A Short History of the Ashanti Empire in West Africa

By: JOANNA NAYLER


posted on: December 6th, 2016

The Ashanti Empire (also spelled Asante) was an empire and kingdom in West Africa. It lasted from the late 17th century to the early 20th century and covered central Ghana, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. The Ashanti Empire was one of the richest empires that has ever existed in Africa and had a very complex and sophisticated government.

THE FIRST ORIGINS OF THE ASHANTI EMPIRE

The ancient Ashanti people first migrated into the forests of present day Ghana in around the 13th century and formed many small states. The Ashanti Kingdom was first established in the 1690s by King Osei Tutu, who united over 30 smaller groups into one. The Kingdom grew quickly as it made alliances with neighbouring people.

The Ashanti people were very powerful militarily. They used firearms earlier than other areas nearby and used effective fighting strategies. The name “Asante” actually means ‘because of war’. Their effectiveness militarily allowed them to build up a very large empire and by 1750 it was the largest and most powerful in the region.

The Ashanti Kingdom had a very sophisticated government. The central government had a lot of control and people paid taxes to them. The Golden Stool, a chair made of gold, was the symbol of the King and his power. It was believed to have come down from heaven and was a symbol which was used to unite the people. Some Ashanti people still see the Stool to be sacred to this day.

THE ASHANTI KINGDOM WAS VERY RICH IN RESOURCES

A special kind of cloth, named Kente cloth, is associated with the Ashanti Kingdom. ‘Kente’ means basket or woven cloth. According to legend, two farmers saw a spider spinning web. They were amazed by the beauty of the web and rushed home to try and recreate it by weaving. They then presented the cloth that they wove to the King Osei Tutu. This cloth became associated with royalty and was usually made of silk, an expensive fabric. Today, Kente cloth is a popular item to buy in Ghana and West Africa.

The Ashanti Kingdom had a good trade with other areas of Africa because it contained much gold, allowing the Kingdom to become very wealthy. Gold was used as the currency and even poorer people decorated their clothing with gold dust. The Ashanti Kingdom also contained many fertile lands and forests. Later in the period, in the 19th century, the Kingdom also traded lots of goods with Europe (including gold, ivory and slaves). In fact, by the early 19th century, the Ashanti Kingdom was making most of its money from trading slaves. This made money for the Ashanti Kingdom but led to wars with neighbouring areas.

HOW THE KINGDOM CONTINUED AFTER THE 19TH CENTURY

The Kingdom began to grow less powerful from the late 19th century. The Kingdom fought several wars against the British and gradually became weaker and smaller. For example, the Ashanti Kingdom lost some of its southern land in 1874 after losing a battle to the British. This land became the Gold Coast colony. The Kingdom came under the control of the British in the early 20th century, but became independent when modern day Ghana was founded in 1960. During the 20th century, cocoa production became very important in the area of the Ashanti Kingdom. Today, Ashanti Kings are still elected, though they are not involved in national politics. The longevity and rich culture of the Ashanti Kingdom makes it a fascinating topic to study.

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