Saturday, May 3, 2014

Empire of the Golden Stool: The Asante Empire

Osei Tutu
As the 19th century dawn, imperialism, driven by the industrial revolution in Europe, landed on the shores of Africa. Many empires, kingdoms, chiefdoms, and other form of political systems fell one by one to the hand of the Western Powers. Many of Africans resisted and fought bravely against the invaders. In South Africa, the Zulus overwhelmed the well-armed and better trained British forces during the Isandwana. In the area of modern state of Ghana, an Empire once stood that defended its sovereignty bravely against the British. This was the Empire of Asante.

Asante’s foundation could back to the 17th century. At this period, the region of West Africa had several chiefdoms existed. They became fragmented by war. Rivalry made by trade and wealth. Among of these chiefdoms was composed of the Akan people. Among the Akan people a charismatic and ambitious leader rose up to unite the fragment Akan people. His name was Osei Tutu.

Osei Tutu manage to unite several Akan chiefdoms to form the Asante Union. He capitalized on the fact the most of the rulers of the neighbouring chiefdoms were related to his family, the Oyoko family. Kokufu, Owaben, and other chiefdoms accepted the leadership of Osei Tutu. He also offered high ranking position to the leadership of the territories or the army. If negotiations were not fruitful, military conquest became the next option. So as so, by 1701, Osei Tutu, with the help of his chief adviser, Okomfo Anokye, Osei Tutu took the title of Asantehene or King. He established his capital at the city of Kumasi. In order to consolidate his power and the new nation, he establish a constitution that placed great powers to the King. He also gave the Asante Kingdom a symbol of its nationhood, a golden stool. Also known as the Sika Dwa, the stool was said to be a heaven sent, dropping from the heavens, giving Osei Tutu some divine right to rule the Kingdom. Throughout his reign, Osei Tutu would continue the expansion of the lands of Asante. In 1717, he wage war against the Akyems. However, this war was his last. He created military blunders that led to his eventual death. As the kingdom mourns his death, Opuke Ware succeeded him as the Asantehene.

Opuke Ware would then preside over to the creation of the Asante Empire. Under his rule, territorial expansion took a quick phase. He incorporated the neighboring lands such as Takyiman, Kwahu, and Akyem. He also headed an Asante Empire that was prosperous and wealthy. Much of the wealth was based on the gold and slave trade that flourished in the Northern African region and the Atlantic Ocean. Many of their prisoners of war were sold to European traders and shipped to the Americas to work in plantations or mines. Mostly, the Asante traders conducted business with the Dutch that were based on the area known as the Gold Coast. But as the British industrial revolution led to imperialism, the red coats replaced the Dutch that occupy the Gold Coast.

In 1750, Opuke Ware died. In his wake, he left the Asante Empire strong, wealthy, and powerful. A decade after his death, Osei Kwadwo presided over the creation of a more merit based administrative structure. He weaken the position of noble family by changing the system of gaining a positions in the government. He promoted competence and merit as the base of having position rather than heritage. He deemed it more proper to maintain the power of the Asante Empire.

Territorial expansion of the Asante Empire continued through the second half of the 18th century. When Osei Bonsu watched over to the Empire symbolized by the Golden Stool, it was maintained its position as a great power. In modern sense, he encompassed modern day Ghana and parts of neighboring countries like Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. However, threats from the British would soon threaten this vast Empire.

The 19th century for the Asante Empire would be a direct conflict between the Europeans and the Empire. In 1816, the Asante Empire wanted a direct access to the coast. The only nearby access was through the Gold Coast occupied by the Fante people. Asante troops then invaded Fante. One major problem, however, faced the Asante Empire: the Fante were under the protection of the powerful and mighty British Empire. As a result of the invasion. The British attacked the Asante Empire. In 1824, a battle ensued in Nsamankow. The well-trained and well-armed British forces faced the Asante Army equip also with firearms and lesser armoured. Surprisingly, the Asante managed to defeat the British. To add insult to injury, they also managed to kill the commander of the British forces in the Gold Coast, Charles Macarthy. The British became thirsty for revenge. They got their chance at during the Battle of Katamaso, or sometimes spelled Akantamansu or called by some as Dodowa, when they stroke a victory against the Asante. In 1831, the British became victors. A treaty was signed that forced the Asante to pay gold to British and respect the independence of the Fante. In 1863, a new British Asante conflict erupted. The Asante gave the British difficult battles to fight. Their mobility and experiences in the jungle made them into a formidable force to wreck on with. Eventually, no side became an apparent victor. Conflict then continued to escalate in 1874 when the Asante tried once again to invade the Gold Coast. The British retaliated, this time, however, the British managed to capture the capital, Kumasi. The British showed no mercy, it burned the whole capital to the group. Pillaging also occurred. The destruction of the capital of a great Empire demoralized the whole nation. It also signified the start of the fall of the Asante Empire. In 1888, the Asantehene, Prempe I, was exiled to nearby territories of the British along with other Asanti nobles. A decade after his exile, the British allowed his return to Asante after making a protectorate in 1896.

Even though as a protectorate, some still rebelled against the British. In 1900, Asente women called ohemma fought the British under the leadership of Yaa Asantewaa. It, however, failed when the British managed to crush their rebellion. In 1902, the British decided finally, to completely annex the Asante.

Ansah-Owusu, D. Historical Dictionary of Ghana. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 

Falola, T. & A. Warnock (eds.). Encyclopedia of the Middle Passage. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007. 

Gocking, R. The History of Ghana. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005. 

Stokes, J. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and Middle East. New York: Facts On File, 2009.

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