Last year, I visited my homeland, Ghana, for the first time in my life. I did not know how much I would need that trip, and how the lessons I learnt would free me from myself. Being born and raised in Canada, it’s very easy to feel detached. Yet when I had the opportunity to visit Ghana and learn about my ancestors, I finally felt connected. Anyone who had ever ridiculed or called me things like “white-washed” did not matter once I stood up in the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi and learned about the significance of The Golden Stool. As I acknowledged my roots, it opened my eyes to how much I owe to those who came before me. Whether it was my ancestors who fought in war, my relatives, or my parents, I began to recognize the battles they fought in their lives so that I could stand here today.
According to oral history, Okomfo Anokye, a High Priest and one of the Ashanti Confederacy founders summoned the Golden Stool from the sky in the late 1600s. It landed in front of Osei Tutu I, who became the first Asantehene (King) of Ashanti. The Golden Stool has since been a symbol of strength in the Ashanti people. The stool is now represented as the centrepiece of the Flag of the Ashanti.
The Stool was honoured and kept sacred in many ways. It was never allowed to touch the ground. No one was allowed to sit on it, even the Asantehene was no exception. He was lowered and raised over the stool without ever making contact.
Priest Okomfo Aonkye also gave a forewarning for all Ashanti descendants to remember: “If the Golden Stool was ever to be destroyed or captured by the enemies of the Asante Kingdom, the whole kingdom would descend into chaos.”
The Stool was a prized possession and became more revered as the Ashanti grew from a confederacy to a kingdom. Before battle, even war chiefs would come to The Stool for wisdom, and receive answers that guided them to victory. The history of the coming of the stool is remembered every year through The Akwasidae festival.
The festival is considered one of the most important events for Ashanti diaspora to date. It is a time for the Ashanti to celebrate and give thanks, but also take the time to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who came before us. The festival is hosted every 6 weeks on Sunday, and is a part of a larger event called the Adae Festival (which also incorporates an event called the Awukudae Festival every 6 weeks on Wednesday). The people gather together at the Palace of the Asantehene (Manhyia Palace of Kumasi).
The Akwasidae Festival in particular takes the time to commemorate many important events in Ashanti History. We honour wars, recall stories of previous Asantehenes, and celebrate when Okomfo Anokye summoned The Golden Stool from the sky. This event is amazing because it gives so many people the space and time to celebrate Ashanti culture. In a time where history can often be lost, an event like this helps many people find a great way to come together and remember.
The War of The Golden Stool.
Like many other nations, the Ashanti tribe had many conflicts with British Imperialists. By the 19th century, the Ashanti had fought in four wars against the British, losing territory with each passing battle. 1896 proved to be one of the gravest years for the Ashanti. The fourth war led to the Asantehene at the time (Agyeman Prempeh) being captured and sent into exile.
The subdued Ashanti people were brought under the British colonial administration. A British colonial Governor learned of the significance of the stool to the Ashanti and requested he sit on it. The Ashanti said no. Led by Yaa Asantewaa, the Ashanti revolted against the British in 1900, starting what was called “The War of The Golden Stool”. Over 3,000 lives were lost, and Yaa Asentewaa was eventually sent into exile as well. This war resulted in The British acknowledging the limits of their power, and the Ashanti remembering the depths of theirs. Colonialists swore never to interfere with it again. The Golden Stool serves as an important symbol to the Ashanti people and Ghanaians today.
Last year was the first time I ever heard that story. The first time I saw all the replicas and paintings depicting our tragedy and triumph. The first time I heard of all the blood that was shed. The first time I heard of something so important, and so integral to my people, but I only learned of it in my young adulthood. You could say it was the reminder I needed.
This knowledge instilled a sense of purpose in me, but also reminded me of how much more wisdom awaits my discovery. I learned of the power of The Golden Stool, yet I was told of its history at the Okomfo Anokye Sword Site (which is another great story of the Ashanti people, with another great symbol behind it).
At the end of the day, I was empowered by the information that has stood long before me. I believe we all have pieces of our history that are waiting to be uncovered by us. As we continue to learn about our pasts, we can truly begin to see the reminders that our ancestors have passionately laid down before us. Just as I took the time to learn, for the sake of our ancestors, I promise you will also find fulfillment as you take time to do the same.