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Precolonial Ghana – The Ashanti Empire

Last week we briefly went through Ghana’s past, present and future. Today, we’ll be looking at some of that history in more detail, namely precolonial Ghana, in particular the Ashanti Empire.

Ashanti derives from the word ‘Asante’, which means ‘because of war’. This is because Asante was created as a kingdom to fight the Denkyira kingdom. It only became known as the Ashanti simply because the British heard it as ‘as-hanti’ – and the name remained.

During the 12th century, the Akan people moved to the southern part of modern Ghana and established numerous Akan states, including Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo.

The Ashanti group was originally centred on clans and one of these clans were the Oyoko, who established a centre at Kumasi around the 1600s. The growth of the empire can be attributed to the various wars they were involved in. The Ashanti were initially a part of another Akan state, namely the Denkyira. But during the 17th century, the Oyoko chief, Chief Oti Akenten began to consolidate the Ashanti clans into a loose confederation against the Denkyira. By the late 17th century, Osei Tutu I became Asantehene, and along with his advisor Okomfo Anokye, they began to consolidate the Ashanti empire politically and militarily. In 1701, the Ashanti defeated the Denkyira in the Battle of Feyiase and replaced the Denkyira as the dominant power in terms of the Twi-speaking Akans. After this battle, Osei Tutu and Anokye unified the independent kingdoms, and the various chiefs of the existing states swore their allegiance the Asantehene. Thus, the Ashanti transformed from a state, to a kingdom and eventually an empire.

Furthermore, the introduction of the Golden Stool further legitimised Osei Tutu’s rule. Legend says that when the leaders of the clans of all the Ashanti settlements met, Anokye summoned the Golden Stool from the heavens and it landed on the lap of Osei Tutu I. The stool was symbolic of the new Ashanti Kingdom, and allegiance was sworn to the stool and to Osei Tutu as the Asantehene. To this day, the Golden Stool is sacred for the Ashanti and it’s believed that it contains the Sunsum (spirit or soul) of the Ashanti people.

Moreover, the Ashanti were heavily involved in the gold trade, and at some point, gold dust was the currency in the empire. Ashanti citizens, including the poorer subjects, would use gold dust as ornaments on their clothes and possessions. In contrast, the royal family and wealthier subjects owned the more valuable and larger gold ornaments.

As the Ashanti empire began to trade with the Europeans, the gold trade shifted to the slave trade. By the 1800’s, captives would be exchanged with Europeans such as the British and French for luxury and manufactured goods including firearms.

As a result of this ongoing trade, the Ashanti found themselves in a constant state of war to expand or defend territory. These wars allowed the opportunity to gain more slaves to trade but the constant warfare also weakened the Ashanti Empire against the British. Furthermore, due to most of Ghana’s territory being controlled by the Ashanti’s, they were often in conflict with the British over territory and power. In total, there were 4 wars fought between the Ashanti’s and British, between 1823 and 1900. The most notable war was the War of the Golden Stool, during which British representative made a serious political error by insisting he wanted to sit on the Golden Stool, a throne which is very sacred to Ashanti leaders. By this time, Prempeh I, the Asantehene was captured and exiled to the Seychelles. But all hope was not lost, as the legendary Queen Yaa Asantewaa bravely led a resistance with an army of 5,000 against the British. Unfortunately, Yaa Asantewaa and other leaders were captured and exiled to the Seychelles too. In 1902, the British completely seized the land that the Ashanti army were defending for centuries, and the empire was annexed into their Gold Coast colony. Although, the Ashanti essentially lost the war, they can be viewed as victorious because they did not lose their sacred stool.

Eventually, the Ashanti Kingdom was restored to self-rule in 1935 and in 1957, the Asantehene was restored and the kingdom entered a union with Ghana on independence from the British.

Although the empire is not as powerful as it was in earlier centuries, the Ashanti Empire has left a lasting legacy in Ghana, as the Ashanti region represents one of the most culturally significant regions in Ghana.

(Source: Africa Is Woke, Black Past and MyJoyOnline)



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