The Ashanti created an empire the size of Great Britain, 24,560 square miles, by the time the first Europeans, the Portuguese, tried to fight against the military might of these proud people in 1482. In ancient times the Ashanti unified many tribal units and set up a strong government among the Akan-speaking people in the middle part of what is today the independent nation of Ghana, along the western coast of Africa.
The first king to organize the Ashanti confederacy into a military state was king Osei Tutu who reigned from 1700 to 1730 from the modern city of Kumasi. Tutu’s adviser, the Priest Anokye originated the myth of the Golden Stool as a divine symbol of unity. Anokye declared that this Golden Stool contained the spirit and soul of the entire Ashanti nation; the Stool became the symbol of the new nation’s authority. According to Ashanti legend, Priest Anokye called down the Stool from Heaven in a black cloud. Amid loud peals of thunder, the Stool slowly descended and rested on King Tutu’s knees without touching the ground. To this day, the sacred stool is never to touch the ground, and has its own special chair to rest on. According to Anokye, the greatness of the Ashanti was embodied in the stool. It was never to be captured by an enemy or be destroyed. Should this happen, the Ashanti nation would fall. (Budu-Acquah, pp. 27-28)
Using the Golden Stool as a unifying force, the Ashanti conquered its rival neighbors, many of whom were past masters of the Ashanti. Success followed success, victory followed victory. The Ashanti seemed invincible until 1730, when Osei Tutu was killed by the enemy while crossing a forbidden river on his way to conquer his rival kingdom, the Akim.
After Osei Tutu died, King Opoku Ware kept the Ashanti resolve to struggle to maintain their hard-won dominance and kept expanding the Ashanti kingdom. They began to move to the Atlantic Coast, and conquered the people there to protect Ashanti safety and to expand trade with the European nations.
In a series of wars against the Fante, a coastal people who had a monopoly of trade with the British, the Ashanti fought for most of the nineteenth century. During the sixth war that broke out, the British, as allies of the coastal tribes, directly fought against the Ashanti. It took many years, thousands of British troops and cannon before the Ashanti, fierce fighters that they were, were defeated. Finally, in 1902, the Ashanti land was declared a British colony by treaty. But this occurred only after the famous “YEa Asantewa War” in which the brave Queen Mother YEa Asantewa actually led the Ashanti armies in an attempt to keep the famous Golden Stool that the British Governor had ordered them to turn over. During this final war against the British, the Ashanti unity was broken and many of the Ashanti states, tired of Ashanti control, sided with the British. Even so, it took the British nearly a year to subdue the fired-up Ashanti and capture the Queen.
Even in defeat, the Ashanti remained a proud people and have kept their local rulers and customs alive even to the present day. Ashanti rulers and chiefs were instrumental in helping to achieve a life-long dream, independence of the nation of Ghana, which became a sovereign state in 1957 under the Presidency of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.