    • Ga Naming Pattern
    • Homowo Festival


    The Guan are believed to have begun to migrate from the Mossi region of modern Burkina around A.D. 1000. Moving gradually through the Volta valley in a southerly direction, they created settlements along the Black Volta, throughout the Afram Plains, in the Volta Gorge, and in the Akwapim Hills before moving farther south onto the coastal plains. Some scholars postulate that the wide distribution of the Guan suggests that they were the Neolithic population of the region. Later migrations by other groups such as the Akan, Ewe, and Ga-Adangbe into Guan-settled areas would then have led to the development of Guan-speaking enclaves along the Volta and within the coastal plains. The Guan have been heavily influenced by their neighbors. The Efutu, a subgroup of the Guan, for example, continue to speak Guan dialects, but have adopted (with modifications) the Fante version of some Akan institutions and the use of some Fante words in their rituals. As far as the other Guan subgroups are concered, the Anum-Boso speak a local Ewe dialect, whereas the Larteh and Kyerepong have customs similar to Akwapim groups.

    Constituting about a quarter of the Guan, the Gonja to the north have also been influenced by other groups. The Gonja are ruled by members of a dynasty, probably Mande in origin. The area is peopled by a variety of groups, some of which do not speak Guan. The ruling dynasty, however, does speak Guan, as do substantial numbers of commoners. Although neither the rulers nor most of the commoners are Muslims, a group of Muslims accompanied the Mande invaders and have since occupied a special position as scribes and traders.

    The Gonja founded one of several northern kingdoms. In the eighteenth century, they, like their neighbors, were defeated by the expanding Asante Empire. Gonja became part of the British Northern Territories after the fall of Asante. Even though long-distance commerce led to the development of major markets, the Gonja continued to be subsistence farmers and migrant workers.


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