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Folktale – Ghana

Folktale - Ghana
In Chapter Three, we learnt that proverbs and riddles are among the oral traditions handed down to us by our forefathers. The folktale is also one of the oral traditions. We learn about the traditional beliefs, customs, and taboos of our people from folktales. People used folktales to entertain themselves in the past and they still do.


(a) What is a Folktale?

Proverbs and riddles are among the oral traditions handed down to us by our forefathers. The folktale is also one of the oral traditions. We learn about the traditional beliefs, customs, and taboos of our people from folktales. People used folktales to entertain themselves in the past and they still do.

Let us now look at the functions of the folktale which the Akan call ‘Akanse’ stories, the Ewe, ‘gli,’ the Ga, ‘adesa,’ and the Wali, ‘h’lima.”

(b) Functions of the Folktales

Folktales or stories are used for entertainment and education. Listening to folktales helps us to speak fluently. We can also tell stories and thereby acquire self-confidence.

Folktales also help us to develop our imagination and memory. This is so because whilst the story telling is going on, we have to imagine the scenes and events in the story to be able to enjoy it. Some folktales are presented in such a way that we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the characters in the story. By so doing, we become involved and feel like some of the characters. Sympathizing with the characters in the folktales teaches us to sympathize with our friends and thereby understand them better. These things will help us to gain more self-control.

Another important function of a folktale is that, it educates us and helps us to maintain the accepted patterns of behavior. To be a happy member of a society, a person must obey the rules of the society as well as keep its standards. These morals and social standards of society are seen in our folktales.

For every story told, there is a moral to be learnt. Such lessons educate us about what is right or wrong. For instance, there is the popular story about the Cat and the Rat, which teaches us the lesson about the evil effects of cheating. Such a story is good for good character training. We have folktales that talk about selfishness, greed, laziness, ungratefulness, disrespect, obedience, hard work, and so on.

We learn much about our culture through folktales. Some rites and ceremonies performed on special occasions are explained in some of our folktales. Other stories contain information about how certain ethnic groups came to their present settlements.

(c) Characters in Folktales

In most folktales, animals and objects are the characters. They may represent human beings. Very often, the role of each animal in a folktale, depicts its nature and character. For instance, if the folktale chosen is about stealing, a cat plays the role of the thief. If it is about bullying, a lion is chosen.

The following animals are usually mentioned in folktales–hare, tortoise, cat, rat, antelope, leopard, lion, elephant, dog, crab, bird, snake, ant, pig, bat, etc.

The main character in most folktales is the spider, who is always the hero. In Ewe folktales, he is known as ‘Yiyi,’ in Akan “Kwaku Ananse” and in Ga, “Ananwu.” This is why our folktales are referred to in Akan as “Ananse stories.” How do you call folktales in your community?

“Ananse” has many qualities. These represent similar qualities and behavior in human beings. He is cunning, a cheat, a liar, and a trickster. At times, he shows bravery and at other times cowardice. In most folktales, “Ananse’s” bad behavior was responsible for the many hardships-illness, drought, famine-that his community faced. When we behave like Ananse we are likely to suffer. In most cases when Ananse is exposed, he is beaten up by the whole community, he becomes ashamed and he goes into hiding. The lesson here is if we do any bad thing the society will punish us.

“Ananse” does not appear alone in folktales. He sometimes appears with his wife and children. Most communities have special names for each member of Ananse’s family. How are they called in your folktales? Some communities give them names according to their physical features. For example, there is one with a ‘big head’ whose name shows the size of his head, then there is one with ‘thin legs’ and another with a big stomach.

Other characters in our folktales are gods, ancestors, death, hunters, rivers, mountains, trees, and so on. Each of these characters has a special role to play in our folktales. For instance, when the gods, ancestors, and death appear in a folktale, they do so to emphasize the importance of our taboos.

(d) Presentation of Folktales

In presenting folktales or stories, the story-teller must be someone who enjoys telling stories and must be able to arouse the interest of his listeners.

In the past, people met in the evenings especially in the moonlight to listen to stories. This was the period they could relax and entertain themselves. At school, we do listen to folktales during story-telling tim.e

When people are ready to listen to a story, they gather together and sit in a semicircle. This is to make it possible for the listeners to see the story-teller. The story-teller sits at the open end of the semicircle, and faces the listeners.

Before he presents the story, the audience sings one of two “mmoguo” (folk-songs) to arouse their interest and to focus their attention on the presentation of the story. The folk-songs are usually accompanied by the clapping of hands and playing of drums.

Every folktale has three parts: the introduction, the story, and the end. All communities have a formal way of beginning their stories. They use certain expressions known by the people. Such introductory expressions are to make the listeners know that the story is about to begin. The Dagomba will begin the story by saying ‘N Sallinli n yaa zori ka zorino’ (here goes my story). Then, the audience will respond, ‘Kadi yaa be ka be’ (as it has lived to be). Among the Nzema, it is begun by ‘Ngakula, Ngakula, bewo eke o’ (children, children, are you there?), and the response is, “Yewo eke’ (we are here).

The Ga on the other hand will say, ‘Mita Nye loo mikata Nye’ (shall I tell you a story or not), and the response is, ‘Womiihere bo no ta wo’ (we are listening, tell us). Some Akans say, “Yensese, nsese oo!” (they say, they say oo) and the response is ‘Yesesa soa wo’ (we put all blame on you). Other Akan communities will say, ‘Abra abra,’ with the response ‘Yon’ or ‘Kodzi, wonngye nndzi o,’ with the response, “wogye sie” (We do not hide stories, response: we keep it.) Among the Ewe, it is “Sise gli loo,” (listen to a story) with the response, “Gli neva” (Let the story come).

How do you begin story-telling in your community? Each folktale has a theme. The story-teller may introduce the theme at the beginning of the story or at the end.

Among most communities, the narration of stories could be interrupted with singing of folk-songs, and clapping of hands. Drumming at appropriate intervals has the following functions:

(i) They make the listeners relax after the day’s hard work.

(ii) They also make the listeners happy.

(iii) They make the listeners learn the songs and traditions.

In the course of the narration, the story-teller can ask questions. For example, if you were Ananse, what would you do? “Do you think the rat acted well?,” etc. Such questions are necessary to ensure active participation of the listeners.

To make the story interesting, the story-teller uses facial expressions, changes in the voice, the hands, the feet, and all parts of his body. Sometimes he imitates the actions of characters such as “Ananse” and the cries of animals in the story.

There are some fixed ways of ending stories among all communities. The narrators may end their stories by saying, “Whether my story is interesting or not somebody else should come and tell his story.” others too appoint the next person to take over. In some areas, anyone who is ready can simply start his story after the story-teller ends his story.


(a) What are Dirges?

When death occurs in a community, mourners how their sorrow in many ways. They may wail, sing, play various local musical instruments, fire muskets, and so on. The singing of funeral dirges is one of the main activities. Dirges are sad songs sung to mourn the dead, honor him, praise him, and remember him. Some musical instruments are used to play the dirges. Examples of such instruments are the ‘durugya’ and ‘atentenben’ of the Akan.

How do you call funeral dirges in your language? The Akan call it ‘osu’ or osudwom,’ the Ewe ‘avihawo,’ the Frafra “bemma,” and the Gonja “awoba.” In most communities, the singing of a funeral dirge is the duty of women. This is because most Ghanaians believe that it is not proper for a man to show his grief in public. A man must be able to control himself in sorrowful situations.

(b) Functions of Dirges

The singing of dirges begins funeral ceremonies. Most communities do not allow wailing until the body is prepared and laid in state. Women announce the beginning of the funeral with dirges. They also express their grief through the singing of dirges. A good dirge singer sings her dirges in such a way as to win the sympathy of the public. Sometimes, even men find it difficult to control their grief.

Most important of all, the dirge is sung in honor of the deceased person. It is believed that dirges are means of sending messages to the ancestors and also of asking the deceased to remember the living.

Among the Gonja and some communities in the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana, dirges are not sung while the body is lying in state.

In some communities, especially the Akan, dirges are not sung at the funerals. For example, when someone commits suicide or dies in an accident, dirges are not sung at his funeral. Dirges are not sung at the funerals of very old persons, persons who die after a long illness, or children. On the other hand, when a prominent member of the community dies, dirges are sung.

In some communities, no dirges are allowed when the body is being taken to the cemetery. Others allow it up to a certain point. After the burial, singing of dirges can continue for at least three days.

Among some communities, part of their traditional festival celebrations is used to remember the dead, e.g., Odwira of the Akuapems. During that period dirges are sung in the homes of families who have lost relatives during the previous year.

(c) Presentation of Dirges

Dirges are sung in pulsating tones in honor of the dead or her ancestors. Such cries as ‘Oh father!’ ‘Oh mother!,’ ‘grandmother,’ etc., are often heard according to the sex and relationship of the mourners to the deceased. Even though grief or sorrows are personal and private, the Ghanaian society expects that on the occasion of death, they should be expressed publicly through the singing of dirges. As many women as are moved by the loss can sing dirges.

The singing of dirges is not an organized performance. A singer rarely sits down when she is singing. She paces up and down the funeral ground. Sometimes, she goes in front of the corpse and sings to her satisfaction. At other times too, she moves to where the family head or the bereaved family sits. Her singing is usually accompanied by sobs, gestures, or other bodily movements and facial expressions. Such bodily movements are aimed at drawing attention to her sorrow and to get the sympathy of other mourners. The arms, may for instance, be seen clasped across the breast, down in front of the body, held at the sides, at the back or carried on the head and the lips may also be pushed out.

Any time you attend a funeral in your community, find out how dirges are sung. When an important person or statesman dies in Ghana, and he is being given a state burial, dirges are recited for him on the “atentenben,” “durugya,” the pipe or horn. We also hear dirges being played on these instruments on the radio or the television.


(a) What are Appellations?

Appellations may be described as titles attached to certain names, clans, stools or skins, states or ethnic groups. Sometimes some organizations or institutions can also have their appellations. When appellations are used to address people, they are called “praise appellations.” The Ewe call it “nkofofodo,” the Ga ‘sablan,’ the Dangme ‘sabla’ and the Akan ‘abodin.’ Do you know how it is called in your language?

In Ghana, most proper names have their praise appellations. Such praise appellations describe the qualities of the holder of the name. It does not necessarily mean that the bearer of the name has those qualities; someone with the same name may have won those titles or qualities long ago.

Most people cannot distinguish between by-names and praise appellations because they are often used for the same purpose. Appellations are usually long and more meaningful, whilst a by-name can be just one word.

Each stool or skin or clan in Ghana has its praise appellation. Appellations of most stools or skins were got through community wars. For example, the Asantes were very powerful and fearful. They were able to win most of their wars. It is said that they were so brave that they were not afraid of death. This bravery won them the appellation, ‘Asante Kotoko, wokum apem a apem beba,’ (The porcupine Asante, when you kill a thousand, a thousand will come forward). The Ga also have ‘Asiedu Keteke, ana nme anaa te, ana te anna nme, (When a stone is in hand you can get palm kernel to crack, but when you get the palm kernel, no stone). The Nzema have, ‘Nzema Kotokoni ba,’ (the porcupine’s child of Nzema).

(b) Presentation of Appellations

Most Ghanaians feel happy and proud whenever they are addressed by their appellations. The name may be called and the appellation added to it. Appellations are used on various occasions. When trying to boast of an achievement, an individual can address himself with his own appellation, e.g., ‘that’s me, Ntiamoa, the beetle that eats away raffia,’ or ‘Osei Bonsu, the shark who overturns ships.’

When the appellations are meant for chiefs, they can be recited verbally, played on pipes, drums such as ‘atumpan,’ or on state horns. The state drummers and horn blowers are those who are usually allowed to address the chief with his appellations.

At a durbar of chiefs or during traditional festivals, the appellations of the stools are presented. They can also be recited during the installation ceremonies of chiefs and clan heads.

In choosing words for the appellations, names for certain objects or animals are used. Qualities such as strength and bravery of these objects and animals are compared to the greatness and achievement of the person. Examples of some objects and animals are the sharpener, the axe, two-edged sharp knife, stones, trees, lion, leopard, and shark. The Asante, for instance, compare their number and fearlessness to the porcupine in one of their appellations. Do you know why they chose the porcupine? Have you ever seen a porcupine?

(c) Examples of Appellations from Some Communities

i. Ewe Community

1. ‘Anlo-Anlo kotsi klolo

Du no eme mase emenya,

Naketi deka no dzome bi mu.

(Anlo who do not say things in straightforward language for people to understand. A town you may have without

knowing its secret. A single firewood is enough to cook a meal.)

2. Agave- ‘Agave babadu, dubaba dzi vi malo.

(Agave the termite, who cannot be destroyed.)

ii. Ga Community

Among the Ga, a chief’s clan appellation is mostly used to address him.

1. Okaikwei- ‘Abe ntsi Afadi.’

(Abe does not hate Afadi.)

2. Labadi-Botemantse Dade Kotopon Wuogbee, La gbee

(King Bote, the Great Metal, Before the cock crows, La is up already for action.)

3. Teshie-Trebi Aklo, Madeo Kpoo.

Man ni fo man.

(Trebi Aklo- I have to tell you point blank, a town gives birth to a town.)

iii. Asante Community

1. Asantehene-Osee Bonsu oko-kyere-ahene,

Obanin twerebo a ne ho bon atuduro.

Bonsu oko-kyere-ahene…!

(Osei-Bonsu who fights to capture chiefs, a man who is like a gun and smells of gun-powder. The shark who fights

to capture chiefs.)

2. Kokofu- ‘Osee Asibe, woye obarima,

Woye Okatakyie, woye obarima dada.

Ofuntum obu akuma,

Osee Asibe, wo ho baabi ye Odum, Baabi ye Onyina…!

(Osei Asibe, you are a man, you are brave, you are a man already. The “Ofuntum” tree that breaks the axe, Osei

Asibe, part of you is made up of “Odum” tree, part “Onyina” tree….

3. Mampong- ‘Wofiri Mampon Kontonkyi ne Kuronkyi

Daammere oboo hi akuma,….,

(You come from Mampong “Kontonkyi” and “Kuronkyi.” Where the stone wears the axe….)

iv. Northern Communities

1. Dagbon-Kuli moli din vela, dini

Laxim nyuriba

(If the source of a river is good, many people will drink from it.)

2. Nanum-San kali bada din ban balima

Ni lebi azalea

(Your only bangle can be handled well to become your silver.)


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