Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ashanti Royalty & Chiefs:The Golden Stool, Their Entourage & Regalia

The late Nana Adu Ababio II, Ankobeahene of Amanokrom
Photo Credit: Kwadwo Kwarte (CC)

The Ashanti (also known as Asante) are a major ethnic group of the Akans in Ghana. The Ashanti kingdom has flourished since the late 1600s, and was one of most successful kingdoms in West Africa. 

Current King Asantehene Osei Tutu II of Ashanti
Photo Credit: Enzo Rivos (CC) 
The government of the Ashanti has a hierarchical order. The leader is the Asantehene, similar to a king. His position is protected by the constitution in Ghana. He heads the Ashanti Confederacy Council, a group made of paramount chiefs. Paramount chiefs preside over district chiefs, who in turn preside over a district council of elders, made up of subchiefs.

Foreign guests of state usually visit both the president and the Asantehene.

Ashanti chiefs must come from royal families, and each town or village has a royal family to choose from. Traditionally, chiefs had power over all aspects of life and law. These days, chiefs have power over tribal matters and traditional customs. They can enact bylaws, just as long as they don't contradict with state laws. They have the power to judge over matters of inheritance and land ownership. Local initiatives must be cleared by the chief, and are often organized and overseen by them. Because they are closer to the people, chiefs generally exercise more influence than the government, which is a power in itself.











The Golden Stool


Ashanti stoolPhoto Source: Part of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis collection (CC)

The Golden Stool is a symbol of great power. It isn't a seat, it's considered sacred and is believed to hold the soul of the nation. It's so sacred in fact that no one is allowed to sit on it. The Golden Stool should never come in contact with the ground - it either sits on its own stool or an animal skin, or both. It's kept in a safe place, and only the king, queen and trusted advisers know of its location. It's only rarely taken out for special occasions. "Enstoolment" is the ceremony when the new Asantehene takes power. He doesn't sit on it, he is raised and lowered over the stool three times, while never touching it

Legend has it that a priest brought a wooden stool covered in gold down from sky. It floated down to earth, landing in the lap of chief adviser Osei Tutu. The priest then declared that the soul of the Ashanti nation lives in the stool - which is when it became the most sacred object in the Ashanti kingdom.

The Asantehene and other chiefs have their own special stool. They're carved from a single block and have carved details that represent their owners. These stools are considered to hold the soul of its owner.  When certain, higher level chiefs die, their stools are blackened and stored in a sacred room. 

You can see more examples of Ashanti stools here

Extension idea: kids could design their own stool or even mold one out of clay

A Chief's Entourage


Ashanti Chiefs in Ghana
Photo Credit: Sweggs (CC)

Okyeame, a linguist

A chief never talks in public so are accompanied by a linguist. The linguist accompanies the chief on all official duties, and carries a mace as the symbol of office. The linguist will listen to what a chief says and "translate" it to the people, even if the chief speaks the same language as them. This translation often means the linguist is saying what the chief means in the most flattering, polite, and diplomatic way. He will take the chief's substance, and embellish it even lyrically. In some tribes, the linguist has to translate the message into a series of proverbs.

Extension idea: have two people take turns being chief and linguist - how easy is it to diplomatically and lyrically embellish the substance of the "chief's" messages?

Queen mother
The Queen mother is not necessarily the chief's mother (she could be his aunt, niece, a cousin). Each chief has a Queen Mother, following along with the same hierarchy. Her role is to advise the chief and keep an eye on social conditions. Her power and prestige can equal or surpass that of the chief.

A Chief's Regalia

For ceremonial purposes, chiefs dress in traditional kente cloth and wear a headdress. They wear lots of gold accessories (these days it's imitation gold) on their fingers, wrists, ankles, around their necks. The gold itself is a symbol of power and prestige, and the designs on the accessories all have symbolic meanings of their own. Sandals are symbolic of their position and must be worn - when a chief abdicates, sandals are taken off. 

Learn more about Kente cloth with crafts and books here.

Higher chiefs are carried in palanquins during durbars (special parades), while subchiefs have to walk. When riding in a palanquin, there's a ceremonial sword and fly whisk that should be held. The ceremonial short sword is used to touch an animal's throat symbolically, and someone else will cut its throat with a knife for animal sacrifice. Large umbrellas are used to protect chiefs from the elements, but also to show that the chief is coming. With these huge umbrellas, they can be seen from a distance and easily identified.


Ashanti chiefs being carried in palanquinsPhoto Credit: Steven Belcher (CC)

Akwasidae Festival

The Ashanti people and their chiefs celebrate the Akwasidae festival on a Sunday every six weeks in Kumasi, based on the official Ashanti calendar. It's a day to honor ancestors in celebratory style with drumming, dancing, singing and offerings. The Asantehene meets his subjects and the other chiefs and the Golden Stool is displayed in the palace grounds. The Asantehene goes in a procession in a palanquin in full regalia and holds his durbar where people have the liberty to shake hands with him. In honor of Ashanti ancestors, the king will visit a mausoleum to pay his respects to his ancestors stools and their remains.

There's a fantastic photostream of an Akwasidae festival, with more details here.

We really enjoyed this glimpse into Ashanti royalty, chieftaincy and culture. I hope you did too!


Kente cloth is made by the Ashanti people. Learn more about it here.

4 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to come back and read this in more depth later, but those stools are really interesting. Also in a semi-unrelated note, I find the name Ahsanti just fun to say.

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  2. Interesting. I find it fascinating that the Queen mother is not necessary the actual mother, but any female relation. And that she advises the chief. I wonder if this is more matriarchal than patriarchal, even though the man is chief?

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    Replies
    1. That's a good point. Everything I've read that points to how much influence the Queen Mother has uses the example of the Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa who led the rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool in 1900. It would be nice to come across more current examples.

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