Asantehene

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The Asantehene is the paramount king of the Asante people of Ghana. In previous eras, the Asantehene had far more power than he holds today. Now the kingship referred to as the King of Asante is more symbolic and ceremonial than in the past, when the Asantehene held the power of life or death in his hands. This entry describes the leader's significance, the Golden Stool that he is charged with protecting, and the mode of selection.

The Supreme Ruler

Opemsuo Osei Tutu I was the first king to be crowned as the supreme ruler, the king of kings of all Asante. There were regional and town kings before Osei Tutu I, but no one exercised all authority over the whole of Asante until the enstoolment of Osei Tutu I in 1701. Since that time, 16 paramount kings of Asante have ruled the nation. In 1999, Osei Tutu II became the Asantehene.
The Asante people are a nation of the Akan linguistic group, and this group is divided into clans. There are eight clans among the Akan, and all groups of the Akan possess the same clans, which are Oyoko, Aduana, Ekuona, Bretuo, Asene, Agona, Asona, and Asakyiri. Each clan is said to have descended from one of the original ancestresses of the Akan people. There are several groups of Akan—the Baule, Fante, Akyem, Adanse, and Denkyira—and these groups are viewed as separate from each other, but they all have the same structure of an Amanhene, that is, king of the nation. For example, there is an Okyenhene for the Akyem and an Adansehene for the Adanse. However, no kingship has been established with as much pomp, pageantry, and wealth as that of the Asantehene.
The Asantehene is the leader of the nation in the spiritual response to the Sika'dwa and the master of all religious and cultural celebrations and practices. Among the Asante, there is the belief that the Asantehene is the direct descendent of Osei Tutu I, and therefore he has the responsibility to maintain the nation by evoking and reaffirming its beliefs in the ideals that preserve national life.
Figure. King Otumfuo Opoku Ware II arrives at his Silver Jubilee celebration in a sumptuous palanquin surrounded by twirling umbrellas and with his retinue of l50 Asante kings and bearers (August 1995). Carried before him are the swords of state, whose handles are covered with gold leaf. Beside the palanquin march important clan leaders. Immensely powerful in their own right, they guide and protect their monarch when he appears before his Asante nation.

Source: Carol Beckwith/Angela Fisher.

It should be clear that, even during the height of the power of the Asantehene, the king could not serve with absolute power. He had to share legislative and administrative power with the large Asante bureaucracy. Nevertheless, only the Asantehene could pronounce the death sentence. In earlier years, the Asantehene actually went into battle at the head of his soldiers, but during the 19th century, the fighting was handled by the War Ministry.
With the Asantehene, the Asante nation exercised enormous bureaucratic control over its subjects. Obirempons, the supreme judges, alongside other administrators served to mediate the power of the Asantehene. Although they were “big” people, no one was bigger than the Asantehene. The Asantehene was also the ruler of the capital city of Kumasi; hence, he was the Kumasehene, king of the most significant city in the Asante nation.

The Golden Stool

The Asante people developed a complex administrative, legal, and symbolic structure to support their civil society. Thus, the Asantehene is sometimes referred to as “He who sits on the Sika'dwa,” meaning the occupier of the Golden Stool. It is never sat on, but the Asantehene is the one who protects it, keeps it secure, and maintains it. As the object that characterizes the unity and courage of the people, deriving from one of its most legendary meetings of its most important prophet Okomfo Anokye and the first Asantehene, the Golden Stool, which was commanded to come down from the sky by Anokye, is the soul of Asante. Thus, the Asantehene must always pledge allegiance to the Sika'dwa.
Nothing is more important to the Asante people than the Golden Stool. Consequently, during the national celebration of the Golden Stool, when the people come out to express their solidarity with truth, freedom and vitality of spirit, and fertility of their seeds, human and physical, they proclaim at this great Odwira Festival all that the stool has meant to them. They are led by the Asantehene, who proclaims in these words:
Friday, the Stool of Kings, I sprinkle water on you, may your power return sharp and fierce. Grant that when I and another meet in battle, grant that it may be
as when I met Denkyira; you let me cut off his head
as when I met Akyem; you let me cut off his head
as when I met Domma; you let me cut off his head
as when I met Tekyiman; you let me cut off his head
as when I met Gyaman; you let me cut off his head.
As the edges of the year have met, I pray for life.
May the nation prosper. May women bear children.
May the hunters kill meat for food.
We who dig for gold, let us get gold to dig, and grant
that I get some for the upkeep of my kingship.

Selection Process

When a new king is required, the Asantehemaa or Queen Mother chooses the person for the role, and he is then selected by the council of elders and, with their permission, becomes the Asantehene. In the meantime, between the death of the king and the appointment of the king, the Mamponghene, the king of Mampong, the second most important ruler of the nation, serves as the regent Asantehene. The Asante people take the leadership seriously and therefore have several forbidden activities for the Asantehene. No one can be king who is impotent, infertile, a gambler, deaf, a criminal, or leprous. The idea is that the king reflects the best ideals of the people's vitality, beauty, and power.

References

Keywords

  • Asante
  • stools
  • clans
  • kingship
  • nation
  • death
  • power with

Author(s)

Related Entries

Further Reading

  • Agyeman-Duah, I. (1999). The Asante Monarchy in Exile. London: Centre for Intellectual Renewal.
  • Lewin, T. (1978). Asante Before the British: The Prempean Years, 1875–1900. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.