The West African country of Ghana has a fascinating history. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan country to achieve independence from a colonial power, takes its name from a medieval trading empire. One of Ghana’s major cities, Kumasi, is also the former seat of the Ashanti Empire. In the last half-century, Ghana has been defined by the legacy of Pan-African nationalist Kwame Nkrumah’s efforts to achieve political and financial independence for his nation.
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Although Ghana takes its name from another empire, the Ashanti Empire was located in what is now Ghana. The Ashanti were a group of Akan-speaking people who established a state centered on Kumasi in the 16th century. For several centuries the Ashanti traded with European powers, providing first gold and then slaves. By the 19th century, however, the empire’s primary rival became the British. A series of five Anglo-Ashanti wars took place, with the Ashanti winning the first two (and killing British general Sir Charles MacCarthy in one of them) before finally becoming absorbed into the British colony of the Gold Coast.
Osei Tutu was the fourth ruler of the Ashanti Empire. Reigning from 1701 to 1717, Tutu centralized the Ashanti Empire under a single ruler, known as the Asantehene. With Tutu as Asantehene and Okomfo Anokye as second-in-command, the Ashanti Empire reached its zenith. It covered parts of the modern African countries of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso (once known as Upper Volta).
THE GOLD COAST The Gold Coast was the British name for the colony that would eventually become Ghana. The British crown formally established the Gold Coast colony in 1821. They expanded its borders by purchasing territory previously owned by the Danish and Dutch, as well as waging war on the neighboring Ashanti Empire and Fante Confederacy. The Gold Coast continued to grow in size, merging with neighboring British Togoland and fully absorbing the Ashanti Protectorate (see below) following World War II.
WAR OF THE GOLDEN STOOL
Beginning with the reign of Osei Tutu, the Golden Stool was the traditional throne of the Ashanti Empire. In 1896 the British had exiled the Ashanti Asantehene, King Prempeh, and seized his treasures. However, the Golden Stool was hidden. This angered the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, who demanded that the Stool be given to England. This demand in turn enraged the Ashanti and led to a general uprising in 1900. The uprising was suppressed, and the Ashanti Empire was annexed into the Golden Coast. However, the Ashanti were allowed a limited degree of self-governance as a protectorate, and did not have to surrender the Golden Stool.
The first African-born prime minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was involved in the Pan-African movement following his time attending college in the United States. Returning to Ghana (still known at that time as the Gold Coast) after World War II, Nkrumah formed a political group known as the Convention People’s Party (CPC). The CPC used a nonviolence approach called “positive action” to advocate against British rule. Nkrumah’s efforts helped achieve independence for the Gold Coast in 1957, and he served as prime minister of the newly independent nation of Ghana. Nkrumah was affiliated with the Non-Aligned Movement and sought to implement social welfare policies in Ghana, but he was also criticized for authoritarian tendencies. A group known as the National Liberation Council overthrew Nkrumah in 1966, and he spent the rest of his life in exile in Guinea.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Nkrumah was an early influence on the philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr.
What was Ghana called before the British colonized it as the Gold Coast?
Kwame Nkrumah worked tirelessly (but unsuccessfully) to achieve unity among African nations against the threat of imperialism. Learn more about his efforts here.
Watch this video to learn more about the significance of the Golden Stool for the Ashanti Empire:
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