Much of the 19th century in Africa was spent in wars between the Ashanti and an enemy tribe, the Fante, and the British, who made up in ferocity what they lacked in numbers. The Asante (as it was called) was a rich and powerful state, becoming more so in the 18th and 19th centuries in what is now called Ghana. The population was between five and three million.
Chiefs of the tribe provided, by election the king (or Asantehene), and also supplied fighting men and tributes. The system worked because the principal trade in the 18th century was in slaves and gold, plentiful in both cases. The slaves were selected by the king from the strongest and youngest of his own people, and exchanged on the coast to European and American slave traffickers who had, like the chiefs and their king no scruples; nor had they heard of human rights. It is as well when students prepare papers on the slave trade to remember that there would have been no slave trade at all if it had not been for unprincipled chiefs selling their own people. No dealer would have dared enter the plains and jungles to capture and shackle human beings if they had not known for certain that they would be unharmed.
The main problem for the Ashanti is that the Fante tribes lived on top of the routes to the coast and were therefore in a good position to control the volume of ‘trade’. The Fante were also determined to keep such control and protect their excellent opportunities as middlemen.
The British were the first to abolish the slave trade (q.v.) in 1807. They were equally determined to remove the Fante from political control over the coast, where they established forts. Meanwhile the Ashanti had a number of pitched battles with the Fante, which the British tried to prevent, which caused violent trouble with the Ashanti too.
In the war of 1824 the British Governor of the Gold Coast was killed, and the Ashanti became an official enemy. A small British army of only 2,500 soldiers arrived in 1871, commanded by Sir Garnet Wolseley, a fighting man. This force invaded the hinterland, captured and sacked the capital Kumasi and forced the Asantehene to establish peace.
The peace was feeble enough and though Ashanti military power was weakened, the state stayed as powerful as before and a further British military expedition was required in 1895-6. This deposed the Asantehene and imposed a British Resident (backed by a suitable contingent of troops) in Kamasi. But the end was not yet in sight: in 1901 the Ashanti arose once again and the country and the country had to be conquered and annexed to become part of the Gold Coast. In 1935 the Ashanti or Asante Confederacy was re-established under Great Britain’s policy of Indirect Rule (q.v.)
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