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In the present chapter I propose to briefly review the relations which have existed in the past between this country and Ashanti, and to note their influence in the production of those conditions which at present exist. And as the known history of Ashanti consists of little more than the record of such relations it will be well to preface this chapter by a short resume of such historical facts as are available.
Of the early history of the Ashantis nothing is really known. Bowdich, who resided at Kumasi for several months in the year 1817, regarded them as immigrants who had separated from some tribe inhabiting a region lying to the south-east of the present territory, that is towards the seaboard. He states that, according to the traditions of the Ashantis, they invaded their present dominion, which was then occupied by a more civilized people, a portion of whose language they adopted and whose arts they learned.
Dupuis, on the other hand, who also resided at Kumasi, asserts that according to the traditions as met with by him, the Ashantis originally inhabited a tract of country (in common with the Jamans [Gamans], Denkiras and Akems) lying to the north of the present Ashanti, which he describes as Ghobago, Ghofan and Tonouma, from which they were driven southward into the forest by the Mahommedans. He states that the Coast regions were subsequently occupied by the Fantis, Denkiras, etc., who had previously formed part of the Ashanti nation.
On comparing the two accounts it appears to me that that of Dupuis is by far the more probable. To Bowdich's view there are several formidable objections.
In the first place there is no district of any size lying to the S.E. of Ashanti - the Ashanti of Bowdich included Akem and Assin- nor is there any tribe from which the Ashantis might be considered as probable off-shoots; and east of the Volta we come upon the Efe races, who in appearance, customs and language bear no resemblance to the Ashantis. Nor is there any trace of the superior race which the Ashantis are said to have conquered and whose arts and part of whose language they are said to have adopted. The art of Ashanti is most distinctive; its architecture is quite peculiar and totally different from that of any of the other peoples.
The Ashanti language is, moreover, entirely different from that of any people of the northern district The view of Dupuis, on the other hand, although obviously merely speculative, is supported by several facts.
In the first place the process that he describes may be seen in operation in the district at the present time, for the Moslem tribes are gradually encroaching on the territories of the people lying to the south.
That the Ochi-speaking races of Fanti, Ahanta, Denkira and Akwapim are not the original inhabitants of the country is rendered probable by the fact that at various parts of the Gold Coast small isolated districts are met with in which a language of a totally different character from the Ochi (or Asante) is spoken. There are several very different dialects of this language if there are not several distinct languages, and although they appear to be gradually dying out, they are still to be found in Ahanta, Wassaw, in the south of Gomua and Aguna, in the towns of Appam, Winneba (Simpa) and Senia and parts of Akuapim, (Date and Kyerepong).
It is probable that the Ashantis, forced southward by the pressure of the more powerful (Mahommedan) tribes to their north, occupied a region forming the northern portion of modern Ashanti; but as they increased in numbers they extended southwards until they reached the sea, driving before them and subjugating the aboriginal tribes whose language (or languages) have continued to exist in isolated spots, just as the aboriginal Celtic has lingered in remote places in the British Isles. To these aboriginal tribes may also belong the neolithic remains which have been found on the coast.
Such an account would to some extent explain some of the peculiarities in the distribution of the Ochi language. This language by the natives is divided into Akan; which is regarded as the pure form of Ochi and is spoken in Ashanti and Akem and Fanti or Mfantse, which is a collection of dialects differing widely, and evidently a corrupted form of the language. It is spoken in Fanti, Ahanta, Aowin, Tufel, Wassaw, Denkira, Akwapin, Akwamu and Adangme, all countries of the sea-board. Now it is evident that as the Ashantis (Asante fo) extended their kingdom southward, the aborigines would be driven towards the sea; and when the conquerors reached the coast, there being no possibility of further retreat, the aborigines would be subjugated or annihilated.
The supposition that they were subjugated by their conquerors is supported by the great differences in the Ochi dialects on the coast, which might well be brought about by the mixing of the Ochi with the language of the aborigines; and the existence of a distinct language in various small regions near the sea also confirms this view.
There is a story given by some writers to the effect that the Fantis separated from Ashanti during a great famine; that the former living on herbs at the time, became known as Fanti or herb eaters and the latter who lived on corn, as Santi or corn eaters. This story, which certainly has a very fabulous sound, is not borne out by an examination of the language. Herb in Ochi is not "fan," but ''fang, and the verb to eat is "di"; but the Fantis pronounce their name Mfantse or Fantse which bears very little resemblance to the asserted derivatives.
The Ashantis pronounce their name ''Asante," and as corn is represented by the words aburow, afi, kukuradabi and poporoku, the derivation is not more easy to trace in this case.
Bowdich wrote, in addition to the narrative of his mission, a small book in which he endeavoured to prove some connexion between the Ashantis and the Abyssinians and Egyptians.
I have elsewhere mentioned that when at Kumasi I was strongly reminded of ancient Egypt and its monuments; but when I endeavoured to account for this impression I was unable to find that it was based upon any real resemblance excepting that the curious birdlike figures sculptured on some of the houses were singularly like some that I have seen in Egyptian monuments.
I suspect that Bowdich received a similar impression and endeavoured, after leaving the country to "work up" a theory on the subject, for whereas his hypotheses are numerous and learned, his facts are extremely scanty, and his arguments in general more ingenious than convincing. Nevertheless his book is not without interest, and some of the analogies which he mentions are certainly striking.
The first authentic notice of the Ashantis is contained in the quaint letters of Willem Bosman, the chief factor of the Dutch fortress of St George d'Elmina. These letters were apparently written in the first two or three years of the eighteenth century, for the first one commences "Sir, Your agreeable of September 1st, 1700, was seasonably handed to me by Captain N. N. etc., and they were published at Utrecht in 1704, an English translation appearing in the following year.
The reference to Ashanti occurs in the sixth letter, and I cannot do better than quote it at length.
"By what hath been said, you may imagine how Rich and Potent the Kingdom of Dinkira was."
"But a few Months past it was so entirely destroy'd that it lies at present desolate and waste. Certainly it cannot be unpleasant to inform you how such a fatal and sudden Destruction fell upon this so potent a Land, as well as whence their Ruin proceeded; which I am obliged to take from the Report of some of the Negroes; and the Event hath given me a sufficient Reason to believe they told Truth."
"Dinkira, elevated by its great Riches and Power, became so arrogant that it looked on all other Negroes with a contemptible Eye, esteeming them no more than its Slaves; which rendered it the object of their common Hatred, each impatiently wishing its downfal; tho' no Nation was so hardy as to attack it, till the King of Asiante, injured and affronted by its Govemour, adventured to revenge himself on this Nation in a signal manner."
"The occasion of which was this. Bosiante the King of Dinkira, a young Prince, whose Valour was become the Admiration of all the Negroes of the Coast, sent some of his wives to complement Zay the King of Asiante; who not only received and sustained them very civilly, but sent them back charged with several very considerable Presents to express his obliging Resentment of the grateful Embassy; And being resolved to return his Obligation, he some time after sent some of his Wives to complement the King of of Dinkira, and assure him of the great Esteem he had for his Person."
"These Ambassadresses were not less splendidly treated at Dinkira being also loaded with Presents, but the King cast a wanton Eye upon one of them, and hurried on by exorbitant Lust, gratified his brutal Desire; After satiating of which, he suffered her together with the rest to return to their Country, and their injured Husband, who was informed of this Affront; But he took care to make the King of Dinkira sensible, that he would not rest till he had washed away the Scandal in his injurious Blood."
"After he was made sensible of the King of Asiante's Resolution, knowing very well whom he had to deal with, he heartily wished he had not been guilty of the Crime, but since it was done, he offered him several hundred Marks of Gold to put up the Injury. The inraged Prince, deaf to all such Offers, prepar'd himself for a vigorous War, by raising a strong Army in order to make a Descent on Dinkira. And not being sufficiently stored with Gunpowder, he bought up great quantities on the Coast."
"The Dinkirans being foolish enough to assist him themselves, suffered his Subjects to pass with it uninterrupted through their Country, notwithstanding they knew very well it was only designed for their Destruction."
"Whilst he was making these Preparations the King of Dinkira died, which might encourage a belief that the impending Cloud of War would blow over."
“Whether the Governours of Dinkira were too haughty to implore a Peace of the injured Zay, or he instigated by the Enemies of that Country, is uncertain; But he still immovably persisted in his purpose of utterly extirpating the Dinkirans. And about the beginning of this Year, being compleatly ready, he came with a terrible Army into the Field, and engaging the Dinkirans who expected him, he beat them; but fighting them a second time, he entirely defeated them. The Negroes report, that in these two Battles above a hundred thousand Men were killed; Of the Negroes of Akim only, who came to the assistance of the Dinkirans there were about 30,000 killed; besides that a great Caboceer of Akim with all his Men, were cut off."
"What think you, Sir; these are other sorts of Battles than are usually fought betwixt the Kings here; who if they should oblige all their Subjects even the lame, decrepit, and blind to come into the Field, could not raise such a number. The Plunder after this Victory took up the Asiantines fifteen days' time, (as is said, but perhaps largely enough) that Zay's Booty alone amounting to several Thousand Marks of Gold, as is affirmed by one of our European Officers, who was sent on some Embassy to Zay and says, he had several times seen the Treasure...."
"Thus you see the towring Pride of Dinkira in Ashes, they being forced to fly before those whom they not long before thought no better than their Slaves, and themselves being now sold for Slaves. We have not yet received the Particulars of the whole Affair; but this account of it coming to hand, I thought fit to impart it to you."
With the event thus quaintly recorded, the history of Ashanti as a dominant kingdom may be considered to have commenced. It is indeed probable that previously to this war it held somewhat of an ascendency over the neighbouring tribes; for although Bosman speaks of Dinkira as "looking on all other Negroes with a contemptible Eye," yet the fact that Bosiante offered to pay a fine in order to avoid a war seems to clearly imply that he regarded Ashanti as a superior power.
Richard Austin Freeman, Travels and Life in Ashanti and Jaman (New York, NY: Fredrick A. Stokes, 1898).
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