What Did Captain Robert Sutherland Rattray Say about the Akan Concept of Sunsum?

  • Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi Department of Theological Studies, Valley View University, Oyibi (GA)
Keywords: Anthropology, Asantes, Captain Rattray, Sunsum, Spirit


The Akan people of West Africa have the general belief that the world is powered and interpenetrated by an invisible force or ‘energy’ called sunsum. Many scholars who study the concept of sunsum consider it the basis of Akan pneumatology. One of the foremost scholars who studied the concept in the early twentieth century was Robert Sutherland Rattray, a Scottish who worked in Ghana (then Gold Coast) as a colonial official and anthropologist. Rattray remains one of the most detailed researchers of Akan religion and culture. This article reviews Rattray’s ethnographical definition of sunsum while it pays keen attention to how he characterized it. In the end, the purpose is to present the best possible perspective of his characterization of the sunsum and how such characterization has contributed to Akan literature and ideas.