Ashanti is a nation and ethnic group native to Ashantiland and the Kingdom of Ashanti of south Ghana. Ashanti are the largest sub-grouping of the Akan people. Ashanti speak Ashanti a dialect of the Akan language. Prior to European colonization, the Ashanti people developed a large and influential empire, the Ashanti Empire along the Gulf of Guinea. The Ashanti later developed the powerful Ashanti Confederacy or Asanteman and became the dominant presence on the Gulf of Guinea region. The Ashanti King Asantehene is the political and spiritual head of the Ashantis. The word Ashanti is a British misnomer and Asanti is the correct Twi. Asanti literally means “because of wars”.
Ashantiland has a variable terrain, coasts and mountains, forests and grasslands, lush agricultural areas and near deserts. The territory Ashanti settled Ashantiland (Kingdom of Ashanti), is the southern and within the central part of present-day Ghana, about three hundred kilometres from the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean coast. The Ashantiland (Kingdom of Ashanti) territory is densely forested, mostly fertile and to some extent mountainous. There are two seasons—the rainy season (April to November) and the dry season (December to March). The land has several streams; the dry season, however is extremely desiccated. It is hot year round.
Today Ashanti number close to 11.5 million people (11 million in Ashantiland/Kingdom of Ashanti), 98.7% of the Ashantiland/Kingdom of Ashanti population, speaking Ashanti language (also referred to as Twi, a member of the Central Tano languages within the Kwa languages). Ashanti political power has fluctuated since Ashantiland (and the Kingdom of Ashanti) state political union with Ghana, but the Ashanti remain largely influential. U.N. Ambassador Kofi Agyekum Kuffour is an Ashanti. The majority of Ashantis reside in Ashantiland (Kingdom of Ashanti) currently a sub-nation state within Ghana. Kumasi, the capital of Ashantiland (Kingdom of Ashanti), has also been the historic capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. Currently, Ashanti region has a population of 3,812,950.
Ashanti are one of Africa’s matrilineal societies where line of descent is traced through the female. Historically, this mother progeny relationship determined land rights, inheritance of property, offices and titles. It is also true that the Ashanti inherit from the paternal side of the family. Property is defined as something inherited from the father, hence the name “agyapade”, meaning inheritance from a good father. Normally, a poor father has nothing to give their children, and often marry into a family which has wealth from ancestors.
The father’s role was to help the conception and provide the nkra or the soul of the child; that is, the child received its life force, character, and personality traits from the father. Though not considered as important as the mother, the male interaction continues in the place of birth after marriage.
Historically, an Ashanti girl was betrothed with a golden ring called “petia” (I love you), if not in childhood, immediately after the puberty ceremony. They did not regard marriage “awade” as an important ritual event, but as a state that follows soon and normally after the puberty ritual. The puberty rite was and is important as it signifies passage from childhood to adulthood in that chastity is encouraged before marriage. The Ashanti required that various goods be given by the boy’s family to that of the girl, not as a ‘bride price,’ but to signify an agreement between the two families.
In the 1670s the Ashanti went from being a tributary state to a centralized hierarchical kingdom. Osei Tutu, military leader and head of the Oyoko clan, founded the Ashanti kingdom. He obtained the support of other clan chiefs and using Kumasi as the central base, subdued surrounding Akan states. He challenged and eventually defeated Denkyira in 1701. From this, the name Asante came to be.
Realizing the weakness of a loose confederation of Akan states, Osei Tutu strengthened centralization of the surrounding Akan groups and expanded the powers judiciary system within the centralized government. Thus, this loose confederation of small city-states grew into a kingdom or empire looking to expand its land. Newly conquered areas had the option of joining the empire or becoming tributary states.Opoku Ware I, Osei Tutu’s successor, extended the borders, embracing much of present day Ghana’s territory.
THE GOLDEN STOOL
The legend of the Golden Stool (Sika ‘dwa) is important as it is an account of the birth of the Ashanti Kingdom itself. In the seventeenth century, in order for the Ashanti to gain independence from Denkyira (another powerful contemporaneous Akan state), a meeting of all the clan heads of each of the Ashanti settlements was convened. In this meeting, the Golden Stool was called down from the heavens by Okomfo Anokye, the Priest or sage advisor to the very first Asantehene (Ashanti King), Osei Tutu I. The Golden Stool descended from the skies and rested on the lap of Osei Tutu I. Okomfo Anokye then declared the Stool to be the symbol of the new Ashanti Union (Asanteman), and allegiance was sworn to both the Golden Stool and to Osei Tutu as the Asantehene. The newly founded Asanteman went to war with Denkyira and subsequently defeated it.
The Golden Stool is sacred to the Ashanti, as it is believed that it contains the Sunsum viz, the spirit or soul of the Ashanti people. Just as man cannot live without a soul, so the Ashanti would cease to exist if the Golden Stool were to be taken from them. The Golden Stool is regarded as sacred that not even the king was allowed to sit on it, a symbol of nationhood and unity.
The Golden Stool is a curved seat 46 cm high with a platform 61 cm wide and 30 cm deep. Its entire surface is inlaid with gold, and hung with bells to warn the king of impending danger. It is an Ashanti legend and has only been seen by the tribe’s royalty. Only the king and trusted advisers know the hiding place of the stool. Replicas of the stool have been produced for the chiefs and at their funerals are ceremonially blackened with animal blood, a symbol of their power for generations.
The Ashanti have always defended their Golden Stool when it was under threat. In 1896, the Ashanti allowed their King, Prempeh I, to be exiled rather than risk losing a war and the Golden Stool in the process. The Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded to sit on the stool in 1900. The Ashanti remained silent and when the assembly ended, they went home and prepared for war. Although they lost on the battle field, they claimed victory because they fought only to preserve the sanctity of the Golden Stool, and they had. Then in 1920, a group of African road builders accidentally found the Golden Stool and stripped it of its gold ornaments. They were tried by an Ashanti court, found guilty and sentenced to death, but the British intervened and their punishment was commuted to perpetual banishment.
The Ashanti have always been proud of the uniqueness of their Golden Stool, and it signified not only their independence, but a common bond between their people. When King Kwadwo Adinkra of Gyaaman made a golden stool for himself in their early 1800s, the reigning Asantehene was so annoyed that he led a massive army against him. Adinkra’s forces were completely destroyed near Bondoukou, and he was decapitated. The Asantehene then ordered that the counterfeit golden stool be melted down and made into two masks representing Adinkra’s “ugly” face. These masks still hang today on each side of the Golden Stool as a reminder of the incident.