The importance of Elders within the Ghanaian community
Africans show a lot of respect for age & seniority. Typically within the Akan culture it is extremely common for a young person to address a senior male as Papa (Father) even if the elder gentleman is not his biological father. Equally, a senior female would expect to be addressed by a younger person as Maame (Mother).
Other names which signify respect toward an elder male or female would be:
Owura (Sir /Mr)
Awuraa (Mrs / Madame)
Opanyin (Elder male)
Obaa panyin (Elder female)
Nana baa / barima (Grandma / Granddad)
Nana is also a title for a male / female chief.
When greeting an elder it is customary for one to be polite and ask how they are as an opener to any conversation. Here is an example of a typical greeting:
“Obaa panyin, maakye oo. Wo ho te sen?” Translated this means “Good morning, elder. How are you?”
It is important to remember that quite often ‘oo’ is added to the normal greeting as a sign of respect, especially if the person is some distance away from the speaker. In a traditional Akan home it is not uncommon to have the grandparents living with the rest of the family unit. Elders are not placed in care homes, the responsibility of taking care of the elder members of the family are assumed by the extended family.
Each family unit is usually headed by a senior male or headman who might either be the founding member of the family or have inherited that position. He acts in council with other significant members of the family in the management of the affairs of the unit. Elderly female members of matrilineal descent groups may be consulted in the decision-making process on issues affecting the family, but often the men wield more influence.
Family elders supervise the allocation of land and function as arbitrators in domestic quarrels; they also oversee naming ceremonies for infants, supervise marriages, and arrange funerals. As custodians of the political and spiritual authority of the unit, the headman and his elders ensure the security of the family.
To ensure that such obligations and privileges are properly carried out, the family also functions as a socializing agency. The moral and ethical instruction of children is the responsibility of the extended family. Traditional values may be transmitted to the young through proverbs, songs, stories, rituals, and initiations associated with rites of passage.
A typical scenario would be the grandchildren sitting around the feet of their beloved grandma whilst she shares with them her wealth of knowledge & experience.
Land is ordinarily the property of the lineage. Family land is thought of as belonging to the ancestors or local deities and is held in trust for them. As a result, such lands are administered by the lineage elders, worked by the members of the kinship group, and inherited only by members of that unit.
A network of mutual obligations also joins families to chiefs and others in the general community. Traditional elders and chiefs act for the ancestors as custodians of the community. Thus, in both patrilineal and matrilineal societies, and from the small village to the large town, the position of the chief and that of the queen mother are recognized.
The phrase “Respect your elders” goes a long way within the Ghanaian community and as such the elders should be revered for they laid the way ahead for us to follow.
By Caroline N. Mensah