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Backgrounder: Ghana and the Ashanti People

Ghana, a country on the west coast of Africa, is one of the most thriving democracies on the continent. It has often been referred to as an "island of peace" in one of the most chaotic regions on earth. It shares boundaries with Togo to the east, Cote d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. A recent discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea could make Ghana an important oil producer and exporter in the next few years.

The country's economy is dominated by agriculture, which employs about 40 percent of the working population. Ghana is one of the leading exporters of cocoa in the world. It is also a significant exporter of commodities such as gold and timber. A country covering an area of 238,500 square kilometres, Ghana has an estimated population of 22 million, drawn from more than one hundred ethnic groups - each with its own unique language. English, however, is the official language, a legacy of British colonial rule.

In 1957, Ghana (formerly known as the Gold Coast) became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence. After leading the country for nine years, the nation's founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a coup d'etat in 1966. After Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana was ruled by a series of military despots with intermittent experiments with democratic rule, most of which were curtailed by military takeovers. The latest and most enduring democratic experiment started in 1992, and it is what has gained recognition for Ghana as a leading democracy in Africa.

Ghana has several tourist attractions including castles. Most of the major international airlines fly into and from the international airport in Accra. Domestic air travel is thriving and the country has a vibrant telecommunications sector, with five cellular phone operators and several internet service providers.

The ‘Asantes’ or ‘Ashantis’

According to historians, the Ashantes were among the group of people called Akans. These Akan people were said to have migrated from Mesopotamia to Africa.  It is said that the Akans either shared the same boundaries with the Israelites or were of the same stock as the Israelites before they migrated to Africa. According to them, they formed part of the Ancient Ghana Empire.

The early ancestors of the Asantes lived in clans. Each of the clans was ruled by a king. People belonging to these clans claimed to be the children of one woman, so they were brothers and sisters. Since it was a taboo for brothers and sisters to marry each other, when one needed a partner, one had to go to another clan for the partner. This system of inter-marriage resulted in the creation of alliances among clans, therefore one clan had to go to the aid of another when the latter was attacked because nobody would want to see his children taken into captivity.

Love prevailed among these clan states. As time went on, petty wars develop among their states due to minor provocations. The wars paved the way for their opponents from other tribes to conquer them and take them into captivity.

Research has it that later, Asante states came together because of the war against their tyrannical overlord, the Denkyira people.  The expression given to the union idea was “Because of war” in Twi meaning: Esa Nti. This thus became the name of the states forming the union, i.e., “Esa Nti foo” later polluted to “Asantefoo.”

As the Asante nation grew powerful it started with the unity plan, the objective of the founding fathers of the union.  The unity idea was crowned with the descent of the Golden Stool which all of them vowed to protect and defend.  The chief of Kumase state on whose laps the Golden Stool descended thus became the Asantehene and the custodian and was referred to as the occupant of the Golden Stool.

The Asante Nation known as “Asanteman” is therefore a homogenous society comprising a number of states all serving one King known as “Asantehene.” Each of the individual states has her Paramount Chief and all the Paramount Chiefs owe allegiance to the Asantehene.

The individual states forming Asanteman have the same culture and speak the same language.  The states united in the seventeenth century to form the Asante Nation.

In Asante, the inheritance of stools is mostly based on matrilineal clan system.  However, some stools are inherited paternally.  The occupants of such stools had special gifts or traits which the Asantes believe pass on from the father to the son who would inherit him.  Such traits include bravery and the skill for performing special assignments.

The Asantes are lovers of farming and trading. The largest market in West Africa can be found in Kumase, in the Ashanti Region.

Kumasi was in the past called “Gold Coast” because it is the center of Gold in Ghana.