The Ashanti people are found in Ghana where they constitute about 16% of the ethnic population. The language spoken by the Ashanti is known as Twi. Everyday life of the Ashanti was more or less defined by the daily basic needs of the Ashanti which included food, shelter, security and more recently, education.
Traditionally, the Ashanti were largely an independent people, confrontations with neighbouring communities often resulted into wars which came to have a bearing in the future of the community in that, in that, confrontations shaped into the Ashanti kingdom into a formidable kingdom which called a number of trade routes as well as other economic interests. The Ashanti Kingdom had as its capital the town of Kumasi, which still serves as the Ashanti’s administrative center to date. The Ashanti’s beginning can be summed thus;
Ashanti tradition relates that there was here a “hole in the ground”, out of which emerged the ancestors of most of the peoples of southern Ashanti. They lived here in a great city for a time, and then as the pressure of the population increased, they dispersed to various places in Ashanti–Bekwai, Kokofu, Nsuta, Kumawu, Juaben, and others. Besides these Adansi and Asantemanso people, there are some other peoples today who claim to be autochthonous; they came down from the sky, or arose from the earth, or were created by God, in the very place where they are still living.
But on the whole it is true to say that the general tradition among the Akan is that they came down from somewhere in the north. (Ward 44) The Ashanti people belong to the wider Akans community of Ghana. They reside in the rich agricultural lands with deep forests and gold minefields. The Ashanti’s traditional favourite crops are yams although later, cassavas and maize became very popular amongst the Ashanti people. In return the Ashanti fortified their kingdom and became some of the most powerful kingdoms in West Africa.
The most significant economic activity for the traditional Ashanti was trade in gold, which involved the Ashanti exchanging gold for other valuable items. According to (Edgerton, 98) the Ashanti people were so powerful that, by the time of British colonialization, they were able to resist vehemently the British occupation something, which resulted into a series of Anglo-Ashanti wars with the British between 1826 – 1896 (Edgerton, 64). The traditional Ashanti mythical symbol of unity is a ‘golden stool’ also known as Sika ‘dwa said to have been handed down from the heavens.
The Ashanti’s have a rich culture, which is embedded in folk tales with subjects ranging from humorous animated tales, to songs, which are choreographed to match the calendar of the Ashantis, which includes harvest season and the planting season. Song and dance for the Ashantis is also very significant and it characterizes every event from death ceremony and marriage to birth ceremony. Songs and dance are an age-old way of self expression as well as expression of gratitude to the gods.
Therefore the folk dances and folktales such as proverbs, characterizes daily lives of the Ashantis. Death to the Ashanti people is seen as a means of transition rather than an end and the people celebrate it by mourning which is often accompanied by atonement rituals to the gods and the spirits. During the mourning that follows death; the Ashanti’s sing dirges which go hand in hand with the rite of passage for the dead. The complexity of ceremony and the rituals that go with it, vary depending on the member of the family who has died.
A death of an elder is highly revered and the ceremonies are uniquely intrigue compared with the death of a child which can involve only a few rituals. All in all, death in the society must be celebrated with an aim of appeasing the spirits and prevent death from striking again in that family. The Ashanti’s also celebrate life and they do this by mainly bringing tidings to the family whereby a new baby is born. According to the Ashanti people, life is god-given and therefore new borns are a viewed as gift from the gods. As such, the Ashanti offer sacrifices as a thanksgiving whenever a new one is born.
The Ashantis find every possible reason to give thanks to their gods and spirits as it is evidenced whenever there is a bumper harvest or in the past, whenever the community emerged victorious in a war (Edgerton, 31). The Ashanti god, Nyame, is seen as source of help for the people. Odomankoma is to the Ashanti the creator of universe (Sykes, 146). The Ashanti traditional leadership structure created, a place for a king known as Asantehene whose roles were both administrative and judicial in that, the king could pass on judgements, including the dreaded death penalty on those who had greatly erred against the community.
Asantehene was the equivalent of a commander in chief of the Ashanti army. The Asantehene had regional representatives in the kingdom known as Obirempon who were responsible for overseeing administrative and legislative functions of the Ashanti kingdom on behalf of the Asantehene. By the 1900s, the traditional Ashanti kingdom had been successfully disbanded and totally mesmerized by the British colonialists under Sir Fredrick Hodgson (Edgerton, 127).
The Ashanti hold in high esteem, familial relations and they greatly value the clan. Every family is answerable to the clan. The main characteristics of the clan system in Ashanti appear … to be: 1. All persons bearing a common clan name, resident however widely apart, are held to be related by blood. In consequence, they are considered to stand to each other in a prohibited degree of relationship with regard to marriage, and to be bound together by a sentimental tie of brotherhood. 2.
The heads of the various household groups exercise complete control over these members of their clan who are directly related by a blood-tie that is practically, not theoretically, capable of demonstration, as being traceable to a common female ancestress who founded that particular family group; in other words, their authority extends only to the nearer kinsmen. 3. Clan descent alone confers the right (a) to inherit property; (b) to perform the sacra for ancestral spirits; (c) to succeed to certain offices; (d) to be buried in a particular cemetery; (e) to unite in the performance of certain funeral rites. . The clan tie cannot be lost or broken save by expulsion from the clan. (Slotkin 440) According to the Ashanti, extended families are preferred whereby ties go to the extent of great grand parents. Unlike many other societies whereby children are seen as belonging to the fathers’ side the Ashanti surprisingly attribute children to the mothers’ side and therefore the father is seen as only contributing the spirit of a child.
Since families live in court yards which can comprise even upto to 30 or more people, labour is carefully divided alongside gender lines with boys taught skills ranging from building of huts to other skills such as traditional medicine. The girls on the other hand are trained in domestic chores such as fetching water and firewood as well as preparing of meals for the whole homesteads. In addition, the Ashanti believe in pooling together of resources of the family and the less privileged members of the society as well as the deserving are taken care of by the whole family. In Ashanti succession to property as well as to political offices is handed down in the matrilineal line. Succession to these offices is made by selection by the lineage from its members. There is thus a combination of kin-right and selection. ” (A. 2) . In this era of schooling an Ashanti child’s school fees is catered for by the more able member of the extended family in cases whereby the parents are not in a position to. According to the Ashanti marriage is very important as is seen as a means of progression.
The Ashanti are polygamous in that, the men can marry more than one wife. The Ashantis are a religious people and believe in supernatural powers. The Ashantis view objects around them such as trees and other creatures as having souls. “The Ashanti people have also preserved the tradition that trees have souls and/or function as shrines in which spirits dwell” (Ben-Ur). This can partly explain why traditionally the Ashantis conserved nature, as they believed that, the deep forests were where the dead ancestors and other spiritual beings such as the monsters resided.
Happenings in the forests, in the skies and even in the rivers are interpreted to mean communication from the spiritual world. This is why the Ashanti’s folktales and songs have as their characters; creatures like birds, lizards and animals such as leopards, whose skin has been used to hold their golden stool. Basically, the religion of Ashanti revolved around three areas. 1) humanism — a concern for this life and for the spirit world, mainly as it has a bearing upon this earthly life; (2) collectivism — a concern for the family, extended family, and tribe… nd (3) individuality — an outflowing, exuberant, Dionysian sense of personality, as distinguished from selfless, passive conformity. (American Society of African culture, 246). Traditionally skills for boys have also included wood carvings, blacksmith ship and weaving especially of cloths while for girls it has included besides household chores, pottery. The most common art ware and craftwares amongst the Ashanti include the Ashanti stools and specifically the golden stool, which represents the soul of the Ashanti people (Edgerton, 59).
Other notable Ashanti art and craftware include; well-ornamented pots made from earthenware, woven and bark cloths such as the Kante cloth as well as bracelets, necklaces and other forms of jewellery. Conclusion The Ashanti’s great sense of self determination and dedication to the community’s core values and beliefs is responsible for the survival of the culture of the Ashanti to date. From the above discussion it is evident that, the Ashanti’s have a great value system intertwined in the community’s art, religious beliefs as well as cultural practices.