The statement that people of faith in every age have found the book of Ecclesiastes relevant cannot be over-emphasized. Ecclesiastes is a book that attempts to identify an author who happens to stand within the tradition of his day and questions some of its answers. One of such is what the author developed as part of his main themes which is about the issue of life after death or immortality. It is important to not that the ambiguity surrendering human understanding of death and immortality is reflected in the diverse worldviews and teachings about it. This vagueness is perhaps due to the fact that has been echoed by Peter Sarpong that âamong any people theoretical reflections on death appear to have no point since those who have direct experience of death do not come back to narrate itâ The Ashantis express this difficulty beautifully when they say, âno one climbs the ladder of death and returnsâ
One of the issues and the belief systems of the time of the writer of Ecclesiastes was the belief about immortality. This made the author to reflect on it. There is therefore the need to look at the authorâs reflections on the issue of immortality in relation to the point of view of the Akans of Ghana and among Ashantis to be precise. This is due to the fact that as Murphy succinctly puts it that although Ecclesiastes maintains its traditional value, it is particularly appropriate for our current cultural situation. Thus this work seeks to look at the concept of immortality as reflected on by the author of Ecclesiastes and its relation to the Ashantis world view in Ghana.
What is Immortality?
The Random House College Dictionary defines immortality as an âimmortal condition or quality; unending life.â On the biblical point of view, the Old Testament lacks a distinct term for immortality, although Proverbs 12:28 has the coinage ânot-deathâ (âal-mawet). This literary means âin the way of righteousness is (eternal) life; the treading of her path is not death (immortality).Whenever the Old Testament expresses positive hope regarding the hereafter it is expressed in terms that imply resurrection not immortality.
In the New Testament, there are some Greek terms that express the idea of immortality: athanasia, âdeathlessnessâ appears in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; aphtharsia, âincorruptibility (Romans 2:7); aphthartos, âincorruptibleâ (1 Peter 2:7). From these terms immortality denotes immunity from any kind of decay and death (the negative aspect), that comes from having or sharing the eternal divine life (the positive aspect).
Theologically, God is taught as having immortality alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 1:23).This is because he alone has within himself inexhaustible springs of life and energy and that decay and death are foreign to his experience. Thus God is never dying because he is ever-living (Jere 120:10). But Godâs immortality implies his inviolable holiness as well as his perpetual life. Just as man is mortal as a sinner (Romans 5:12), God is immortal as the holy one (1 Timothy 6:16). When Jesus rose from the dead, his immortality was being regained, not attained. With this Haris argues from the account of Genesis that it is probable that:
man was not created either immortal or mortal (see Gn 2:17; 3:22), but with the possibility of becoming either, depending on his responsiveness to God. He was created for immortality rather than with immortality. Such a view coheres with 1Timothy 6:16. God is inherently immortal, but man is derivately immortal, receiving immortality as a gracious divine gift (Rom 2:7). Potentially immortal by nature, man becomes immortal through grace. Thus Paul describes immortality as a future acquisition (1 Corinthians 15:52-54), not a present possession, and as a privilege reserved for the righteous (Romans 2:6-7â¦), not the inalienable right of all mankind or a property of a human soul.
Haris again notes that immortality is closely related to eternal life and resurrection. Whereas Eternal life is the positive aspect of immortality (that is sharing the divine life), immortality is the future aspect of eternal life. Resurrection or a resurrection transformation in the case of believers alive at the Second Advent of Christ is the means of gaining immortality (Luke 20:35-36), while immortality guarantees that the glorious resurrection state is permanent. Thus from Paulâs teaching that immortality is a divine gift that will be acquired only by the righteous and only through a future resurrection or resurrection transformation, Haris concludes that scripture teaches âconditional immortalityâ. It is conditionals in the sense that after their resurrection there will be immunity from bodily and spiritual death only for those in Christâ, but not in the sense that only believers live for ever, unbelievers being anihiliated. The NT warnings of the eternal consequences of rejecting Christ (Math 25: 46) make it clear that the first Christians rejected both universalism and annihilationism. Haris has succinctly argued that although the concept embodied in the phrase, âthe immortality of the soulâ is certainly biblical, the expression itself is not found in Scripture, where the terms âimmortalâ and âimmortalityâ are used of believersâ future resurrection bodies(1 Corinthians 15:52-54), never of their present earthly âsoulsâ, and there is the danger that the human soul be thought of as intrinsically immortal, contrary to 1 Timothy 6:16. Haris points out that according to scripture, what is scripture is the resurrected believer, and the creator-creature relationship (including both believer and unbeliever).
Harris further observes that Christian theologians have defended the soulâs immortality (in Platonic sense of immortal subsistence) on several grounds. Firstly, being immaterial and indivisible by nature, the soul is independent of the body and indestructible. Secondly, only a future life can bring to the necessary fruition the capacities and endowment of human nature and can rectify present inequalities and injustices; and thirdly, the intrinsic, universal and persistent belief of mankind that there is life after death argues for its reality.
BRIEF BACKGOUND INFORMATION OF THE BOOK OF ECCLESSIASTES AND ITS TEACHINGS ON IMMORATALITY
Author, Date and Setting of Ecclesiastes.
Traditionally, the authorship of Ecclesiastics has been ascribed to King Solomon, the Son of David. For it was Solomon who having asked God for the gift of wisdom received it that it surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. Also, it was Solomon who composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. It was also to hear his wisdom that people came from all the nations â¦..[and] from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). Pre-eminent among all these visitors was the queen of Sheba, who exclaimed to him, âYour wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I had heard.â (1 Kings 10:7). However, recent scholarship has challenged Solomonic authorship. The New Interpreterâs Bible Commentary gives four internal reasons to this; first of all, the author draws any pretense of being a King after the fictional narrative of the royal experiment (Eccl. 2:1-11). The author also offers advice to courtiers who come into the presence of the King as if he were standing beside them and whispering words of etiquette into their ears (Ecc. 8:2-6; 10:4). He expresses views of monarchy very unlikely to have emanated from any royal throne (Eccl. 4:13-16; 5:8-9). Finally, he is identified in the epilogue as a wise man or sage, who worked among the people (Eccl. 12: 9). Apart from these internal evidences that the writer of Ecclesiastes was not a king is the linguistic evidence which places the book well after the time of any monarchy in Israel. Again, J. Stafford Wright and Richard Clifford contend that the author cannot be Solomon. However, the author was familiar with the wisdom tradition which is associated with Solomon and works within that tradition.
In spite of the above reasons opposing Solomonic authorship, I am arguing that a look at the book of Ecclesiastes reveals hat there is no passage that conclusively rules out the possibility that Solomon was the author. This is because Solomon had important contact with Egypt including Egyptian wife, and Egypt is noted for a wealth of wisdom Literature that included poems that reason about the problems of life. Moreover it can be presumed that Solomon too listened, collected and added to the literature by facing the realities of life and showing the way through for the God fearing person. Thus Solomon being the author is reffered to in the text as Qohelet.
With reference to the date, if Solomon was the author, the book was written during his time and presumably during his latte years. However, Murphy argues that because of lack of references to identifiable events, the date of Ecclesiastes is determined by internal linguistic and formal evidence combined with external references to it. In this case Murphy argues that the concurrence of the Persian loanwords in the texts suggests a date during the post exilic period since there is no evidence of such a loanwords earlier. Moreover, many readers identify some similarities in vocabulary and syntax to the Mishnah. This perhaps suggests that it is one of the latest books in the Hebrew Bible. With these two considerations in mind, some interpreters conclude that the book fits most naturally into the post exilic period. With this interpreters who emphasize the similarity of Qoheletâs concerns with those of Greeks philosophy and the lateness of known references to Ecclesiastes date it in the Hellenistic period whereas those who emphasize the existence of Persian but not Greek loanwords consider the Persian period more likely. As it has been argued in favour of Solomonic authorship, regarding the date since some of the expressions in the book seem to require a later date than the time of Solomon, it is plausible that his words, preserved by wise men over several years were eventually recorded by a new Teacher and in this way by a new Teacher in his new dialect or in the Hebrew of his time.
There has not been a scholarly consensus as to the historical setting of the book of Ecclesiastes. Familiarities with wisdom traditions that are not reflected elsewhere in the Bible have led some interpreters to assume authorship outside Palestine. However, passages such as Eccl. 5:1; 8:10, and perhaps 3:16 imply access to the temple. In this reason, I will suppose that Ecclesiastes was written in the vicinity of Jerusalem but with recognition that that is not deeply substantiated.
Ecclesiastes and the Biblical Wisdom Tradition
The wisdom books contain observations and interpretations of human life and behaviour along with advice on how to live. In the sense, Ecclesiastes fits within the wisdom body of the Old Testament along with proverbs and Job should one excludes that of the apocryphal/ deuteron-canonical books.
The wisdom books are characterized by a tendency to contrast positive and negative persons and qualities, using a distinctive vocabulary such as wise/fool; diligent/ lazy; righteous and wicked; intelligent/simple. Wisdom is also characterised by distinctive forms such as sayings, instructions and alphabetic acrostics. The wisdom tradition is frequently described as having two branches that are variously described as practical and speculative, secular and theological or optimistic and skeptical. Murphy notes that practical/ optimistic wisdom is most clearly identified in the book of Proverbs and speculative/skeptical wisdom with Job and Ecclesiastes.
For Murphy, the goal of traditional wisdom is to pass on what one has learned, both from instruction and from observation and experience making it an educational enterprise. In this sense, Ecclesiastes is like the other wisdom books in that it contains observations and interpretations of human life and behaviour along with advice on proper behaviour.
Again, Qohelet was familiar with the wisdom tradition and spoke on its language. In this the author works with polar opposites such as righteous and wicked, good and bad wisdom and folly, and uses wisdom form such as the âbetterâ saying. Qohelet also used wisdom methodology in his writing. Here he quotes traditional claims, observe the world and human experience and reflects on those claims on the basis of observation and evaluation.
In spite of the above Murphy notes some ways that Ecclesiastes differs from traditional wisdom. Whereas traditional wisdom seeks audience that supports its claims and tends towards harmonizing diverse observations, Qohelet takes a more confrontive approach, placing claims and observations over against each other, looking for the exception rather than the general rule. Again, Murphy observes the difference that proverbs provide guidance for copping with typical or ideal experience; Ecclesiastes explores the atypical and even disastrous.
Ecclesiastes and Non Israelites Wisdom Texts
Although Ecclesiastes belongs in the company of Job and Proverbs, yet both practical and reflective wisdom are found not only in the bible but also in the surrounding world. Most scholars point out the fact that biblical wisdom has affinities with that of the other ancient Near Eastern Societies. To Murphy, Ecclesiastes most strongly resembles texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia, although there is no text that matches it precisely in either genre or content. In the view of Murphy, though the Mesopotamian and Egyptian wisdom tradition go back thousands of years before the book of Ecclesiastes was written, the parallels do demonstrate that Qohelet addressed issues that were part of the intellectual heritage of the region.
The first influence of these non-biblical texts to talk about is that of Mesopotamia. For instance, a Mesopotamian poem, âI will praise the Lord of Wisdom,â from around 1100 B.C.E. laments the impossibility of knowing how to please oneâs god. In another Mesopotamian poem, âthe Babylonian Theodicy,â one speaker claims that although it is possible to find out how to satisfy the deities, no one knows how to do it. In addition, it has been observed by Murphy that, perhaps the most striking parallel comes in the context of Gigameshâs grief over the death of his friend Enkidu and his fears that he may be mortal, that the ale- wife Siduri advices him by trying to deflect the heroâs quest for immortality with words of reality as:
Gilgamesh, whither rovest thou?
The life thou pursuest though shall not find.
When the gods created mankind,
Death for mankind, they set aside,
Life in their own hand retaining.
Thou, Gilgamesh, let full be thy belly, Make thou merry by day and by night.
Of each day make thou a feast of rejoicing,
Day and night dance though and play!
Let thy garments be sparkling fresh,
Thy head be washed; bathe thou in water
Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy bosom! for this is the task of [mankind]!
Most scholars have compared the above Epic of Gilgamesh to the wisdom of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Murphy has rightly made an attempt to explain the above Epic by writing that:
In this striking parallel to Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, Sikuri approaches Qoheletâs insistence on facing the reality of death as well as living the pleasures of life in this world. The above call to joy happens when Gilgamesh first encounters death and before his failed search for immortality. This placement limits its power for the reader. One longs for the resumption of the call after Gilgamesh has realized that he, too, is inescapably mortal. In context, the call to joy in Gilgamesh pushes the reader to experience joy as a stage in the Heroesâ experience. Qohelet, by contrast, returns to the call to joy after each successive disillusionment, thus maintraining the paradox as central to human experience.
Egypt is the next non-biblical influence on Ecclesiastes. Here, Murphy identifies some influences by some Egyptian tales. Some instances that are cited are âthe speaker in an Egyptian tale,â and âa dispute over suicide,â from the end of the third millennium B.C.E. This debates the relative value of life and death in internal dialogue. I agree with Murphy that Ecclessiastes too questions life after death. To Murphy, another Egyptian tale from around the twenty-first century B.C.E. is âThe Eloquent Peasantâ. This incorporates traditional sayings into a narrative critique of social injustice. The New Interpreterâs Commentary also points out that Qohelet was also influenced by the instruction of Amenemope in that it was a role with which Qohelet was evidently familiar of which Ecclesiastes 9:2-6 is an example. Also, the NIB identifies that the instruction of Ani offers admonitions about the proper approach to God similar to those found in Eccl 5:1-7.
With reference to Qoheletâs relationship with Greek tradition, most scholars are of the consensus that Ecclesiastes belongs within a Greek â” influenced worldview. Murphy and New Interpreters Bible Commentary are all of similar observation that the suggested paralles with various Greek philosophical traditions such as satoicism, Epicureanism and Cynicism are not so close as to make acquaintance with specific Greek text. Thus there is more likelihood that Ecclesiastes simply reflects a Hellenistic mileu. That is at least its concerns with happiness; meaning and the good in human life are also popular in Greek philosophical movements.
Qoheletâs Teaching about Immortality (Ecclesiastes 3:11-21, 9:2-10, 12:7)
The major passage that Qohelet reflects about the issue of death and immortality has been identified as Ecclesiastes 3:11-21, 9:2-10, 12:7). There have been two main divided views with regard to the actual intent of Qoheletâs teaching about death and immortality. The first has to do with immortal soul view and the second concerns with the Non-immortal soul view. The idea of the Immortal Soul view is that every human body houses an immortal soul that continues after death. Here, when one dies, only the material part of the body goes back to dust, but the soul lives on. Although different religions disagree with each other about where the soul goes after death, however, Qohelet writes in Ecclessiastes 12:7 that the Spirit (representing the immaterial component of humankind) returns to the Father the giver of life. Prior to Ecclesiastes 12:7 Qohelet had noted that, God has also done this–a sense of eternity he put into the heart of humankind, but without the ability to find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Eccl. 3:11). In this case, the writer imagines that there is more to life than he or anyone else can figure out. God has planted in the human mind the notion of eternity, a reality that transcends human finiteness, yet he has not equipped humans to grasp it. Because we are unable to transcend our limits, Qohelet counsels us to enjoy the good things God’s creation has to offer.
The next view that is referred to as the Non-Immortal Soul view contends that the word âsoulâ applies to the entire person. When God first created Adam in Paradise, He âbreathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soulâ (Genesis 2:7). Thus man doesnât have a separate soul, but rather he is a soul (see also Joshua 10:35, 37, 39; Lev. 23:30; Acts 27:37, KJV). After man sinned, his entire person, or soul, became mortal, or subject to death. Thus according to this view, when a person dies, he or she returns to the dust, and âthe breath of lifeâ returns to God interpreting the âbreatheâ in Ecclesiastes 12:7 as not being a conscious entity. Rather as a spark of life that exists in everything alive. At death, (the sinner is truly dead â” unconscious, asleep, waiting for the resurrection. This view is sometimes called âsoul sleep.â Commentators who are of this view cite Ecclesiastes 9:5 to argue that the dead lie unconscious, asleep in their graves, awaiting the resurrection and that whether saint or sinner there is no work, or âknowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are goingâ (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Another comment that sounds convincing and a bit balanced to the above contradicting positions is that of the commentary on Ecclesiastes 3:18-22; 12:7 given by the The New Interpreterâs Bible. With this Keck comments that:
The ancients believed that at death everything returens to its source. Consistent with that model, in 12:7 Qohelet distinguishes between thedust that descends to the ground from whence it came and the âbreathâ that arises to God, from whom it came (see Genesis 27). However the question of the continued esistence of the creature that can live only because it is a combination of dust and life-breath is left totally unanswered. The logic of the Teacherâs argument is to forge a solidarity in death between animals and human beings. There is no discernible reason why the âbreathâ of the former should behave differently at death than would that of the latter. â¦Contemplation of ultimate destiny or fate is of no comfort to Ecclesiastes, so he reverts to the comfort already set forth in 3:9-15: Happiness in their doings is the lot of human beings. That is not bad; it is a gift of God (v. 13). However, it is possible only when human beings accept the premise that they cannot know what lies ahead (v. 22b). The question, âWho can bring them, to see what will be after them?â is, of course a rhetorical one. The answer is No one! For Qohelet, the high probability exists that there is nothing after death. However, he refuses to speculate beyond that and instead carves out for human effort a little island of happiness in the midst of a sea of unknowability and, finally, nonexistence.
The above comment indeed throw some light on the fact that in the mind of Qohelet, there is indeed some amount of reality about immortality although it is not clear in the mind of this writer of Ecclesiastes especially with regards to the actual destiny of the soul after death.
In my opinion, in looking at the passage (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6) that those who are of the non-immortality view use to argue their case out, the contrast between the dead lion and the living dog supplies the meaning for verse 5. It can be said that Qohelet believes in life after death (Eccl. 12:7) and for that matter cannot be teaching about non-existence of the departed soul. The context according to the Expositors Bible Commentary suggests the ability to plan and work. To this it is most probable that Qohelet was influenced by the Epic of Gigameshâs grief over the death of his friend Enkidu. Further, the living is aware that death is inevitable but from a human perspective the dead is not told what the future has for them. In this case Qohelet is not teaching soul sleep. Instead the emphasis is on the contrast between the carnal knowledge of the living and the oppressed. The ambiguity surrounding the understanding of Qoheletâs thoughts on this subject of immorality is most probably stemmed from the fact that the human knowledge of the hereafter depends on how much God reveals to us. Hence attempts to discover the state of the deceased through mediums is strongly forbidden by scripture (eg. Isaiah 8:19-20).
Although in Qoheletâs thought the actual destiny of the soul and for that matter the hereafter is not certain, yet to further argue in favour of the view of immortality of the soul as reflected on by Qohelet, this view is supported by the totality of scripture. For instance, the OT speaks of the gathering of the patriarchâs to their people in Gen. 25:5-8; 49:33). This statement is later endorsed by Jesusâ answer to the Sadducees concerning God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Implying that God is the God of the living and not the dead (Matthew 22:32).
THE AKAN AND THEIR BELIEF ABOUT IMMORTALITY
Having looked at the concept of immortality as has been reflected through by Qohelet, this part focuses on the Akansâ believe about immortality. Thus for clearer understaninding of the concept of immortality, the Akan context in relation to their worldview about the human person in the aspect of the God-human bond will be looked at. This will then lead to detailed presentation of their belief in the hereafter.
The Akan People and their Origin
The ethnic name âAkanâ refers to the Twi â” speaking peoples of the Coast of Guinea of West Africa. The Akans consists of Ahanta, Akuampim, Akyem or Akim, Agus or Anyio, Asante or Ashanti, Asen or Asin, Bono or Brong, Busa, Chorkosi, Fante, Guan, Kwahu, Nzema and Wasa. Geographically, the Akan inhabit the Eastern part of Cote Dâ Voir, the Southern half and part of the North of Ghana and the north of Togoland. The culture and religion of Akans exhibit a fairly uniform pattern in spite of the fact that they consist of many autonomous subgroups, the common language, and social institution link them together.
The exact origin of the Akans is said to be difficult to determine since there has not been documentary evidence. It has been held for sometime now that the Ashantis emerged from the ground in a Grove near Asumenya (in Ashanti). Joseph Boakye Dankwa who was an Akan philosopher traces the origin of the Akan from âKushâ races found in the North East of Africa. However, according to Asante, this understanding has been disagreed by K. A. Dickson of his understanding of Akans origin.
In spite of the fact that the exact origin of the Akan has not been actually traced, the schorlarly concensus is that they migrated to the present settlement from somewhere in the Savanna belt of the Northern Ghana.
The Akan Worldview
Emanuel Asante quotes W. E. Abrahamâs observations about the worldview of the Akan that, âthe Akan did not have an attitude of externality to the world.â In support of this view, the Akan like all Africans make no sharp distinction between the self and the world, man and nature, subject and object. Thus for the Akan, these are inseparable reality.
Again, the Akans believe that reality cannot be limited to the human reason alone. To Anyanwu, imagination, intuitive and experience and feelings are also modes of knowing. In this case, it can be said that this forms part of the reasons why the expression of African cultural reality has been through art, music, folksong and myths rather than through logical analysis. Thus to the Akan reality is Spiritual. This probably implies that the material world is animated. Trees, rivers, stones, animals etc. have spit in them. This is a way of saying that matter and spirit are understood as inseparable.
Asante expresses that the Akan views reality as âa hierachically ordered ontological relationshipâ that does not allow them to see things in isolation. Thus in the mind of the Akan reality is both relational and interactional. This understanding of reality affects the Akans understanding of the human person and consequently their belief about immortality.
Akan View about Human Person
The Akans believe that the human person is a tripartite being with three inseparable components of which two are spiritual and one biological. This conception of the human expresses itself in the Akan belief that the human person is formed from three elements as mogya- âbloodâfrom the mother, ntoro âpatrilineal spiritâ from the father and okra âsoulâfrom, Onyame. Asante has noted that âThis belief established three sets of bonds namely, the blood or the maternal bond, the spirit or the paternal bond and the soul or the theological bond.â Thus the above bonds as identified by Asante will be looked at in detail.
Among the Akans and the Ashantis in particular, the blood bond is the mother â” child bond. Thus making the Akans predominantly of matrilineal lineage. The Akans belief that the blood (mogya) as one element constituent of the Akans human person is translmitted solely by the mother. Asante cites Busiaâs explanation that, âthe Akan believe that the blood so transmitted provides the bridge between one generation and another. Consequently, descent is traced through the motherâs lineage. This lineage consists of all descendants of both sexes, including the dead and the yet to be born, all of whom trace their genealogy through the female line to a common ancestors. Therefore the blood bond establishes the individual Akan as a rational being. The individual Akan understands herself or himself as one who owes his or her individuality as collective.â
From the above it can be said that the Akans like all Africans, the individualâs identity is defined in terms of his or her relationship with the collective. The blood or the maternal bond ensures that the Akan individual is always related to a family. Therefore, the maternal bond is very important for the Akan, as can be seen from the maxim: wo na wu a na wo abusua asa âwhen your mother dies, it is the end of your family. Thus when oneâs mother dies there will be no more increase of oneâs blood relatives.
The next has to do with the father child bond. The Akan holds the belief that the human person is also made up of the fatherâs ntoro (sunsum). This is referred to as the patrilineal spirit. This patrilineal spirit is believed to be the defining factor of a personâs character and personality making the father responsible for the childâs moral behaviour. The Akans believe that the ntoro begins working in the child at conception and continuous through after the child is born. Asante remarks that the ntoro presents the Akan spiritual context in which his or her biological nature as defined by the mogya or blood transmitted by the mother is widened and extended into a biological spiritual being. From this, the ntoro element transmitted by the father, then allows the Akans to belong to two lineages. It however, allows for the spiritual heightening of the Akan human person.
The third bond is what Asante refers to as the God â” human bond. This concerns the relationship existing between the individual Akan and that of the Supreme deity who is known as Onyame. Here the Akans belief that a person has soul âokraâ that comes directly from Onyame. Kwame Gyekye describes the concept of the okra in Akan thought as having a reservoir of strength and sustenance and states that the âokra is considered to be that which constitutes the very innerself of the individual, the principle of life of that individual, and the embodiment and transmitter of his destiny — it is thought to be a spark of God (Onyame) in man. It is thus divine and has an ante-mundane existence with God. The okra, therefore, might be considered as the equivalent of the concept of soul in other metaphysical systems.â This gives the basic definition of the Akan concept of okra. However, Gyekye further notes that the source of the personâs energy which is okra is linked closely with another concept known as honhom. Honhom here means âbreatheâ being derived from the Akan verb âhomeâ â” to breathe. It is the cessation of this breathe that the Akan sees as the one being passed away. Asante points out that, it is the linkage of the okra with the honhom, or the breathe of a person that expresses the Akanâs belief in Onyame as a giver of the Akanâs soul. Thus the human person is non alive without this okra element that comes directly from onyame.
Again, the okra is also connected with a personâs nkrabea, âdestinyâ or âmanner of being.â With this concept, the Akans believe that before the child is born, he enjoys pre-worldy existence and comes with it a message that prescribes what the child is to become and to do in the world. Thus for the Akan, the human person has a God-given project to carry out here in the world.
All in all, with regard to the concept of okra, in the view of the Akan, the individual person is directly bonded to God through his or her soul. This bond implies obligation and that each individual has a purpose in that there is God â” given destiny that includes God-given project to be carried out in the world.
The Akan Concept or view of Immortality
Given the above discussions made concerning the Akan worldview about human person as comprising mogya (blood) okra (soul) and ntoro or sunsum (patrilineal spirit) as a background, the Akan concept of death and for that matter hereafter can now be discussed.
To begin, when a person passes away, the Akan say, ne honhom k× meaning âhis soul is goneâ or ne kra afi neho meaning âhis soul has withdrawn from his body.â In these two expressions as an example, honhom and kra express the same thing, as the death of the person. Kwame Gyekye expresses that the departure of the soul from the body means the death of the person and so ceasing to breathe.
It is important to point out, however that the honhom is not to be identified with okra or soul. According to Gyekye, it is the okra that ceases the breathing making the honhom form part of the tangible manifestation or evidence of the okra. The departure of the honhom from the body evinces the soulâs departure from the body to enjoy post- mundane existence with Onyame. What this means is that the okra is undying. Similarly, Kwame Gyekye explains that:
Traditional African Religions hold the common belief that the soul is an immaterial part of the human being that survives death and that humans, in an after life will give an account to God for their life in this world. Ideas about the soul held by the African people are highly elaborate and complex. Some say the human soul consists of four parts, others say three parts and others say two. What appears to be common to the various ideas about the soul, however, is that the soul is some spark of God in human person- making it of divine origin- and that the soul of human person is held to be immortal.
Thus from the above, it can be said that the presence of this divine essence in humans may be the basis of the Akan maxim: All humans are the children of God; no one is a child of the earth. Gyekye further explains that this divine essence also makes every human person unique, of intrinsic value, and an end in himself or herself. This means that he or she should not be used as a means to an end.
Also, the belief that the soul of a person survives bodily death is expressed in the Akan maxim: When a person dies, he is not (really) dead. This means that there is something in human being that continues to exist in another world which is the âthe world of the spirits.â
Moreover, an Akan artistic symbol, assuming the immortality of God, expresses that: Could God die, I will (also). This means that since God will not die a personâs soul that is considered as an indwelling spark of God will not die either. In other words, the eternity of God implies the immortality o f the human soul which is part of the divine essence. Last but not the least; it is indeed of reality that the world of spirits inhabited by those who have departed this life is based upon the assumptions about the immortality of the human soul and personal survival in an afterlife.
CRITICAL REFLECTIONS: CONTINUITIES AND DISCONTINUITIES BETWEEN QOHELETâS AND THAT OF AKAN CONCEPT OF IMMORTALITY AND SOME IMPLICATIONS
The background studies in this essay indicate that the writer of Ecclesiastes got information through observations, sayings, instructions and stories in the form of epics from his immediate environment. This is very much similar to that of the Akan who also have proverbs that are collected through observations and life experiences, symbols and stories. Reflecting through the concept of immortality in the view of Qohelet in relation to that of the Akan, some critical points of continuities and discontinuities have been identified and it is worth noting.
In looking at the continuities, to begin with the Akan understanding of immortality as being associated with the soul, the immaterial component of a person is generally in keeping with the notions of immortality preserved in certain traditions of the Old Testament, and apparently in the cultural context of Qohelet. Qohelet asserts that the Spirit of man goes to the creator after death. Thus both the Akan and Qoheletâs thoughts affirm that there is life after death although Qohelets was not very much certain in his contemplations. And that this life after death is associated with the soul (the immaterial aspect) of the human being.
In a similar fashion, the Akan believe that the destiny of the soul after death goes to be with God, the giver of life. Generally speaking then, it can be said that like the Israelites, in the time of Qohelet, the Akan see God as creating a sacred community with the spirit of the dead. Not withstanding the fact that there is future judgment awaiting all including the living and the dead. I will therefore want to argue, therefore, that the biblical teaching of immortality of humankind as in active fellowship between God and the spirit of man after death (the righteous dead, Hebrews 12:23-24) is continuous with the Akan understanding of life after death.
The concept of immortality as theologically designated to God alone in a sense underscores the Akan maxim that âwill God die, I will alsoâ giving the idea that God alone is indeed immortal. This view about immortality then confirms the Akan traditional thought that the Supreme Being is the eternal Father of all.
In view of what seem to be discontinuities, with regard to the Akan teaching that the dead (especially the righteous dead-ancestors) form part of the living in offering assistance to the living, Qohelet expresses that the dead has no knowledge about their future and for that matter about the living in offering guidance of whatever kind (Eccl. 9:5-6). Qoheletâs teaching that the dead know nothing is not an assertion that the dead are asleep. Rather it implies that the dead have no contact with this world. Thus immortality understood in this sense (Eccl. 9:6-7) should therefore allow for continuity between the religio-cultural traditions of the Akan and the Bible, for that matter Christianity.
Those who proclaim the Christian message of the hereafter, then, must not proclaim it with a view to alienating the Akan from their religio- cultural traditions. New dimensions of the Immortal God who was known to the Akan as Dadaa Onyame meaning âEternal Godâ long before their contact with Christianity must be proclaimed to them. When this is done God will be experienced as one who allows for the experience of newness not in terms of alienation from the old cultures, but in terms of its enrichment. And what has been said about the Akan can generally be said in relation to other ethnic Africans since their religio-cultural traditions share the characteristics and concerns that have been discussed.
...(download the rest of the essay above)