For students of human history, Ghana provides perhaps the most fascinating source of information about the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the African perspective. With over 78% of ‘slave forts’ built on the West African coast, there are many who argue that Ghana was ‘the epicenter’ of that trade, the ‘ground zero’ even of the destruction of African civilizations and people, and holds the answers to many of those bedeviling Questions which have plagued both historians and the descendants of those taken, alike.
So where do we begin…..
Before Europeans came to West Africa in the 1400’s, Africans from West Africa and beyond had settled in Southern Europe, bringing their civilization with them, including their advanced knowledge in education, architecture, religion, science and enterprise. The impact on Southern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, resulted in the period known as ‘the Renaissance’. However, contact with these Africans also led to marked racial mixing across the Peninsula, and the Europeans began to fear that their European characteristics would be lost forever. Hence, after 700 years of dominance, the Africans were finally expelled in 1492, and forced to return to their land, leading Columbus on this journey. It is suggested that the purpose of Europeans coming to Africa was to find the source of this once dominant civilization and destroy it. (http://www.taneter.org/moors.html)
At first, Ghana was named by Europeans as ‘The Gold Coast’ because of the abundance of this natural resource found here. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to come to Ghana, after the expulsion of the Africans from Southern Europe. They claimed that they were coming to trade in gold and ivory. Other Europeans followed and challenged the Portuguese for this gold and ivory trade: the Dutch, who built forts from 1598,and also the English, the Danish and the Germans.
However, once the Europeans had established sugar plantations in the Caribbean, the trade in gold and ivory was surpassed by a ‘trade’ in human beings. It is claimed that this was because Africans were considered the best labourers for these plantations; yet the real motive was probably to destroy the potentially dominant civilization that had been created. By 1720 the shameful ‘Transatlantic Slave Trade’ had taken hold of the region economically, socially and politically. Gun and greed fuelled wars raged along the west African coast, in which whole ‘nations’ were defeated, bound and sold to the Europeans, often just for more guns, or cloth, beads and mirrors. In Ghana, the Asante were the main suppliers of ‘slaves’, including to the Dutch and the British. Powerful with guns, they ‘sourced’ captives for the trade, through war or simple kidnapping, and handed them– through a long chain of African middle men, to the Fanti traders on the coast, who concluded the negotiations with the ’white men’. By the 18th century the British were the dominant slave traders. “The Atlantic slave trade became part of a prosperous trading cycle known as the triangular trade. In the first leg of the triangle, European merchants purchased African slaves with commodities manufactured in Europe or imported from European colonies in Asia. They then sold the slaves in the Caribbean and purchased such easily transportable commodities as sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Finally the merchants would sell these goods in Europe and North America. They would use the profits from these sales to purchase more goods to trade in Africa, continuing the trading cycle.” (Microsoft Encarta ® 2006.) However, to retrace our steps a little: the first organized state of the Akans, which developed to become a kingdom, was the Adanse state. This state was later defeated by the Denkyira state, also an Akan state. Denkyira was a powerful nation of Akan people that existed in southern present-day from , but who, like all Akans, originated from . Before 1620 Denkyira was called Agona. The ruler of the Denkyira was called Denkyirahene and the capital was ., and later Abankeseso. The first Denkyirahene was Mumunumfi. The Denkyira became powerful through gold production and trade with Europe.
The Denkyira kingdom ruled absolutely and very firmly over the other minor Akan states. These minor states were not able to overthrow the Denkyira individually, and did not consider unifying to fight their overlord until trade with the Europeans became significant in the region. The individual Akan states which united for the purpose of war to overthrow the Denkyira kingdom were named “Esa-Nti-Fo” i.e. “because of war”, which was later polluted to “Asantefo”. These Asantes united under Nana Osei Tutu . The Asantes lived in the forest around Asumegya and around lake Bosomtwe.
The 1690s saw wars between Denkyira and the and . The goal of these struggles was to keep open the trade routes to the coast. The Denkyira totally dominated the neighboring states until 1701 when it was defeated by a united force of their former subjects, the lesser states who became part of the “Asantefo”, (Ashanti), in the Battle of Feyiase. The rich cultural heritage of the people of Denkyira brought them great success and wealth. Also, historical reports suggest that the Ashanti’s studied from the Denkyiras and that even the founder of the Ashanti Kingdom himself, Nana Osei Tutu, understudied some Denkyira chiefs at the Jukwa palace.