The study of Asante offers the opportunity to study “the kingdom of gold”: one of the richest, most powerful and most enduring dynasties in West Africa, located in what is now Ghana, and flourishing between c.1695 and the rise of British colonial rule in the late 19th century.
Asante’s wealth in gold was famous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with the famous “golden stool” (throne) defining royal power and authority, as the seat of the Asantehene (or ruler). The importance of gold to Asante economy and society is eloquently expressed through the beautiful Asante gold weights, of which millions survive to this day. These brass weights were carved into tens of thousands of different exquisite symbolic shapes, and were used to weigh out the gold dust which was the key currency of the kingdom.
Asante’s capital at Kumasi arose in 1695 in response to the earlier and previously more powerful kingdom of Denkyira to the south, in the heart of the gold mining territories. Its origins are tied to a heroic prince, later Asantehene (King) Osei Tutu I, and his spiritual advisor Okomfo Anokye. Arising in part due to the growing importance of warfare (“Asante” deriving from “esahntefor” or “because of war”, in the Twi language), Asante rapidly evolved into a powerful militarised state with a complex bureaucracy and representative legislative councils in the 18th century. Trading both with North African and European powers, this was a kingdom with global reach and fame in the early modern period.
During the 19th century the growing rise of European capital and empire began to erode Asante’s hegemony over the region of what is now Ghana, and a series of Anglo-Ashanti wars followed. In 1900, the famous Queen Mother Yaa Asaantewaa led a powerful war of resistance against British imperial power, before Asante was eventually incorporated into the Gold Coast colony in 1902.”