In life, people fight to the death to protect anything that means everything in their lives. For this case, the Golden Stool was a symbol concerning the origin of the Ashanti people. The Stool represented everything it meant to be an Ashanti, and the protection of the Golden Stool against foreigners (British) was of utmost importance to the Ashanti.
The Golden Stool and Its Origins
The Golden Stool is the royal or noble and divine throne of kings and rulers of the Ashanti people and the symbol of might in Asante. According to legend, Okomfo Anokye, High Priest and one of the two principal founders of the Asante Confederacy caused the Golden Stool to come from the sky and land on the lap of Osei Tutu, the 1st Asante ruler. Such seats were customarily symbolic of a chieftain’s leadership, but people believe that the Golden Stool houses the Asante state’s spirit (living, dead, and those yet to be dead).
Each Stool is a seat of the owner’s soul, and when not in use, people place it against a wall so that other souls passing by may sit and relax on it. The Golden Stool is the noble throne and must never touch the floor or any ground; instead, people should place it on a blanket. During the inauguration, people raise and lower a new ruler or king over the Stool without touching it. In solemn events, people place or position the Golden Stool on the ruler’s left on a throne of its own, the hwedom dwa.
The Appearance and Craftsmanship of the Golden Stool
The Golden Stool is a curved seat that is over 40 cm high with a platform of 61 centimeters and around 25 cm deep. Its entire surface has gold decoration and bells to warn the ruler or king of looming danger. Many have not seen it, and only the Queen, King, Ofosu Sefa Boakye, and trusted councilors know the secret hiding place. The Golden Stool is one of the chief focal points of the Asante in the present-day because it still shows or depicts power and succession. Each Stool is created from a single block of the wood of Alstonia boonei and carved with a crescent-shaped seat, complex support structure, and a flat base. Alstonia boonei is a tall forest tree with numinous relationships or associations.
The several designs and symbolic meanings mean that every Stool is different and unique or distinct. Each has a separate or different meaning for the individual whose soul it seats. Some designs have animal images or shapes that recall the individual or person who used them. Other cultures have copied the general form of Asante stools.
Okomfo Anokye gave a warning that:
“If the enemies of the Asante Kingdom of Ghana ever destroy or capture the precious Golden Stool, the entire Kingdom or Empire would descend into war or chaos.”
Okomfo Anokye was also a traditional healer of the Ashanti Kingdom, and people respected him as the wisest and greatest sage of the Asante people.
Brief Description of the Ashanti Empire
The Asante Empire was the Akan Kingdom and Empire from the early 18th century (1701) to mid-20th century (1957), in what is now present-day Ghana. It grew from Ashanti to include the Brong-Ahafo region, Eastern region, Central region, and the Western region of modern-day Ghana and some areas of Ivory Coast and Togo. Due to the Kingdom’s military prowess, architecture, wealth, sophisticated culture, and hierarchy, the Ashanti Empire has been under extensive studies or research. It has more books which Europeans have written, especially British authors.
In the late 17th century, Osei Tutu, the Ashanti ruler, and his adviser Okomfo Anokye formed the Ashanti Empire with the Golden Stool of Asante, a primary unifying symbol. The Ashanti King oversaw an enormous Ashanti territorial increase, building up the military by introducing a new organization and turning a disciplined noble and paramilitary army into a reliable combating machine. In 1701, the Ashanti army seized Denkyira, giving the Ashanti access to the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean coastal trade with the Dutch.
The Ashanti Kingdom fought many wars with close empires, and lesser organized ethnic groups such as the Fante. The Ashanti defeated the British Kingdom’s invasions in the 1st two of the four Anglo-Ashanti Wars, murdering and keeping Sir Charles McCarthy’s skull, British army general, as a gold-rimmed drinking cup in the 19th century. Because of British enhancements or improvements in weapons tech, looting, and burning of Kumasi, and the last defeat of the Ashanti at the 5th Anglo-Ashanti War, the Ashanti Kingdom became part of the Gold Coast territory in 1902.
In present-day, the Ashanti Empire survives as a constitutionally protected, traditional sub-national nation in union with Ghana’s Republic. The current ruler of the Ashanti Empire is Otumfuo Osei Tutu, the 2nd Asantehene. The Kingdom of Ashanti is the home to Lake Bosumtwi, the only natural lake located in the Ghanaian state. The nation’s current economic income is mainly from trading in cocoa, gold bars, agriculture, and kola nuts.
The Anglo-Ashanti Wars (Earlier Wars and the 5th War)
The Anglo-Ashanti Wars were a sequence of five 19th century chaos between 1824 and 1900 between the Ashanti Kingdom and Great Britain and its friends or allies. The British force negotiated peace agreements in several of these conflicts, with the last war resulting in the British burning of the capital and official occupation of the Ashanti Kingdom in 1900. The disputes or wars were mainly because of the Ashanti attempts to form or establish a stronghold over modern-day Ghana’s coastal regions. Coastal groups such as Ga and the Fante came to depend on the British’s protection against Ashanti invasions.
During the earlier times, the British got involved in three previous wars in the Gold Coast. These include the Ashanti-Fante War of 1806 to 1807. The British force refused to release or hand over two rebels that the Ashanti pursued. Eventually, the British force handed one over while the other ran away. In the Ga-Fante War of the early 19th century (1811), the Akwapim seized a British fort at Tantamkweri and a Dutch fortress at Apam.
In the Ashanti-Akim-Akwapim War of 1814 to 1816, the Ashanti beat or defeated the Akim-Akwapim alliance. The native Dutch, British and Danish governments had to come to terms and agreement with the Ashanti. By 1817, the Ashanti were growing with a military of more than 15000. So, the African Company of Merchants signed an agreement of friendship that acknowledged Ashanti claims to sovereignty over the coast. The African Company of Merchants became non-existent in 1821, and the British authorities or governments assumed control of the trading stations on the Gold Coast from the traders.
The 5th War (War of the Golden Stool)
Tech was reaching the Gold Coast. A railway to the capital of Kumasi began in the late 19th century (1898) but hadn’t progressed far when another conflict broke out. The railway was to end in the early 20th century (1903). In the War of the Golden Stool (25th March 1900), also known as the 3rd Ashanti Expedition, Sir Frederick Hodgson, the British representative, committed a political mistake. He committed the error by wanting to sit on the sacred Golden Stool, not comprehending that it was the noble or royal throne and sacred to the Ashanti. Mitchell Hodgson ordered his men to search for the sacred Golden Stool of the Ashanti. This act angered the Ashanti, and they attacked the soldiers engaged in the search for the Golden Stool.
The British force withdrew to a small stockade. More than 5 Europeans, dozens of mixed-race colonial officials, and over 450 Nigerian Hausas with six field guns and four Maxim guns protected themselves. The British kept several elite leaders in the fortress. The Ashanti besieged the stockade, which the British had retreated to, and cut the telegraph wires. Later, a rescue party of more than 660 arrived in June, but they could not evacuate many sick men in the fortress. The healthier men ran away, including Frederick Hodgson and his wife and more than 50 Hausas, and met up with the rescue team. They managed to avoid a large number of Ashanti soldiers.
On 14th July, a 2nd relief force of about 1000 managed to reach the capital of Kumasi, having combated several engagements along the route, relieving the fortress the next day when they had a few days of supplies left. The remaining Ashanti court, which the British had not taken or exiled to Seychelles, had mounted the offensive against the Fanti and British soldiers’ residents at the Kumasi fortress but were unsuccessful.
Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of Ejisu, who had led the revolt, other Ashanti leaders, and the Ashanti King, Prempeh the 1st, went to Seychelles (exiled). The Ashanti territories became part of the Gold Coast colony on 1st January 1902, as mentioned earlier, on the condition that non-Akan foreigners or the British would not violate the Golden Stool. The Ashanti people claimed a victory as they had successfully protected and guarded their sacred Golden Stool.
In September, the British forces sent flying columns to visit neighboring peoples who had backed the uprising or rebellion, resulting in several skirmishes. The British and their associates suffered more than a thousand fatalities. According to estimates, the Ashanti casualties were around 2000. King Prempeh, the 1st who was in exile, returned in 1924, traveling to the capital of Kumasi using a special train.