Osei Kofi Tutu I


Osei Kofi Tutu I

Osei Kofi Tutu I was one of the co-founders of the Empire of Ashanti, the other being Okomfo Anokye, his chief priest. The Ashanti were a powerful, warlike, and highly disciplined people of West Africa. Osei Tutu led an alliance of Ashanti states against the regional hegemon, the Denkyira, completely defeating them. Then, through force of arms and diplomacy, he induced the rulers of the other Ashanti city-states to declare allegiance to Kumasi, his capital. Throughout his career he was politically advised by Anokye, a cleric whose spiritual authority over the people aided in his founding of the empire.

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The Founding of Ashanti Confederacy

The Empire of Ashanti was officially formed in 1701 and Osei Tutu was crowned Asantehene (King of all Ashanti). He would hold that position until his death in 1717 in a battle against the Akyem. Osei Tutu was the fourth ruler in Asante royal history, succeeding his uncle Obiri Yeboa. The Asante comprise the largest contingent of the Akan or Twi-speaking peoples. Akan societies are matrilineal, with a person belonging to the abusua of his mother. Inheritance, succession and status are lineally determined. Osei Tutu belonged to the Oyoko Abusua.

Background

By the middle of the sixteenth century, previous migrations of Abusua groups resulted in the development of a number of Akan states within a thirty mile radius of modern-day Kumasi, Ghana. The dense concentration of states in this limited area was primarily due to the region being a known source of gold and kola; two important trade routes—one from Jenne and Timbuktu in the western Sudan and the other from Hausaland—entered the area. These states were all dominated by the Denkyira. In the middle of the seventeenth century the last of the Abusua groups, the Oyoko Abusua, arrived.

Exploiting the Abusua's mutual hatred for their oppressor, Osei Tutu and his priest-counselor Okomfo Anokye succeeded in merging these states into the Asante Union. This was a carefully orchestrated political and cultural process, which was implemented in successive stages.

The Golden Stool

First, the union was spiritually brought into being through the Golden Stool, invoked by Okomfo Anokye, and explained as the embodiment of the soul of the Asante Union. The ruler—in essence the religious and political leader—and the occupant of the Golden stool was to be known as the Asantehene and to be subsequently selected from the lineage of Osei Tutu and Obiri Yeboa.

Osei Tutu as The Asantehene

Second, Kumasi was chosen as the capital of the Asante Union, and Osei Tutu was now both the Kumasihene and the Asantehene. The Odwira Festival was inaugurated. Established as an annual and common celebration, and attended by all member states, this served as a unifying force for the nation.

The Power of The King

Third, Osei Tutu, assisted by Okomfo Anokye, developed a new constitution for the Union. The Asantahene, who was also the Kumasihene, was at its head, with the kings of the states of the union forming the Confederacy or Union Council. While the power of the asantehene was not absolute, Osei Tutu enjoyed much despotic power. He was not only the chief executive officer but technically also the chief priest. Although in practice the Asantehene will defer to the actual priests. His capacity as the chief priest meant he never needed to maintained a large standing army to control his people like European kings and princes, because he himself represented not only the state but the society as well. He held a sort of psychological control in which attacking the king would equate to attacking society.

Military

Fourth, as one of the key objectives for forming the Asante Union was to overthrow the Denkyira, Osei Tutu placed strong emphasis on the military organization of the Union. Supposedly borrowing the military organization from the Akwamu, Osei Tutu honed the Union army into an effective and efficient fighting unit.

Expanding The Empire

With the Asante Union firmly established and its military organization in place, Osei Tutu embarked on wars of expansion and revenge.

After avenging his uncle's death at the hands of the Dormaa and bringing some recalcitrant states in line, Osei Tutu focused on the Denkyira. In 1701, the absolute defeat of the Denkyira and their abettors, the people of Akyem, brought the Asante to the attention of the Europeans on the coast for the first time. The victory broke the Denkyira hold on the trade path to the coast and cleared the way for the Asante to increase trade with the Europeans.

Death of The Asantehene

In 1717, Osei Tutu was killed in a war against the Akyem. At the onset of the struggle, he had underestimated the Akyem because they were few in number, going into battle without his usual "magical amulets," and even leaving some of his body armor back at Kumasi, his capital. One day, as he was crossing a river in a canoe, he was struck by bullets from snipers and sharpshooters, who were hiding in the dense treeline. Asantehene Osei Tutu I died minutes after being shot. His last words were "Ankah me nim ya" (If only I knew), an apparent reference to his having underestimated the Akyem.

The Legacy

Osei Kofi Tutu I and his adviser, Okomfo Anokye, forged the Asante Union from a number of different Abusua groups who submerged their old rivalries and hatred for the common good—the overthrow of their common oppressor, the Denkyira. Skillfully utilizing a combination of spiritual dogma and political skill, and ably supported by military prowess, Osei Tutu tripled the size of the small kingdom of Kumasi which he had inherited from his uncle Obiri Yeoba and laid the foundation for the Empire of Ashanti in the process.

References


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