FOUNDER OF THE ASHANTI NATION (d. 1731)
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
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
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,
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
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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