Game of Stools: an Ashanti Celebration

Last April, I spent some time in West Africa and ended up in Kumasi, central Ghana, during the celebration of the 20th anniversary of what the locals refer to as the “enstoolment” of the current Ashanti king, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.  Yes, enstoolment, as opposed to enthronement as the Ashanti people have a Golden Stool as a symbol of unity and power.  This celebration was probably the most colorful event I have ever seen as all the local dignitaries attended the ceremony wearing traditional garments, most of them featuring vibrant hues and intricate patterns.  

The Ashanti people (also called Asante) are the largest ethnic group in Ghana and had a significant role in the history of the country.  The Asante state emerged in the Central Part of modern Ghana in the late 17th century as a union of a few Akan clans clustered around Kumasi.  It dominated the politics and trade (including the slave trade) of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) until it was defeated by the British in 1901, following the war of the Golden Stool.  Ashanti was one of the few African states that seriously resisted European colonizers, and in 1935, the British granted the Ashanti self-rule sovereignty.  After the independence of Ghana from the British in 1957, the Ashanti Kingdom survived as a constitutionally protected, so-called “traditional state” in union with the Republic of Ghana.

Interestingly, the title of “king” is not a birthright for the Ashanti.  The senior female of the king’s lineage nominates the eligible males and after consultation with the elders, a final candidate is selected. (She is prohibited from picking one of the King’s children.) It seems to me that having a senior female replace the process of picking candidates from political parties would make many countries better off!

In any case, the King had served for 20 years so it was time for a party and there was much to celebrate.  Chiefs and sub-chiefs of the various Ghanian ethnic groups, heads of states of Ghana, and of some friendly nearby countries were all there to pay their respect to the 16th occupant of the Golden Stool.  The ceremony was held at the Manhya Palace and the most exciting part of the event was probably to see the various chiefs arriving, most of them richly clad in luscious kente clothing and gold jewelry (Ghana was called the Gold Coast for a reason).  (The dress from those coming from the northern part of the country –the King of the North obviously–were more subdued in their sartorial choice).  Most of them arrived with an entourage who carried the chiefs’ own special throne-like chairs and, most importantly, their personal umbrellas.  The temperature was well over 100 degrees and I eyed those large umbrellas enviously. They then all proceed in a long line to congratulate the king on his special day.  Right outside the palace, the crowd seemed to be celebrating as well in front of the various images of the Ashanti king installed for the occasion. 

Though I did not get to photograph the king on the day of the celebration (for security reasons, I was told), I had a chance to meet him on a different day when he came to shake hands with the students of an elementary school so I do have one image of him to share. 

Happy Anniversary Otumfuo Osei Tutu II!




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