The Ashanti (also known as Asante) people live in Southern Ghana. There are about 1.5 million people in the Ashanti nation. They speak a dialect of Twi, called Asante. They are world famous goldsmiths and are best known in America for their Kente cloth, a fabric originally worn by the royalty of the Ashanti. According to Ashanti legend, a golden stool descended from heaven and rested on the knees of the first Ashanti king called the Ashantehene.
Today the Ashantehene still rules the Ashanti people and the Golden Stool is still the most importan icon in their culture. They believe that the golden stool contains the souls of all Ashanti people and embodies the strength in their nation.
History: According to Christopher D. Roy. Professor History of Art, from the University of Iowa he writes that the rise of the early Akan centralized states can be traced to the 13th century and may be related to the opening of trade routes established to move gold throughout the region. It was not until the end of the 17th century, however, that the grand Asante Kingdom emerged in the central forest region of Ghana, when several small states united under the Chief of Kumasi in a move to achieve political freedom from the Denkyira. It is said that the Golden Stool of the Asante descended from heaven to rest on the knees of Osei Tutu, the first Ashantehene, who was guided by his adviser the priest Okomfe Anokye.The Golden Stool became the focal point of the creation of the Akan confederacy, of which the most important people were the Asante. The Asante dominated Ghana for the next 200 years and are still a dominant political force today.
Economy: The early Asante economy depended on the trade of gold and enslaved peoples to Mande and Hausa traders, as well as to Europeans along the coast. In return for acting as the middlemen in the slave trade, the Asante received firearms, which were used to increase their already dominant power, and various luxury goods that were incorporated into Asante symbols of status and political office. The forest surrounding the Asante served as an important source of kola nuts, which were sought after for gifts and used as a mild stimulant among the Muslim peoples to the north.
Political Systems: The Asante developed a highly centralized, semi-military government with a paramount chief known as the Asantahene. The Asantahene, who inherited his position along matrilineal lines, had numerous chiefs below him throughout the kingdom who acted on his behalf.
Religion: The spiritual centre of the Asante alliance is the mystical Golden Stool. It is believed to have descended out of the skies in the late 17th century as a result of the prayers of Okomfo Anokye, chief priest of the King of Asante, Nana Osei Tutu. The stool was presented to the people after the defeat of the Denkyira, and Anokye declared that it contained the spirit of the whole of the Asante nation and that all of the strength of the nation depended on the safety of the stool. Essentially, the stool embodies the political unity of the Akan states and the power of the chiefs of Asante. Another essential part of Asante religion is the honouring of departed kings who are represented by stools which have been blackened during a sacrificial ceremony. The deceased are honoured by fired-clay memorial heads. Although the golden stool is clearly a more visible representation of the spiritual link to the King, it is the blackened stool that truly honours the strength and continuity of the throne.