Nyame: Supreme God of Akan African People

Nyame (or Onyame) is the name of God, the Supreme Being in the Akan people’s religious system. Originally the word may have just meant ‘the sky’, hence the proverb: “No one shows a child the sky (or God).”

Nyame corresponds to the spiritual idea of Deity. Nyame was one part of a triune deity, or triad, which consisted of Nyame, Nyankopon, and Odomankoma.

Nyame represented the natural universe; Nyankopon represented its kra, or life-giving power; and Odomankoma represented the creative force that made the visible world.  Nyame could also be reffered as just Nyankopon as well as Odomankoma.

The three names, Nyame, Onyankopon, and Odomankoma, exist to identify the Supreme Creator, the Originator of the Universe, and the Infinite, whose Beginning and End are unknown to humans.

He created all things, and he is continually creating and restructuring his universe. From philology and etymology, other names of African origin, such as Nyambi or Nzambi from East Africa, seem to have sameness as Nzame/Nyame.

As with many African gods, Nyame was remote from humans and unconcerned about their daily activities.

Minority views of Nyame

However, some of Akan-speaking people make do not have the three name distinction of Nyame . These Akan people who distinguish between Nyame and Nyankopon identify Nyame as the female element, symbolized by the Moon, and Nyankopon as the male element, symbolized by the Sun. 

Further still, in some traditions, Nyame was considered to be male, in others to be female, and in still others to be androgynous — at the same time both male and female.

Powers and importance of Nyame

Nyame is one God that links the Akan religious belief system to monotheism. This is revealed by the fact that Nyame is one word in the Akan language that has no plural root by linguistic construct.

The plural would have been anyame, which is non-admissible in the Akan language. To emphasize the Oneness of Nyame, the word Onyame is more often used to represent the uniqueness of God as the One and Only One.

The God of the Akans appears as a Trinity expressed as Nyame, Odomankoma, and Nyankopong with the following spiritual properties:

  • All-seeing, All-knowing, All-powerful, All-satisfying, majestic, All-brilliancy, and many others that are unique to Nyame.
  • He is One In One and yet Many and spiritually visible everywhere.
  • He is every Thing and hence He is All Things in One and One Thing in All.
  • His Son is Onyankopong and His spirit is Odomankoma.
  • He is Indivisible, Almighty, and Dependable that is expressed in unity of the Trinity of Nyame, Onyankopong, and Odomankoma.
  • He is boundless, Infinite, and giver of inexhaustible aboundance.
  • He is the Giver of life and death to complete His inexhaustible creative process through the universal evolutions in accordance with His All-powerfulness (Otumfo). Nyame is both a forgiving and a punishing God.

The symbolic reminder of the Trinity, Unity of Nyame in Akan ecclesiastics is represented as Nyamedua (God’s Tree) that draws attention to the underlying unity of universal creation whose Beginning is the End and whose End is the Beginning.

Nyame as Creator of the Order in which he lives cannot be created by any other Being but his own Being.

Thus, in the Akan belief system, Nyame is self-created in the sense that He owns all things. He is All-Thing and hence he cannot be created outside all things that he owns.

Thus, God is everything and in everything. His Order of creation contains life–death and forgiveness–punishment duality, which reminds us of the African roots of duality, polarity, and contradiction in cognition.

Nyame creates all other gods and mankind

In the creational process, it is held in the Akan belief system that Nyame created Osoro (Heaven) and Asaase (Earth), which form part of his spiritual system. Osoro is Osiris (Ausar) and Asaase is Isis (Auset) as spiritual properties of Onyame.

Osoro (Osiris) is male and Asaase (Isis) is female. The implication is that Nyame is composed of male–female duality that constitutes the unity of his creation and the evolution that he set forth through the male–female creative process.

Residing in Otumfo (the All-powerful) is the male and female characteristics that affirm his All-in-All. These characteristics of Nyame and the Akan belief system not only bear isomorphism with the Egyptian theology; it is also claimed that the Akans are the originators of the concept of One God in Trinity with male–female duality in ancient Egypt.

Lesser gods, Abosom, are the children of Nyame’s sons (Apo, Bea, Bosomtwe, and Tano), and they deal with the day to day activities of humans on the earth.

Humans as children of Nyame and Nyame as the last of the ancestors by the method of reductionism is expressed in the Akan belief system as “All people are Onyame’s offspring, no one is the offspring of Earth”.  A spark of fire enters the bloodstream of every individual from Nyame and so animates him.

Human life is one continuous stream flowing through all men. Man has to die to discover his completeness in the undying god.

Worship and prayers to Nyame

People say: “No one will see the end except Onyame” and: “Fear no one except Onyame”. 

The Otumfo (All-powerfulness of) Nyame is expressed in many Akan maxims, such as “Obi a Nyankopong ashira no no w obo ne
dua nye yiye”
(i.e., no human curse can have an effect on anyone who has been blessed by Nyankopong).

A special day has been set aside in the name of Nyame, God Amen, for His reverence and worship. The day is Amen–Menda, shortened as Menmeneda (God Amen’s Day or Nyame’s Day), which is Saturday.

Onyame is Borebore “the Maker” and Totrobonsu “the Giver of Rain”, Onyankopon “the Great and Shining One”, Odomankoma “the Giver of Boundless Abundance”.

The foundation of the Akan Ancestral Tree is Nyame. All Akan prayers or invocations start with Twediampong, Odomankoma, Oboadee, Nana Nyame . . . (i.e., All-powerful Nyankopong, Odomankoma, the Infinite Creator, the Grand-Ancestor Nyame . . .).

Additionally, Onyankopong is often addressed in prayers and invocations as Opanyin or Nana (Grand Ancestor).

Onyame helps all those who cannot help themselves, and His wisdom overcomes all human problems.

Nyame’s connection to Ancient Egyptian Religion

Etymological analysis of Nyame has produced a number of related words. The concept of Nyame is connected to the ancient Egyptian theological system that defines Nyame as a derivative from God Amen (Nya-Ame), where Amen, among many attributes, defines Satisfying God.

Because he is a male in the Akan ecclesiastics and belief system, he is named Kwame (or Kwa-Amen-a). This simply affirmed the linkage of Akan ancient roots of the Alkebulan or ancient Egypt or ancient Ethiopia or Kemet.

Nyame leaves Earth

According to some traditions, in the beginning, Nyame lived on the earth, mingling with the humans he had created; they regularly visited with each other. But all of this came to an end one day:

Nyame was watching some women as they pounded grain in mortars with pestles. The women, not happy with his presence there, told him to move on; when he did not move away quickly enough they rushed at him, striking him with their pestles. Nyame, angry at this treatment, left the earth and determined to remain away permanently.

Nyame teaches mankind to reproduce

Nyame’s female side is represented by the moon; the male side by the sun. Humans were created with water by the female side of God; the life force came from the male side.

The earth had thus been created by Nyame, and humans populated that earth. But in the beginning they did not conceive and bear children. Then Nyame caused a python to move to the earth, and that python taught humans to mate.

Nyame at one time sent his four sons to the earth to work with humans: they became identified with bodies of water. An Asante proverb suggests that if one wishes to say something to Nita, one should speak it to the winds.

In another myth, Nyame journeyed around the earth creating the things of the earth at the same time that men and women worked out their own lives and activities. 

Nyame makes mankind mortal

Traditional version of how Nyame made humans mortal:

In ancient times, men grew weary of dying and therefore decided to send a messenger to Nyanae to complain.

They selected a sheep to take the message. To assure that the messenger took the message correctly, they sent a second; for that purpose, they selected a dog. The dog, knowing that he was much swifter than the sheep, did not leave with the sheep but delayed for a time.

As the sheep went along the road to Nyame’s town, he came to where an old woman lived. She had found that some of her salt supply had been damaged by water, and it was not possible to dry it.  She had therefore thrown the salt into the bushes outside the village.

As the sheep moved along, he was eating the grass where the salt had been thrown, and, liking the taste, remained there a long time.

In the meantime, the dog came along the same road but did not see the sheep in the countryside. He hurried on and reached Nyame’s village first. He told Nyame that he and the sheep had been sent by men to deliver a message to him. When Nyame asked what the message was, the dog told him that men said that they wished to remain dead when they died and not to return here.

Nyame said that it would be as they requested, and the dog returned. Along the way, he met the sheep and told him what he had done. The sheep explained that a mistake had been made, and they both returned to Nyame. But Nyame refused to alter his initial decision, which is why men die and do not come back again.

Slightly different version of how humans became mortals:

Nyame may have left Earth and went to the sky, but he did not lose interest in those he had created.

He retained concern for humans on the earth, and from the heavens he dispatched a goat to them with a hopeful message: he told the humans that Death would move among them, killing them. But he assured the humans that they would not remain dead, that they would in the end journey to the skies to be with God.

So the goat set out; as he moved along with Nyame’s message. he came to some fine looking grass, and he stopped to eat some of it. (The goat, not one of Nyame’s favorite creatures, later became responsible for altering God’s intentions regarding bodies of water on the earth.)

In the heavens, Nyame saw what the goat was doing and, annoyed, he sent a sheep down to earth: the sheep was to carry the identical message to the humans.

But the sheep garbled God’s message; he told the people that God had decreed that when they died that would be the end. In the meantime, the goat continued his journey, and when he came to the humans he told them that Nyame had sent him with the message that, when humans died, they would go to him in the heavens.

Unfortunately, it was too late: the humans told the goat that they had accepted the message of the sheep, and so death came among people.

The goat thwarts Nyame’s plans once again

Nyame’s goat was also responsible for thwarting Nyame’s plans with respect to his sons, Bia and Tano. Nyame planned to give Bia, his favorite, the most fertile and beautiful parts of the country of Ashanti (now Ghana). Tano would receive the barren coastal lands (now the Cote d’Ivoire).

Nyame sent the goat to tell his sons to come to him for their inheritance the next day. The goat preferred Tano to Bia, so it instructed Tano to disguise himself as Bia and go to Nyame very early in the morning.

Deceived, Nyame gave Tano the land intended for Bia. When Bia arrived, Nyame realized what had happened, but it was too late to correct the error.

In some myths, Nyame appears as the father of the trickster-hero Anansi the Spider.

Source:

Scheub, Harold – A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller

Molefi Kete Asante, Ana Mazama – Encyclopedia of African Religion

Knappert, JanAfrican mythology : an encyclopedia of myth and legend

Monaghan, Patricia – New Book Of Goddesses & Heroines

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