The brave colonial resistance of Ghana king Ofori Atta I, who fought in Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900

Emmanuel Kwarteng October 07, 2022
Ofori Atta I. Image via OforiPaninfie

Okyehene Ofori Atta I served as the head of the Gold Coast delegation that traveled to London in 1934 to lobby the British Parliament for the official majority of Africans on the legislative council. The delegation also pushed for a lasting African representative on the governor’s executive council, and the rights of provincial members who were not chiefs to serve on the executive council.

As the second African to serve in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly and a founder of the famous Achimota School in Accra, Ghana, Nana Sir Ofori Atta I was the Paramount Chief of Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area, known in the local dialect as “Okyehene.” He was a nationalist and an educator. This was around 1928.

October 11, 1881, marked Nana Ofori Atta’s birth. He was once known as Kwadwo Fredua Agyeman before being named Aaron Emmanuel Boakye Danquah. His mother was Akosua Buo Gyankromaa, the youngest of three daughters of Ohemaa Dokuaa and the son of Afriyie Akoto. 

He was raised by Emmanuel Yaw of Begoro—Akim-Abuakwa. Ofori Atta received his education at the Presbyterian College of Education, Akropong, and in Basel Mission’s Akuropon seminary. After two years, he quit the seminary to work as a solicitor’s clerk. 

He afterward joined the West African Frontier Force and fought in the Yaa Asantewaa War. He was chosen as Akyem Abuakwa’s Omanhene in 1912, and in 1916 he was elected to the Legislative Council.

When he rose to power on November 27, 1912, Ofori Atta I was met with formidable obstacles. First, Okyenhene’s power was at an all-time low. In 1905, some ten years earlier, Okyenhene Amoako Atta I and his Council petitioned the Governor for assistance in response to the district’s increasing populace disobedience and incidences of disrespect for the elders and chiefs.

Second, in the third decade of the 19th century, is the rash alienation of stool lands resulting from the Basel Mission’s search for property to establish mission stations in the early 1850s and the succeeding Industrial Revolution.

Up until the middle of the 19th century, the Akyemfuo mostly used their land for subsistence farming, gold mining, and hunting. One of the “three mightiest and richest kingdoms from which almost all the gold has come, was Akyem,” according to a Dutch Report dated 1701 and cited by Graphic.com.gh.

This frenzied dash toward the Akyem territories had fatal results. Approximately 400 square miles (1036 square kilometers) of Akyem Abuakwa’s territory were lost to migrant farming groups between 1824 and 1900.

Prempeh I repatriated 

The return of Asantehene Nana Prempeh I from Seychelles Island was one matter of national importance that caught Nana Ofori Atta’s attention. The Asantehene was taken into custody in 1896 and detained at Elmina Castle until the Yaa Asantewaa War broke out in 1900. 

He was then transferred to Sierra Leone and held there until 1924, before being transferred to Seychelles Island off the coast of South Africa. Ofori Atta announced a proposal to send the Asantehene back to his homeland during the Legislative Council’s 1919–20 session.

Despite praising the proposal, Governor Guggisberg told the Legislative Council that it should be delayed for the time being until a better opportunity arose because of fresh changes in the administration. The proposal was dropped. Nana Prempeh returned home in 1924, around four years later.

British Knighthood 

From the time of his election in 1912 until his passing in 1943, Nana Sir Ofori Atta I reigned as king of Akyem Abuakwa, one of the biggest and richest kingdoms of the former Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana).

For his dedicated work in politics and dedication to the Gold Coast Colony, Nana Ofori Atta was knighted or decorated as a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 1927. From that point on, he went by the title Nana Sir Ofori Atta.

Grandchildren

He was the grandfather of Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II, the reigning King of Akyem Abuakwa; Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the current President of Ghana; Ken Ofori-Atta, the current minister of finance and founder of the Databank Group; and Samuel Atta Akyea, a former minister of State and current Member of Parliament for the Abuakwa South constituency in Eastern Ghana.

Despite his low points, as is common with every leader since time immemorial, Nana Sir Ofori Atta I served his subjects with diligence. The Achimota School he founded continues to produce great leaders to support the human resources required to move Ghana forward. 

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