THE GOLDEN STOOL: ASANTE, GHANA
The Golden Stool (full title, Sika Dwa Kofi) has been the symbol of power in Ashanti Kingdom since the 17th century. According to oral tradition, Okomfo Anokye, a High Priest and one of the two founders of the Ashanti Confederacy, conjured the Golden Stool, decorated with golden bells, and caused it to descend from the sky where it landed at the feet of Osei Tutu I, the first Asantehene (King) of Ashanti. Beginning with Osei Tutu I, the Ashanti have believed that the Golden Stool houses the soul of the Ashanti nation.
The Stool, made of gold, stands 18 inches high, 24 inches long, and 12 inches wide. It was never allowed to touch the ground and was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to sit on it. Each new Ashante king is lowered and raised over the Golden Stool without touching it. No one could be considered a legitimate ruler without the Golden Stool, which usually occupied its own throne next to the Asantehene.
The Ashanti maintained the Golden Stool as their most prized possession. Before they went to war, their war chiefs consulted it. As time progressed and as the Ashanti scored more victories over their rivals, turning their kingdom into an empire, the Golden Stool became even more revered.
By the 19th Century, the Ashanti began a series of clashes with the British Empire which had established effective control of the coastal region of what is now Ghana. They fought three Anglo-Ashanti Wars between 1824 and 1874, with the British and their African allies gaining more control over Ashanti Territory. During the fourth Anglo-Ashanti War, the British and their Indian and African allies defeated Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh, eventually capturing him and sending him into exile in the Seychelles Islands.
The final war (1900), essentially a rebellion led by Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother and Gate Keeper of the Golden Stool, was prompted by the demand by Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, the British Governor of the Gold Coast to sit on the Golden Stool. With his remark, Yaa Asantewaa led a rebellion called the Word of the Golden Stool which began on March 28, 1900. The intense fighting led to the death of more than 2,000 Ashanti and 1,000 British and Allied troops. Both totals were higher than the deaths from all previous Anglo-Ashanti wars combined. The war ended, however, after six months.
Yaa Asantewaa was captured by the British in 1901 and quickly exiled to the Seychelles, where she died in 1921, but the British never captured the Golden Stool. Hidden by the Ashanti, it was discovered by a group of African railroad builders in 1920. They stripped it of its gold ornaments and were tried by the Ashanti and sentenced to death. British colonial authorities intervened, however, and they were exiled from the Gold Coast Colony.
After realizing the importance of the Golden Stool to the Ashanti, the British gave assurances that they would never interfere with it again. Restored to its ceremonial place, the Golden Stool continues to be used in rituals crowning the Asantehene, although he is now considered a traditional ruler without political power or influence. Nonetheless, the Golden Stool remains a cherished symbol of the former Ashanti Empire.
Contributed by Philip Ewusi, blackpast.org