Location: Southern Ghana, Africa.
Population: 1.5 million.
Language: Asante (Akan cluster of Twi).
Neighbouring Peoples: Baule, Fante, Ewe, Dagomba.
Types of Art: Aside from the small seating chairs which they are famous for, the Asante are best known for their other royal arts, which include staff and umbrella finials, lost wax cast gold jewellery, and brass gold weights. Kente cloth is a high-prestige textile that was originally woven from imported silk and now is woven of rayon and other synthetics. Kente cloth has been worn in Ghana by rulers and since independence by commoners as well, and it has also become an important African-American cultural symbol, despite the fact that basically all slaves to the North America's was sub-tribes sold by the Asante to the Arab Hausa and Mande slave traders. They in turn sold the slaves to the Europeans.
History: 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 slaves and 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 mainly 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, in exchange 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. He also had many counsellors with whom he conferred before making decisions. The Asantahene still plays an important role in Ghana today, symbolically linking the past with current Ghanaian politics.
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.
Credits: Christopher D. Roy. Professor History of Art - The University of Iowa.