If you’ve ever been to Ghana, or you’re currently in the country, one of the most common phenomena that you may have come by is public inscriptions. On both public and private vehicles, shops, the front of people’s houses, you’ll find inscriptions everywhere! I’m not sure exactly how long this practice has existed, but I know it dates as far back as before I was born. And I’m in my thirties.
People who put up these inscriptions do so for various reasons. Some do it to show appreciation to persons who have been of help to them, some to spite others, some to evoke humour, etc.
My interest is in those inscribed in Twi. When I walk around in town, I see a lot of Twi inscriptions and I always think to myself, there’s a lot that can be learned from them, culturally and linguistically.
So, today’s post begins a series on Twi public inscriptions. Each post in the series will feature a photograph of a public inscription in Twi. We’ll look at what the respective inscription mean in general, the meanings of the parts that come together to form the overall writeup, and any cultural significance behind the inscription, if any.
Let’s start with the very first one: Onyame Akwan. “Onyame Akwan” is by far one of the most common public inscriptions that you’ll see around in Ghana. But what does it mean? Let’s break it down and look at the meanings of the individual words in the phrase.
“Onyame” is one of the many Twi names that is used to refer to God.
Before we proceed, please note that I’m not saying this is God’s name in Twi, neither I’m I saying it’s not. I’m saying this is one of the many Twi names that people use to refer to God. This is solely intended to serve a didactic purpose, and in no way represent my religious belief when it comes to this subject.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s move on.
Apart from “Onyame”, other Twi names that people use in reference to God include “Onyankopɔn” and “Awurade”. Others also refer to God with appellatory names such as “Ɔbɔadeɛ (Creator)”, “Okokuroko (the Great/Mighty One)” “Otweduampɔn (the Trustworthy One)”, etc.
“Akwan” is the plural form of the noun “ɛkwan” or “kwan”. “Ɛkwan” or “kwan” means “way” in English. “Way” here can be in reference to the physical way by which we get from point A to point B (e.g. a path, footpath, road, street, highway, any of those). Let’s see some example sentences with that “way” meaning:
- Yɛfaa kwan no so kɔɔ afuom – We took the path to the farm.
- Wo kurom kwan nyɛ – The road (leading) to your hometown isn’t good.
- Aban no reyɛ kwan no – The government is constructing the road
Apart from the physical path meaning of of “ɛkwan”, it can also refer to the means by which something is done, just as you have in English. We use it to express “how” something is done or achieved. So we can say, for example:
- Ɛkwan bɛn so? – In what way?
- Ɛkwan bɛn so na wofaa so nyaa wo sika no? – In what way did youyou’re your money?/How did you make money?
Now that we know what the individual words in “Onyame Akwan” mean, let’s put them together. “Onyame Akwan” simply means “God’s Ways”, as in “the ways of God”. This expression is mostly used to convey the idea that how God does His things is mysterious such that mankind cannot comprehend.
You’ll see and hear, for example:
- Onyame akwan dɔɔso – God’s ways abound.
- Onyame akwan, onipa ntumi nte aseɛ – God’s ways, mankind cannot comprehend.
- Onyame akwan nyɛ onipa akwan – God’s ways are different from that of mankind
You’re probably already aware that a bigger percentage of Ghana’s population are Christians, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if most of the public inscriptions you come by relate to the Christian faith.