Remember the Denkyira
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 Ghana from 1620, but who, like all Akans, originated from Bono State.
Before 1620 Denkyira was called Agona. The ruler of the Denkyira was called Denkyirahene and the capital was Jukwaa., 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 Asen and Twifo. 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.
One interesting historical view of the fall of the Denkyira kingdom and the rise of the Ashanti kingdom is that it was a result of early European foreign policy goals to bring about ‘regime change’ in the region in order to secure their trade interests in in gold and human trafficking for the ‘slave trade’.
This view is that the Dutch orchestrated the downfall of the Denkyira in order to remove opposition to their expansion of the slave trade, and replace them with more willing partners. Also, the Denkyira dominated the land richest in gold reserves and were controlling the price of gold, to the irritation of their European trading partners- .’The Fall of the Asante Empire:
The Hundred-Year War For Africa’S Gold Coast’, By Robert B. Edgerton.
At that time, the main economic goal of the inter-state wars waged by the Denkyira was for control of the gold,
not the trade in slaves with the Europeans-’Transformations in slavery:
a history of slavery in Africa’, by Paul E. Lovejoy. Is it possible that they realized the destruction that such a trade would eventually bring to their culture and peoples, or that they simply did not want the Europeans to dominate them in their trading relations, but preferred to maintain control of their resources? In any event, it is arguable
that the Dutch eventually decided to arm and encourage the lesser tribes who were subject to the Denkyira, and make an agreement with them: Dutch assistance in taking power over the region, in return for ’unfettered’ trade in gold and human trafficking of ’slaves’ for Dutch colonies.
However, history also suggests that many of the Denkyira subjects themselves defected to fight with the Asante against the Denkyira. One explanation for this is that the young king of Denkyira at that time, Ntim Gyakari, was a despot who had designated 10 classes of subjects who were to be sacrificed whenever a member of the royal family died. It was these subjects who defected, to save themselves from this fate, and seek the protection of the Asante.
Nevertheless, the regime change proved a resounding success for the Europeans! But a disaster for the African people. Within 20 years of removing the Denkyira from power, human trafficking for the ‘slave trade’ had become the dominant activity in the region. The Asante waged wars against all they could, and traded liberally in gold and humans to the apparently exclusive economic benefit of Europe.
Historian Paul E. Lovejoy also concludes that: “Thus by mid-century, the Akan wars had devastated the region, thereby accounting for most, if not all of the approximately 375,000 slaves exported from the Gold Coast between 1700 and 1750. The volume of exports was maintained at about this level for the rest of the century with a notable expansion in the 1780s and 1790s when the Asante attempted to occupy the Fanti coast.”
In looking for a motive for this behavior, some historians argue that the Akan were apparently keen participants in human trafficking as ‘slaves’ were often used for sacrifices in funeral ceremonies, and that they believed that slaves would follow their masters into the afterlife.
The motive, then, appears not to have been economic, but spiritual.