BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ASANTE PEOPLE
The Asante empire or the Asante people are part of the great Bono Kingdom in what is now Brong or Bono Ahafo region, they are part of the Akans that migrated down to the South, The meaning of the word Asante is something scholars hasn’t still figured it out, because there are two debated meaning of the word Asante, one source suggest the name Asante means “because of war”. The word was derived from the Twi words ɔsa meaning “war” and nti meaning “because of”. This makes it clear that the Asante union was purposely created to challenge and stop the Denkyira’s. Other sources also said the word was “Su ate”, which literally means the people has depleted or reduced, that was when the Fanti’s, ”Fa Atsew, which means the half that departed or broke away”left the Bono manso or Takyiman to the south. It was the British who coined the word Ashanti as they thought it was As-hanti. The Asante’s are strictly a monarch rulers, this means they pass their kingship solely to the members of the royal Oyoko clan, they settled at the Adanse area, though Oral tradition does not state when this took place, neither does it state the ruler who led them to that area. Other sources said it might be in the 14th century when they took a nomad life by moving from one place to another, they did not build houses when migrating, but rather lived in caves and under the buttresses of mighty tress to protect themselves from wild animals, others therefore, lived on trees for protection, this brought the notion and the legend of the Asante’s coming from a hole and from the Skies as they were sleeping in caves, buttresses and on trees during their migration southwards.
The Asante’s moved in clans or Ebusua in the Twi language. The clans were the following: Oyoko clan, Bretuo clan, Asona clan, Agona clan, Assin clan, Ekuɔna clan, Asakyiri clan and the Aduana clan. All the clans claimed to be children of one woman so they were brothers and sisters. As time passed the people became so populated in the Adanse area that they decided to move for other arable lands, so in the 15th century, the Asante’s moved further hinterland to established some towns like the Dwaben, Asumegya, Kokofu, Nsuta, Mampong, Bekwai, Offinso and Kwaman which later became Kumase, the capital of the Asante Kingdom. There were also some smaller towns like Edweso, Agona, Kaase, Kontanase, Buɔkrom and Tafo.
One important thing about the Asante kings was the roles they played to help protect their clans or states. Normally, a state is formed by clans, when a clan moves to a certain area, that area automatically becomes the property of the clan and they (clan) can choose to name the area to claim as theirs. Some of these kings who ruled or headed these powerful Asante clans, especially the mighty ɔyoko clan were : Nana Twum and Nana Antwi, they ruled over the clan at Asantemanso, Nana Kobia Amamfi took over at Asumegya, Nana Oti Akenten and Nana Obiri Yeboah ruled over them when they settled at Kwaman, others were Kokofu, Nsuta, Dwaben and Bekwai, these states were all of the ɔyoko clan and descended from one ancestors.
THE FORMATION OF THE UNITED ASANTE EMPIRE
During the Middle of the 15th to the 16th century, these Asante states or clans were having rampant internal wars among themselves, corresponding to the effectiveness of the tribal wars, they became weaker and weaker, this happened during the reign of Nana Obri Yeboah, this paved way for other powerful Akan tribes to torment them and one of these fearsome tribe was the Denkyira, a fierce rival tribe of the Asante empire. Their king was called Nana Ntim Gyakari.
According to sources, the Asante empire borrowed so many cultures from the Denkyira’s, even Nana Osei Tutu, then a young lad served in the court of the king of Denkyira, this shows how powerful the Denkyira’s were. They even fought the Portuguese in Elmina upon who should rule the Coast, this was after the Portuguese were allowed by Nana Kwamena Ansah king of Oguaa/Eguafo, a nephew of Nana Kobena Gyan, king of Elmina, He (Nana Kobena Gyan) was betrayed by Nana Kwamena Ansah, who took huge present and sums of money from the Portuguese, in return, he allowed the Portuguese to build their first settlement in Elmina. On the contrary, the Denkyira’s were very powerful empire during that time. They annexed all other small and weaker towns or states and this brought them to the Asante states, amid their conquest and annexation, they took Asante as a vassal state, they also took Osei Tutu, a royal lad from the ɔyoko clan to Denkyira to serve in the court of the king. During that time, the Asante’s served Denkyira and paid regular tribute to her.
The tribute was in the form of firewood, plantain fiber and some types of red clay, it was this era that Nana Obiri Yeboah, king of Kwaman had a dream that, the Asante states should come together to form a united kingdom to fight, defend and free themselves from bondage of the Denkyira’s. The dream was later revealed to Okomfo Yamoah and he interpreted the dream to mean that, the Asante people should unite under one King, according to oral sources, the dream Nana Obiri Yeboah had was that he picked one broom stick and decided to break it and it broke instantly but when he combined all the broom sticks as one it never break. This compelled them to call the kings of all the clans or states to a meeting and informed them about the dream, they all shared their grievances and how the Denkyira’s had treated them and how they wanted it to end, every six weeks, the young men and women were the carriers of the commodities to Denkyira. At Denkyira, the young men were made to weed around the outskirts of their capital called Abankeseɛso . The young women were also made to sweep the streets of the capital too, some sources even suggest, the Denkyira’s took (had sexual intercourse) with some of the Asante ladies when they go there to offer their tributes.
The clans or states later agreed to form the proposed united Kingdom but that dream did not last long because the Dormaa’s on hearing the impending unity, took arms and defeated the Asante’s. It was during this time that Nana Obiri Yeboah met his untimely death as a result of sword wounds inflicted on him during the war. According to oral tradition, other chiefs also met their death, they were Okomfo Yamoa of Agona and Dwamena Akenten of Offinso. This big and sad defeat taught the Asante states a great lesson therefore they decided to form a stronger united kingdom to enable them stand any future aggression from other predatory tribes.
NANA (KING) OSEI TUTU I (1695 – 1717)
Nana Osei Tutu I was the one who fulfilled the dream of Nana Obiri Yeboah, he was the most popular among the Asante kings, he was the one who unified or made the Asante people a United Kingdom by the assistance of his great friend Okomfo Anokye. According to oral tradition, Nana Osei Tutu I, spent his childhood days in the court of the Denkyira King but he escaped from there to Akwamu kingdom where he met his lifelong friend, Okomfo Anokye, he met him for the first time in the court cells of Nana Ansa Sasraku of the Akwaamu kingdom. According to oral tradition, especially from Benyin in the Ahanta and Nzema’s all in the western region of Ghana and the Ewe’s in the east, Okomfo Anokye was captured by the Akwaamu kingdom during a war between the Akwaamu and Denkyira, he was then a chief priest of the Denkyira’s or the Agona’s, remember, Agona is also one of the clan of the Asante’s, also Okomfo Yamoah was the elder brother of Okomfo Anokye and also a priest of Agona, furthermore, Agona is also a state in the Ahanta-Nzema land, so upon Osei Tutu’s escape to the Akwaamu court, he met Okomfo Anokye there as a prisoner of war not a priest or a friend to Ansa Sasraku I, so naturally Okomfo Anokye was not an Asante nor Akwaamu or from the Eastern part of Ghana, so the question is where does he come from (this is also another article on it’s own).
Osei Tutu and his new found friend Okomfo Anokye made the Asante kingdom a powerful martial-politico empire in sub-Sahel Africa during that time. The system of ruling was well documented by the Europeans, they instituted customary rites, customary laws, taboos and also had a state priest and attorney minister as in Okomfo Anokye who helped Nana Osei Tutu to achieve many feats Together, they created a constitution, and made the military the reorganized and centralized authority, they also instituted a new cultural festival called “Odwira”which means “purification”, the Odwira naturally symbolized the new union. The Most magnificent and significant of all their creation was the Friday Golden Stool or Sika dwa Kofi, they created the Golden Stool and made the Asante’s believed that it was and still thinks is the soul of all the ancestors of the Asante’s.
During Osei Tutu’s time, gold dust was the main currency for trade, even common people in the Asante empire used gold, he also made the gold a state possession. The Asante empire under Nana Osei Tutu and Okomfo Anokye expanded from the Southern Ghana to the Northern part of Ghana. Originally, the first Asante contact with the British was around the 18th century, they started trading commodities such as gold, ivory, slaves, and other goods with the Europeans, this trade helped the Asante’s to get a lot of amenities.
At first the Europeans depended on the Asante’s to bring them captives captured from the Hausaland or the Mande territories around the 1800’s, later the Asante empire turned their attention to the southern part of Ghana because of the growing demand of slaves from the Europeans. This also made the Asante’s a very ferocious war mongers because the more territories they have the more slaves they will get to sell to the Europeans for ammunition, cloths, gun powder and many more. According to researchers, the Asante empire were so vexed in architecture that, their style of building was one of the finest, most of their style of building was brought from the medieval kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhai etc. Because of their wealth, powerful military prowess, complex and dynamic culture, they became one of the powerful and popular empires. The Europeans studied their military skills, territories and culture for many years before venturing into the Mid-lands to invade them.
THE ORIGIN OF KUMASI (KUM-ASE)
Kumasi or Kum-ase is the capital of the Asante region, After the formation of the united Kingdom of Asante or the Asante empire, the chiefs wanted to have a state capital where all the union member states could meet to dissect maters that will arise and developmental issues. They proposed a capital, since all chiefs of the union wanted the capital to be in their domain, the Wise priest Okomfo Anokye decided to consult the state Oracle, upon the consultation he was told to plant three (3) KUM trees at a specific locations, the tree that will flourish shall be the capital of the new union. The priest and the oracle decided to made the Asante’s plant a tree because they believed that if any of the tree grows it could serve as a habitat for their meetings.
Okomfo Anokye planted one KUM tree at Kwaaman which was ruled by the ɔyoko clan, they planted the second one at Apemso-Bakofo ruled by the Aduana clan, and the third tree at a place near Fomena and Amoafo called Oboani, which was ruled by the Ɛkoɔna clan. Later, the tree at the Oboani grew but it was too short and tiny that it could not be able to serve as a meeting place, so they called this place Kuma, meaning small KUM, the one planted at the Apemso-Bakofo did not grow at all, so this place was also named Kumawu, meaning the dead KUM but the KUM tree at Kwaaman grew and became a very big tree under which the King and his people often sat to discuss day to day issues of the empire, and so Kwaaman became Kum-ase meaning under the Kum (tree).
THE FALL OF THE ASANTE EMPIRE
The empire came to an end in a sudden gesture during the reign of Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, many of this can be attributed to the Europeans who decided to end the Asante’s dominance so that they could go on to control the coast and to also enable them to form their proposed Gold Coast. Moreover, ending the great Asante empire will aid the British to harmonically control the trade on the coast as well as to form a British protectorate with other states. The British saw that the best way to control this part of Africa is to shutter the Asantes.
When the Asante’s wanted to be free from the Denkyira’s, they seek assistance from other Akan states like the Fanti’s, the Bono’s, the Ahanta and the Nzema’s . At first they wanted to have a dialogue with the Asante’s peacefully without any war but the Asante’s disagreed so the British decided to punish the Asante’s for turning them down. With the exception of the British wanted to get raid of the Asante’s, other Akan and non Akan states also wanted to see the Asante empire collapse because of tributes, royalties, and homage they have to pay to the Asante’s. In 1867-71, the Asante’s invaded the Ewe land, the states that supported the Asante empire to topple the Ewe’s were effectively enslaved in return for their loyalty. All this instances also angered this states to revenge so that they can also be free and go into the British protectorate.
Furthermore,the British also asked all the Akan and non Akan states to sign a pact with them so that they could protect them from the Asante’s. When the British were satisfied with their preparations, they sent an army led by Robert Baden-Powell, when the Asante’s heard about the news, king Prempeh assembled the Asante army for a battle, after several hours of tick and severe fighting, the Asante king surrendered his kingdom in 1896 and the British took Nana Agyeman Prempeh I into exile, they first sent him to Elmina, Sierra Leone and then to the Seychelles island, but he returned on Tuesday 11th of November, 1924 with his followers at the shores of Takoradi, and with a loads of christian names after being baptized into the Anglican Church while in exile.
NANA YAA ASANTEWAA 1840-1921
Nana Yaa Asantewa was the queen mother of Ejisu. Prior to the British sending the king into exile, the Asante’s decided to fight till their last blood but there was no ɔbirimpong ( an army general ) to lead them, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese bother of Nana Yaa Asantewa, was also exiled with Nana Prempeh, In 1900, the British colonial governor Frederick Hodgson called all the native and held a meeting, at the meeting, he stated that King Prempeh I would continue to suffer an exile from his native land and that the Ashanti people should surrender to the British their ancestral Golden Stool – a dynastic symbol of the union. During the discussion the leader at that time succumb to the offer and decided to hand over the Golden Stool but Nana Yaa Asantewaa who was the gatekeeper of the Golden Stool disagreed.
Below are what she said that faithful day in Twi dialect, the translated version in English was :
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King.If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, leaders would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot.
No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning.Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields”.
The “War of the Golden Stool” was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000, she led the army and fought bravery, but as a lady and a feeble Asante state without better and proper ammunition, the British came victors while Nana Yaa Asantewaa was captured by the British and deported to Seychells as well. Though Nana Yaa Asantewaa is dead and gone but her bravery still lingers in our minds.
In 1935 the Golden Stool was used in the ceremony to crown Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II he ruled from 1935-1970, he became the Asante king and an ally of the British, during his time, His kingship also allowed the British to start their big scale mining in the Kingdom, which still goes on as part of the deal, it was also the main reason why the British invaded and forcefully ended the great Asante Empire, so that they can control the Asante and Ghana’s huge gold deposit.
NOTE: Because of lack of official and proper written languages and documents, most the Ghanaian or African stories are orally told and poorly handled and also because of war, the slave trade, migration, cultural invasion and the emergence of Christianity.
ASANTE (ASHANTI) REGION
The Asante or Ashanti region is the third largest region in Ghana and it is located in southern part of Ghana, it occupies a total land surface of 24,389 km2 (9,417 sq mi) or 10.2 per cent of the total land area of Ghana. It has a population of 4,780,380 according to the 2011 census, accounting for 19.4% of Ghana’s total population and it lies between longitudes 0.15W and 2.25W, and latitudes 5.50N and 7.46N. The Ashanti Region were predominantly farmers and they are known for gold bar and cocoa production.The largest city and regional capital is Kumasi or Kum-ase. It shares boundaries with five of the sixteen (16) regions in Ghana, Eastern and Oti regions in the east, Central region in the south, Brong-Ahafo in the north and Western north region in the South west.
The festival celebrated by the Asante’s is called Adae and Adae kese, it is celebrated to remember the dead kings, queens and heroes. They have other festivals celebrated by the small town, there are also noted secondary schools such as Opoku Ware Secondary, Yaa Asaantewa girls and a popular university called Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, some of the popular secondary schools. Okomfo Anokye Teaching hospital is also one of Ghana’s noted hospital. The manhyia palace is one of the most visited palace and tourist attraction in the region.