Osei Kofi Tutu I
|Osei Tutu I|
|King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti; Kumasehene of Kumasi|
|King of the Kingdom of Ashanti|
|Reign||c. 1675 / c. 1680 – c. 1717|
|Predecessor||Otumfuo Nana Obiri Yeboah|
|Successor||Opoku Ware I|
|Died||c. 1717 (aged 56–57)|
|House||House of Oyoko Abohyen Dynasty|
Osei Kofi Tutu I was one of the founders of the Ashanti Empire, aided by Okomfo Anokye, his chief priest. The Asante are a powerful, warlike, and highly disciplined people of West Africa. Osei Tutu led an alliance of Asante states against the regional hegemon, the Denkyira, completely defeating them. Then, through force of arms and diplomacy, he induced the rulers of the other Asante 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.
Founding of the Asante Confederacy
The Empire of Asante 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 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.
By the middle of the 16th century, previous migrations of Abusua groups resulted in the development of a number of Akan states within a 30-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 17th 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 from the sky, and explained as the embodiment of the soul of the Asante People. 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 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. At the Odwira Festival, disputes between the chiefs were settled. The Asantehene was the only one allowed to sit upon the golden stool because he was the one chosen by the ancestors.
The power of the King
Third, Osei Tutu, assisted by Okomfo Anokye, developed a new constitution for the Union. The Asantehene, 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 maintain large standing armies to control his people like the princes of Europe. This is because he himself represented not only the state but the society as well. He held a sort of charismatic authority in which attacking the king equates to attacking the ancestors.
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. Osei Tutu used the pincer formation whereby soldiers attacked from the left, right and rear. This formation was later adopted by all the small states that were annexed by the Asante state due to its success.
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 neighboring kingdoms, brought the Asante to the attention of the Europeans on the coast for the first time. The victory broke the hold those kingdoms had on the trade path to the coast and cleared the way for the Asante to increase trade with the Europeans.
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 River Pra 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 a" (If only I knew), an apparent reference to his having underestimated the Akyem. Till the present day the occupant of the Golden Stool is forbidden to cross River Pra.
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.
A shrine in Anyinam commemorates the birth of Osei Tutu. The village chief told Gus Casely-Hayford regarding Osei Tutu, "He was more than a man, he was our messiah, brave, intelligent, someone who through almost force of will forged this country. He built a culture, it did not evolve; it was made by a great man."
References and notes
- "Osei Tutu (d. 1717)", Black History Pages.
- "Osei Tutu", Encyclopædia Britannica.
- "The Precolonial Period", in La Verle Berry, ed., Ghana: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1994.
- "His Majesty The King of Asante Otumfuo Osei Tutu II From Ghana, Makes First Visit to Boston - Wednesday, November 2, 2005"
- "Osei Tutu", Ijebu.