AN EPITOME OF MODERNITY IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RULE
AN EPITOME OF MODERNITY IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RULE
Some, they say, are born great, others achieve greatness, and others have greatness bestowed on them. William Shakespeare of England, one of the greatest writers the world has ever known, had this to say in one of the numerous books he wrote.
Into which of these categories, one may ask, does Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene (i.e King of the Asantes) fit?
For me, even if Otumfuo Osei Tutu II was destined to be crowned King as some may be tempted to think, he worked towards the greatness he has achieved. Even though born into the Asante (sometimes spelt Ashanti) royal household (i.e the Oyoko Clan of Kumasi), the King started from very humble beginnings and by dint of hard work has reached this far. Unlike other places in the world where one could be crowned King by accident of birth that of the Asantes or the Akans in Ghana is quite democratic. Among the Asantes or the Akans, qualification to occupy a stool is not automatic. In the event of vacancy more candidates vie for the position and out of the lot one candidate is chosen. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II had to go through such process. We will next discuss the biography of the King.
WHO THEN ARE THE ASANTES?
Geographically, the Asantes are predominantly found in the central part of present day Ghana. However apart from the central part of modern-day Ghana, Asantes are found in other parts of the country. Academics and Anthropologists argue that the Asantes are identified not solely by their geographical location but also by their language, culture and tradition. Historians and Anthropologists have said that the Asante state which emerged in the Central part of Modern Ghana in the latter part of the 17th Century as a Union of a few Akan clans clustered around Kumasi in the Central part of Modern Ghana, dominated the politics and trade in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) from about 1690 until it was finally defeated by the British in 1901 largely through technological superiority and unconventional warfare.
The late Professor J. K. Fynn described the greatness of Asante succinctly in one of his books as follows: “The history of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the 18th and 19th centuries is largely the history of the rise and consolidation of the Asante Kingdom and its relations with the neighbouring African and European peoples”.
Professor Ivor Wilks, the Herskovits Professor Emeritus in African History, North Western University in an article that appeared at page 15 of the April 1999 issue of the GHANA REVIEW INTERNATIONAL had this to say about ASANTE – “It is a well known saying that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it. The Asantes have always known their history and so have avoided becoming trapped in an unchanging past. Whether a sovereign state before 1901, a Crown Colony between 1901 and 1957 or a part of the Republic of Ghana since 1957, Asante has been able, on one hand, to adapt and adjust to global changes and on the other hand to maintain its cultural identity”. He continues “it is often said that the history of Asante is better known than that of any other African Kingdom South of the Sahara”.
An American Scholar in the person of STANLEY M. ELKINS had this to say on the ingenuity of Asante – “A meaningful comparison between such a society and that of medieval Europe would be difficult, but the political federation of the Ashantis (Asante), their traditional constitution, their tax and revenue structure and their military system entitles one to argue that they (i.e the Asantes) must have had an institutional life at least as sophisticated as that of Anglo-Saxon England”, see page 20 of Ghana Review International cited earlier.
DAVID KIMBLE, an English Historian has also added “Asante could be said to be the nearest approximation to a modern nation (in Africa) that was reached independent of European influences”.
Of all the Kingdoms that emerged in the area of present day Ghana, Asante was the largest. It extended from parts of today’s Ivory Coast in the West to parts of modern Republic of Togo in the East and from the Atlantic Coast in the South to an undeterminable area to the North. Indeed at the apogee of its power which was the beginning of the 19th Century, the empire covered more than seventy percent of the
land area of Modern Ghana and her sphere of influence extended beyond the frontiers of the country. Who then were instrumental in the founding, the rise and the consolidation of ASANTE?
THE MAKING OF ASANTE
King Osei Tutu I, (Opemsuo) is reputed to be the founder and builder of the Asante Nation. And he did this with the aid of his spiritual, constitutional and political advisor Okomfo Anokye. Historians trace his reign from the last decade of the 17th Century to the first two decades of the 18th Century. He united small states like Tafo, Kaasi, Amakom etc. that surrounded Kumasi and subsequently subdued the Dormaas and drove them away to their present-day abode. He then established a town of his own creation KUMASI which became the capital of the Asantes.
THE INSTITUTION OF THE GOLDEN STOOL
A very important institution of the Asante is the Golden Stool. The creation of the Golden Stool stemmed from the idea of making a visible concrete object the focal point of sentiment and national unity. To this end, at a gathering of the chiefs and people of Kumasi at Dwaberem, Okomfo Anokye conjured from the skies amidst thunder and clouds the Golden Stool which came to rest on King Osei Tutu’s lap.
The importance of the Golden Stool lies in the fact that it serves as the symbol of Unity for the Asantes. It gives Asante its national character. It is the symbol of nationality for the Asantes. The Golden Stool contains the soul and spirit of Asanteman and all its strength and bravery depend on its continued existence. It is the Golden Stool that legitimizes the office or position of the Asantehene.
After the institution of the Golden Stool, Osei Tutu Opemsuo and his political and constitutional adviser Okomfo Anokye provided Ashanti with an unwritten constitution. In this constitution only the descendants of King Osei Tutu Opemsuo (like Otumfuo Tutu II) are to inherit the Golden Stool. And since then it has been so.
The next institution established was the Odwira Festival. To give Asante a national character, King Osei Tutu I, on the advice of Okomfo Anokye, established the Odwira
festival. The Odwira served to unite Asante together. The Asantehene first celebrated his Odwira before his Amanhene did theirs. Another important institution created was the Great Oath of Asante (Ntamkese) and the Asante Parliament. They also formed part of the Asante constitution. These institutions imbued the Asante with a high sense of patriotism and determination to accomplish all task in the name of the Golden Stool.
It is instructive to note that, the Asantes who had not been properly united recalled with bitterness the humiliating defeat they suffered from the Dormaas during the time of Obiri Yeboah. With the defeat of the Dormaas under the leadership of King Osei Tutu I (Opemsuo) the hopes and aspirations of the Asantes to unite under him (i.e Opemsuo) rekindled. Obviously, the institution of the Golden Stool must have further rekindled their hopes and aspirations for unity. The desire and willingness of the Asantes to unite under King Osei Tutu Opemsuo was given a final touch with the coming into being of the Golden Stool. The small states therefore, for the first time united with King Osei Tutu I (Opemsuo) as the military political and constitutional Head of the Union.
As the unity of these independent states had become symbolized in the Golden Stool, and King Osei Tutu I (Opemsuo) had been chosen as the constitutional and militant Head of the new Nation it was considered meat and proper that the old pre-Asante symbols of political authority, for example stools and whatever should be virtually buried at Kumasi and that was accomplished. It was in fact considered improper that any stool in the nation should be regarded as having preceded the Golden Stool.
After the creation of these institutions, King Osei Tutu I with the able assistance and cooperation of the other chiefs forming the union embarked on wars of conquest and expansion. The Denkyira and some states were conquered. King Osei Tutu is said to have died in 1717 when he was ambushed by some Akyem assailants whilst crossing the River Pra.
In acknowledgement of the ingenuity of King Osei Tutu Opemsuo this is what the late Professor Emeritus Adu Boahen says at page 26 of his book Topics in West African History, ”He was undoubtedly a brave fighter, a brilliant constitutional architect and an able administrator and he certainly deserves the place of honour and esteem that he has enjoyed since his death among the Asantes”.