To Dance or Not to Dance

Masculinities in Akan Proverbs and Their Implications for Contemporary Societies

  • Grace Diabah University of Ghana
  • Nana Aba Amfo University of Ghana
Keywords: Akan/Ghana, Africa, contemporary societies, masculinities, men, proverbs, Akan/Ghana, Africa, contemporary societies, masculinities, men, proverbs


This paper looks at how men are represented in Akan proverbs and the implications of such representations for contemporary Ghanaian men. It assesses the traditional views on what it means to be ‘a man’ among the Akan and how Ghanaian men perceive these in contemporary times. This is particularly relevant in an age when the demands of the modern world (high living standards, economic hardships, high unemployment rates etc.) put undue pressure on both men and women. More so, it is an age when women are increasingly being empowered to take up traditionally masculine roles. Such an enterprise aligns with the call on feminist and gender researchers to consider studying how men experience and enact gender. Thus, we explore the dilemmas of the contemporary Ghanaian man as he negotiates the expectations of traditional Ghanaian societies and the demands of contemporary families. We analyse 44 Akan proverbs on men, collected from texts and oral sources, as well as responses from focus group discussions on these proverbs. The results show that men are expected to be brave, providers, protectors, and action or results-oriented. Men who are unable to live up to expectation are considered not men enough; they are often perceived as women’s puppets. Reponses from our focus group discussions suggest that such representations put undue pressure on men to fulfil societal expectations; and as research has shown (for example, Ratele 2008), failure to fulfil such expectations can find expression in violence.


Keywords: Akan/Ghana, Africa, contemporary societies, masculinities, men, proverbs,

Author Biographies

Grace Diabah, University of Ghana

Grace Diabah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana. Her teaching and research focus on general Linguistics as well as gender and language, including language and masculinities.

Nana Aba Amfo, University of Ghana

Nana Aba Appiah Amfo is a Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana. Within the broad areas of pragmatics and sociolinguistics, her research interests include information structure, grammaticalization and language use and practices in specific domains such as language and religion, language and health, language and gender and language in migratory contexts.


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