Asante People, Culture, Family and more  

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ASANTE

* History of the Ashanti People * Culture of the Ashanti People * The "Abusua" *

* Treasures and Homes * Status of Ashanti Women

* Golden Stool *

History of the Ashanti People

Asante (Ashanti) History Much of the modern nation of Ghana was dominated from the late 17th through the late 19th century by a state known as Asante. Asante was the largest and most powerful of a series of states formed in the forest region of southern Ghana by people known as the Akan. Among the factors leading the Akan to form states, perhaps the most important was that they were rich in gold.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, gold-seeking traders came to Akan country not only from the great Songhay empire (in the modern Republic of Mali) and the Hausa cities of northern Nigeria, but also from Europe. After the Portuguese built the first European fort in tropical Africa at El Mina in 1482, the stretch of the Atlantic coast now in Ghana became known in Europe as the Gold Coast. Akan entrepreneurs used gold to purchase slaves from both African and European traders. Indeed, while Europeans would eventually ship at least twelve million slaves to the Americas (the estimates vary between 20 - 40 million people who were sent to the Americas as slaves from West Africa by European slave traders), they initially became involved in slave trading by selling African slaves to African purchasers. The Portuguese supplied perhaps 12,000 slaves to Akan country between 1500 and 1535, and continued selling slaves from Sao Tome and Nigeria to the Gold Coast throughout the 16th century. Before Benin imposed a ban on slave exports, a Portuguese slave trader reported that at Benin they purchased, "a great number of slaves who were bartered very profitably at El Mina. The labour of these slaves enabled the Akan to expand gold production by developing deep-level mining in addition to panning alluvial soils. Even more importantly, slave labor enabled the Akan to undertake the immensely laborious task of clearing the dense forests of southern Ghana for farming. The most prominent historian of Asante, Ivor Wilks, suggests that while some farming on a very limited scale had probably been practiced in the Ghanaian forests for millennia, only when the Akan began importing slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries were they able to shift from an economy which relied primarily on hunting and gathering to one which became primarily agricultural. As this transition to agriculture took place, Akan communities not only planted more of their traditional crops - plantains, yams, and rice - but also adopted a wide variety of new crops from the Americas, including maize (corn) and cassava, which were brought to Africa by Europeans.

Farming led to rapid increase of population in the forest region. As the population grew, small groups migrated across the Ghanaian forest, searching for good farm land. Often these groups were led, believes Wilks, by entrepreneurs who used slave labor to do the initial work of clearing forest. Later, these entrepreneurs would invite free settlers to join them, and in this way new communities were created throughout the forest. These developments set the stage for state-building in the 17th and 18th centuries. Politically ambitious groups sought not only to establish control over gold production and trading, but also to impose their authority on the new farming communities in the forest. Consequently, formerly independent villages combined together in growing states. Whereas in the late 1500s Akan country contained at least 38 small states, by the mid-1600s it had only a handful, and by 1700 only one state * Asante * reigned supreme. The events which led to the foundation of Asante began with the rise of Denkyira, a state which waged wars to gain control of the Akan gold trade between 1650 and 1670. These wars led many refugees to flee into uninhabited forest regions. Among the refugees were the clan of Oyoko, who settled at Kumasi, the town which would later become famous as the Asante capital. Initially the small town of Kumasi had no choice but to become a vassal of powerful Denkyira, a situation which required not only that it pay tribute, but also that it send a hostage to live in the court of the Denkyira ruler as his servant. The chief of Kumasi chose a nephew, Osei Tutu, to become this hostage. According to Akan traditions, after becoming a distinguished general in the Denkyira army, Osei Tutu rebelled against the Denkyira king by refusing to hand over gold booty which he had captured in war. Then Osei Tutu fled home to Kumasi. His action must have marked him as a man of exceptional courage and leadership, for when the Kumasi chief died, probably in the early 1680s, the people of Kumasi selected Nana Osei Tutu as his successor. Osei Tutu soon expanded his authority, initially by placing the communities within a radius of about fifty miles of Kumasi under his control, and eventually by challenging Denkyira itself. In wars from 1699 to 1701, he defeated the Denkyira king and forced numerous Denkyira sub-chiefs to transfer their allegiance to Kumasi. In the remaining years before his death in 1717, Osei Tutu consolidated the power of his state. Osei Tutu was succeeded by Opoku Ware, who increased Asante¹s gold trade, tried to reduce dependence on European imports by establishing local distilling and weaving industries, and greatly increased the size of Asante. At his death in 1750, his realm stretched from the immediate hinterland of the Gold Coast to the savannahs of present-day northern Ghana. By this time it controlled an area of about 100,000 square miles and a population about 100,000 sq. miles and a population of two to three million.

As Asante(Ashanti) grew, it developed an administrative structure modeled on that of its predecessor Denkyira. Historians sometimes speak about Asante's "metropolitan" and "provincial" spheres. "Metropolitan" Asante consisted primarily of the towns in a fifty-mile radius around Kumasi. The rulers of these towns, many of whom shared membership in the Oyoko clan, participated in the enthronement of Asante kings, served on the king's advisory council, and retained considerable autonomy. By contrast, outlying Akan regions were more clearly subordinate and were forced to pay tribute to the Asante rulers. The most distant districts of the state which were populated by non-Akan people annually sent thousands of slaves to Kumasi." "Opoku Ware and his successors tried to centralize power in the hands of the king, or Asantehene. They placed all trade under state agencies controlled by the Asantehene, and created a complex bureaucracy to govern and collect taxes. They curbed the power of the military by creating a palace guard whose commanders were chosen by the Asantehene(Ashanti King) himself. Asante achieved a high degree of administrative efficiency (its well-maintained roads, for example, were famous) and the ability to implement sophisticated fiscal policies. Nevertheless, the Asantehene(Ashanti King) and his state always had many opponents. Opoku Ware himself barely survived a revolt by military leaders in 1748, while towns around Kumasi resisted interference by the Asantehene bureaucracy. Much of the opposition to the king came from a class of wealthy traders. The nineteenth century brought new adversaries: British traders and colonial officials who wished to end Asante control of coastal towns and trade routes. Between 1801 and 1824, Asantehene Osei Bonsu resisted the spread of British influence, and led the defense of Kumasi when the British attacked in 1824. Although Asante had exported slaves to the Americas throughout its history, when Europe gradually ended its slave trade in the 19th century Asante was able to compensate for the decline in slave exports by increasing sales of kola nuts to savannah regions to the north. Like virtually all African societies, however, Asante was unable to prevent European colonization. Its independence ended in 1874, when a British force, retaliating for an Asante attack on El Mina two years earlier, sacked Kumasi and confiscated much of its wealth, including its artistic treasures. Kumasi was captured by the British Army in 1873 (as a result of which much of the magnificent Asante gold regalia can be seen in London in the British Museum). After a final uprising in 1901, led by the Queen Mother of Ejisu (Nana Yaa Asantewaa) Nana Yaa Asantewaa Asante came into British Protection and finally became a region of the Gold Coast colony.

Asantehene = Means "The King of Ashanti"

Culture of the Ashanti People

Culled from AGC

Village life

In Ashanti, as in much of Ghana, the village is a social as well as an economic heart of society. Everyone is expected to participate in the major ceremonies. The most popular ceremonies are funeral celebrations which typically last several days. The extended family - no matter where they live - will travel home to attend a funeral. The entire village/town and the inhabitants of its environs will also come to pay their last respects. Thus, the funeral expenses can be a huge burden on the family. Having gathered family and friends from far and wide, many often take the opportunity to conduct business or land transactions at funerals.
Ashanti Village Woman

In each village there are people of particular importance. The Chief together with the Elders maintains traditional customs and ceremonies and deals with disputes. The traditional priest and the herbalist provide a medical service which can be partly paid for in local produce (a hen, eggs etc.) as opposed to Western medicine which requires cash payment, and usually a considerable journey to the nearest hospital. The priest, when possessed by the gods, is particularly powerful at dealing with spiritual problems. The herbalist relies on local medicines to effect a cure. Many of these cures are now being investigated by research institutes both in Ghana and elsewhere as alternative remedies for many ailments, including Malaria. The linguist has no corresponding role in western society. A man wishing to consult the fetish priest or the Chief addresses his remarks to the Linguist, who then passes them on and returns the reply (even though all three people are present together). The linguist is an intermediary, acting as a buffer to reduce the severity of utterances and so save delicate situations. If the Chief should make a harsh pronouncement, it is the duty of the linguist to paraphrase and clothe the statement in proverbs.

The Ashanti Family unit

As in most developing countries, there is a strong extended family system. Poorer members may seek financial assistance from their better off relatives for school fees, medical expenses etc. But visitors are always welcomed, even if their arrival may be a cause of financial concern. In Asante, the family line is matralineal - in that it passes through the mother to her children. A man is strongly related to his mother's brother but only weakly related to his father's brother. This must be viewed in the context of a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond. As a result, in inheritance, a man's nephew (sister's son) will have priority over his own son. Uncle-nephew relationships therefore assume a dominant position. (Legislation was introduced in 1984 to change this traditional pattern of inheritance.)

Proverbs

The official language is English but this is not spoken by many villagers. The Asante are part of the Akan tribes who speak various dialects of Twi. The language is very rich in proverbs, the use of which is taken to be a sign of wisdom. Euphemisms are very common, especially about events connected with death. Rather than say "the King has died", one would say "a mighty tree has fallen". Proverbs are often used to express ideas indirectly as can be seen from the following: "Obi mfa ne nsa benkum nkyere n'agya amanfo" - this is literally "Do not point to the ruins of your father's house with your left hand" - which is equivalent to "Do not scorn culture inherited from your forefathers".

Religion

There is a universal God (Onyame) but this does not exclude gods associated with a particular region or spirits (obosum) by whom a priest may be possessed. (This lack of exclusiveness makes it possible, say, for a traditional priest to be a Roman Catholic). But there is no doubt of the existence of the Kingdom of the Dead(Samanade) so custom requires that great attention is paid to the proper conduct of burials and funeral celebrations. Death is the one great certainty. Traditional religion does not require regular attendance at particular buildings. Religion is not something that is remembered for one hour a week. The Gods and the spirits of the ancestors are always present.

The “Abusua” or Family System

The constitution of Asante (Ashanti) is based on the Abusua (Family system). There are seven established Abusua or Family Groups in Asante

Namely: Oyoko and Dako Bretuo and Agona

Asona Asenie

Aduana (Atwea, Abrade) Ekuona and Asokore

Asakyire
Wooden Craft
Every member of the Ashanti tribe is a member of one of the above Abusua or family groups and can trace their descent only through the Female Line to the same female ancestress who would invariably be the Founder of the Abusua.(Family).

The first effect of this relationship is clearly that members of one Abusua are considered to have the same blood, and marriage between them is therefore forbidden.

Abusua is not the same as clan. Whereas Abusua means (or is) a group or groups of people descended from one great-grand-mother on the maternal side, Clan is a federation of four or five different groups of Abusua or Families with one recognised head. So those members of the same clan cannot, like members of an Abusua, trace their ancestry (or Descent) through the same common ancestress. Marriage between members of a clan is, therefore, permissible, Where members of a clan do not intermarry, the group would be more of a family than a clan. A child born of any marriage in Ashanti is a member of the same Abusua or Family as its mother, and naturally comes under the chief whom its mother serves.

Inheritance and Succession
The principles governing inheritance stress sex generation and age – that is to say, men come before women and seniors before juniors. Even though the general terminilogy is one of nephew-inheritance (matrilineal) the nephew is sometimes not an automatic successor to his uncle. Very often, the property or stool in question has to move, step by step, to the last male inheritor (brother) before passing on to a male son of a female member of the mother’s family.

It is when all possible make heirs have been exhausted that the females are sought after. Among the females the order is:

1 sister

2 eldest sister’s daughter

3 sister’s daughter’s daughter

This is the line of inheritance of an individual person’s property or a chief’s stool. What needs to be mentioned here is that the character of the person to inherit is also an essential determining factor. This is because no family (Abusua) will allow a drunkard or a thief or a spendthrift, for instance, to succeed to property or a stool of a deceased rich man or eminent chief for fear that he might dissipate the wealth or bring the stool into disrepute or even discrete it.

Treasures and homes

The taking of responsibility is every Ashanti man's lot and he believes that it begins in the ownership of a home where he will be responsible for a group of the clean. Wherever he may be, in whatever circumstance he may be placed, he tries to make his home. He builds a house to accommodate himself and all those under his care. He say: Wo se akyi nnye de a eho ara na wo tafro. This is very near the saying "there is no place like home." For this reason the Ashanti's highest ambition and all his aspiration is directed to building a house and making a home. Pubic opinion is so very bitter against celibacy that the Ashanti's next pressing concern is to get married and have children.
Arts & Craft of Asanteman

Sterility is considered a most deplorable misfortune. Its unfortunate victims have to endure contempt and derision. Many build their houses and leave the father 's or maternal uncle's house soon after getting married. As he is of age, he should begin to be self-contained, self-sustained and independent. Wo aso aware a, to wo prete. "if you have reached the state of getting married, you must be able to provide yourself with dishes," is the saying that independence should be followed by responsibility which one must shoulder squarely. And yet he never stands alone in making his mind on these essential projects in life. He usually builds his house on a plot his father assigned to him. It is by the site of or behind the father's.

Marriage by Consent
The Ashanti man takes a lot of things into consideration before getting married. Union by marriage is too important to trivial treatment. The parents of a daughter must hand over the human life in their care to a really responsible custodian. No daughter will accept an offer of marriage from any an without the consent of her parents. "If my parents agree to your proposal, I shall have no objection," she will say. In practice parents choose wives and husbands for their sons and daughters. It is their responsibility to be able to solve the initial problems (with all their implications) in a lasting tie like marriage. Resulting from war efforts, the woman is the custodian of the children of the marriage and they are, in essence, hers. they claim clanship through their mother and to a larger extent, inheritance, especially since the land, the Ashanti's precious property, is known to belong to the woman and not the man But then comes the adage that if a woman weaves a shield, she stores it in a man's room. in other words what every woman acquires must belong to a man.. Marriage therefore plays an important part in the communal life of the Ashanti Nation (Asanteman), Many Ashanti wives have become known to their husbands for the first time in their first meeting as man and wife. And yet divorce is almost unknown in a true Ashanti community. Parents on both side have a duty to keep the marriage going or else break the marriage with the resultant break or a life-long tie not only between the couple but the two families. All marital leakage likely to flood and demolish the structure of a community are quickly blocked. " aware annya akyigyin a, egu." Meaning - It is the marriage that has no backing that breaks. All marriages, once contracted, should be self supporting.

Communal Life
The average Ashanti is polygamous. Many men strive to marry more than one woman to show their readiness to support a large family and their generosity. Ashanti communities are basically communal and the wealth of one should benefit all. And many men think the best way perhaps, of sharing wealth is taking two or more wives.

Despite difficulties brought about by the custom of inheritance by people other than one's own children, the average Ashanti feels a clear duty towards his wives and children. It is the father's responsibility to train his children to be truly men of valour and honesty.

Status of Women in Ashanti

Ye ko bisa aberewa "We are going to consult the old woman", places the woman as the final arbiter in all decisions in the Ashanti community. When a tribunal sits to settle a case, its members finally retire to take a decision and this final act culminating in giving justice is referred to as "consulting the old woman." The woman is the custodian of all knowledge and treasures of the community.
In Ashanti men rarely defy the women in this respect. Women are known as reputed connoisseurs and must not be challenged in their specialty. It is only among themselves that criticisms may be whispered and even insinuations made. However inferior an Ashanti woman may appear to an outside observer she is the final decisive factor in all the activities of the en and the arbiter of what is good or bad for the whole community.

Wars have been started because a Queen Mother said the war should be fought although the men and the chief would have been satisfied with a lesser punishment for the offending state. Nana Yaa Asantewaa

A whole village has been sold into slavery because the wife of a chief had led him to enter into an unholy alliance with her people. Tyrants whom the people could not remove have fallen easy prey to the wiles of a woman and then the whole effort of warring section spared. From time immemorial the Ashantis have recognised the powers of a wise woman and have made use of them. The woman as a Queen Mother was invaluable.

There is very little distinction of sex in the social grouping or organisation in Ashanti. Boys and girls mingle quite freely. Boys or men have a natural inclination to predominate, and are expected to, and they do the lion's share of the services necessary for the proper upkeep of the group. And yet there is no disregard of the status of women in the organisations. In their dance bands there are Agrohene and Agrohemmaa, the " KING" of the band and the "QUEEN". The King (Agrohene) is directly responsible for the ales and the "QUEEN" (Agrohemmaa) for the females and both are jointly responsible for the whole group. And no member repudiates either's authority their assistants and other ranks are similarly regarded and respected.

It is only in the fighting forces that women may not play a major part although there are several instances when wars have been started by women. In war time their duty is to care for the young and infirm at home and daily they keep up the home-front with dirges, prayers and patriotism (Mobeme) for the men at the front. No man of fighting age can stay at home or hide anywhere to hear the face the challenge in these songs without taking arms immediately. The insinuation can cause him to take his own life. He is Kosannkobi, wokasa obaa ano a Kobiri nku wo. Deserter, may Kobiri (an important goddess) kill you if you dare speak as a man to a woman. The man who evades going to, or escapes from, the battle-field has no claim to adultery fee if his wife commits adultery. He is not a man. He is but another woman. This is the source of the supremacy of the Ashantis fighting force. The challenge to play one's part as a man is irresistible. Added to this is the unflinching loyalty to ancestral stools and to the Golden Stool of mystery and legend.

Ashanti women are as brave and daring as the men. But for the impediment of motherhood that keeps them at the home-front they might even have outshone the men in triumphing in wars. For the situation changes when villages are attacked. The women stir the men up with war cries and supply them with stones and sticks

It is only in the fighting forces that women may not play a major part although there are several instances when wars have been started by women. In war time their duty is to care for the young and infirm at home and daily they keep up the home-front with dirges, prayers and patriotism (Mobeme) for the men at the front. No man of fighting age can stay at home or hide anywhere to hear and face the challenge in these songs without taking arms immediately. The insinuations can cause him to take his own life. He is Kosannkobi, wokasa obaa ano a Kobiri nku wo. Deserter, may Kobiri (an important goddess) kill you if you dare speak as a man to a woman. The man who evades going to, or escapes from the battle-field has no claim to adultery fee if his wife commits adultery. He is not a man. He is but another woman. This is the source of the supremacy of the Ashanti fighting force. The challenge to play one's part as a man is irresistible. Added to this is the unflinching loyalty to ancestral stools and to the Golden Stool of mystery and legend

Ashanti women are as brave and daring as the men. But for the impediment of motherhood that keeps them at the home-front they might even have outshone the men in triumphing in wars. For the situation change when villages are attacked. The women stir the men up with war cries and supply them with stones and sticks for offence or defence. If an attack was too sudden and caught the men unprepared the women especially those nursing young babies, filled in quite adequately by bringing out all accessible defensive weapons.

The last war in Ashanti history was fought under the leadership of a Queen mother in 1900. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mottates in Ashanti to take up arms against the British. She was immediately obeyed by all, whom she inspired with her unquenchable sprit. It was a typical example of the leadership which women could produce in extreme emergencies. Today there are no wars and the Ashanti woman has shifted her energies to other things particularly retail trade in which she holds, together with her other colleagues elsewhere in the county, about 80 percent of the trade returns of the country.
Girls are generally assistants in domestic duties and offer services which in other countries would be done by maid-servants. They are discouraged from spending time in games and sports as they boys do. Mothers are often blamed if their daughters turn out to be uninterested in house-keeping. In the main, sports are considered out of reach of girls. They too weak and prone to accidents for that, Their strength and energy is to be preserved and conserved for the strenuous life of motherhood that awaits them. A woman is considered to born with too much responsibility to lend herself to sports. Laziness is generally detested in an Ashanti community but it is especially despised in a woman. A woman of whom the term 'Lazy' or 'idle' can be used id utterly discredited in Ashanti. Obaa huhuni, a vagrant hoodlum of a woman, dapaafoo, the idler and kwadwofo, the lazy one, are names no woman wants to be called. She is perfectly aware of the adverse effects they could have on her and may prevent her from enjoying a successful marriage, that is if these words had not already debarred her from the romantic approach of men. Marriage with such a woman is said to be the proverbial 'nine days wonder' and the victims have usually been strangers. This is one reason why Ashanti parents rarely allow their children to marry strangers. They think that such marriages are hazardous and only indulged in by the unguided ignorant, who generally turns out to be a stranger. And, unless he has very sound reasons, no Ashanti man may in vexation or anger call his wife such names.

No Ashanti community exists without a social group or some sort and from girlhood to womanhood the daughter must seen t play an active part in the social life of the community. Withdrawal from the social life of one's age group is especially frowned on and is thought to be a serious blemish of character. One who cannot mix in a group is considered unfit for either human or animal society - Ommpe nnipa, onnse nipa nnse aboa. The strength of the belief in the importance of social communion can be seen where reference is made to the other world in these terms- Asamanfo po pe dodo na etese teasefo (Even the dead pray for increase in their number in Hades how much more the living).

The Ashanti spends time and much energy to fit his off-spring into society. Lessons on greetings and repries start very early in life. Youth are taught to comport themselves at gatherings. Parents are blamed for the impoliteness and uncouth bearing to their children. Bad breeding produces bad citizens and parents are blamed for bad citizens in Ashanti.

Except in the matter of passing death sentences and enforcing them nothing in the organisation of social life is peculiar to Ashanti. It is Akan . All Akans of Fanti, Assin, Denkyira, Buem, Akwamu, Akwapim, Akim, Kwahu, Ashanti and Brong are the same in their organised social communities. Apart from slight variations in customs they are one and can be welded into an inseparable unit in this if not in all other aspects of life. The word "AKAN" is said to drive from Kann (patently clean and free from adulteration, or light and free from darkness). And so the people in Ghana known as Akans feel that their social heritage is distinctive.

They think:

A CHARGE TO KEEP WHAT THEY HAVE,
THE HUMAN RACE TO GLORIFY;
ALL OTHER NEIGHBOURS TO SAVE;
AND RAISING HUMAN ESTEEM HIGH.

The Ashanti thinks that by being born Ashanti (Asante) he has been ordained by the deity to bring into world all that is best in the human race.

Golden Stool

Ghana was the first African country to gain independence in 1957. Its constitution makes provision for traditional leaders like the King of the ancient Ashanti tribe. Producer Jan Lampen and presenter Manu Padaychee explored the myths and rituals of the Ashanti.

A drum-roll is the ancient call of the Ashanti Kingdom. The voice of a proud nation. For centuries, the drums have called warriors to war. Echoing through the forests of West Africa, they have announced the arrival of kings and mourned the death of Queens. Today, the drums are still beating, but some say they are now talking of changing times.

While the current King of the Ashanti, Otumfuo Opoku Ware the second, still occupies the Royal Courts the elders are already casting their eyes on a possible heir. And in the corridors of power candidates are preparing for the battle of the stool. The Ashanti stool is a symbol of power and status. Every Chief has one. But there is only one stool that is cast in solid gold.

This is the Golden Stool

This is a replica of the stool. Not many people have seen the original and only the King and his most trusted advisers know where it is hidden. As Ashanti legend has it, around 300 years ago one of their wisest and greatest priests called together the Ashanti in a effort to unite the nation. He commanded from the sky a symbol that would unite them. Amid thunder and darkness there descended from the sky the golden stool which floated down and landed on the lap of the priest. That stool represents to this day the very essence of Ashanti unity.
In search of the Golden Stool, we find ourselves in Ghana. A 200km road connects Accra with Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti nation.

The roads into the interior of the country are all that remain of the fifteenth century colonial invasion. From Europe they came in shiploads looking for gold. And in this Ashanti region they found it. In fact, so many golden artefacts were exported that by the seventeenth century, the European currency had become gold-based.

This is the palace of the Ashanti King Otumfuo. From here he rules over a third of Ghana’s population of 17 million people. Somewhere in the maze of passages in the palace rests the soul of Ashanti nationhood - the golden stool. Because of his ailing health, the King could not grant us an interview. But his son, the Prince Nana Akyempe-hene agreed to lift the veil on Ashanti culture. If only ever so slightly...

PRINCE AKYEMPE-HENE: EVERYTHING THAT IS REASURED IS HIDDEN IN A SECRET PLACE... WE'VE PROTECTED THE STOOL BY PUTTING IT IN A VERY SECURE PLACE WHICH PERHAPS IS ONLY KNOWN TO THE KING AND A FEW ATTENDANTS. IT IS RARELY SEEN. BEING OF GOLD, IT IS APPEALING TO EVERYONE AND WHO KNOWS, IF IT IS BROUGHT OUT EVERY DAY A CRIMINAL MAY ONE DAY POUNCE ON IT AND TAKE IT AWAY.

Carried on the shoulders of a royal bearer, the golden stool has never touched the ground. It is considered so sacred that no-one has ever sat on it. On rare festive occasions, it is placed on an elephant skin next to the King. On more than one occasion, the Golden Stool has been the cause of full-scale war. The 1873 Ashanti-British war was particularly brutal. It is believed that Ashanti warriors decapitated their enemies and made effigies of their heads which now adorn the stool. It is no wonder then, that the British demanded to be given this seat of power when they finally crushed the Ashanti Army at the turn of the century.

Alongside the traditional chiefs, Great Britain continued to rule the Gold Coast Colony until 1957 when Ghana gained its independence. Despite the fact that the British never got their hands on the golden stool, they did have a major impact on the Ashanti culture.

Prince Akyempe-hene for instance, completed his law degree in London and subsequently helped the central government of Ghana to implement a Western-style democracy. Whether it works for Ghana is an open debate. But for now, the Prince has swapped his lawyer's robe for traditional Kente cloth and he has returned to claim his chieftancy and his stool.

The role of traditional leaders is entrenched in Ghana's Constitution. In return, the Prince and all the paramount chiefs have had to cede political power to the central government. Some would argue that this trade-off undermines the Ashanti's traditional value systems. Prince Akyempe-hene does believe that the increased interaction between traditional Ashanti culture and the west has lead to a dilution of tradition, but culture is a dynamic thing he says and he feels confident that they are doing their best to preserve the core of Ashanti culture.

According to the Prince, Ashanti culture is rooted in a system of extended families. In fact, most of the cases brought to his council involve family matters. With a linguist sitting on his right, he listens to both sides of an argument and then tries to mediate a compromise. If there is a case of serious wrongdoing, punishment or a fine can be meted out. The most serious cases are referred to the King.

Nana Akyempe-hene will never be King because the golden stool is passed down matri-lineally. Several nephews on his mother’s side of the family are currently jostling for the position. In the meantime, the King is hardly seen in his traditional council and has cut down on public duties. The Prince now finds himself with a double work-load. He never expected to come back to his traditional roots, but once his father asked him to come back, he really had no choice. Prince Akyempe-hene has completed the circle. As a young boy in the King's courtroom, he learned the Ashanti ways. But it was the British that moulded his character and introduced him to European culture. In a strange twist of fate, his story is the mirror image of another tale.

Thirty-six years ago a young school teacher named Alan Cole left England and came to Ghana. He is still here. Today he is known as Nana Osei Bediako Firaw and is the only white chief of the Ashanti nation. It is a position that does not sit too well with his family back in the U.K.

ALAN: THEY THINK I’M SORT OF LOOSE UP HERE, BUT I’M ENJOYING MYSELF... I HAVEN’T DIED YET. I’VE PUT ON CONSIDERABLE WIEIGHT IF ANYTHING, SO I DON’T THINK THEY NEED TO WORRY.

For almost thirty years Alan taught geography, mathematics and English. His contribution to the people of Kumawu was finally rewarded when they presented him with a stool - making him a full Ashanti Chief. Married to a local Ashanti woman and with two children, Alan has more than assimilated the Ashanti culture. He is a complete convert. Without an Ashanti family tree of his own, Nana Alan did not have his own traditional stool to claim. One had to be made. Carved from solid wood, it is believed that whoever sits on it, surrenders his soul to the stool.

A 100 years ago, the funeral of an Ashanti King was a traumatic experience. He was buried with a live entourage. Fortunately, this custom as been abandoned. But the ritual of blackening the stool, Alan tells us, still takes place. An animal is slaughtered and blood mixed with dark fat is used to blacken the stool of the deceased before it is placed in a secret stool room where no-one is allowed except for the official stool guardian.

Alan Cole... or Nana Osei Bediako Firaw, as he now prefers to be called, has only been back to the UK once, in 1967. He did not like what he saw. He does not even have a British passport anymore and on his meagre Chief’s salary, he does not foresee any extensive travelling. Ghana is not a bad place, he says, and if he was given the same choice again, he would follow the way of the stool.

Perhaps in every tale there is something lost and something gained. Prince Akyempe-hene has lost his army of mighty Ashanti Warriors, but he gained a far more powerful weapon. Peace.

WE ARE ASHANTIS WITHIN GHANA, THEREFORE OUR FUTURE OUR PROSPERITY IS LINKED TO THAT OF ALL THE OTHER TRIBES IN GHANA. WE STAND FOR OUR TRADITIONAL VALUES, VALUES OF FAIRNESS, RESPECT, HONESTY, INTEGRITY AND OF EACH BEING OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER.
The Prince believes that western values have caused the break-up of Africa’s extended family system. It is time to unearth the mythology and legends of the past, he says. It is time for Africa to heal herself.

Sikadwa Kofi

As A symbol of nationhood, and because if contains the sumsum or Soul of Ashanti (Asante), the Golden Stool is considered to be so sacred that no person whatsoever is allowed to sit upon it. It is kept with the strictest security and precaution; and is taken outside only on exceptionally grand occasions. Never must it come in contact with the earth or the ground.

It is always lying on its own stool or on the skin of an animal such as the leopard. Ashantis have on many occasion made great sacrifices to defend it when its safety had been threatened. In 1896 they submitted to the deportation of their King, Prempeh I, rather than resort to a war in which they feared they might suffer defeat and risk the loss of the Golden stool. They deemed the loss of their King a small thing compared with the loss of their Golden Stool.

Two other incidents show how much importance the Ashantis attach to the Golden Stool. In March 1900, the governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson went to Kumasi to demand the surrender of the stool. "Where is the Golden Stool", he asked "Why am I not siting on the Golden Stool at this moment?.. Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool, to give it to me to sit upon..?" This was a tactless and terrible mistake arising out of complete ignorance of the symbolism of the stool. the Golden Stool was not a kingly throne, but the resting-place of the nation's soul. The speech was heard in silence. When the assembly broke up, every man went home and prepared for war. Three days later, war broke out between the Ashantis and the British in which the Ashantis were finally subdued. the Ashantis, Ashanti and British War 1900 however, claimed victory because they fought only to preserve the Golden Stool; and this they achieved.

The second event took place twenty years afterwards. a group of African road-builders accidentally came across the hiding place of the Golden Stool. They robbed it of its gold ornaments. The whole of Ashanti was thrown into alarm, and people put on their mourning cloths. the British officials, realising the seriousness of the situation, took a very wise course of action the culprits were arrested and the Kumasi Council of chiefs permitted to try them according to traditional custom. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The Council considered the crime a serious one and therefore imposed the death penalty. Bit the British later commuted the sentence to perpetual banishment.

The Ashantis have always been proud of the uniqueness of the Golden Stool when the king of Gyaman, called Adinkra, made a golden stool for himself, the Asantehene was so annoyed that he led an army against Gyaman. Adinkra was totally defeated near Bontuku, and his head cut off. The Asantehene then ordered that Adinkra's golden stool should be melted down and cast into two masks, to represent Adinkra's face. These masks were hung one on each side of the Ashanti Golden Stool.

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Ma ku Mbôngi, ka matômbulawanga za ko. "The community's political institution does not borrow foreign dialects to discuss its political matters or to educate its' members" – Kikôngo proverb “The history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of Egypt [...] The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest or objective, nor unruffled, he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic.” – Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality "African champions must break the chain that links African ideas to European ones and listen to the voice of the ancestors without European interpreters." – Jacob Carruthers, Mdw Ntr
Ọbádélé Kambon, PhD Email: info@abibitumi.com Skype: obadele.kambon Paypal: www.paypal.me/akali Abibifahodie Family of Websites:
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Posted : 06/05/2008 10:34 pm

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