February 1, 2012

0113 GHANA - Osei Tutu II, King of the Ashanti


If the first postcard received from Ghana illustrated traditional houses, the second one depicts Osei Tutu II, King of the Ashanti. I'm convinced that those who collect in particular royalties will envy me for this postcard. And they have all the reasons, frankly speaking.

Ashanti, or Asante, are an Akan people who live predominantly in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and currently include about 7 million people. In 1670 Osei Tutu, military leader and head of the Oyoko clan, strengthened the centralization of the surrounding Akan groups and expanded the powers system within the centralized government, founding the Ashanti kingdom, with its capital at Kumasi. Opoku Ware I, Osei Tutu's successor, extended the borders and created a true empire, that stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, bordered by the Dagomba kingdom to the north and Dahomey to the east.

The birth of the kingdom is linked to the Golden Stool's (sika 'dwa) legend, which said that it floated down directly from the heavens straight into the lap of Osei Tutu I. The Golden Stool is sacred to the Ashanti and symbolizes the Ashanti union (Asanteman). It hasn’t been seen by many and only the king and trusted advisers know the hiding place. It's famous the blunder of Sir Frederick Hodgson, the Governor of the Gold Coast, who demanded to sit on the stool in 1900. The Ashanti remained silent and when the assembly ended, they went home and prepared for war. Although they lost on the battle field, they claimed victory because they fought only to preserve the sanctity of the Golden Stool, and they had.

Ashanti was one of the few African states able to offer serious resistance to European colonizers. Between 1823 and 1896 Britain fought 4 wars against the Ashanti kings, who controlled at that time over 250,000 km2 and ruled approximately 3 million people. In 1900, the British finally defeated the kingdom and incorporated it into the Gold Coast colony as a protectorate. Later relations have improved, and in 1926 the Ashanti was restored ceremonial control over Kumasi, and in 1935 the full role of leader of the Ashanti people was restored.

At the top of Ashanti's power structure stands Asantehene, King in some way, although the term hasn't the same meaning as in Europe. It’s interesting that titles aren’t hereditary, but there is a system of appointing central officials according to their ability, introduced even by Osei Kwadwo. As King, the Asantehene held immense power, but didn’t enjoy absolute royal rule, and was obliged to share considerable legislative and executive powers with Ashanti's sophisticated bureaucracy. He is also elected in the same manner as all other chiefs. Osei Tutu II is the 16th Asantehene, and he ascended the Golden Stool on April 26, 1999. Born on May 6, 1950, and named Barima Kwaku Dua, he was educated at Polytechnic of North London (now London Metropolitan University), from where he received on 2006 an honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The official Ashanti’s ruler titles is Asantehene (leaders of the people of the Ashanti), Osei (name) and Nana (clan-oldest, in this case of the Oyoko clan), besides also Oyokohene (head of the Oyoko Familienclans), Kumasihene (head of the city Kumasi) and Otumfuo (which means literally translated as much as powerfully / strongly / largely in the battle).

In this picture, Asantehene bears the famous kente (nwentoma), a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips (bankuo) about 4 inches wide, with dazzling, multicolored patterns of bright colors, geometric shapes, and bold designs. The colors have simbolic meanings, and those that Osei Tutu II bears reflects this thing, because yellow means royalty, wealth, fertility, red means political and spiritual moods, and green means vegetation, but also spiritual renewal. Kente is more than a clothing item, it’s a visual representation of history philosophy, ethics, oral literature religious beliefs and political thought.  

Gold adornments are also a sign of power and authority, and some of them are transmitted from one ruler to another. But Asantehene couldn’t adorn any gold ornament used by his predecessor until it has been purified through the performance of some rituals to exorcise the spirit of the departed king. Osei Tutu II holds in his right hand a fly-whisk made of animal hair, which is part of regalia.

The stamp is the same as on the first postcard, about which I wrote here.

sender: Emmanuel Bonsie (direct swap)
sent from Accra (Ghana), on 06.12.2011

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