Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/769

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
725
ASHANTI

Gold Coast), and E. by the river Volta (which separates it from the German colony of Togoland); the southern frontier is conterminous with the northern frontier of the (British) Gold Coast colony. It forms an irregular oblong, with a triangular projection (the country of the Adansi) southward. It has an area of 23,000 sq. m., and a population estimated (1907) at 500,000.

Physical Features; Flora and Fauna.—A great part of Ashanti is covered with primeval and almost impenetrable forest.[1] Many of the trees, chiefly silk-cotton and hardwood, attain splendid proportions, the bombax reaching a height of over 200 ft., but the monotony is oppressive, and is seldom relieved by the sight of flowers, birds or beasts. Ferns are abundant, and the mimosa rises to heights of from 30 to 60 ft. All over the forest spread lianas, or monkey-ropes, their usual position being that of immense festoons hanging from tree to tree. To these lianas (species of which yield one kind of the rubber of commerce) is due largely the weird aspect of the forest. The country round the towns, however, is cultivated with care, the fields yielding in abundance grain, yams, vegetables and fruits. In the north-eastern districts the primeval forest gives place to park-like country, consisting of plains covered with high coarse grass, and dotted with occasional baobabs, as well as with wild plum, shea-butter, dwarf date, fan palms, and other small trees. Among the wild animals are the elephant (comparatively rare), the leopard, varieties of antelope, many kinds of monkeys and numerous venomous snakes. Crocodiles and two kinds of hippopotami, the ordinary and a pygmy variety, are found in the rivers. Of birds, parrots are the most characteristic. Insect life is abundant.

About 25 m. south-east of Kumasi is Lake Busumchwi, the sacred lake of the Ashanti. It is surrounded by forest-clad hills some 800 ft. high, is nearly circular and has a maximum diameter of 6 m. The Black Volta, and lower down the Volta (q.v.), form the northern frontier, and various tributaries of the Volta, running generally in a northerly direction, traverse the eastern portion of the country. In the central parts are the upper courses of the Ofin and of some tributaries of the Prah. Farther west are the Tano and Bia rivers, which empty their waters into the Assini lagoon. In their course through Ashanti, the rivers, apart from the Volta, are navigable by canoes only. The elevation of the country is generally below 2000 ft., but it rises towards the north.

Climate.—The climate, although unsuited to the prolonged residence of Europeans, is less unhealthy than that of the coast towns of West Africa. The water-supply is good and abundant. The rainy season lasts from the end of May until October; storms are frequent and violent. The mean temperature at Kumasi is 76° F., the mean annual rainfall 40 ins.

Inhabitants.—The most probable tradition represents the Ashanti as deriving their origin from bands of fugitives, who in the 16th or 17th century were driven before the Moslem tribes migrating southward from the countries on the Niger and Senegal. Having obtained possession of a region of impenetrable forest, they defended themselves with a valour which, becoming part of their national character, raised them to the rank of a powerful and conquering nation. They are of the pure negro type, and are supposed to be originally of the same race as the Fanti, nearer the coast, and speak the same language. The separation of Fanti and Ashanti has been ascribed to a famine which drove the former south, and led them to live on fan, or herbs, while the latter subsisted on san, or Indian corn, &c., whence the names Fanti and Santi. The Ashanti are divided into a large number of tribes, of whom a dozen may be distinguished, namely, the Bekwai, Adansi, Juabin, Kokofu, Kumasi, Mampon, Nsuta, Nkwanta, Dadiassi, Daniassi, Ofinsu and Adjisu. Each tribe has its own king, but from the beginning of the 18th century the king of Kumasi was recognized as king paramount, and was spoken of as the king of Ashanti. As paramount king he succeeded to the “golden stool,” the symbol of authority among the Ashanti. After the deposition of Prempeh (1896) no king of Kumasi was chosen; Prempeh himself was never “enstooled.” The government of Ashanti was formerly a mixture of monarchy and military aristocracy. The confederate tribes were originally organized for purposes of war into six great divisions or clans, this organization developing into the main social fabric of the state. The chiefs of the clans, with a few sub-chiefs having hereditary rights, formed the King’s Council, and the king, unless of exceptionally strong character, often exercised less power than the council of chiefs, each of whom kept his little court, making a profuse display of barbaric pomp. Land is held in common by the tribes, lands unallotted being attached to the office of head chief or king and called “stool lands.” Polygamy is practised by all who can afford it. It is stated by the early chroniclers that the king of Ashanti was bound to maintain the “fetish” number of 3333 wives; many of these, however, were employed in menial services. The crown descended to the king’s brother, or his sister’s son, not to his own offspring. The queen mother exercised considerable authority in the state, but the king’s wives had no power. The system of human sacrifices, practised among the Ashanti until the closing years of the 19th century, was founded on a sentiment of piety towards parents and other connexions—the chiefs believing that the rank of their dead relatives in the future world would be measured by the number of attendants sent after them. There were two periods, called the great Adai and little Adai, at which human victims, chiefly prisoners of war or condemned criminals, were immolated. There is reason to believe that the extent of this practice was not so great as was currently reported.

There are a few Mahommedans in Ashanti, most of them traders from other countries, and the Basel and Wesleyan missionaries have obtained some converts to Christianity; but the great bulk of the people are spirit-worshippers. Unlike many West African races, the Ashanti in general show a repugnance to the doctrines of Islam.

Towns and Trade.—Besides the capital, Kumasi (q.v.), with a population of some 6000, there are few important towns in Ashanti. Obuassi, in the south-west, is the centre of the gold-mining industry. Wam is on the western border, Nkoranza, Atabubu and Kintampo in the north. Kintampo is a town of some size and is about 130 m. north-east of Kumasi. It is the meeting-place of traders from the Niger countries and from the coast. Formerly one of the great slave and ivory marts of West Africa, it is now a centre of the kola-nut commerce and a depot for government stores. The Ashanti are skilful in several species of manufacture, particularly in weaving cotton. Their pottery and works in gold also show considerable skill. A large quantity of silver-plate and goldsmiths’ work of great value and considerable artistic elaboration was found in 1874 in the king’s palace at Kumasi, not the least remarkable objects being masks of beaten gold. The influence of Moorish art is perceptible.

The vegetable products do not differ greatly from those found on the Gold Coast; the most important commercially is the rubber tree (Funtumia elastica). The nut of the kola tree is in great demand, and since 1905 many cocoa plantations have been established, especially in the eastern districts. Tobacco is cultivated in the northern regions. Gum copal is exported. Part of the trade of Ashanti had been diverted to the French port of Assini in consequence of the wars waged between England and the Ashanti, but on the suppression of the revolt of 1900 measures were taken to improve trade between Kumasi and Cape Coast. Kumasi is the distributing centre for the whole of Ashanti and the hinterland. Gold exists in the western districts of the country, and several companies were formed to work the mines in the period 1895-1901. Most of the gold exported from the Gold Coast in 1902 and following years came from the Obuassi mines. The gold output from Ashanti amounted in 1905 to 68,259 oz., valued at £254,790. The railway to Kumasi from Sekondi, which was completed in 1903, passes through the auriferous region. As far as the trade goes through British

  1. The exact area of dense forest land is unknown, but is estimated at fully 12,000 sq. m.