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Sickness and death are major events in the kingdom. The ordinary herbalist divines the supernatural cause of the illness and treats it with herbal medicines. The medicine man, a person possessed by a spirit, combats pure witchcraft.

If the patient fails to respond to medicine, the family performed the last rites. Then a member of the family poured water down the throat of the dying person when it is believed the soul is leaving the body and recite the following prayer:

Sickness and Death in Asanteman
Sickness and Death in Asanteman

Your abusua [naming them] say: Receive this water and drink, and do not permit any evil to come whence you are setting out, and permit all the women of the household to bear children.

People loathed being alone for long without someone available to perform this rite before the sick collapsed. The family washes the corpse, dresses it in its best clothes, and adorns it with packets of gold dust (money for the after-life), ornaments, and food for the journey “up the hill.” The body was normally buried within 24 hours.

Until that time the funeral party engage in dancing, drumming, shooting of guns, and much drunkenness, all accompanied by the wailing of relatives. This was done because the Ashanti typically believed that death was not something to be sad about, but rather a part of life. Of course, funeral rites for the death of a King involve the whole kingdom and are much more of an elaborate affair.

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The greatest and most frequent ceremonies of the Ashanti recalled the spirits of departed rulers with an offering of food and drink, asking their favor for the common good, called the Adae. The day before the Adae, talking drums broadcast the approaching ceremonies. The stool treasurer gathers sheep and liquor that will be offered.

Sickness and Death in Asanteman
Sickness and Death in Asanteman

The chief priest officiates the Adae in the stool house where the ancestors came. The priest offers each food and a beverage. The public ceremony occurs outdoors, where all the people joined the dancing. Minstrels chant ritual phrases; the talking drums extol the chief and the ancestors in traditional phrases.

The Odwera, the other large ceremony, occurs in September and typically lasted for a week or two. It is a time of cleansing of sin from society the defilement, and for the purification of shrines of ancestors and gods. After the sacrifice and feast of a black hen—of which both the living and the dead share, a new year begins in which all were clean, strong, and healthy.

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