The Ashanti Empire: A window into its history and culture

Samuel Sullivan
Flag of the Ashanti peoplePhoto byWikimedia Commons

The Ashanti Empire was among the most powerful western African nations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Located in present-day Ghana, the Ashanti Empire had gold, enslaved people, and military might.

The Ashanti Empire was a fascinating nation that held its own against the British for over 100 years. Buckle up for some surprising facts.

The Golden Stool

The Golden Stool is the symbol of sovereignty for the Ashanti Kingdom. Made from gold, Ashanti legend says the Stool was commanded down from the heavens by the advisor of the first Ashanti King, Osei Tutu I.

The Stool is so sacred that each new King is ceremoniously lowered over it without actually touching it. No one is allowed to sit on the 18-inch high golden artifact. No King could be considered legitimate without possession of the Stool.

The Golden Stool finds itself at the center of the Ashanti flag.

Wealth and Power

Located along the African Gold Coast, it’s no surprise the Ashanti Empire was wealthy. But when your currency is gold dust, it’s a good sign for the economy.

The Ashanti Empire was adept at trading products such as gold, kola nuts, and various other crops. They also made large profits in the slave trade that they used to buy weapons, including guns, from the Europeans.

Enslaved people made up a significant portion of the population. On the one hand, enslaved women could marry Ashanti men, and the children of all Ashanti enslaved people were born free. On the other, there are accounts of slaves being sacrificed during funerals or other customs.

The Ashanti established a strong central government and military. This organization of the kingdom propelled them to wealth and power.

Women in Ashanti Society

Women had a prominent role in the Ashanti Empire. Some even had central leadership and military positions. For example, Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother, inspired the Ashanti Kings to go to war against the encroaching British in 1900.

Women were also involved in economic life. They often operated as traders with other nations. However, European colonization was harmful to African women’s rights. The Europeans outlawed women from certain leadership positions to mirror their patriarchal society.

Family Rituals

The royal family was at the top of the hierarchy of society. One female line provided the chief of each chiefdom. The eligible men would meet and vote to elect the new chief from amongst themselves. As opposed to following a defined line of succession, politics played a more significant role in who was in charge.

The community participated in ritual funerals to ensure the deceased’s soul transitioned to the ancestral world. The whole community shared grief for the dead.

Lucky Number 3

Triplets were a sign of good luck, and mothers with triplets were greatly honored. Each family’s third, sixth, and ninth child was considered lucky. On the other hand, the fifth child was considered unlucky. Unlike three, five was an unlucky number. Twins in the royal family were considered a sign of fortune to come.

Families with many children were highly regarded in society, and women who could not have children were scorned.

100 years of war with the British

The Ashanti Kingdom fought many wars with the British. This included five wars from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. Every battle was hard-fought and bloody. The Ashanti were formidable fighters, and it was hard for the British to earn a decisive victory.

It took years for the British to gain ground, but in 1897, the Ashanti territory became a British protectorate after the 4th Anglo-Ashanti War.

Even though Yaa Asantewaa and the Ashanti lost the 5th and final Anglo-Ashanti War, they retained the Golden Stool, a crucial societal victory.

Legacy of the Ashanti Kingdom

The Ashanti are an important ethnic group in Ghana to this day. The current King, Osei Tutu II, has held the title since 1999. The emblem of his majesty shows a red spiked porcupine on a golden background, as it has since 1701. The porcupine signifies unrelenting ferocity in battle, while the background color signifies wealth.

The mother of famous music artist Ashanti was interviewed for Jet magazine in 2002. She explained how she chose her daughter’s name:

“It is a tribe, and what’s cool about it is that in a lot of countries, women are low on the totem pole. But in the Ashanti tribe, women are respected.”

Final Thoughts

The Ashanti remain proud with a rich culture and traditions worth learning about. But, unfortunately, their impacts on society are often forgotten or overlooked, at least by the western world, as they wound up on the losing side of European conquest.

The Ashanti Empire challenges many stereotypes about African nations. For example, they did not easily bend to colonial rule and quickly adopted European weaponry. From how their society was structured to the key roles women played within that societal structure, the Ashanti Empire gives us a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexity of African history.

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