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Ghana: Stool mothers within the Ewe ethnic group; selection process, average age, marital status and consequences of refusing the position

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 26 September 2003
Citation / Document Symbol GHA41613.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ghana: Stool mothers within the Ewe ethnic group; selection process, average age, marital status and consequences of refusing the position, 26 September 2003, GHA41613.E, available at: [accessed 23 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A professor specializing in ethnicity and politics in Ghana who teaches in the Department of History and at the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh provided the Research Directorate with the following comments:

My own understanding, based on work amongst the northern Ewe, is that for there to be a stool-mother it presumes that there is a distinct female stool, which presumably is occupied by the queenmother. Unlike the Akan, the Ewes do not seem to have had a developed system of queenmothers until the fairly recent past. Although individual queenmothers might be creating stools now, I think that it is unlikely that there was ever an equivalent to a male stool which was guarded before being passed down. That being the case, I can't believe that such a position really exists. I certainly don't know of it. There may be one exception though. The Agotimes, who many people regard as Ewes because they live amongst the Ewes and have adopted their language, do seem to have had a distinct male and female stool when they arrived at their present settlement. This may mean there is a female guardian of the stool. The Agotimes are actually Adangbes, who bear some similarity culturally and linguistically to the Krobos west of the Volta (28 July 2003).

The professor added that he was not aware of any possible repercussions one would face for refusing an inherited traditional office (30 July 2003).

The following information is based on interviews conducted with several Ewe people by an international development consultant to such organizations as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and UN Habitat, who is also a former senior lecturer at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), in Ghana, and whose PhD thesis was based on the ethnography of Obo, Kwawu:

... [T]he Ewe have a different social organization than the Akan. Inheritance and succession is patrilineal, but there are specific exceptions, in individual cases. If an acceptable male in direct line is not available, the lineage elders may choose a sister's son to inherit, which means, strictly speaking, someone outside the direct patrilineage. In all such cases, the mother's brother must be present in the area to legitimize such an exception. (Remember, when you have lineages, in both Akan or Ewe, there are branches which may have originated by the main lineage absorbing slaves into it, and there is no automatic inheritance as in European royalty; there are usually several to choose from, and the elders choose from among them.) Descendants of slaves may be excluded from inheritance and succession, but that element conveniently "forgotten" when necessary.

In Ewe society, there is some variation, not as much homogeneity as among the different Akan groups. The coastal Anloga, for example, have had stools only recently, because their traditional system was that of priest-chiefs, like the original Guan, who were in all the area now populated by both Akan and the Ewe. The Somes, in contrast, have had stools (probably adopted from the Akan) for much longer, and separate priesthood from chieftaincy.

There is no exact equivalent of the Akan "ohemma" (queen mother) who is the structural or biological mother of the chief. The most important woman in the chieftaincy setup is the "fianyornu" which is the wife (or elder member of the lineage of the official wife) of the chief. There is no such Ewe term at all of "stool mother."

("Structural" mother is a woman who is an elder of the lineage of the chief, who is a "mother" in the local terminology, but not necessarily the biological mother; she could be a grandmother or matrilineal auntie, and could be many degrees separate in our, bilateral, understanding).

Where there may be some conflict is when several branches are competing for a stool, after a chief or elder dies. If someone is offered the position, and refuses, there is no danger or physical punishment. There are usually several contenders for a stool so the elders usually have no difficulty to find someone willing to become the chief or elder. As among the Akan, however, they prefer someone who is wealthy and educated, if possible.

Stool positions and chieftaincy is mainly a "male thing," many fewer elders and chiefs are women than as among the Akan.

The Fianyornu does not have a stool (as does, say, the ohemma in Akan society). No (almost 100%) woman is allowed into an ancestral stool room (as a non menstruating woman may be allowed in Akan society) (7 June 2003).

The international development consultant also added the following:

There are no known cases of anyone being put in danger of harm or death for refusing a stool, although they may incur the annoyance, even wrath, of their elders. (So far, the same as among the Akan.) ...

I think ... there are legitimate reasons for seeking asylum to avoid death or punishment, such as specific political conflict or feuds, but refusing a stool is definitely not one of them (ibid.).

The Director of the International Program for Africa at the World Association for Online Education, who is himself Ewe, said in a telephone interview that neither he nor several colleagues and Ewe community members with whom he consulted, had heard of the position of stool mother (25 Sept. 2003). While explaining that one's life would not be in danger for refusing a traditional position, he added that, in his opinion, it would not make sense for a community to harm someone they respected enough to choose for a leadership position since, even if the individual refused, the community would still want them to contribute what they could to the community (ibid.).

For information on traditional chieftaincy positions among Ewe women, please see the attached section from A. Kodzo Paaku Kludze's book entitled Chieftaincy in Ghana on the role of the Nyonufia or "female chief."

For additional information on the consequences of refusing an inherited traditional position in Ghana please consult GHA41340.E of 3 June 2003.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Director, International Program for Africa, World Association for Online Education, Ottawa. 25 September 2003. Telephone interview.

International development consultant, Victoria, British Columbia, and former senior lecturer, University of Cape Coast (UCC), Ghana. 7 June 2003. Correspondence.

Professor, Department of History and Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. 30 July 2003. Correspondence.
_____. 28 July 2003. Correspondence.


Kludze, A. Kodzo Paaku. 2000. Chieftaincy in Ghana. Lanham, Md: Austin and Winfield, pp. 70-74.

Additional Sources Consulted

Africa Research Bulletin

IRB Databases


The Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana and other academic sources were unable to provide information on the above-mentioned topic within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including:

Accra Daily Mail

Africa Confidential

Africa Online

Africa Today (Vol. 46 Winter 1999 - Vol. 49 Fall 2002)

BBC Africa

The Daily Guide

European Country of Origin Information Network

Ewe Canadian Cultural Association of Canada

Ghana Review

The Ghanaian Chronicle


Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

News in Ghana

Norwegian Council for Africa

Princeton University - African Studies Resources

Rutgers University, African Studies Association

U.S. Library of Congress: Ghana Country Study

U.S. Department of State

West Africa

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Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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