in African Immigrant Communities: Nature & Significance of Durbar
in Ghanaian Societies
by Kwaku Ofori-Ansa & Peter Pipim
Officials of the Washington, DC, Ghanaian community organization
Asanteman Kuo were attired in regalia for an inaugural event in 1994 at
a gym in Langly Park, Maryland. Photo courtesy Peter
Pipim, Asanteman Kuo organization
Ghanaian traditional rulers sit in state and meet their people at events
called durbars (an English word that comes from an Indo-Persian term for
"ruler's court"). To the accompaniment of music and dance, ceremonies
honor their ancestors, rekindle their bond to the people, revive unity,
cleanse the society, and pray for the fruitfulness of the land and the
welfare of the people. Beautifully adorned kings, queens, chiefs, and
their elders appear in public procession amidst intensive drumming, singing,
and dancing. At their destination king and queen sit in state flanked
by chiefs and elders, as sound and motion continue around them: drum languages
articulate praises; special guests extend greetings and pay homage; gifts
The Akan people of Ghana organize durbars for the installation of chiefs,
kings and queens, and their elders, a tradition that has been carried
over to the United States. This year the Asanteman Kuo, an association
organized by the Asante, one of the Akan groups in the United States,
will hold the third installation of its leadership, an event which happens
every three years. During a durbar, the Asanteman Kuohene (chief of the
Asanteman association) of the Washington metropolitan area will host members
of Asanteman Kuo from Atlanta, Toronto, New York, New England, Montreal,
Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. The chiefs and the queen mothers of
these Asante associations will appear in traditional ceremonial clothing
of hand-woven, hand-stamped, hand-embroidered, and hand-appliqued cloths
accentuated with glittering gold, silver jewelry, and precious beads.
Accompanied by drumming, singing, and dancing, they will process under
ceremonial umbrellas of brilliant colors.
Symbols of status and authority, the royal paraphernalia reflect a complex
array of philosophical, religious, and political concepts, which inform
ideals and codes of conduct. The large, colorful umbrellas (akatamanso)
represent the protective role and the authority of chiefs and queens.
Gold-plated staffs (akyeamepoma) of the chief's spokesmen, or
linguists, symbolically depict political ideals. Ceremonial chief stools
(ahenkongua) - carried by stool bearers and placed in front of
the chiefs - are symbols of spiritual and political unity. Their carved
images refer to certain philosophical, religious, and political concepts.
Gold-plated ceremonial swords carried by the Council of Elders are traditionally
borne by royal messengers and are used in swearing oaths of allegiance
during installations of rulers and elders.
Traditional durbars can last a whole day until sunset. Sharing special
drinks at these occasions symbolizes hospitality and community spirit.
The durbar ends with a procession from the public grounds to the chief's
palace, where a libation is poured to honor the ancestors and thank the
Supreme Creator. More than just a social gathering, a durbar revives and
reinforces loyalty and strengthens the ties and the sense of belonging
that bind a people together.
Kwaku Ofori-Ansa, who is from Ghana, is Professor of Art at Howard University.
He holds a Ph.D. in folklore studies. He is also a cultural activist and
has been an integral part of the group of community scholar/advisors to
the African Immigrant Folklife Project since 1994.
Peter Pipim, an Education Specialist at the National Museum of African
Art, is also active in Ghanaian-American cultural affairs as an officer
of the Akan organization Asanteman Kuo and of the Council of Ghanaian
Organizations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.