The Ashanti (or Asante), are the dominant ethnic group of a powerful 19th-century empire and today one of Ghana's leading ethnic groups, with more than two million members concentrated in south-central Ghana.
The political, military, and spiritual foundations of the Ashanti nation date to the first Ashanti king, Osei Tutu. He forged the Ashanti Union by bringing together several subgroups from roughly 1670 to the 1690s. He also built a capital, Kumasi; created the legend of the Golden Stool to legitimize his rule; and began celebrating the Odwira, or yam festival, as a symbol of national unity. From 1698 to 1701, the united Ashanti army defeated the Denkyira people, who had conquered the Ashanti in the early 17th century. Over the course of the 18th century, the Ashanti conquered most of the surrounding peoples, including the Dagomba.
By the early 19th century, Ashanti territory covered nearly all of present-day Ghana, including the coast, where the Ashanti could trade directly with the British. In exchange for guns and other European goods, the Ashanti sold gold and slaves, usually either captured in war or accepted as tribute from conquered peoples. As they prospered, Ashanti culture flourished. They became famous for gold and brass craftsmanship, wood carving, furniture, and brightly colored woven cloth, called kente. Although the Ashanti maintained traditional beliefs, Muslim traders and Christian missionaries won some converts among them to their respective religions.
During the 19th century, the Ashanti fought several wars with the British, who sought to eliminate the slave trade and expand their control in the region. A series of defeats at the hands of the British gradually weakened and reduced the territory of the Ashanti kingdom. After nearly a century of resistance to British power, the Ashanti kingdom was finally declared a Crown Colony in 1902 following the uprising known as the Yaa Asantewa War.
Before long, however, the Ashanti reemerged to contribute to the nationalist movement that would help shape modern Ghana. The exiled Ashanti king was allowed to return to Kumasi in 1924, and the British recognized the Ashanti Confederacy as a political entity in 1935. Today, most Ashanti live in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. They are primarily farmers, growing cocoa for export and yams, plantains, and other produce for local consumption. The Golden Stool, the Ashanti imperial palace, and artifacts at the Museum of National Culture in Kumasi have become enduring symbols of Ghana's illustrious past.
Source: Microsoft Encarta Africana. ©1999 Microsoft Corporation. Used with permission.
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