Akan Teleteaching Course

Unit 10.2: Euphemisms for death

The Akan believe that if one mentions the death of a person in literal terms, awu "s/he is dead", one is likely to give shock to the addressee, especially if the addressee is a kinsman. This may cause the addressee some psychological pain. It may even lead to his sudden death. The news of the death of a person must, therefore, be broken to the people concerned in a very mature way. One of the best ways is to use euphemisms. The Akan have a lot of euphemisms to express the death of a person. (Agyekum, 1996: 154 ff.)

1. Death of an ordinary person

Akan euphemisms
English translation
Ade at m'an. Something has touched my eye.
aka baab. S/he is stranded somewhere.
afri mu. S/he has moved out.
aka nkyene agu. S/he has spilled salt.
Ade no ase. The thing is spoilt.
ay Nyame dea. S/he has become God's property.
at fam. S/he has fallen on the ground.
ada ne kt aky. S/he has slept at the back of his/her mat.
ada ne benkum so. S/he has slept on his/her left side.
adane ne h. S/he has turned himself/herself around.

2. Death of a chief

In the Akan tradition, the death of a chief or king is expressed differently from that of any ordinary member of the society. The taboo expression is hene awu "the chief/king is dead". (Agyekum, 1996: 151 ff.)

Akan euphemisms
English translation
hene k akuraa. The chief has gone to the village.
Afi kse ab. The mighty house has deserted.
Nana at ne mpanmfo. Nana has followed the elders.
Nana aforo soro. Nana has climbed the vault of the skies.
Awofo ns wn mma mu. Parents should protect their children. (In the olden days the chief's executioners killed people so that the chief wouldn't have to go on his journey alone. See Manu Herbstein's historical novel Ama for a graphic description (p. 180ff.).)

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