Fanti - Encyclopedia

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FANTI, a nation of Negroes, inhabiting part of the seaboard of the Gold Coast colony, British West Africa, and about 20,000 sq. m. of the interior. They number about a million. They have many traditions of early migrations. It seems probable that the Fanti and Ashanti were originally one race, driven from the north-east towards the sea by more powerful races, possibly the ancestors of Fula and Hausa. There are many words in Fanti for plants and animals not now existing in the country, but which abound in the Gurunsi and Moshi countries farther north. These regions have been always haunted by slave-raiders, and possibly these latter may have influenced the exodus. At any rate, the Fanti were early driven into the forests from the open plains and slopes of the hills. The name Fanti, an English version of Mfantsi, is supposed to be derived from fan, a wild cabbage, and ti, di or dz, to eat; the story being that upon the exile of the tribe the only available food was some such plant. They are divided into seven tribes, obviously totemic, and with rules as to exogamy still in force. (1) Kwonna, buffalo; (2) Etchwi, leopard; (3) Eso, bush-cat; (4) Nitchwa, dog; (5) Nnuna, parrot; (6) Ebradzi, lion; and (7) Abrutu, corn-stalk; these names are obsolete, though the meanings are known. The tribal marks are three gashes in front of the ear on each side in a line parallel to the jaw-bone. The Fanti language has been associated by A. B. Ellis with the Ashanti speech as the principal descendant of an original language, possibly the Tshi (pronounced Tchwi), which is generally considered as the parent of Ashanti, Fanti, Akim, Akwapim and modern Tshi.

The average Fanti is of a dull brown colour, of medium height, with negroid features. Some of the women, when young, are quite pretty. The women use various perfumes, one of the most usual being prepared from the excrement of snakes. There are no special initiatory rites for the youthful Fanti, only a short seclusion for girls when they reach the marriageable age. Marriage is a mere matter of sale, and the maidens are tricked out in all the family finery and walk round the village to indicate that they are ready for husbands. The marriages frequently end in divorce. Polygamy is universally practised. The care of the children is left exclusively to the mothers, who are regarded by the Fanti with deep veneration, while little attention is paid to the fathers. Wives never eat with their husbands, but always with the children. The rightful heir in native law is the eldest nephew, i.e. the eldest sister's eldest son, who invariably inherits wives, children and all property. As to tenure of land, the source of ownership of land is derived from the possession of the chief's "stool," which is, like the throne of a king, the symbol of authority, and not even the chief can alienate the land from the stool. Females may succeed to property, but generally only when the acquisition of such property is the result of their succeeding to the stool of a chief. The Fanti are not permanent cultivators of the soil. Three or at most five years will cover the period during which land is continuously cultivated. The commonest native dishes are palm-oil chop, a bowl of palm oil, produced by boiling freshly ground palm nuts, in which a fowl or fish is then cooked; and fufu, "white," a boiled mash of yams or plantains. The Fanti have a taste for shark-flesh, called locally "stink-fish." It is sliced up and partly sun-dried, and is eaten in a putrid state. The Fanti are skilful sailors and fishermen, build excellent canoes, and are expert weavers. Pottery and goldsmithery are trades also followed. Their religion is fetishism, every Fanti having his own "fetish" or familiar spirit, but there is a belief in a beneficent Creative Being. Food is offered the dead, and a ceremony of purification is said to be indulged in at funerals, the bearers and mourners plunging into the sea or river after the interment.

See Journal of Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, vol. 26, pp. 128 et seq.; A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast (London, 1887).

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