Lost Kingdoms of Africa episode 5 – The Kingdom of Asante: Asante in West Africa was a kingdom that was built on gold and slaves, which ensured its important place in an economy that linked three continents.
We know less about Africa’s distant past than almost anywhere else on Earth. But the scarcity of written records doesn’t mean that Africa lacks history – it is found instead in the culture, artefacts and traditions of the people. In this series, art historian Dr Gus Casely-Hayford explores some of the richest and most vibrant histories in the world, revealing fascinating stories of four complex and sophisticated civilisations: the Kingdom of Asante, the Zulu Kingdom, the Berber Kingdom of Morocco and the Kingdoms of Bunyoro & Buganda.
In this episode, Dr Casely-Hayford travels to Ghana in West Africa, where a powerful kingdom once dominated the region. Asante was built on gold and slaves, which ensured its important place in an economy that linked three continents. He reveals how this sophisticated kingdom emerged from the unlikely environment of dense tropical forest and how it was held together by a shared sense of tradition and history – one deliberately moulded by the kingdom’s rulers.
Lost Kingdoms of Africa episode 5 – The Kingdom of Asante
The Asante Empire (Asante Twi: Asanteman) was an Akan empire and kingdom from 1701 to 1901, in what is now modern-day Ghana. It expanded from the Ashanti Region to include the Brong-Ahafo Region, Central Region, Eastern Region and Western Region of present-day Ghana as well as some parts of Ivory Coast and Togo. Due to the empire’s military prowess, wealth, architecture, sophisticated hierarchy and culture, the Ashanti Empire has been extensively studied and has more historic records written by European, primarily British authors than any other indigenous culture of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Starting in the late 17th century, the Ashanti king Osei Tutu (c. 1695 – 1717) and his adviser Okomfo Anokye established the Ashanti Kingdom, with the Golden Stool of Asante as a sole unifying symbol. Osei Tutu oversaw a massive Ashanti territorial expansion, building up the army by introducing new organisation and turning a disciplined royal and paramilitary army into an effective fighting machine. In 1701, the Ashanti army conquered Denkyira, giving the Ashanti access to the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean coastal trade with Europeans, notably the Dutch. The economy of the Ashanti Empire was mainly based on the trade of gold and slaves.
The army served as the effective tool to procure captives. The Ashanti Empire fought several wars with neighboring kingdoms and lesser organized groups such as the Fante. The Ashanti defeated the British Empire’s invasions in the first two of the four Anglo-Ashanti Wars, killing British army general Sir Charles MacCarthy and keeping his skull as a gold-rimmed drinking cup in 1824. British forces later burnt and sacked the Ashanti capital of Kumasi however, and after the final Ashanti defeat at the fifth Anglo-Ashanti War, the Ashanti empire became part of the Gold Coast colony on January 1, 1902. Today, the Ashanti Kingdom survives as a constitutionally protected, sub-national traditional state in union with the Republic of Ghana. The current king of the Ashanti Kingdom is Otumfuo Osei Tutu II Asantehene. The Ashanti Kingdom is the home to Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana’s only natural lake. The state’s current economic revenue is derived mainly from trading in gold bars, cocoa, kola nuts and agriculture.