The Asante was a state of Ghana occupied by the Akan people. During the 1700s the kingdom expanded under their ruler, Osei Tutu, and his successor, Osai Apoko, to cover most of Ghana, including the coast, which later became known as the Gold Coast because of its gold mines. Their trade in gold and other commodities, including slaves, spread out across the Atlantic.
In the 19th century British traders began to take control of the trade routes and coastal regions. Wars and treaties with British over possession of land continued throughout the century. Later in the century the slave trade declined and the Asante had to rely on its sales of Kola nuts to the north. However, the pressures of colonisation, and the British monopoly of the gold mines, proved too much for the state and it lost its independence in 1874.
At this time the ruler of Ejisu, a state in the Confederacy, was Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese. When he died in 1894, his sister Yaa Asantewaa nominated her grandson as ruler. However, in 1896 he was sent into exile with the King of Asante, Prempeh I, and Yaa Asantewaa herself became regent.
The Asante people had a legendary throne, known as the Golden Stool, which was believed to contain the spirit of the Asante nation. This throne symbolically represented the nation’s independence, and had never been sat on. In 1900, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded that the throne should be brought to him in honour of Queen Victoria, and he should be entitled to sit on it. This demand was insensitive in the light of the people’s reverence of the stool and created a great deal of anger and resentment amongst the Asante people.
Yaa Asantewaa reacted by starting the Asante uprising in 1900 which was intended to release the King. This started by an attempted ambush, and was followed by the siege of the British in Kumasi. The Asante only made one attack on the fort, and when a rescue party arrived, 600 men were released, who, despite further attacks on the road from around 1500 warriors, were able to get to the coast with a loss of 40 men.
A rescue force of 1000 men was sent out, and although they received heavy attacks from allied tribes, they were able to carry out an assault on Kumasi in July 1900, and relieved the fort within two days. Following this victory for the British, raids took place on regions that supported the uprising and eventually the Asante were completely defeated. Yaa Asantewaa was also exiled, and remained so until her death in 1921.
The Asante had the advantage at the beginning of the uprising, and the possibility of the uprising being a success seems at first glimpse to have been very high. However, there are various reasons why they were unable to defeat the British, and present a unified force.
Despite the Asante’s courage and cunning, the British also showed extreme bravery and enterprise in the face of horrific conditions, both for those in the siege, and for the relieving troops. The men and women in the garrison had only limited supplies, and after the initial release of the 600 who managed to make their way to the Cape Coast, the remaining garrison only had enough rations to last them for three weeks.