History of the Ashanti: Empire and Colonization

Illustration of two Ashanti chiefs sitting.
“Grand Chefs”, Ashanti chiefs.
Source: Jules Gros, Voyages, aventures et captivité de J. Bonnat chez les Ashantis, 1884. (Image source)

Oral histories all agree that the Ashanti were originally part of a unified Akan clan that included the Fante, Wassaw and other Twi-speaking people. But it is in the specifics of its subsequent division that stories begin to diverge.

In one legend, it is Fulani invaders, destroying the Akan’s crops and forcing them to forage for edible plants, that spurs this division. One group collected fan while the other gathered shan in order to survive. They drifted apart and came to be called the Fan-dti and Shan-dti (dti meaning “to eat”).

Another story points to a dispute with a local king. A group of loyal subjects gifted fan to the king out of tribute, while the rebellious subjects attempted to poison him with the deadly herb asun. The groups were then described as the Fan-ti and Asun-ti.

Yet another history describes a different dispute between two factions of the Akan clan. One group left the kingdom and became known as the Fa-tsiw-fu (people who cut themselves from the main body). The Akan who stayed behind rejected a request by the king to restore peace among the two groups. As a result, the remaining people were called the Asua-tsiw-fu (people who refused to listen).

Migration and First Akan States

Map of the Akan migrations, showing the first migration to be from the regions around Lake Chad.
Map of Akan migrations (click to expand).
Source: General History of Africa, Vol IV.

The ancestors of most coastal peoples, the Ashanti and Fante included, migrated west from lands possibly as far as Lake Chad and the Benue river. After crossing the lower Niger river, they made their way through the forests of modern-day Benin and Togo before reaching the Ghanaian coast.

In these lands, rich in gold and kola nuts, mainstays of trade, the Ashanti, as well as their other Akan cousins, prospered.

By the 16th century, with the affluent trade economy of the region, a number of highly developed Akan states had emerged: The Bono in the north, the Denkyira, Akwamu, Fante and Ashanti to the south. Over the 16th and 17th centuries, the Denkyira quickly grew to dominate and exercise control over the smaller southern states.

Map showing the Akan states in the 18th century (present-day Ghana).
Map of the Akan and other states circa 1700.
Source: General History of Africa, Vol V

Ashanti Empire

Situate this empire on the timeline and in the History of West Africa as a whole.

The Oyoko clan of the Ashanti had settled around lake Bosomtwe near Kumasi, a rich, inland area at the junction of trade routes that would become the future empire’s capital. Under Denkyiran dominance, this clan nevertheless rose to prominence.

Unification of the Ashanti Kingdoms

Obiri Yeboa (r. c. 1660 – 1680) of the Oyokos never saw his ambitions for the future of the Ashanti, united and free from Denkyira come to fruition. But during his reign, he planted the seeds for unification that his nephew and successor Osei Tutu (r. c. 1680 – 1717) would use.

Sharing his uncle’s dreams, Osei Tutu had a carefully thought-out plan to overthrow the Denkyira. The first step was uniting the other Ashanti clans, and for that, he would need an air of authority. He took the title of asantehene, or “king of the Ashanti” — a lofty title, for people who had had, until this point, only clan kings —, and started the tradition of the Sika ‘dwa, “golden stool”.

According to the legend, Okomfo Anokye, Tutu’s chief priest and advisor, called a meeting of all the heads of each Ashanti clan. In this meeting, the priest conjured a golden stool down from the heavens and into Osei Tutu’s lap. Such seats were traditionally symbolic of a chief’s leadership, but this one embodied the spirit of the Ashanti people as a whole. The Ashanti chiefs immediately swore allegiance to the stool and Osei Tutu as the Asantehene, forming the Ashanti Union around 1700.

Asantehene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II (r. 1970 - 1999) sits next to the Ashanti golden stool.
Asantehene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II (r. 1970 – 1999) on the left and the golden stool on a throne on the right.
Photo by Frank Fournier, in Kumase, Ghana, 1995. (Source)

The city Kumasi — so named because Osei Tutu sat under the Kum tree during territorial negotiations —, a crossroads of trade routes on land rich in gold and kola nuts, became the empire’s capital. The first asantehene designed a new constitution and formed a council of the heads of the states. The annual Odwira festival cemented the union.

With those alliances firmly secured, Osei Tutu led his new army to defeat the Denkyira. Their victory allowed the Ashanti access to the European trade spilling in from the coast. Due to that, the empire tripled in size, becoming a strong, war-focused nation. Osei Tutu died in battle during a campain against Akyem, another Akan state.

Growth of the Empire

Osei Tutu’s chosen successor, Opoku Ware (r. c. 1717 – 1750) created the Great Oath of the Ashanti as a means to further unify his people. The words “Koromante ne memeneda” — referring to the day (Sunday) and place (Koromante) of Osei Tutu’s death — made binding and unrecantable any pledge with which it was uttered. The oath played an important role in pledges of allegiance because it bound the chiefs and their asantehene together forever.

During his rule, Opoku Ware expanded and consolidated the Empire’s reach and power. He quickly subjugated Sehwi, Gyaman, and even Akwamu. Incorporating these large areas into the Ashanti empire made the domain stretch to encompass most of modern-day Ghana. A notable challenge was a decade-long war with Akyem, whose defeat in 1742 spread the Ashanti’s political and economic domination to the coast. The empire became the Gold Coast’s largest trader of captives, gold and ivory.

Opoku Ware’s later years focused on the centralization of the administration. He weakened the power of provincial chiefs by increasing the number of subordinates who reported directly to the asantehene. This led to revolts by the provincial chiefs, as well as subjugated people like the Akyem and Wassaw, who siezed the chance to revolt for independence. By the time of his death, in 1750, Opoku Ware had ultimately forced the chiefs to accept his reorganization of the empire, preventing the nation from falling apart, for now.

Map showing the Ashanti Empire in the 1800s, in what is modern-day Ghana
Map of the Ashanti Empire in the 1800s.

Source: Encyclopedia of African History and Culture – Vol III, 2001.

Rebellions and Rivalries

When Kusi Obodum (r. c. 1750-1764) was deposed, Osei Kwadwo (r. 1764 – 1777) took the golden stool. Most of his reign was spent putting down rebellions — from the Twifo, Wassaw and Akyem — initially with the help of the Fante until their alliance broke down. Eventually, he managed to stabilize the realm. He even expanded it by conquering Dagomba to the north, where he acquired a large number of captives who were brought to the coast and sold to the Europeans.

Osei Kwadwo made some administrative changes to the empire, installing Ashanti nobles as administrators to oversee the provinces. He also sent representatives to the coast to ensure the European traders paid rent for their forts and castles, giving the Ashanti greater control over the coast.

Decline with the Anglo-Ashanti Wars

While the Ashanti were expanding their trade networks towards the interior, British merchants and expeditionary forces kept flooding the coast in ever increasing numbers, in hopes of monopolizing coastal trade. This would be the beginning of the empire’s decline in the 19th century. The ever-rising tensions would lead to a century of wars between the Ashanti and the British.

Some of the smaller African states, like the Fante and Denkyira, welcomed the British as potential allies against the powerful Ashanti. The root of their rivalry was their Ashanti masters’ habit of raiding their neighbors for captives which were sold for European goods or forced to work in the gold fields.

First Anglo-Ashanti War

Tensions rose until the Ashanti sent an estimated 10,000 warriors to expel a smaller force of British, Fante and Denkyira soldiers from their territory in 1824. They displayed the head of the defeated British governor Charles MacCarthy (1769 – 1824) in the capital of Kumasi as a warning to any who would have designs on their territory.

Second Anglo-Ashanti War

Two years later, the British avenged their loss, defeating the Ashanti at Kantamanto. The Ashanti were forced to relinquish their claims on many coastal people, including the Fante and Akyem.

Third Anglo-Ashanti War

The next few decades were relatively peaceful, until the British bought the remaining Dutch forts along the Gold Coast, making them the only European force in the region. Although the Ashanti were skilled bowmen, musketeers and spearsmen, they could not defeat the British artillery that marched on Kumasi. Once again the Ashanti had to renounce their claims to all territories south of the Pra river. Britain formally declared the Gold Coast Colony over the entire coast by 1874. Although the Ashanti’s influence declined over the next 15 years, they were not ready to give up just yet.

The Ashanti rebuilt their strength, but the British, threatened by the French colonial claims, decided to secure their claim to the interior regions of their colony. In 1895-96, they assailed Kumasi with cannon fire, forcing the asantehene Agyeman Prempeh (1870 – 1931) to accept exile in order to avoid full-scale war and the destruction of the capital.

Final Anglo-Ashanti War

Queen mother Yaa Asantewa in ceremonial war dress, carrying a rifle
Yaa Asantewa, queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire.
Unknown photographer, unkown date. (Source)

By 1901, the Ashanti were no longer willing to tolerate the foreign occupation. Yaa Asantewa (1850 – 1912), the mother of a prominent chief, and a fierce military leader took leadership. She launched offensives to reclaim their capital. Despite early victories, the arrival of British reinforcements from Nigeria and Sierra Leone, combined with superior fire-power, was overwhelming. Witnesses claimed that Yaa Asantewa was the last Ashanti to lay down arms. The defeat cemented the British claim on the Gold Coast, marking the end of the Anglo-Ashanti wars, and the beginning of the colonial era in British West Africa.

The Empire Today

The empire never completely ceased to exist in the Ashanti region of Ghana. The line of Ashanti kings keeps on going, at least in a ceremonial sense, with the 16th and current ansantehene, Osei Tutu II, enstooled in 1999.

Sources and Further Reading




  1. Adinor Puplampu

    Just discovering this site. Interesting looking forward to seeing something also about my people the Dangmes of Ghana.

    1. Post
  2. Dada

    Check your facts well! Ashantis never in the history of Ghana defeated Dagombas anywhere. It was some part Dagombas who invited Ashantis to come and help them removed their Chief, and after they came the then Ashanti chief asked to be giving them slaves and sheep for helping them to remove that Dagomba chief, and when he was removed they sending him to Kumasi, but Dagombas did not agreed with the Ashantis to sent him (the Chief ) so, that was where agreement of Dagombas to giving Sheep and slaves to the Ashanti Chief. But mind me the slaves the Dagombas were giving to the Ashanti chief were not (Dagombas )
    During the slave trade the chiefs of Dagbon never allowed their people to be sold anywhere in the slave trade unless the Ashantis chiefs who were selling their own tribes to slaves masters. In conclusion ; Ashantis never fought Dagombas and control up to date. And Ashantis never had war with Dagombas neither have they won war with Dagombas. Dagbon remained the most oldest Kingdom in Ghana. It existed more than 300years before Ashanti Kindom was form….
    The Dagbon Kindom too had founding fathers before they finely settled in Ghana. Though I did not see the founding fathers of Ashantis, Akyems and others. …but the founding fathers of the Dagbon kingdom are cleared to people. .. Dagbon Kingdom is the most Genuinely Kingdom in Ghana not only is the oldest Kingdom !!!!

  3. Jason Blackmore

    Please click on the bulleted headings to toggle text.

    Arhin, Kwame, Traditional Rule in Ghana, Past and Present, SEDCO, ISBN 9964 72 033 5 no date.
    43 Succession to Dagbon ‘skins.’ ‘Skins’ are material symbols of traditional political office in the northern and upper regions, just as stools are symbols of traditional political office in central and southern Ghana. . . The state of Dagbon . . . was basically a union of autonomous states, with the head of one of them elevated above the others as the ‘first among equals.’ . . . the Na of Yendi was Na of all Nas.

    44 . . . the officials of the Na’s court differed from those of ohene’s court in being predominantly eunuchs.

    Bowdich, T. E., Mission from Cape Coast to Ashantee 1819 (notes)
    177 7 days from Sallagah NE according to the Moors through the Inta town of Zongoo is Yahndi (Yendi) the capital of Dagwumba.

    178 Yahndi is described to be beyond comparison larger than Coomassie, the houses much better built and ornamented. Ashantees lost themselves in the streets. The King Inana Taquanee, has been converted by the Moors, who have settled there in great numbers. The markets at Yahndi are described as animated scenes of commerce, constantly crowded with merchants from almost all countries of the interior. Horses and cattle abound. Yahndi is named after the numeral one, from its pre-eminence.

    179 One day from Sallagha, towards Yahndi, and scarcely one journey westward from the latter is the river Laka, described to be as large and as rapid as the Volta which it joins below Odentee.

    188 The bush or country people of Dagwumba have three light cuts on each cheek bone and three below, with one horizontal under the eye; those of Yahndi three deep continued cuts These cuts are made during infancy, to insinuate fetish liquids to invigorate and preserve the child.

    Cardinall, Allan W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, London, 1920
    2. One remarkable feature about the Districts is that nowhere is a town to be found, not even a resemblance to a village. It is asserted that in the past villages did exist, but there are today no signs of them, and even in the thicker portions of the bush – in fact, everywhere – one comes across ancient middens of which the origin is unknown and which are situated at a distance one from the other as are the dwelling-places of the people today. The distance from compound to compound varies from 50 yards to the recognised length of a good bow -shot, say 200 yards. But the people are in no case the aboriginal inhabitants. These are unknown, and, except for innumerable stone implements, have left no trace. The middens in the bush are of more recent origin, as prove the trees which cover them, the pottery lying exposed and in many cases the tailings from ancient iron-smelting. Even in the clusters of trees which today generally are the sacrificial places – clusters so much thicker than one usually finds in the bush, as might lead one at first glance to believe they were remains of the original forest – one can still find middens, proving beyond doubt that the present forest grew over the land after it had been cultivated by man.

    Of the present inhabitants the history is vague, and it is necessary . . . to know a little of the general history of the Northern Territories to understand why and whence these several and different tribes came to establish themselves in so small an area. For this general history native tradition would seem fairly reliable, and in some essential features it is corroborated by the written “Tarikh-es-Soudan,” the work of an inhabitant of Timbuktu, one Abderrahman-Es-Sa’di, who lived in the seventeenth century, and by the earlier manuscript Tarikh-el-Fettach of Mahmud Kati. Both manuscripts have been recently translated into French by O. Houdas, and serve to record that at least two hundred and fifty years ago the oral traditions of these people were the same as they are today. Native tradition is remembered and perpetuated not at haphazard by stories told round the evening fires, but by special families attached to the courts of the greater chiefs, the sole duty of such families being to recite in chanting and to bring up to date the epic of their race.

    I learned some of the following story from the traditionist attached to the court of the Na (king) of Yendi, and in M. Tauxier’s work is recorded a tradition, most corroborative to the one I heard, which was related at the court of the Na of Wagadugu. For the practical purpose of this study the following is the story.

    Very early in the Christian era there lived in a cave among the hills round Mali, which tradition places far to the east, (let the reader beware! the reference is clearly not to the ancient Mali empire – MH) a man most loathsome to behold. He is described in details most revolting. He dwelt alone, but had acquired the reputation of an intrepid hunter and one day, when the people were hard pressed by their enemies and disaster seemed in sight, they sent for this hunter to aid them in their need. He came, and his frightful appearance alone so terrified the foe that victory came to the people of Mali. The huntsman returned to his cave and refused all presents and thanks for his timely assistance.

    Once again his services were called for in similar circumstances, and again he triumphed. This time the Mali people insisted on rewarding him, and he received as wife their chief’s daughter. By this marriage a son was born a one-eyed giant of an aspect even more revolting than his father. Inheriting his father’s skill in warfare and the chase, the young man soon made himself a leader over his fellows and shortly after reaching manhood he led a band of them westward to found a new country, as their own had been devastated by famine.

    This band eventually came to a town not far from the White Volta. Here the young man sat down at the watering-place, whither towards evening came the young women of the place. From them he learned that the city was the abode of the great tindana of the country – (tindana means literally “owner of the land”) – and he accompanied the girls back, accepting the hospitality of one whose beauty particularly attracted him. She was the only daughter of the tindana.

    Arrived at her home, he was hospitably received by the father and sojourned awhile in the house as an honoured guest until the great day of the annual sacrifice. For this event people from all the countryside foregathered, as it was, and still is, an event of national importance. The tindana, as he does today, was to perform the sacrifice, and retired early to his bed. That night the young man murdered his host, and when morning came presented himself to the people dressed in the sacred robes of his victim. (Rumour says these are still preserved at Yendi and consist of a black cap, black gown, and a string of yellow beads.) The populace was awed at the loathsome spectacle of the one-eyed giant and afraid to touch the sacred emblems of the office he had usurped. At the same time the youth’s followers loudly acclaimed their chief and threatened to massacre any dissentients they heard murmuring against him. His triumph was complete. He married the daughter of the unfortunate tindana, and so founded the royal family of the Dagomba; with the aid of his own followers and the over-awed townsfolk he raided and conquered the neighbouring country, and thus there began an empire which is often called the greatest ever founded in pagan Africa -the tri-dominion of Dagomba, Moshi, and Mamprussi. . .

    9 At some time, probably towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the Ashanti power was at its zenith, and in Dr. Claridge’s “History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti” the king of Ashanti, Osei Opoku, is named as the conqueror of Dagomba. At Yendi the record of the defeat is passed over, but the fact remains that there lives today at Yendi an Ashanti, a visitor to his uncle there, who, before the advent of the Germans, acted as a kind of consul and tax-gatherer. The tax, I was told, amounted to the annual payment of 2,000 slaves. In 1821 the British Consul at Kumasi, Mr. J. Dupuis, records in his “Journal of a Residence in Ashantee” that the Dagomba capital Yendi, and other large towns of the country, pay as an annual tribute five hundred slaves, two hundred cows, four hundred sheep and cloths, and that smaller towns are taxed in proportion.

    The Grunshi, Busansi, Konkomba, Tchokossi, and other independent tribes were raided regularly to procure the necessary number of slaves, and when hard put to it the Na of Dagomba asked his relatives of Mossi and Mamprussi to help him in his payment.

    Der, Benedict G., The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana, Woeli Publishing Services, Accra, 1998
    8 In 1751-52 Safo Kantanka of Mampong, taking advantage of succession disputes to the Kpembe skin, invaded that Division, captured the Kpembewura Nakpo and two of his close relatives, his brother’s son and his paternal cousin, and took them as prisoners to Kumasi. He then extended his campaign to central Gonja, capturing towns like Kafaba . . .

    9 Dagbon

    The Kitab Gbunja noted that in about February 1745, “the cursed unbeliever, Opoku, entered the town of Yendi and plundered it.”

    10 The Ya Na, Gariba, was taken prisoner. When he was being carried to Kumasi, his nephew, Ziblim, the Chief of Nasah, interceded and redeemed him.

    11 Each succeeding Ya Na raided the Konkomba, Basari and Moba in order to obtain captives as slaves to pay the debt. . . . Armed men would descend upon a village at dawn or even during the day. If the raid was successful, they carried away men, women and children and their property like cattle, sheep and goats.

    15 Some of the slaves given to Asante as tribute or in payment of the debt (Dagbon) were sold into slavery abroad. . . . it was in the mid-eighteenth century that the records of European companies on the coast began noting the presence of donkors or people of Northern origin among the slaves brought down to the forts and castles for sale. Thereafter, slaves sent to the coast from Asante invariably included men, women and children from Northern Ghana.

    29 On a conservative estimate, it can be said that over half a million people or more from Northern Ghana were sold into slavery in the period 1732 to 1897 while thousands of others died or were killed in the slave raids.

    32 The main effects of the slave trade on Northern Ghana were depopulation, devastation, insecurity and loss of life and property. Agriculture and the local arts were disrupted while people lived in constant fear for their lives or of the raiders. The long term effect of the slave trade on Northern Ghana, however, was that it retarded development in the area. The roots of African-Americans and West Indians of Ghanaian origins do not end at the forts and castles on the coast, nor in the coastal states and in Asante. They can be traced further to Northern Ghana.

    Fynn J K, Asante and Its Neighbours 1700-1807 Longman 1971 (notes)
    116 King of Dagomba was Gariba. His nephew was Na Saa Ziblim of Kpatina. Na Saa was defeated. He appealed to Asante for help. Kwame Pete, Adontenhene of Kumasi, invaded Dagomba. Asante won in spite of inferior numbers. As a result of this defeat Dagomba and its dependencies became tribute paying vassals of Asante.

    In early 19th Cent. Bowditch noted that the capital and large towns of Inta and Dagomba supplied Asante with 500 slaves, 200 cows, 400 sheep, 400 cotton cloths and 200 silk cloths during this period of vassalage. Adontehene of Kumasi was given overall charge of the administration of Dagomba. Effective government was left in the hands of traditional rulers.

    Kambonse is the Dagomba word for Asante. Also refers to Dagomba musketeers who were equipped and trained by the Asante and who have Asante day names. Dagomba Kambonse probably founded in or about 1770.

    116 After 1770 Asante and Fante traders met freely for trade in markets on N frontier of Fante. Far greater number of slaves were exported in 1774 than in any one year. 1776: peace in the Gold Coast and slaves are very plentiful.

    Slaves brought down by Asante were known as Duncoes, Donce, Dynkos. Considered industrious and faithful. Asante donko (pl. Nnonko or nnokofo) applied strictly to a man or woman, other than an Ashanti, who has been purchased with the express purpose of making him or her a slave. Main physical attribute of an Odonko in the Asante mind: bearing tribal marks. Bush or country people of the Dagomba have three light cuts on each cheekbone and three below with one horizontal under the eye. Many of the slaves sold by Asante to the Europeans were from Dagomba.

    Bowditch: “Most of the slaves in Kumasi were sent as part of the annual tribute of Inta, Dagwumba and their neighbours, to Asante, very many were kidnapped and for the few who were bought, I was assured by several respectable Ashantee 2000 cowries or one basket of kola nuts was the greatest price given – so full were the markets of the interior.

    Asante trade in gold, ivory kola nuts, slaves was very well organized. Private individuals were not encouraged to indulge in large scale trading activities because for the risks involved. The Asante trade, in general, was a state enterprise under the management of the Gyasewahene, who was overseer of the King’s trade and was at liberty to send the trade where he pleased. Asokwahene (or Batahene) was responsible for trading on behalf of the Asantehene. At the request of the king or Gyasewahene, he would be sent to the coast to purchase salt, spirits, textiles, guns, powder, pewter, lead, etc. Asokwahene was assisted by several fekuo (administrative departments) generally subjects of the Gyasewahene, including akyeremodefo (drummers) asokuafo (hornblowers) asoafo (hammock carriers) agwarefo (bathroom attendants)

    Asante officials – akwansrafo – road wardens – were established at many points on all main highways. Ejura, Atebubu (control of traffic on NE road to Salaga). They detained all traders until enquiries had been made about them, when they were allowed to pass on payment of 3 to 4 shillings worth of gold dust. Their main concern was to prevent guns and powder from being sold beyond metropolitan Asante. The purpose of this embargo was to ensure continued Asante superiority in muskets over the bow and arrow wielding peoples of N. Ghana.

    Fuller F, A Vanished Dynasty: Ashanti Frank Cass 1921
    34-5 Not many years later the King of Yendi jealous of the power of Ashanti boasted that he could overwhelm that country and moved an army south . . . The Asante king hearing of this commissioned the Adentihene, Kwamin Pete, to meet and conquer these northerners. The Ashantis crossed the Volta River and owing to their superior armament gained an easy victory over the enemy. Where the forces met is not known. An annual tribute of 1000 slaves,1000 cattle, 1000 sheep and 10,000 fowls was imposed on Yendi, one tenth of which was given to Kwamin Pete as a reward for his services.

    Oppong Christine Growing up in Dagbon Ghana Pub Corp 1973 (notes only)
    King of Dagbon converted to Islam about 1700 (early 18c)

    4 Asante under Opoku Ware invaded 1744-5. Treaty. Dagomba given access to Asante markets in return for an annual tribute in goods and slaves.

    15 Slaves were mainly war captives seized from militarily weaker acephalous societies -Bassari, Konkomba, Grunshi. Tribute payments stopped in 1874.

    Priests of autochtones (commoners) officiate at land shrines.

    Kings, chiefs and princes are descendants of the mounted invaders who came from the NE over 400 years ago. These marauding warriors were a scourge to the surrounding stateless communities, the inhabitants of which they seized as slaves.

    Kingdom of Dagomba lies in a fairly well wooded plain of the savannah orchard type or Ghana savannah woodland, watered by the white Volta and its tributaries in the W and Oti and its tributaries in the East. Trees of economic importance are Shea Butter, Dawadawa, Baobab, Kapok, Mango. Dry season October-March. Crops Yams, maize, guinea corn, millet, rice, groundnuts, bambara beans.

    Markets every 6 days. Women brew pito, make shea butter, spin, extract groundnut oil, grow vegetables, work in the domestic sphere, help in harvesting.
    Staniland, Martin, The Lions of Dagbon: Political Change in Northern Ghana, Cambridge University Press, 1975
    1 At the time of colonial partition the Dagomba kingdom spread over some 8,000 square miles of the savannah plains. The kingdom had then been in existence for about four hundred years, ruled over by the paramount chief, the Ya-Na, from his capital at Yendi . . . On the eastern edge of the kingdom lay the Konkomba, a stateless people, treated as subjects of the Dagomba.

    3 The Dagomba kingdom was one of a cluster of states created by groups of migrant cavalrymen moving south and imposing themselves as a ruling class on established stateless peoples. Of the latter, little is known: they spoke a language belonging to the Gur group and had earth priests (tindamba). The indigenous people figure in Dagomba myth as the `Black Dagomba’. Although the name `Dagomba’ itself may have been that of the indigenous people, assumed by the invaders, the great body of mythology is clearly that of the migrants and in this sense `Dagomba’ history is that of the kings since the fifteenth century . . .

    The mythology . . . refers to a common ancestor, Tohajie, `the Red Hunter’, whose grandson Na Gbewa, settled at Pusiga, near Bawku, in northeastern Ghana. The migrants seem to have been pagans of Hausa origin, possibly from Zamfara, one of the old Hausa `Banza Bokwoi’ states located in the area of Nigeria to the north of Borgu. According to Fage, they moved westwards and for a time supported themselves by raiding the towns of the Niger valley . . . The raiders were pushed south in the fifteenth century by the Songhai kings Sonni Ali and Askia Muhammed.

    4 The conquest of western Dagomba was undertaken by the Dagomba cavalry, who killed or removed the indigenous tindamba and replaced them by members of the royal dynasty and captains of the army.

    The conquest of eastern Dagomba took place later than that of the west . . . The final settlement of this area may have occurred in the seventeenth century when the capital was moved towards present-day Yendi. The Dagomba pushed back the Konkomba and established divisional chiefs among them. The main towns . . . had the character of outposts, strategically located on the east bank of the River Oti. Despite this assertion of suzerainty, the Dagomba kingdom seems never to have exercised close control over the Konkomba: administration took the form of slave raiding and punitive expeditions. The Konkomba were by no means assimilated. Relations between them and the Dagomba were distant and hostile: there was little, if any, mixing by marriage.

    In the early seventeenth century Gonja was invaded by a conqueror of `Mande’ origin, Sumaila Jakpa.

    5 . . . the `Ashanti hinterland’ was the meeting point of two important caravan routes. One went north-west . . . to Djenne on the Niger; the other went north-east . . . to Kano. These routes were linked at their northern ends to the trans-Saharan caravans and along them passed kola nuts, gold, salt, and other goods, not to mention the creed of Islam. The rulers of Gonja and Dagomba were naturally anxious to profit from control of this trade and it is probable that competition for control was an important factor in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    For Dagomba, an important consequence was the movement of the capital eastwards to Yendi (originally a Konkomba town called Chare.)

    Zangina is . . . remembered as the king who brought Islam into Dagomba (having, according to some accounts, travelled as a trader to Timbuktu and Hausaland as a young man). Islamisation was no doubt assisted by the location of Yendi on the trade route . . . to Kano. . . . Islam was by no means universally adopted, even at court: the generality of Dagombas remained pagan and the Ya-Na himself never developed into a theocrat. Indeed, his regalia and the ritual surrounding his office kept a substantial pagan element. Another contribution of Islam to Dagomba culture is said to have been the wearing of clothes. The `drum history’ records this innovation: `At that time everyone wore skins as clothing. When Zangina became chief, he went to the Mosque at Sabali and prayed that God might grant the Dagomba clothing. It was thereafter that God enabled the Dagombas to know the art of weaving clothing.’

    Very soon after the Gonjas had been expelled from Dagomba, the kingdom became subject to raids from Ashanti. These raids may have been spread over a period of as much as fifty years . . . They culminated in an episode which reveals the same kind of internal disunity as had been evident in the Gonja wars. The chief of Kpatina, Ziblim (. . . grandson of Zangina on his mother’s side) is alleged to have invited the Ashanti to attack Na Gariba. Gariba, deserted by all the major western Dagomba chiefs, was captured by an Ashanti army and was to have been taken to Kumasi. However, he was released en route, at Yeji, following an appeal by some of the Dagomba princes. In return, the Ya-Nas were required to send a fixed number of slaves, cattle, sheep, and some cloth to Kumasi each year. In addition, an Ashanti representative was stationed at Yendi. The payments continued irregularly until 1874, when they ceased with the decline of Ashanti power.

    There was thus a period of perhaps 130 years during which Ashanti was a strong influence in Dagomba. Historians disagree about the strength and character of this influence. Wilks and Fage have said that it amounted to the creation of a protectorate, the payments being a form of tribute; Tamakloe described Dagomba as a `vassal state’. Not surprisingly, the Dagomba `drum history’ minimises Ashanti influence, declaring that the incident of the capture and release of Gariba `was the only occasion that the Dagombas came under the Ashantis’, though it admits that payments to Kumasi continued for some years.

    Duncan-Johnstone and, more recently, Iliasu have argued that the Ashanti influence was more limited and symbolic and that the relationship between the states was mutually beneficial. Duncan-Johnstone reported that `the Ashanti always treated Dagbon with respect as a powerful kingdom although tributary to their King’. Iliasu sees the relationship as one of `politico-economic symbiosis rather than conquest’. In his view, the Asantehene did not interfere with the internal affairs of Dagomba and the payments made were not `tribute’ but rather instalments of the ransom paid for the return of Gariba. Iliasu further remarks that the Ashanti presence was `highly profitable to both sides’. Yendi was on the north­eastern caravan route which became more important in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries . .

    6. For the internal politics of Dagomba, one consequence of Ashanti influence was the creation of a wing of Ashanti-trained musketeers within the state army. It is unclear whether these musketeers (kambonse in Dagbane) were originally trained in Kumasi or were trained in Yendi by Ashanti `technical assistance’. In either case, the result was the formation of five chieftaincies (the kambon naanema), within which the titles of offices and organisations show marked Ashanti influence – the chiefs, for example, sitting upon stools rather than the skins used by Dagomba chiefs.

    Armitage, Capt C.H., The tribal markings and marks of adornment of the natives of the Northern territories of the Gold Coast London 1924

    Davies, A. W., (District Commissioner), The History and Organization of the “Kambonse” in Dagomba, June 1948

    Ferguson P, Islamization in Dagbon PhD Cambridge 1973

    Hyland, A. D. C., An Introduction to the Traditional and Historical Architecture of Ghana (In Maggie Dodds (ed) History of Ghana, American Womens Association, Accra 1974)
    Iliasu, A. A., 1971, Asante’s relations with Dagomba 1740-1874 Gh Soc Sc Journal 1(2) 54-62

    Irvine, R. A., Essays by Assistant District Commissioners on Tribal History: Dagomba, 1908

    Gill, J A, Short History of the Dagomba tribe

    Lonsdale, Rupert La Trobe, Report .. of his Mission to Coomassie, Salagha, Yendi, etc. October 1881 to February 1882, dated 10 May 1882, PRO, Parliamentary papers (C-3386, 1-082, XLVI)

    Opoku, A. A.., Festivals of Ghana, Accra, 1970

    Oppong, Christine, (ed) Female and Male in West Africa, G. Allen and Unwin, London, 1983

    Parsons, D St. John, More Legends of Northern Ghana Longmans 1960 (also Legends of Northern Ghana) Dagomba -The Fire Festival, Moli Dagbani Empire, Kakara – Pin Konkomba
    Prusson, Labelle, Architecture in Northern Ghana a study of forms and function Berkely Calif 1969 (includes a Konkomba hamlet – Yankezia, a Dagomba village – Kasuliyfli, and a Gonja village – Larabanga)

    Rattray R S, Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland 1932 (vol 2 p 564 for Dagomba tribute to Asante)
    Tait, David, A Sorcery Hunt in Dagomba, Jour Int Afr Inst 1334

    Tamakloe, E. F., The mythical and traditional, history of Dagomba in Cardinall, A. W., Tales Told in Togoland

    Tamakloe, F. A., Brief History of the Dagomba 1931 (pp32-33 for Dagomba tribute to Asante)

    Wilks, I, The Northern Factor in Ashanti History Legon 1967 (p 14 for Dagomba tribute to Asante)

    Wilks, Ivor, A note on the early spread of Islam in Dagomba

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