The Ashanti Kingdom
The history of a nation is a very essential component in understanding how the lives of its people as well as its culture and heritage have evolved through time. It is said that ones’ historical past is important in appreciating the present and planning about the future. This holds true in the case of modern Ghana wherein their origin especially their forefathers has play a huge role in identifying with their country today.
In the late 17th century up to the latter part of the 19th century, the Gold Coast, which is now known as modern Ghana was dominated by a state called as Asante or Ashanti. The Akan people were the one responsible in forming series of states at the forest region of southern Ghana. One major characteristic that enabled the Akans to do so was the fact that they were rich in gold. Among all the states that they have created, the Asante were considered as the largest and most powerful (Ghana Resource Center).
The Asante people were originally from one of the numerous Akans (West African Kingdoms). During the 15th and 16th centuries, European traders who were seeking for gold came to the Akan country. The Europeans, specifically the Portuguese created the first European fort in 1482 at the tropical Africa of El Mina. In line with this, the stretch of the Atlantic coast that is situated in the present day Ghana became popular in Europe as the Gold Coast (Ghana Resource Center).
The history of the Ashanti people was greatly influenced by the presence of the Europeans. Even before the Europeans started the slave trading in the Americas, they initially sold African slaves to their fellow Africans. The Akan entrepreneurs used gold to buy slave from European as well as African traders. The Portuguese supplied around 12,00o slaves to the Akan buyers between 1500 and 1535 and continued doing so to the Gold Coast up to the 16th century. The labor of these slaves gave way to the expansion of the Akan’s gold production. Moreover, one of the vital contributions of slave labor is that they aided in clearing the dense forests at southern Ghana that made farming possible. In relation to this, according to an Asante historian by the name of Ivor Willks, the importation of slaves helped in shifting the economy of the Asantes from its heavy dependence on hunting and gathering to focus on agriculture. As their economy became primarily agricultural in nature, the Akan communities planted their traditional crops like plantains, yams, and rice and they also adopted various crops coming from the Americas like maize or corn and cassava that were introduced to them by the Europeans (Ghana Resource Center).
In 17th and 18th centuries, state-building started to develop. Groups who are politically ambitious started to have a strong interests not only in the gold production and trading but they also want to have power over the farming industry. Farming in the forests are made possible by numerous communities, these previously independent villages were combined together to form growing states. During the late 1500s, the Akan country was composed of at least 38 small states and then by the mid-1600s it diminishes in number until by 1700 only the Asante state was dominant. The foundation of Asante was brought about by the Denkyira state, which declared wars to steal the authority over the Akan gold trade during 1650 and 1670. These caused many people to seek refuge in the uninhabited regions of the forests. The Oyoko clan was among these refugees who settled at Kumasi that later known as the capital of Asante (Ashanti).
Ashanti developed into an administrative structure that is patterned from the Denkyira. Ashanti evolved into having some sort of metropolitan as well as provincial spheres. The metropolitan part was made up of towns that are situated in a fifty-mile radius around Kumasi. Most of the leaders of these towns shared membership in the Oyoko clan. They have considerably autonomy as they participated in the enthronement of Asante kings as well as render their services in the king’s advisory council. In comparison, the outlying Akan regions were considered as subordinates who need to pay tribute to the ruling Asante. They tried to centralize the power through the authority of the king also known as Asantehene. Trading matters were placed under the responsibilities of state agencies that were governed by the Asantehene. They also created a complex bureaucracy to handle tax collection. Military power was curbed through the creation of a palace guard whose commanders were appointed by the king himself. Ashanti reached a commendable level of administrative efficiency, which is seen through its well-maintained roads and sophisticated fiscal policies (Ashanti).
Like most African societies, European invaders also colonized Ashanti. The independence of Ashanti as a state ended in 1874 when the British force avenged Ashanti’s attack on El Mina. The British sacked Kumasi and seized most of its wealth, which includes its artistic treasures. The final uprising in 1901 that was led by the Queen Mother of Ejisu resulted for Ashanti to be under British Protection and finally became part of the Gold Coast colony (Ashanti).
The Ashanti Family unit has a strong extended family system. The poorer members of the family usually seek assistance with their better off relatives in terms of asking financial support like school fees and medical expenses. Nevertheless, the presence of visitors’ especially family members is always welcome even if their visits are brought about by financial dilemma. Furthermore, in an Ashanti household the family line is matrilineal in a sense that passes trough the mother to her children. The man of the family is strongly related to his mother’s brother as compared to his father’s brother. This phenomenon is often seen in the perspective of a polygamous society wherein there is a much stronger bond between the mother and the child rather than the father and his children. Being the case, a man gives more importance to his nephew over his own son. Therefore, the uncle-nephew relationships have a dominant position in the Ashanti society (Culture of Ashanti People).
The Ashanti families live in different homes or huts that are situated around a courtyard. Usually the oldest brother is considered as the head of the household. He is appointed by the elders and he is usually referred to as either the Father or Housefather (African People and Culture).
The boys of the family are trained by their fathers at the age of eight and nine. The father has the prerogative to choose as to which skill he would like his son to acquire. He is also the one responsible for paying school fees. On the other hand, girls are taught cooking and housekeeping by their mothers. They also work in the fields by gathering necessary items like water for the household (African People and Culture).
The idea of marriage is a very important part of the Ashanti communal life. Ashanti marriages can be polygamous. Men can have more than one wife in order to show their generosity by supporting a large family. The consent of the parents is also very important before an Ashanti woman could marry anyone. Based on their tradition, many women do not meet their husband until the marriage ceremony. However, even though most couples don’t have the chance to know each other well before marriage, divorce is very unusual as both parents of the couple have the responsibility to keep the marriage intact (African People and Culture).
English is the official language of the Ashanti but it is not spoken by many villagers. The Ashanti is actually a part of the Akan tribes who speak different Tiwi dialects. This language is very rich in proverbs that are considered to be a sign of wisdom. Euphemisms are also widely observable especially events concerning death. It is also utilized in order to indirectly express ideas (Culture of Ashanti People).
Ashantis are also very religious. Their religion is a combination of spiritual and supernatural forces. They deem that plants, animals, and trees have souls of their own. They also adhere to the idea of fairies, witches, and monsters found in the forest. There is also a wide variation of religious beliefs that involve their ancestors like gods or abosom, and “Nyame” that is known as the supreme being of Ashanti. Furthermore, they also practice numerous rites for marriage, death, puberty, and birth. The famous golden stool is very sacred to the Ashanti. There is legend surrounding it that is narrated by the old men of their society. It is said that the golden stool is protected very carefully and no one has ever sat on it nor has it ever touch the ground. The golden stool symbolizes how the Ashantis’ worship their ancestors as well as the well-being and the very nation of Ashanti (African People and Culture).
The history of Ghana would not be written without including the rich past of the Ashanti kingdom. The Ashanti played an important role in the present day situation of Ghana especially in terms of its citizens that mostly originated from this people. Ghana as a nation was also shaped through the contribution of the culture and heritage of the Ashanti. Indeed, it is true ones’ history is important in understanding the present as well as looking at the future.
____________. “Ashanti.” 21 June 2008 <http://www.ashanti.com.au/pb/wp_8078438f.html>.
Ghana Resource Center. “History of the Ashanti People.” 21 June 2008
Ghana Resource Center. “Culture of the Ashanti People.” 21 June 2008
The Africa Guide. “African People and Culture.” 21 June 2008 <http://www.africaguide.com/culture/tribes/ashanti.htm>.