We are Akan : Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest — Ghana, 1807
Historical Fiction / Elementary
"A richly illustrated story set in the Asante Kingdom of 1807. Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako strive to become leaders in the Akan culture. They farm, learn spear throwing, take part in ceremonies and dances, and listen to stories while gaining an understanding of the rainforest and its animals. In the capital city to see the king and the Golden Stool and take part in an important festival, the boys encounter the wider kingdom: fine crafts, livestock, foreign people and books, and witness the sale of prisoners as slaves. Kwaku cares for a leopard cub that the king wants returned to the forest. Traveling to the coast, Kwame and Baako are kidnapped and threatened with sale as slaves. The Asante Kingdom faces rebellion and the decline of its role in the Atlantic slave trade. Change will come. Kwame, Kwaku, and Baako balance the life they know with new possibilities for their future." Publisher
We are Akan is a beautifully told work of historical fiction about the Akan people of Ghana’s powerful Asante Kingdom. Set in 1807, the plot revolves around the lives and activities of three young boys aged 10-13. Kwame and Kwaku are members of the Akan elite while Baako is ‘odonko’- enslaved by Kwame’s father who is chief. The boys are childhood friends whose lives are filled with adventure in the Tanoso rainforest. A journey to Elmina Castle on the coast turns out to be a dangerous assignment as Kwame almost drowns in the Pra river. Later Kwame and Baako are kidnapped by rebels and are set to be sold as prisoners. The book’s central themes are family, community, power, and oppression of a minority.
The Table of Contents provides a detailed guide to the novel. Part One, ‘Our Town’ launches the plot and includes chapters on daily life, the different Akan clans and traditions, including the Adae ceremony which brings the people together to honor their ancestors and celebrate as a community. The chapter entitled ‘Wisdom’ imparts life lessons through proverbs and stories, including one about Kwaku Ananse. Part One also includes the legend of Asantehene Osei Tutu and the golden stool. Part Two, ‘The Asante Kingdom.’ highlights the city of Kumasi, the Asantehene’s palace, Islam and Arabic. Part Three, ‘The Coast’ includes a visit to Elmina and Cape Coast castles.
Detailed illustrations by James Cloutier enhance the reading experience. There are over 90 (copyright-free) drawings and include images of chiefs, the palace, and important artifacts including the Sankofa bird, gold weights and stools. Maps of the Asante kingdom and modern-day Ghana help the reader to place the kingdom in its geographical and historical contexts. The author’s repetitive use of Twi, a language spoken widely in Ghana, gives the reader an opportunity to learn several Twi words. The end notes provide an introduction to the Akan people, a glossary, a guide to Twi and a bibliography which includes online resources. These additions and the detailed table of contents make the novel useful for classroom instruction.
In sum, this is a captivating, well-written, and informative book about an important period and people in West African history. Readers will enjoy learning about the rich culture and traditions of the Akan people wrapped in a tale of adventure. Author Dorothy Brown Soper is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who taught French to Akan students in a rural boarding high school in Ghana. Illustrator James Cloutier served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.
“ Elders say that if a grasshopper’s eyes extend beyond its eyebrows, it becomes ugly. When a grasshopper opens its eyes wide, it is looking down on people. This is a warning. Never look down on people. Respect your ancestors, your elders, and your friends. If you do, they will respect you and help you.’’
Reviewed by Charlotte Kukundakwe, Outreach University of Kansas
Published in Africa Access Review (February 24, 2021)
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