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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 3 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2000 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 13 ASANTE AT THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT IVOR WILKS Introduction Osafroadu Amankwatia, who died in 1975, practiced law in Kumase from 1956 to 1972 before becoming legal adviser to the Northern Ghana House of Chiefs. He possessed a keen sense of history, and. in early 1940 had contributed several articles to The Ashanti Pioneer under the title, “Ashanti Conquered—in what war?” His theme was straightforward. There was no Anglo-Asante war in 1896. Asante was brought into the British Empire by political intrigue rather than military conquest. There was, however, a war in 1900, but it was not an Anglo-Asante one. Yaa Asantewaa of Edweso declared her opposition to the British presence in Asante, leaders from the Kumase district took up arms, but the other Asante divisions remained for the most part uninvolved. It was an Anglo-Kumase war. How then, asked Amankwatia, could the defeat of Yaa Asantewaa have provided the British with “sufficient ground for a claim to the whole of Ashanti?” He resorted to proverbial discourse. “If you want to be a happy liver let the past be the past,” he wrote; “but when statements are made, which do not seem to be very right the past must be recalled for the understanding of all who are interested.”1 Half a century and more after he made this plea, numerous references to the “Anglo-Asante war of 1896” that was not a war, and to the “Anglo-Asante war of 1900” that was not Anglo-Asante, continue to appear.2 1. The Ashanti Pioneer, 16 and 17 Feb. 1940. Osafroadu Amankwatia suggested that “Ashanti has the right to claim compensation,” but seems to have thought of this as no more than “immediate restoration of the Kumasi Lands to the Golden Stool.” 2. Since examples seem called for, I cite first a passage from K. Shillington, History of Africa, New York, 1989: 310. “. . . in 1895–96 the British again invaded the Asante 14 Ghana Studies • volume 3 • 2000 I shall review these matters here. I make much use of British Colonial Office records that have long been available, and extensively used by scholars .3 Not a few of these documents are of Asante provenance, such as the considerable number of letters originating from the Asantehene, and the correspondence of the Asante Embassy in London in 1895 (to the office files of which the Colonial Office seems to have gained clandestine access). An excellent full-length study of the events immediately preceding the promulgation of the “Ashanti Order in Council, 1901” has been made by Robert E. Hamilton.”4 It is impossible to do justice in one brief paper to the extraordinarily rich and complex data, but I shall suggest, following Osafroadu Amankwatia, that received versions of Asante’s passage from independent nation to colonial dependency are in need of very significant revision. At the end of 1895 Asante remained an independent kingdom. It was ruled by a king, Kwaku Dua III (now better remembered as Agyeman Prempeh 1), whose powers were checked if not quite balanced by two councils. The members of the one, the Assembly of the Asante Nation (Asantemanhyiamu ), were drawn from all the regions (or divisions) that constituted the nation, and of the other, the Council of Kumase, from functionaries in and around the capital who carried out the day to day business of government . For several years one major issue had dominated the political agenda, specifically, should Asante become a British Protectorate? There kingdom. In the face of British military superiority the Asante military leaders tactically avoided battle. The kingdom was occupied and a British Protectorate was proclaimed over most of the region of modern Ghana. But the Asante army had remained intact and in 1900 they [sic] seized their opportunity and rose against the British. . . . The Asante army was overcome and the colony of Gold Coast was proclaimed.” The number of inexactitudes in these few lines is breathtaking. D. Judd presents the same events as a masterly little morality tale: “towards the...


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