Epa [Symbol of Slavery]
Meaning: Epa literally refers to Handcuffs
Proverb: ‘Onii a, ne pa da wonsa, akowa nne wo’. Ono na wodan no.
Literal Translation: You are a slave to him whose handcuffs you wear. He is the one you serve
Meaning: The proverb signifies a mark of total servitude for subjects, that is, a sign of complete ownership for the captor or an authority. This symbol is also used for the production of adinkra cloth and other traditional prints
Background: The institution of slavery existed in Asante, and the involuntary human servitude, was practiced across the length and breath of Ghana. Many Asante societies recognized slaves merely as property, but others saw them as dependants who eventually might be integrated into the families of slave owners. Still other societies allowed slaves to attain positions of military or administrative power. Most often, both slave owners and slaves were of different ethnic groups.
Traditional Asante practices of slavery were altered by the Arabs and Europeans who bought millions of slaves in West, Central, and East Africa and sent them to Europe. These two overlapping waves of transcontinental slave trading made the slave trade central to the economies of many African states and threatened many more Africans with enslavement. In Asante, most slavery resulted from wars.
Warfare was not the only reason for the practice of slavery in Asante. In many Asante societies,
slavery represented one of the few methods of producing wealth. Land was typically held communally by villages or large clans and was allotted to families according to their need and the amount of land a family needed was determined by the number of labourers that family could marshal to work the land. To increase production, a family had to invest in more slaves and therefore
Asante societies conducted slave raids on distant villages. Slaves, taken in battle or in slave raids, were cut off from their kin; however, viewed as dependants over time, they became identified as members of their owners’ extended families and, after several generations, reintegrated into the new web of kinship.
In addition to agricultural work, female slaves carried out other economic functions, such as trading, cotton spinning and dyeing. They also performed domestic chores, such as preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning and some served in the royal palace. Asante captains and influential men kept female slaves as wives or concubines, and these women stood as symbols of male wealth. Ordinary male slaves typically farmed and craftsmen captured were attached to sub chiefs who supervised them to work for the Otumfuo as weavers, potters, goldsmiths, construction, and metal workers. They also served as soldiers and confidants of high palace officials.
The definitive characteristics of slaves are as follows: their labour or services are obtained through force; their physical beings are regarded as the property of another person, their owner; and they are entirely subject to their owner's will. Hand, neck and foot cuffs were introduced as a result of the slave trade. They were used in securing, safe guarding and for easy transportation of slaves from the slave markets from the hinter lands to the coast by slave traders. Cuffs later became popular among the chiefs and other law enforcement agencies in arresting offenders of the law. Anyone who is cuffed becomes a slave and captive of the captor. Moral Value: The proverb reminds offenders of the uncompromising nature of the law. It however, totally discourages and abhors all forms of physical, socio-economic and mental slavery. This is a symbol of captivity and slavery.
Originator: This symbol was produced by Opanin Kojo Nsiah an indigene of Asante-Ntonso is believed to have adopted the symbol during the era of the slave trade in the early part of the nineteenth century (Nana Agya Bedu-2007 a Master Artisan at Ntonso). The year of its origination is unknown but it philosophy is believed to have been propounded during the reign of Nana Osei Bonsu I who ruled Ashanti kingdom from (1804-1823).
Extract from Cultural Symbolism in Asante Traditional Textiles by ABRAHAM EKOW ASMAH
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