Asante (Ashanti) Empire was an African Empire located in present day Ghana, Togo, and Ivory Coast, in the latter part of the 1600s. For much of the 1800s, the empire dominated the region. The empire was founded by the Asante ethnique, speakers of Twi of the Akan cluster of the Kwa sub-family in the Niger-Congo Group.
The Asante Empire has its beginnings with Osei Tutu, who united the Asante people under one state, as represented by the golden stool-said to hold the soul of the Asante people. Legend says, the stool was brought to earth by priest and royal advisor Okomfo Anokye. Osei Tutu introduce new military organization and ways of fighting to the Asante militia. Asante was a vassal of Denkyira, the largest Akan state at that time. She paid taxes to the denkyirahene. By 1701, Asante's army conquered the Empire of Denkyira, which gave the empire access to the coastal trade with Europeans, especially the Dutch at Elmina Castle. Osei Tutu died in 1717, at which time the state of Akim (Akyem) came under Asante hedgemony.
Opoku Ware (1720-1750) succeeded as asantehene. Opoku Ware's ascension was racked with dynastic conflict. Dako, a rival, lost his life. Dako's people eventually left the Asante nation, with the ascendency of Opoku Ware, founding the Baoule nation in Ivory Coast. Opoku expanded the empire further. He first defeated a revived coalition of Denkyira, Sefwi, Akwapim, and Akim(Akyem). He invaded the kingdoms of the Black Volta-Tekyiman, Banda, Gyaaman, and Gonja. The state of Dagomba was conquered between 1744-1745. The Asante Empire acquired control of the middle Niger trade routes. Under Opoku Ware, the role of women was diminished. Asante society was matrilineal and women played significant administrative roles. Men began to fill administrative functions of the empire.
Kusi Obodom (1750-1764) succeeded Asantehene Opoku. He consolidated conquered territories, while introducing administrative reform in the civil service. Osei Kwadwo(1764-1777) re-initiated expansion and pursued consolidation of territories. Osie Kwame(1771-1803) and Osei Tutu Kwame(1804-1823) pursued expansion and consolidation. Between 1811-1814, the Fante was defeated and brought under Asante hedgemony. After 1820, the entire Gold Coast was under Asante control and her authority supreme.
In 1902, Asante was defeated by the British, after great resistance by heroine Ya Asantewa and made a crown colony.
Kumasi was the capital of the empire and residence of the asantehene.The asantehene was selected via maternal descent. Administrative post would be filled by paternal descent, but later the asantehene would fill positions based on merit, so the lowest in the society would rise in the ranks of the empire. The empire maintained faraway contacts with Timbucktu, Tripoli, Mecca, and Europeans nations. Dignitaries from the latter countries and capitals could all be found in Kumasi.
Each town or province was maintained by an administrator assigned by the asantehene. Order was maintained by the ankobia(special police). They were stationed at Kumasi and all major towns. Members were hand-picked by the asantehene. The ankobia served as personal bodyguards to the asantehene and provided special intelligence. They thwarted rebellion against the state, dissent from rivalry to the throne, and machinations of troublesome territories.
Communication was key to controlling the empire. A network of long and wide roads traverse the provinces. People and goods travelled from the Atlantic coast to the Niger River, through well maintained roads. Trade in slaves, from wars and gold mining were major economic activities.
The Asante was able to win numerous military battles and proved overwhelming to her enemies largely due to her military formation. Asante military organization assumed the shape of a plane. The nose was comprised of a party of scouts. The fuselage was made up of columns of soldiers, followed by the commander of the army and staff. The tail occupied by rear guards. The wings had five columns of warriors. Medical staff stood in the rear.
Ashanti architecture is perhaps best known from the reconstruction at Kumasi. Its key features are courtyard-based buildings and walls with striking reliefs in mud plaster, brightly painted. An example of a shrine can be seen at Bawjwiasi in Ghana. Four rectangular rooms, constructed from wattle and daub, lie around a courtyard. Animal designs mark the walls, and palm leaves cut to tiered shape provide the roof. The average house like the shrine, had four rectangular rooms surrounding a courtyard. Some were 2 to 3 stories in height and could hold 80 people. The side facing the street would sometimes have storefronts, trade shops, or balcony. Roof were made of palm leaves. A trellis embedded with clay formed the wall.
The palace of the Asantehene was a huge structure containing 12 oblong courts, with arcades on one side and several squares. Its walls were decorated.
Major long avenues, on a north/south orientation, occupied the Ashanti state and Akan towns. Side streets joined into major avenues at right angles. All major avenues in Kumasi had names.
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