The Ashanti Empire is regarded as one of the most prosperous and strongest states to ever emerge out of West Africa and in Africa in general.Also spelt as the Asante, the Ashanti Empire was a West African state that occupied part of modern-day Ghana in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Ashanti were an ethnic subgroup of Akan-speaking people and were composed of small chiefdoms. The Ashanti rebelled against the suzerain state of the Denkyira. After several struggles, some of them being crushed, the Ashanti saw Osei Tutu rise as the Asantehene, or the king of the newly formed Ashanti Empire. He established his capital at Kumasi. The Golden Stool symbolized the unity of the state, it was the sole unifying factor in the state, to which all other kings and conquered states were subject to.
According to legend, a meeting of all the clan heads of each of the Ashanti settlements was called just prior to declaring independence from Denkyira. In this meeting the Golden Stool was commanded down from the heavens by Okomfo Anokye, chief-priest or sage advisor to Asantehene Osei Tutu I and floated down from the heavens into the lap of Osei Tutu I. Okomfo Anokye declared the stool to be symbolic of the new Asante Union (the Ashanti Kingdom), and allegiance was sworn to the stool and to Osei Tutu as the Asantehene. The newly declared Ashanti union subsequently waged war against and defeated Denkyira. The stool remains sacred to the Ashanti as it is believed to contain the Sunsum — spirit or soul of the Ashanti people.
From the beginning of the 18th century, the Ashanti people were actively involved with the British in trade. They supplied slaves to the British and in turn they would be given firearms, which helped them enforce their territorial expansions. After the death of Osei Tutu in either 1712 or 1717, a period of uncertainty ensued, but normalcy and stability were soon restored under the leadership of Opoku Ware (ruled c. 1720–50), under whom Asante reached its fullest extent in the interior of the country. Kings Osei Kwadwo (ruled c. 1764–77), Osei Kwame (1777–1801), and Osei Bonsu (c. 1801–24) established a strong centralized state, with an efficient, merit-based bureaucracy and a fine system of communications.
In 1807 Osei Bonsu occupied southern Fante territory—an enclave around British headquarters at Cape Coast; in the same year, Great Britain outlawed the slave trade. Declining trade relations and disputes over the Fante region caused friction over the following decade and led to warfare in the 1820s. The Asante defeated a British force in 1824 but made peace in 1831 and avoided conflict for the next 30 years.
Gold was the major product of the Ashanti Empire. Osei Tutu made the gold mines royal possessions. He also made gold dust the circulating currency in the empire. Gold dust was frequently accumulated by Asante citizens, particularly by the evolving wealthy merchant class. However even relatively poor subjects used gold dust as ornamentation on their clothing and other possessions. Larger gold ornaments owned by the royal family and the wealthy were far more valuable. Periodically they were melted down and fashioned into new patterns of display in jewelry and statuary.
Endless wars with neighbouring states and conquered states always posed an incessant threat to the survival of the state. Wars with the neighbouring Fante from 1807, which subsequently sucked in the British too made the sate very weak and oft times an ominous threat of the crumbling of the state always loomed menacingly ahead of them. In 1807 Osei Bonsu occupied southern Fante territory—an enclave around British headquarters at Cape Coast; in the same year, Great Britain outlawed the slave trade. Declining trade relations and disputes over the Fante region caused friction over the following decade and led to warfare in the 1820s. The Asante defeated a British force in 1824 but made peace in 1831 and avoided conflict for the next 30 years.
In 1863, under Kwaku Dua (ruled 1834–67), the Asante again challenged the British by sending forces to occupy the coastal provinces. In 1869 the British took possession of Elmina (over which Asante claimed jurisdiction), and in 1874 an expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley marched on Kumasi. Though Wolseley managed to occupy the Asante capital for only one day, the Asante were shocked to realize the inferiority of their military and communications systems. The invasion, moreover, sparked numerous secessionary revolts in the northern provinces. The old southern provinces were formally constituted the Gold Coast colony by the British later in 1874. Asante’s king Kofi Karikari was then deposed, and Mensa Bonsu (ruled 1874–83) assumed power.
He attempted to adapt the agencies of Asante government to the changed situation. Although he reorganized the army, appointed some Europeans to senior posts, and increased Asante resources, he was prevented from restoring Asante imperial power by the British political agents, who supported the northern secessionist chiefs and the opponents of central government in Kumasi. The empire continued to decline under his successor, Prempeh I (acceded 1888), during whose reign, on January 1, 1902, Asante was formally declared a British crown colony, the former northern provinces being on the same day separately constituted the Protectorate of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast.
When Britain designated the Ashanti Kingdom as a protectorate, the Ashanti Kingdom was restored to self-rule on 31 January 1935. Asante King Prempeh II was restored in 1957, and the Ashanti Kingdom entered a state union with Ghana on independence from the United Kingdom.