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Ashanti, or Asante, are an Akan people who live predominantly in Ghana and Ivory Coast. They speak Twi, an Akan dialect. Prior to European colonization, the Ashanti people developed a large and influential empire in West Africa. The Ashanti later developed the powerful Ashanti Confederacy or Asanteman and became the dominant presence in the region.
Ghana has a variable terrain, coasts and mountains, forests and grasslands, lush agricultural areas and near deserts. The Ashanti settled in the central part of present-day Ghana, about three hundred kilometres from the coast. The 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 7 million people (roughly 19% of the Ghanaian population, speaking Asante, also referred to as Twi, a member of the Niger–Congo language family.) Their political power has fluctuated since Ghana's independence, but they remain largely influential. The former president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor is Ashanti. Kofi Annan, the past U.N secretary General was also raised and brought up in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region. The majority of the Ashanti reside in the Ashanti Region, one of the administrative regions of the country. Kumasi, the capital of the current Ashanti region, has also been the historic capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. Currently, the Ashanti region of Ghana has a population of 3,812,950, making it Ghana's most populous administrative district.
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.
Asantehene Prempeh I
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 in the 1670s. 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.
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 'Golden Stool' (sika 'dwa) actually tells of the birth of the Ashanti kingdom itself. In the seventeenth century, in order for the Ashanti to win their independence from Denkyira, then another powerful Akan state, a meeting of all the clan heads of each of the Ashanti settlements was called. In this meeting, the Golden Stool was commanded 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 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 Ashanti 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 is sacred to the Ashanti, as it is believed that it contains the 'Sunsum' — 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 not just sacred; it is a symbol of nationhood, a symbol that binds or unifies all Ashanti.the stool was believed to be so sacred not even the king was allowed to sit on it.
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 has not been seen by many and only the king and trusted advisers know the hiding place. 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 at risk. 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 the death penalty was imposed. But the British intervened and the sentence was commuted to perpetual banishment.
The Ashanti have always been proud of the uniqueness of their Golden Stool, and it was a symbol of not only their independence, but a common bond between their people. When the King of Gyaaman, Adinkra, made a Golden Stool for himself, the Asantehene was so annoyed that he led a massive army against him. Adinkra was completely destroyed near Bondoukou, and he was decapitated. The Asantehene then proceeded to order the melt down of Adinkra's golden stool, and for it to be made into two masks, to represent his "ugly" face. These masks remain hanging on each side of the Ashanti Golden Stool to this day.
Ashanti yam ceremony, 19th century by Thomas E. Bowdich
The Ashanti strongly resisted attempts by Europeans, mainly the British, to subjugate them. The Ashanti aligned themselves with the Dutch to limit British influence in the region. Britain annexed neighbouring areas. The Ashanti were described as a fierce organized people whose king "can bring 200,000 men into the field and whose warriors are evidently not cowed by Snider rifles and 7-pounder guns"
Ashanti was one of the few African states able to offer serious resistance to European colonizers. Between 1823 and 1896, Britain fought four wars against the Ashanti kings (the Anglo-Ashanti Wars). In 1900, the British finally defeated the kingdom and incorporated it into the Gold Coast colony as a protectorate.
Because of the long history of mutual interaction between Ashanti and European powers, the Ashanti have the greatest amount of historiography in sub-Saharan Africa. The British touted the Ashanti as one of the more civilized African peoples, cataloguing their religious, familial, and legal systems in works like R.S. Rattray's Ashanti Law and Constitution.
Relations improved, however, and in 1926 the Asantehene was restored ceremonial control over Kumasi. In 1935 the full role of leader of the Ashanti people was restored.
In modern Ghana, there is no cultural group which comprises a majority of the population of the country of Ghana. While the entire Akan population make a plurality 49% of the population, Ashanti, Fante and other Akans make up that percentage. However, it is estimated that Ashanti are 19% of Ghana's population which makes it the largest of the cultural groups in Ghana, followed by Fante, the Ewe and Ga. The former president John Kufuor is an Ashanti and was elected in part with their support.
Ashanti are largely Protestant and Catholic Christians; the major denominations represented are Methodist, Catholic and Anglican, although Pentecostalism is growing in popularity.[dubious – discuss]