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Keeping Akan traditions alive in Denmark

They have a Kente-clad Chief, a Queen Mother and a linguist; even a Golden Stool which is kept hidden when not used for ceremonial purposes. Yet, to its members, Akan Fekuw Denmark is about more than culture.

”We keep that a secret” – Kwame says laughing when asked where they keep ”The Stool”. The wooden stool with gold-plated elements from the Ashanti region upon which Kwame sits only when Akan Fekuw hosts one of its bi-annual festivals in Copenhagen.
”Same with my gold. We are not telling aynone” – he adds.
Kwame is ”Ohene” of Akan Fekuw Denmark, an association of Ghanaians of Akan descent based in the Copenhagen suburb Rødovre where it was founded in the early 90’ies. Kwame was one of its founders. He believes that’s part of the reason why he was elected ”Ohene” last year. Yet, becoming chief also requires a solid knowledgde of Akan traditions and ”to be above average”, Kwame says.

One of the priviliges he enjoys as chief of Akan Fekuw Denmark is to walk under a large parasol - just like the Ashanti king - when they do a procession through Copenhagen as part of their festival programme. He walks alongside the Queen Mother, 51 year old Felicia from Amager, whose parasol is a little smaller than his (he is Chief after all).
Kwame recently got news from Ghana that a family member has had a ”chief” Kente cloth especially made for him and will bring it to Denmark when he gets his visa: ”I really can’t wait for him to bring me the cloth, so I hope he will get the visa soon. It’s so exciting when we go in procession on the street with all our regalia and people stop and watch in awe. They are very curious”, Kwame says smiling.

From the latest celebration in Copenhagen. Photo by Mads Danquah

For all his embodiment of Akan culture, Kwame is closely related to Denmark: He met his Danish wife, Kirsten in 1978 when they were both doing voluntary work in Ghana – and he grew up in Akropong, where the legendary Dr. Isert came to build a coffee plantation and Danish missionary Andreas Riis founded a mission complex. Yet, being a Twi teacher and “ohene”, he has committed himself to keeping Akan traditions alive in Denmark. Thus, he prefers to speak through his ”ochyame” (linguist) Emmanuel: ”Even the Otumfuo (King of Ashanti) speaks directly to people these days, so I don’t mind it, but we like to stick to tradition”.
Following Kwame’s creed, we have accepted his proposition that we talk to Emmanuel, the linguist, for more information on Akan Fekuw Denmark. At the time of the interview Emmanuel was in Ghana. We met with him in Pokuase.

Twi, danicing and drumming
Emmanuel came to Denmark in the early 90’ies to study at Roskilde University. He later graduated from Mayata Teacher Training College in Præstø, famous for its Rudolf Steiner child care philosophy. ”The Steiner pedagogy is fantastic! But it needs to be modernized”, Emmanuel says in Danish.

Apart from working full time in a day care institution in Karlslunde, he is volunteering as Twi translator for the national Danish police force, is board member of the local Integration Council in Rødovre, freelance Twi interpretor for the municipal authorities – AND spokesperson of Akan Fekuw Denmark. Emmanuel is always busy assisting somebody. Like that time when he got a midnight call from Hvidovre Hospital because there was a Ghanaian woman giving birth, who didn’t speak any other language but Twi and the nurse spoke only Danish and Persian. They asked him to come and translate and so he went and ended up spending the entire night with the woman at the hospital. ”Today when we meet each other in the street, her kid will get excited to see me and come give me a hug”, Emmanuel says smiling.

Like Emmanuel himself, Akan Fekuw operates according to logic of mutual support. The association counts 100 registered members and what unites them is a shared Akan origin and eagerness to keep Akan traditions alive: ”We think a lot about our culture”, Emmanuel says. Thus, the senior members offer Twi, dancing and drumming lessons to the young members and when they meet they always dance, get out the drums, and share a common meal of Ghanaian food such as Jollof rice or kenke.

Mads Danquah 1
From the latest celebration in Copenhagen. Photo by Mads Danquah

Yet, Akan Fekuw also offers material and legal assistance as well as life counselling to its members. They preach the importance of self-reliance, integration through work, and education.  They help members fill out their tax papers, they invite tax consultants from the government to come guide their members through the body of Danish tax rules and regulations, they invite experts to help them understand the Danish pension system, doctors to inform them about health and disease prevention, reps from insurance companies to inform them about terms and policies, and immigration officials to inform about the terms and conditions of dual citizenship.

And then there’s the donations and fundraisers. They help each other collect money for funerals in Ghana, birthday parties and anniversaries. To top it off, they give a donation to a charity organisation in Ghana every year.

Emmanuel himself never fails to support. In fact on the very same day of his arrival back in Denmark, he is going to a confirmation party of one of the members’ teenage daughters.

Yet, as with Kwame, Emmanuel doesn’t seem “burdened” by his duties. He speaks with passion about his involvement in Akan Fekuw and all their initiatives, parties, lotteries, seminars, gatherings and events. Like Kwame he gets even more passionate when recalling their ceremonial parade through the streets of Copenhagen: ”Every four years we do a big ceremony where we do a parade in the city centre. Last year we were about 4-500 people, we were so many of us that at one point we blocked traffic”, Emmanuel says laughing.

”The Ghanaian ambassador to Denmark came to join us. After the parade we continue the festivities at Nørrebro Kulturhus. It’s a big event. We are showing Danes the traditional rituals and procedures of power in Ghana”
At events like this Emmanuel carries the linguist cane adorned with Akan Fekuw’s symbol. He insists he’s not trying to make an intimidating statement: ”Everybody is welcome to join us.”