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The People

From Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee by Thomas Edward Bowdich, 1819.

To speak of the death of a former king, the Ashantees imagine to affect the life of the present equally with enquiring who would be his successor; and superstition and policy strengthening this impression, it is made capital by the law, to converse either of the one or the other. The inability of the natives to compute time, and the comparatively recent establishment of the Moors, may be pleaded as additional apologies for the imperfect history I have collected.

According to a common tradition, which I never heard contradicted but once, the Ashantees emigrated from a country nearer the water side, and subjecting the western Intas, and two lesser powers, founded the present kingdom. These people being comparatively advanced in several arts, the Ashantees necessarily adopted a portion of their language with the various novelties; which probably created the limited radical difference between their language and that of the Fantees; for I could not find, after taking the greatest pains, more than 200 words unknown to the latter. The weights of the Inta country, in particular, were adopted with their names, by the conquerors, without the least alteration

The tradition, scanty in itself, is very cautiously adverted to, the government politically undermining every monument which perpetuates their intrusion, or records the distinct origins of their subjects: but, from the little I could collect, it appeared to have been an emigration of numerous enterprising or discontented families, to whom the parent state afterwards became subject.

I am inclined to think, (the account of their coming from a country nearer the sea being too general for conjecture to revolt from,) that they emigrated from the eastward of south, where the territory admitted to be Ashantee proper is remote, compared with its extent southward, or westward of south, and the former consequence of Doompassie, and the towns eastward of it, support this; yet, the very few natives who pretended to any opinion on the subject, had an impression, that their ancestors emigrated from the neighbourhood of a small river, Ainshue, behind Winnebah: a croom called Coomadie is to be found there, but there is nothing else to countenance the report.

The Ashantee, Fantee, Warsaw, Akim, Assin, and Aquapim languages are indisputably dialects of the same root; their identity is even more striking than that of the dialects of the ancient Greek: now the Fantees and Warsaws both cherish a tradition, which exists also in many Ahanta families, that they were pressed from the interior to the water side by the successful ambition of a remote power; whence it may be concluded, that the Ashantee emigration we are now considering, was posterior to a more important movement of the whole people, corresponding with that of their neighbours. I will not dilate upon this secondary subject by referring to internal evidence, there is nothing to recompense either the investigation or the perusal.

One curious evidence however may be added of the former identity of the Ashantee, Warsaw, Fantee, Akim, Assin, Aquamboe, and part of the Ahanta nations; which is a tradition that the whole of these people were originally comprehended in twelve tribes or families; the Aquonna, Abrootoo, Abbradi, Essonna, Annona, Yoko, Intchwa, Abadie, Appiadie, Tchweedam, Agoona, and Doomina; in which they class themselves still, without any regard to national distinction.

For instance, Ashantees, Warsaws, Akims, Ahantas, or men of any of the nations before mentioned will severally declare, that they belong to the Annona family; other individuals of the different countries, that they are of the Tchweedam family; and when this is announced on meeting, they salute each other as brothers.

The King of Ashantee is of the Annona family, so was our Accra and one of the Fantee linguists; Amanquatea is of the Essonna family. The Aquonna, Essonna, Intchwa, and Tchweedam, are the four patriarchal families, and preside over the intermediate ones, which are considered as the younger branches. I have taken some pains to acquire the etymology of these words, but with imperfect success; it requires much labour and patience, both to make a native comprehend, and to be comprehended by him.

Quonna is a buffalo, an animal forbade to be eaten by that family. Abrootoo signifies a corn stalk, and Abbradi a plantain. Annona is a parrot, but it is also said to be a characteristic of forbearance and patience. Esso is a bush cat, forbidden food to that family. Yoko is the red earth used to paint the lower parts of the houses in the interior, Intchwa is a dog, much relished by native epicures, and therefore a serious privation. Appiadie signifies a servant race. Etchwee is a panther, frequently eaten in the interior, and therefore not unnecessarily forbidden. Agoona signifies a place where palm oil is collected. These are all the etymologies in which the natives agree.

Regarding these families as primeval institutions, I leave the subject to the conjectures of others, merely submitting, that the four patriarchal families, the Buffalo, the Bush Cat, the Panther, and the Dog, appear to record the first race of men living on hunting; the Dog family, probably, first training that animal to assist in the chase. The introduction of planting and agriculture, seems marked in the age of their immediate descendents, the Corn stalk and Plantain branches.

Bowdich, Thomas Edward. Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee. J. Murray, 1819.

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