The Rev. Gaddiel Robert Acquaah (1884-March 25, 1954) was a Methodist educator and scholar who played the major role in the translation of the Bible into the Fante language.
Gaddiel Acquaah was born at Anomabu, 5 miles (8 km) east of Cape Coast, in 1884. He was the son of the Rev. Robert Mensah Acquaah, a minister with the Methodist Mission. He was educated at the Cape Coast Wesleyan Collegiate School. At his father’s insistence he studied electrical engineering at Abuasi, 33 miles (53 km) south of Kumase, but later abandoned these studies in order to teach at various schools in what are now the Central and Western regions of Ghana. He eventually became the headmaster of the Wesleyan school at Shama, the fishing village at the mouth of the Pra River, a post he held from 1906-08. In 1909 he became a theological tutor at Mfantsipim School (formerly the Wesleyan Collegiate School) at Cape Coast, the oldest secondary school in the country, and succeeded in raising the level of theological training there.
He was ordained a minister in 1912. At about the same time he was appointed chairman of the Methodist Bible Translation Committee, in which capacity the Methodist Synod allowed him to devote his time wholly to the revision and translation of the Bible into the new Fante script that had been adopted.
The translation of the Bible into Fante took an unusually long time because of disagreements over orthography. By 1940 the work had not been completed, and the Synod directed the Bible Translation Committee to take the necessary steps to finish the work. A British linguist, the Rev. Kenneth Horn, together with Acquaah, then a circuit minister, were given the assignment. By 1941 the translation of the Old Testament into new script had been completed. But the translation of the New Testament posed several problems in spelling. To solve these, the Synod, in January 1941, approved the recommendation of the British-based West African Literature Society that a committee be established to write a series of graded readers in Fante under the general editorship of Acquaah. The intention was to enable schools to use materials that would be of the same standard set by the books that Acquaah had already written in Fante, such as Oguaa Aban (meaning “Cape Coast Castle”), Fanti Proverbs, and John Wesley. In 1942 the committee produced and published a Fante word list that was approved by the Gold Coast Education Department for use in schools. Although the word list was not accepted by some Fante scholars, the Education Department suggested that the question of spelling should not be reopened until 1950, and the suggestion was accepted.
After the death of Kenneth Horn, the Bible Translation Committee decided in March 1942 that the work on the Fante Bible should be completed by the end of 1943 under the direction of Acquaah as chief reviser. Work was completed by 1944, after which the Fante Bible was sent to the British and Foreign Bible Society for publication. In addition to his translations, Acquaah also wrote a number of books and pamphlets.
Acquuah served in the Methodist circuit based in the town of Aburi, Akuapem, 20 miles (32 km) north of Accra, where he trained catechists and became vice-principal of the Methodist training college. In 1950 he was elected chairman and general superintendent of the Gold Coast district of the Methodist Church, and was transferred to Accra. He was a member of the Methodist centenary committee, which planned the celebration of the centennial of the arrival of the first Wesleyan missionary of the Gold Coast. The celebration was held in Cape Coast in December 1934 and January 1935. For the occasion he wrote a hymn, “Centenary Bells,” which was set to music.
When the nationalist movement led the British government to decide on constitutional change for the Gold Coast, Acquaah was appointed as a member of the Coussey Committee on Constitutional Reform in 1949. He was later awarded the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his services to church and state. He subsequently attended religious conferences in England, representing the Methodists of the Gold Coast. His health suffered, however, because of his ceaseless activity. He died peacefully in 1954.
L. H. Ofosu-Appiah
Nwoma kronkron Ahyemu dadaw nye Fofor no (Holy Bible: Old and New Testament) [translated by a committee, including G. R. Acquaah], London, 1948; G. R. Acquaah, Akyikyiwire Ndwim (“Songs of Comfort”). London, 1927, John Wesley Methodifo Asore ne farebaa, 1703-1791, (“John Wesley: 1703-1791”), Cape Coast, 1938; Oguaa Aban (“Cape Coast Castle”), London, 1939, New Fante Primer, Kumase, 1939, Mfantse-Akan Mbebusem (“Fante-Akan Proverbs”), Cape Coast, 1940, Rumpelstiltskin (translation), Cape Coast, undated, Venice oguadzinyi no (adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice”), London, undated, Mfantse-Akan ahyese, (“Fante Primer For beginners”), Sekondi, 1941, Mfantse Amambra (“Fante National Constitution”), Cape Coast, 1947, Methodis asore be biara ahosiesie. Anyame, hwehwe me mu (“Preparation for Every Methodist Church Service: God Should Examine Me”), Cape Coast, 1953, Ofa Methodistnyi biara ho. Nyankopon, pensa pensa mo mu (“God Searches Into the Soul of Every Methodist”), Cape Coast, 1953; F. L. Bartels, The Roots of Ghana Methodism, London, 1965. See also Colonial Office No. 248. Gold Coast. Report to His Excellency the Governor by the Committee on Constitutional Reform, 1949 (the Coussey Committee Report), London, 1949; F. C. Grant, “Obituary,” Minutes of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, London, 1954.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.