A reference to “Akan speakers (generally called Minas or Coromantees in the Americas)” led me via Google Books to Kwasi Konadu’s The Akan Diaspora in the Americas, which, after establishing to the author’s satisfaction that “Mina” (a term used primarily in non-English-language sources) does refer specifically to Akan speakers, continues with the following extremely interesting discussion (pp. 13 ff.):
The Mina experience thus raises some critical questions about African social formation and cultural transformation in the Americas. Did Africans use language, “religious” affiliation (e.g., as adherents to African and African-based spiritualities in the Americas, Islam, or Christianity), or the structures of African polities as remembered from Africa, or did they use all three in varying degrees and as principles by which to organize themselves? If the mechanism of organization was primarily language, did cultural groups identify themselves and others by the principal and perhaps mutually intelligible languages they spoke? What might have been the decision-making process of bi- or multilingual speakers from contiguous areas and those accessible by land and water? Africans may have identified with localized or broader polities in West Africa as a source of security and thus would have given their loyalty to those bases of social unity, and this would have been true for centralized Akan polities. However, religious affiliations via Islam or Christianity would have been meaningless for most Akan, who were non-Christian and non-Islamic and had been that way for centuries. …
The topography and commercial networks of West Africa, as well as the roads and waterways that facilitated those networks, also assisted the convergences of cultural traditions through either the volition of the groups involved or political domination. As a result of either process, a kind of multilingualism and multiculturalism emerged in a region where a high degree of diversity or ethnicity has been greatly exaggerated. It has been easy to imagine African diasporic groups as “ethnies” or “nations” as broadened expressions of “ethnicity,” but these approaches have not fully grappled with the issues of African language competency among scholars who do diasporic and “Atlantic” history and the locating of “Africa” and African lives in European scribal sources. These sources still confound the process of locating African identities, and they continue to shape the perspective of scholars who remain true to their perceptions of “nations.” The “nation” (nación, nação; Spanish and Portuguese, respectively) and “country” (terre, French) of Africans inventoried in neo-European documents were based less on Europeans’ perceptions of African polities and more on language (or at least what they believed were a plethora of indiscriminate languages). Thus, these “nations” and “countries” were early inventions that anticipated the concept of “ethnicity,” a colonial creation based largely upon the European idea of a nation and built upon the early process of determining African language or “ethnolinguistic” groups as found in the ethnographies and vocabulary lists compiled by seventeenth-to-nineteenth-century European missionaries. Though commerce was the common denominator between Africa and Europe of the late fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, very few European merchants were and even fewer scholars of “diaspora” are fluent in African history and languages. Scholars have thus grounded […] their works in the linguistic knowledge gleaned from European missionary ethnographies and lexicons. If 537 million (or 82.6 percent) of 650 million Africans of non-Arab and non-European origin used no more than ten to twelve root African languages—as bi- and multilingual speakers, based upon a mutual intelligibility of at least 85 percent—as of 2004, we cannot start and end with Joseph Greenb[e]rg’s classification or a missionary’s catalog of African languages in order to clarify the linguistic or “ethnic” map of the African past. Rather than debate the extent of African ethnicities in the Americas—a discourse that privileges the “nation” and “ethnic” notions such as “Mina” and “Coromantee”—perhaps we should start with the Africans’ core understandings and identities in Africa and then use both as a compass to chart their shapes in the Americas.
It’s a shame that so much scholarship on non-European parts of the world, particularly Africa, has been done primarily via European languages, and it’s great that scholars like Konadu are remedying the situation and providing fresh perspectives.
(Can I just say, by the way, how much I hate the term “ethnie,” borrowed from French by Anthony D. Smith in his The Ethnic Origins of Nations? What’s wrong with good old ethnos, if “ethnic group” is too long for you?)