Osei Tutu


OSEI TUTU was the most noted ruler of the Ashanti, a powerful, warlike, and highly disciplined people of West Africa, whose history goes back more than 2000 years. The Ashanti are said to be the descendants of those Ethiopians mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Herodotus who were driven southward by a conquering Egyptian army.

It is believed that they traded with the Phoenicians long before the Christian era. They started trading with France in 1366 and with England in 1672. It is not improbable that Negroes from this region had been crossing over to America before Columbus.

Osei Tutu succeeded to the throne in I697, upon the death of his uncle, Obiria Yebo. In his youth he had been shield-bearer to Boa, King of Denkern, an overlord of the Ashanti kings. But handsome and stalwart Osei Tuti had a love affair with the king's sister; she had a child by him, and he was forced to flee for his life. To this there was to be a tragic sequel years later.

Coming to the throne, Osei Tutu removed the seat of government to Coomassie, and together with his cousin, Bautin, a neighboring monarch, entered into an alliance for the conquest of their neighbors. He reorganized his army, modeling it after the way of ants on the march.

This alliance led indirectly to a war with Bosinante, King of Denkera, a territory to the southwest-a war that was to shake all West Africa. As at Troy, the direct cause of the quarrel was a beautiful woman. Bosinante, ostensibly as a compliment, but really out of pride, sent a mission to Osei Tutu composed of his favorite wives. Richly clad and loaded down with jewels, they were accompanied by a magnificent escort of Bosinante's most stalwart warriors.

This royal delegation was received by Osei Tutu with all the honors and courtesy due its rank. He gave the queens rich presents and sent them safely back. In reciprocity, Osei Tutu sent Bosinant'e an embassy of his most beautiful wives, led by the chief queen, a woman of extraordinary beauty.

When this delegation arrived, Bosinante received its members with due respect, but fell in love at first sight with the beautiful chief queen. Bosinante was young and handsome, and the attraction was mutual.

On her return, Osei Tutu noticed that she was an expectant mother and swore that he would not rest until he had Bosinante's head. Bosinante offered him a large quantity of gold as the price of peace, but Osei Tutu was adamant. He began mobilizing his army, forgetting apparently that he had once been forced to flee from Denkera for a similar offense.

He ordered a great quantity of arms and ammunition from the Europeans. The Denkera, either through fear or negligence, made the fatal mistake of permitting his agents to transport these supplies through their country.

While Osei Tutu was in the midst of these preparations, Bosinante died. But Osei Tutu, determined upon conquest, led an army of 300,000 against Denkera. Aided by the Akim, another powerful tribe, the Denkera attacked the Ashanti but the allies were beaten in two great battles. Among the dead was Ntim, the Denkera king who was said to be Osei Tutu's son, born of the illicit union with King Boa's sister.

It took the Ashanti fifteen days to collect the spoils of the victory. According to Bosman, "One of the European officers who was sent after the battle as an embassy to the Ashanti king, saw the immense quantity of gold which he had reserved as his own share of the treasures from the Denkeras."

Much of this wealth had been derived from the sale of slaves to the New World. In addition, the Ashanti found among their booty the note by which the Dutch were obliged to pay tribute for the privilege of maintaining Elmina Castle.

Osei Tutu's vengeance went further. He dug up the body of Bosinante, stripped the flesh from the bones, and fed it to the serpents. The skull and thighbones he brought back as trophies for his palace, where Dupuis saw them a century later. Dupuis says that even then, the Ashanti, on their sacred feast days, execrated these relics.

As for the Akim, allies of the Denkera, they lost 30,000 of their men in battle. After his victory Osei Tutu invaded their territory and levied an enormous indemnity upon them as well as an annual tribute.

Osei Tutu next conquered all the neighboring tribes, clans, and villages, uniting them with his kingdom. His own people he ruled with such impartiality and generosity that he became a favorite with them.

When the Akim failed to pay their tribute of 4000 ounces of gold, Osei Tutu decided to annex their territory, and sent a large army against them in 1731. Intending to catch up with this army later, he went to visit the sepulchers of his forefathers at Bantama and to pay his respects to the tutelary diety. He was accompanied by his favorite wives, many of his children, and the flower of the nobility.

Having gone through the customary ceremonies, Osei Tutu started for Denkera territory with a handful of soldiers. He felt quite secure, as his army had already passed that way. But the Akim, learning of his plans, sent a strong detachment of men to ambush him.

Unsuspecting, Osei Tutu came along. Just as the royal party was about to cross the Prah River at Coromantee, the Akim opened fire. Osei Tutu was wounded in the side at the first volley. Springing from his litter, he was rallying his men when a second ball pierced his throat and he fell dead, plunging face downward into the river. Taking advantage of the confusion, the Akim charged, killing the whole party of 300, including 60 wives of the king and his nobles.

The loss of their beloved ruler prostrated the Ashanti, and their vengeance upon the Akim was devastating. They burned their city to the ground, killing every living thing in it. As in biblical days, not only the prisoners were sacrificed, but also the sheep, fowls, and dogs.

Osei Tutu's body was never found but his memory did not perish. He died on a Saturday and in commemoration his people instituted their most sacred oath after the sad event--Coromantee Miminda (Coromantee Saturday). The oath taken on this day was considered so solemn and binding that it was hardly ever mentioned by name, being spoken of as "the great oath of the dreadful day," and even then in a whisper.

They surnamed Osei Tutu "the Great." Dupuis says of the high esteem in which his people held him, "To the excellence of this monarch the Ashanti still revert with a national satisfaction. They say he was Good, as well as Great, for in his reign justice was ever on the alert and the claims of his subjects were listened to without distinction of rank or title."

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