Great History of my people – Nzema

King of ethnic Nzema people of Ivory Coast (Cote d`Ivoire) sitting on the ancient stool of his ancestors at Grand Bassam, Abidjan, whilst a queen mother stands beside her and another queen mother sitting and watching. Nzema people also known as Ndenye or Apollonians (in Ivory Coast) are an Akan people numbering about 328,700 people of whom 262,000 live in southwestern Ghana and 66,700 live in the southeast of Côte d’Ivoire. The Nzema are divided into the Evalue, Dwira, Ellembelle and Jomoro. During the 19th century Nzema was one region until the deportation of the ruler Kaku Akaa. Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Freedom fighter and Ghana`s first president and the first African/black to become a professor in European higher institution, University of Halle-Wittenberg in 1799, Professor Anton Wilhem-Amo, are Nzema people.

In 1857, young Nzema chief Kaku Aka warned all of the coastal chiefs about the gravity of settler activity regarding slavery. He independently galvanized the local chiefs to end slavery. He was captured by the British and exiled (
The Nzema are mostly farmers with some sizable numbers also engaged in fishing. Their sea boundary, Cape Three Point gave Ghana its oil-fields. The Nzema sea in giving Ghana crude oil has cemented the famous saying in Ghana that “The Best Always Comes from the West.”
The language of Nzema people is also known as Nzima (in Ghana) or Appolo (in the Ivory Coast). Their various versions of the Nzema language differ only very slightly in very few insignificant ways. It shares 60% intelligibility with Jwira-Pepesa and is close to Baoule. There is however only one standard written Nzema language. “The Portuguese who landed on the Nzema coast on the feast – day of St. Apollonia gave the name APOLLONIA, but in December, 1927, the indigenous name NZEMA was officially readopted as the Portuguese name meant little to the inhabitants. This paper has a limited purpose – to trace Nzema traditions of origin, migration routes and settlement patterns as derived from Ghana National Archives (GNA), the repository of official documents and historical traditions. The best account of this period is provided by C. W Welman: “Native States of the Gold Coast; showing us that the Nzema have a very long history.

There is the problem, of firmly establishing the ethnic identity of the nuclear Nzema, including the matter of determining the possibly early presence in the area of people speaking kwa-Akan or Kwa-Guan. However, entries from Provincial commissioner’s File, Sekondi, dated 25th October, 1924, indicates that “the Nzema language has an affinity with the Aowin dialect and with Gwira, Ajumoro (the dialect of the Apatem village) and Evalue (Axim).” Despite profound dissimilarities and a wide range of variation in their ancestral backgrounds, these heterogonous groups still share a distinctive substratum of cultural and linguistic identity with the Guan – speaking people of Ghana after their going off from the common ancestral society.

For more details on a close genetic relationship, see, for example, J, G Christaller (1881). D. Westermann (Berlin, 1922), and colin Painter – “the Distribution of Guan in Ghana” (Journal of West African Languages IV, 1967).

Oral traditions among the Nzema are unanimous on the point that their founding ancestors originally lived somewhere along the N’Zi River which runs parallel to the Comoe River in north-eastern Cote d’Ivoire. As the autochthonous people along the Comoe River became known as the “kimbu people” (later Akuamu people), the N’Zi dwellers were nicknamed the N’Zi people, hence Nzi-mba became corrupted into NZIMA.

During this period, there were strife and unrest in the neighbouring regions of Kankyeabo and Bouna near the Kong Mountains. For the Mande, at an unknown date and for reasons no longer remembered, invaded the region. They were ferocious fighters who were said to hack their enemies into pieces. This single catalysmic event, namely the invasion of the autochthonous inhabitants urged the Kumbu (Akwamu) people to migrate southwards to Heman, and was still wending their way through war-ridden territories till they arrived at the coast where they set up their first capital at Nyanawase. Shortly afterwards the Nzi-mba under their great leader called Annor Asaman, moved unobtrusively in a south – western direction, subsequently settling on the west coast in order to avoid being caught in crossfire. .


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