The Asante people were originally one of a number of Akan people, all paying tribute to the Denkyira. They lived in what today is modern Ghana - not to be confused with Ancient Ghana.
In the 1670s, a new and extremely effective ruler emerged among the Asante called Osei Tutu. He overthrew the Denkyira and established Kumasi as his seat of power. By the 1700's, Osei Tutu had control over all the gold fields. With gold, the Asante could buy the best in modern weaponry from Europeans.
Opoku Ware, Osei Tutu's successor, carried on expanding the kingdom, so that it covered most of Ghana. The kingdom combined a strong military tradition, with great agricultural productivity. Out of Asante spread a great trade network leading west across the Atlantic Ocean and North across the Sahara, dispatching gold, slaves, ivory and kola nuts.
Besides gold, the slave trade was also a source of great wealth. The number of slaves exported annually at the end of the eighteenth century, from what was then called the Gold Coast, is estimated to have risen to as much as 6,000-7,000 a year.
Many of these slaves ended up crossing the Atlantic. Others worked in the gold fields. States that were subservient to the Asante kingdom often paid their tributes in the form of slaves.
Later in the 19th century slavery, along with human sacrifice, became a point of contention between the Asante and the British. The reluctance to give either practice up prompted the British to make the first moves towards annexation, beginning with the loss of the Asante southern territories in 1874.
Sir Frederick Hodgson addresses the Ashanti chiefs, 1900
"Where is the Gold Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power; why have you relegated me to this chair?" - Verbatim transcript
In 1896 the Asantehene (the king of the Asante) had to endure public humiliation at the hands of the bullying British Governor Maxwell. Unable to pay an enormous fine for failing to keep to the demands of the Treaty of Fomana of 1874, the encounter ended with the Asantehene and his entourage being sent, quite out of the blue, into exile.
Eyewitness account of Kwadwo Afodo
"The white man asked the children where the Golden Stool was kept in Bare. The white man said he would beat the children if they did not bring their fathers from the bush. The children told the white man not to call their fathers. If he wanted to beat them, he should do it. The children knew the white men were coming for the Golden Stool. The children did not fear beating. The white soldiers began to bully and beat the children." - quoted by Thomas J Lewin in his book Asante before the British: The Prempean Years 1875 - 1900
The power of Asantehene was invested in the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool represented the people, the soul of the nation and the good fortune of the nation. The importance of the stool was crudely grasped by the British at a time of aggressive imperial expansion.
Although the Asantehene was in exile, this was not enough to break the resistance of the people. In 1900, the British Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool in the most offensive manner possible at a meeting of Ashanti chiefs.
Sir Frederick then ordered soldiers to hunt out the Golden Stool.
The search for the Golden Stool sparked off a full-scale military revolt, led by the Queen Mother (Yaa Asantewa). This culminated in the Governor being besieged in Kumase. The Queen Mother was only defeated by a British expeditionary force in July 1900. In 1901, Asante was annexed by the British.
Exile and return
Prempeh spent most of his exile in the Seychelles, for some of the time in the company of the Kabaka (king) of Buganda and the Kabagarega (king) of Toro. After nearly 30 years in exile Prempeh I returned home to much excitement.
A grand reception
"Thousands of people, white and black, flocked down to the beach to welcome him. They were sorely disappointed when the news flashed through that Nana Prempeh was not to be seen by anyone, and that he was to land at 5:30 pm and proceed straight away to Kumasi by a special train.
Twenty minutes after the arrival of the train, a beautiful car brought Nana Prempeh into the midst of the assembly. It was difficult for us to realise even yet that he had arrived. A charming aristocratic-looking person in a black long suit with a fashionable black hat held up his hand to the cheers of the crowd. That noble figure was Nana Prempeh."
- Extract from the Gold Coast Leader newspaper, 27 Dec 1924
The monarchy was not restored until 1935. To this day the first thing new national leaders do on coming to power is pay their respects to the Asantehene.