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Ashanti Confederacy

The Ashanti Confederacy was a powerful state in West Africa in the years prior to European colonization. It was located in what is today southern and central Ghana.

The confederacy was one of a series of kingdoms along the coast including Dahomey, Benin, and Yoruba. All of these states were based on trade, especially gold, ivory, and slaves, which were sold to first Portuguese and later British and Dutch traders. The region also had dense populations and large agricultural surpluses, allowing the creation of substantial urban centres.

The Confederacy formed in the late sixteenth century under Osei Tutu ruler of Kumasi who subjugated the thirty or so small kingdoms to Kumasi rule. This was done in part by military assault, but largely by uniting them against the Denkyira , who had previously dominated the region. Osei Tutu and his successors oversaw a policy of political and cultural unification and the union had reached its full extent by 1750. It remained an alliance of several large towns which acknowledged the suzerainty of the ruler of Kumasi, known as the Asantehene. The Asantehene was crowned on a sacred Golden Stool, the Sika 'dwa that came to symbolize their power.

The Asantehene was the sole person allowed to sentence people to death and was the leader of the Ashanti in wartime. In times of conflict each member of the confederacy would have to send troops to the Asantehene's army. Each member of the confederacy was also obliged to send annual tribute to Kumasi.

All other governing powers were left to the members of the confederacy. Each of these were ruled by a governing council made up of the powerful men of the community.

The history of the confederacy was one of slow centralization. In the early nineteenth century the Asantehene used the annual tribute to set up a permanent standing army armed with rifles, which allowed much closer control of the confederacy. Despite still being called a confederacy it was one of the most centralized states in sub-Saharan Africa.

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. But Britain still annexed neighbouring areas, including the Fanti. In 1806 disputes with the Fanti lead to the Ashanti-Fante War, in which the Ashanti were victorious. In the 1811 Ga-Fante War the Ashanti were less successful, but still captured a British fort. In 1814 the Ashanti launched an invasion of the Gold Coast, thoroughly routing the tribes allied with the Europeans.

In 1826 the first of a long series of direct wars between the Ashanti and British began. The well-armed Ashanti fought off the British forces. In the subsequent treaty the two sides agreed to thirty years of peace. The Ashanti borders were acknowledged by the British, but the Ashanti were forced to acknowledge British control of most of the coast.

Later conflicts were less successful for the Ashanti. In 1863 the Ashanti again invaded the British coastal possessions, but were rebuffed and the important coastal town of Elima fell to the British. In 1874 the British took the offensive invading the Ashanti homeland, and for one day even occupying Kumasi. The British formally declared the coastal regions to be the Gold Coast colony.

The Ashanti kingdom, cut off from traditional trade routes slowly fell apart until in 1900 the British finally subdued the kingdom and annexed it to the Gold Coast. Sporadic fighting by Ashanti partisans continued for a number of years as the Asantehene was forced into exile.

Relations improved, however, and in 1926 the Asantehene was given ceremonial control over Kumasi. In 1935 the full role of leader of the Ashanti people was restored, but limited to purely ceremonial functions.

Upon independence the Gold Coast became known as Ghana. The hereditary Ashanti crown continues to be honoured by the Ashanti people alongside the authority of the state.

Last updated: 12-17-2004 01:53:01