Sometimes referred to as the Asante, the Ashanti people are native to the country of Ghana, where they remain a major ethnic group within the country today. Their primary language is known as Twi, an Akan dialect that linguists consider very similar to Fante in pronunciation and sentence structure.
Prior to the European colonization of the western section of Africa, the Ashanti has established a culture that was considered to be the most powerful of its day. Along with such peoples as the Akyem, Assin, and Denkyira, the Ashanti people are understood to be descendants of the Akan nation that migrated form the northwestern region of Africa after the collapse of the Ghanian empire during the thirteenth century. Traces of the rituals and ruling customs bear a great deal of resemblance to the old Akan empire, which coupled with the similarities in the dialect, build a strong case for this theory.
Once established in the area that includes modern day Ghana, the Ashanti People established the Ashanti Confederacy, which flourished for several centuries. The zenith of its power is thought to be when the Confederacy defeated the powerful Denkirya in 1701. Owing to the presence of large amounts of gold deposits, the Ashanti established regular and profitable trade with the Islamic world. This is evidenced today by the Ashanti word for money, sikki, which has its roots in the Arabic tongue.
The Legend of the Golden Stool plays a central role in the culture of these people. At a meeting of all the clan heads who were part of the Ashanti Confederacy, it is reported that a stool of gold was delivered from heaven at the behest of Okomfo Anokye, a powerful priest and advisor to the king. The stool came to rest in the lap of Osei Tutu I, the kind of the Ashanti. The stool was declared to be the symbol of a unified people and was used for oaths of allegiance to the empire and to the king. Today, the Golden Stool remains a powerful symbol, as it is believed that the stool contains the spirit of the Ashanti.
The arrival of European conquerors was met with a great deal of resistance. In order to combat the invaders, the Ashanti people sought an alliance with the Dutch. For many years, the Ashanti were able to withstand the onslaughts of Great Britain, but finally were defeated and incorporated into the Gold Coast Colony in 1900.
In spite of the incorporation, the Ashanti people continued to control much of the government and the culture of the region. While attempts to locate and seize the Golden Stool were fruitless for years, it was finally uncovered in 1920, and stripped of the ornaments. At that point, the stool itself ceased to have any importance to the Ashanti, since it had been desecrated. By 1935, the United Kingdom has returned full control of the Ashanti people, through the Asantehene.
Contemporary Ghana is a combination of many ethnic groups, with the groups tracing their heritage back to the Akan comprising the largest collective of groups and cultures. The Ashanti people remain the largest of these groups, and the current president of Ghana is an Ashanti. However, the tone in the country is much more along the lines of nationalistic than tribal. This does not mean the traditions of the Ashanti people have faded from sight, but that many have been reinterpreted for today’s world and tend to have more of an impact on the language of the Ghanian people, as well as some enduring national customs.