OriginsThe Ashanti or Asante are a major ethnic group in Ghana. They were a powerful, militaristic, and highly disciplined people of West Africa. The ...
The Ashanti or Asante are a major ethnic group in Ghana. They were a powerful, militaristic, and highly disciplined people of West Africa. The ancient Ashanti migrated from the vicinity of the northwestern Niger River after the fall of the Ghana Empire in the 1200s. Evidence of this lies in the royal courts of the Akan kings reflected by that of the Ashanti kings whose processions and ceremonies show remnants of ancient Ghana ceremonies. Ethno linguists have substantiated the migration by tracing word usage and speech patterns along West Africa.
Around the 13th century AD, the Ashanti and various other Akan peoples migrated into the forest belt of present-day Ghana and established small states in the hilly country around present-day Kumasi. During the height of the Mali Empire the Ashanti, and Akan people in general, became wealthy through the trading of gold mined from their territory. Early in Ashanti history, this gold was traded with the greater Ghana and Mali Empires.
Akan political organization centered on various clans, each headed by a paramount chief or Amanhene. One of these clans, the Oyoko, settled Ghana’s sub-tropical forest region, establishing a center at Kumasi. During the rise of another Akan state known as Denkyira, the Ashanti became tributaries. Later in the mid-1600s, the Oyoko clan under Chief Oti Akenten started consolidating other Ashanti clans into a loose confederation that occurred without destroying the authority of each paramount chief over his clan. This was done in part by military assault, but largely by uniting them against the Denkyira, who had previously dominated the region.
The Golden Stool
Another tool of centralization under Osei Tutu was the introduction of the 'Golden Stool' (sika 'dwa). According to legend, a meeting of all the clan heads of each of the Ashanti settlements was called just prior to independence from Denkyira. In this meeting, the Golden Stool was commanded down from the heavens by Okomfo Anokye, the Priest or sage advisor, to Asantehene Osei Tutu I. The Golden stool floated down, from the heavens straight into the lap of Osei Tutu I. Okomfo Anokye declared the stool to be the symbol of the new Asante Union ('Asanteman'), and allegiance was sworn to the Golden Stool and to Osei Tutu as the Asantehene. The newly founded Ashanti union went to war with Denkyira and defeated it. The Golden Stool remains sacred to the Ashanti as it is believed to contain the 'Sunsum' — spirit or soul of the Ashanti people.
In the 1670s, then head of the Oyoko clan Osei Tutu began another rapid consolidation of Akan peoples via diplomacy and warfare. King Osei Kofu Tutu I and his chief advisor, Okomfo Kwame Frimpon Anokye led a coalition of influential Ashanti city-states against their mutual oppressor, the Denkyira who held Asanteman as one of its tributaries. Asanteman utterly defeated them at the Battle of Feyiase, proclaiming its independence in 1701. Subsequently, through hard line force of arms and savoir-faire diplomacy, the duo induced the leaders of the other Ashanti city-states to declare allegiance and adherence to Kumasi, the Ashanti capital. Right from the onset, King Osei Tutu and Priest Anokye followed an expansionist and an imperialistic provincial foreign policy.
Asanteman under Osei Tutu
Realizing the weakness of a loose confederation of Akan states, Osei Tutu strengthened centralization of the surrounding Akan groups and expanded the powers of the judiciary system within the centralized government. Thus, this loose confederation of small city-states grew into a kingdom or empire looking to expand its borders. 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.