The Queen Mother and the Golden Stool of Ashanti

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The Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana West Africa, was founded in the seventeenth century by King Osei Tutu I, with the help of his feared Priest Okomfo Anokye. The myth is told that Okomfo Anokye conjured the famous Golden Stool from the sky and landed it on the lap of King Osei Tutu, the first King of the Ashantis. The Fetish Priest declared that the soul of the nation resided in the stool and the people must preserve and respect it. Ashantis believe that just as a man could not live when his soul is taken, so the Asante people would disappear from history if ever the Golden stool were taken away from them. Covered with pure gold, the Golden Stool is never allowed to touch the ground. When a new Ashanti King is installed, he is merely lowered and passed over the stools three times without touching it. Whenever the golden stool is taken out on special occasions, the Asantehene follows it.

 

The Ashanti Kingdom was rich in gold reserves, hence it grew in popularity and became the center of the gold trade, which was largely responsible for the development of Ghana into a powerful, centralized kingdom. The peoples of West Africa had independently developed their own gold mining techniques and began trading with people of other regions of Africa and later Europe as well. At the time of the Kingdom of Ghana, gold was traded for salt that came down from the Sahara desert. The Ghanaian kings controlled the gold that was mined in their kingdom and implemented a system of taxation for their people. Around 1054, the Almoravid rulers came south to conquer the Kingdom of Ghana and convert the people to Islam and it was another 400 years before the first Europeans arrived on the Gold Coast of Ghana.  Arriving in 1471, the Portuguese encountered the Ashanti Kingdom’s control of the gold deposits. By 1482, the Portuguese had built the Castle of Elmina and several forts along the coastline, from where they traded knives, salt, mirrors, rum and guns for gold. News of the successful trading spread quickly, and eventually English, Dutch, Danish, Prussian and Swedish traders arrived as well. Originally interested in trading in gold and spices, the Portuguese set up colonies on the uninhabited islands of São Tomé in the 16th century. There they found that these volcanic islands were ideal for growing sugar, a labor-intensive undertaking. Portuguese settlers were difficult to attract due to the heat, lack of infrastructure, and hard life. Hence, to cultivate the sugar the Portuguese began to seek the use of the more resilient African laborers. Soon, Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast, which was originally built with African labor by the Portuguese, became an important depot for slaves.

 

In 1821, the British government steadily began the expansion of their colonial power through the invasion of local kingdoms, particularly the Ashanti and Fante confederacies. Abolishing the African Company of Merchants, the British seized privately held lands along the coast, taking over the remaining interests of other European countries, annexing the Danish Gold Coast in 1850 and the Dutch Gold Coast, including Fort Elmina, in 1871. The Ashanti people, who had controlled much of the territory of Ghana before the Europeans arrived started to resist the British and fought three wars with the British colonial invaders. Believing the Stool to be the rallying force of the Ashanti’s and the cause of the people’s continued resistance of colonial rule, the British Governor demanded for the stool, which was also desired by the British for its legendary beauty and obvious value. Topped with a curved seat that is 46 cm high with a platform 61 cm wide and 30 cm deep, the Golden Stool’s entire surface is inlaid with gold.  In order to protect the stool, Asantehene Prempeh 1 surrendered himself and was sent into exile in 1896. Now certain of victory, the British governor, Lord Hodgson, demanded that the Asanti turn over to the British the Golden Stool. Below is a record of Hodgson’s speech to the people of the Ashanti Kingdom:



Last Updated on Monday, 16 February 2015 20:19
Written by Samira I. Hassan


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