“If the Golden Stool was ever to be destroyed or captured by the enemies of the Asante Kingdom of Ghana, the whole kingdom would descend into chaos.”
The above is said to be the warning given by Okomfo Anokye, the priest or traditional healer of the Ashanti empire who is revered as the greatest and wisest sage of the Asante people and would cofound the Asante empire.
According to legend, Okomfo Anokye – then a friend and advisor of Osei Tutu (the Ashanti king at the time) – over 300 years ago, called a meeting of all the heads of each Ashanti clan.
The agenda was to unite under one of the chiefs whose stool would be greater than all the other stools, and any chief enstooled by any of the states was to swear the oath of allegiance to him.
Oral tradition has it that the meeting was also Osei Tutu’s carefully thought-out plan to overthrow the Denkyira, a neighbouring kingdom and a highly developed Akan state that was quickly growing and gaining dominance over other southern states in the 16th and 17th centuries.
During the meeting, Okomfo Anokye conjured a mysterious golden stool from the heavens which landed on Osei Tutu’s lap, meaning that he had been chosen by the ancestors and the gods as the “unquestionable king of the kings of the Asante Nation.”
“Fingernails and small collection of hair from each chief were collected, all was burnt and the ashes, some smeared on the gold stool and the rest was mixed in palm wine for all the chiefs to drink. Okomfo Anokye told them that the gold stool contained the spirit and soul of the Asante Nation. The portion they drank meant that they had sworn to the gods and ancestors, which meant they had taken an oath to unite and forget their past individual histories. Nana Osei Tutu took the oath of allegiance to the golden stool and all the chiefs, and each of them, in turn, took an oath of allegiance to Nana Osei Tutu and the oath never to raise arms against the Golden Stool. That was the beginning of Asante Kingdom. Nana Osei Tutu was, therefore, made the first King of the Asante Kingdom,” according to records by thekingdomofasante.com.
The Asantes would later go to war against the dominant neighbouring kingdom, Denkyira, in 1699 and would succeed with the help of Okomfo Anokye.
The unique Golden Stool
The Golden Stool is a curved seat 46 cm high with a platform 61 cm wide and 30 cm deep. Its entire surface is inlaid with gold and hung with bells to warn the king of impending danger.
As a symbol of nationhood, and because it contains the soul of the Asante, the Golden Stool is considered to be so sacred that no person whatsoever is allowed to sit on it.
It is kept under tight security and is taken outside only on exceptionally grand occasions. It must never come in contact with the earth or the ground and as such, it is always lying on its own stool or on the skin of an animal such as the leopard.
Replicas of the Golden Stool have been produced for the Ashanti chiefs and at their funerals, they are ceremonially blackened with animal blood, a symbol of their power.
Defending the Golden Stool
The Asantes have, over the years, made many sacrifices to defend the Golden Stool when its safety was threatened. In 1896, they allowed their King, Prempeh I, to be exiled rather than go to war and risk losing it and the Golden Stool in the process.
This was after the fourth Anglo-Ashanti war between the Ashantis and the British that began mainly due to Ashanti attempts to establish strong control over the coastal areas of what is now Ghana.
Several other incidents prove the sort of importance the Ashantis attach to the Golden Stool and the “War Of The Golden Stool” or the “Yaa Asantewaa War” in 1900 was one of them.
The British made an egregious move in 1900 when Sir Frederick Hodgson, then the governor of the Gold Coast, demanded to not only sit on the Golden Stool but also for the Ashanti to surrender the stool.
Because the Ashanti respected other warriors, they greeted Sir Hodgson as an honoured guest in Kumasi complete with all the revelry expected.
King Prempeh I, who warred with the British in 1893, was in exile thus putting Sir Hodgson in the position to demand the stool and lands under the order of the Queen of England.
Sir Hodgson’s words fell upon the ears of the Ashanti in attendance at the gathering, angering them with his disrespect and flagrant insult of demanding the Golden Stool.
As a result, the Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, gathered soldiers to attack Sir Hodsgon’s forces and rescue their exiled king. Hodgson’s forces tried to locate the Golden Stool but to no avail, and Queen Mother Asantewaa’s forces were able to wage small assaults, forcing their enemy to escape.
Consequently, the British returned with a larger armed force — fortified by Yoruba fighters from Nigeria — but were still met with resistance by thousands of Ashanti warriors. Yaa Asantewaa bravely defended her lands using military savvy and did her best to inspire her people to continue the fight.
Queen Mother Asantewaa’s valiant efforts, although impressive and largely effective, would eventually get vanquished by the better-armed British forces in September of that year.
While she and other resistance fighters were captured and exiled, they successfully defended the Golden Stool from capture, and they saw this as a victory.
Years afterwards, a group of African road-builders came across the hiding place of the Golden Stool and robbed it of its gold ornaments, throwing the Ashanti Kingdom into a state of alarm and mourning.
The culprits were subsequently arrested and tried by the Kumasi council of chiefs which imposed the death penalty but the British intervened and commuted the sentence to perpetual banishment.
The Ashantis continued to show pride in the Golden Stool as it signifies nationhood and unity, hence when the King of Gyaaman, Kwadwo Adinkra made a golden stool for himself in the early 1800s, the reigning Ashanti King did not take it lightly and would lead a massive army against Kwadwo Adinkra.
Kwadwo Adinkra was defeated near Bondoukou and decapitated. The Ashanti King then ordered that the counterfeit golden stool is melted down and made into two golden masks representing Adinkra’s face. These masks still hang today on each side of the Ashanti Golden Stool as a reminder of the incident.
The Golden Stool has since then been believed to be housing the spirit of the Ashanti nation – living, dead and yet to be born.