The Powerful African Kingdom of Ashanti
The Ashanti – also knowns as the Asante – Kingdom was impressive in both size, strength, and culture.
Like most African cultures, the Ashanti were run by the women. The so-called ‘rights of selection’ – the process of choosing leaders – were performed by the senior woman of the Kingdom. Only she could choose who could be the next Asantehene – or leader.
The legal system was also as complicated as those in existence today, and communications were just as effective. The Ashanti invented the “talking drum”, a system of drums designed to communicate messages up to 200 miles (321.8 kilometers) away as rapidly as a telegraph could.
But of all these accomplishments, none matched Ashanti military accomplishments. At its height, the Ashanti Army was 80,000 deep. Armament was primarily with firearms, but some historians hold that indigenous organization and leadership probably played a more crucial role in Ashanti successes.
From the 1600s and onward, European demand for gold and slaves on the coast, and Mande migrations from the north following the fall of the Songhai empire meant an explosion in trading activity in West Africa. A series of divided clans rose and fell, all of which tried to control the trade routes from the rich Akan gold fields to the African coast. To the south of the Akan gold fields, the rich and powerful states of Denkyira and Akwamu rose. By 1640, the Fante culture had settled on the coast and their states were beginning to be established. They became prominent in the slave trade with the Europeans. These two states flourished despite wars and mutual invasions until the 1700s when they were conquered and absorbed by the last and the greatest Akan states – the Ashanti Empire.
The Ashanti empire began to rise as a superpower when they unified the clans of West Africa into one nation.
In 1699, the Ashanti King Osei Tutu (who reigned from 1689 – 1717) the various Ashanti clans began to expand from the Ashanti heartland around the trading center of Kumasi. In 1701, they conquered the state of Denkyira. A period of great Ashanti expansion occurred during Okpu Ware’s reign (1717-1750). Between 1720 and 1735 , a new state – Akim – rose up to control Akwamu’s territories. Ashanti conquered Akwamu and Akim in 1742, and followed with more conquests in the north, taking Gonja, Dagomba, and Nanumumba by 1750.
Thus, by 1800, the Ashanti Empire had come to include much of modern-day Ghana, and parts of Togo and the Ivory Coast.
The 1800s were marked by commercial rivalry between the Fante states, their ally Britain, and the Ashanti. The objective was to gain control of the valuable trade routes from the interior of Africa out to the coast.
In 1824, the British became increasingly more nervous about Ashanti power. They launched an attack on the empire under the pretense of “liberating the Fante states”. This was the first of many Anglo-Asante Wars.
While the Asante won the first war with their impressive military might, their victory was not to be repeated. The British brought all the might and manipulation they could muster upon the Ashanti. The Brits gathered up as many Fande slaves as they could and sent them screaming into Ashanti territories. From 1824 onward, British gunships and slaves were thrown into the bloody fray against the Ashanti until the empire finally collapsed and became a British possession in 1902.
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