The Journal of African History

Research Article

The Ashanti Confederacy1

William Tordoff

The Basel missionaries, Ramseyer and Kühne, had this to say of Ashanti government in the reign of Kofi Karikari (1867–74):

…the reins of the Ashantee government are not exclusively in the hands of the king, nor does he possess unlimited power, but shares it with a council which includes, besides his majesty, his mother, the three first chiefs of the kingdom [Juabenhene, Bekwaihene, and Mamponghene], and a few nobles of Kumasi (Coomassie). This council is called ‘Asante Kotoko’, or the Ashantee porcupine, which means that like the animal of that name, nobody dare touch them.…It is this Kotoko council which rules the entire kingdom, and deals with the people, who must obey, whatever their own wishes or inclinations may be, in the most despotic way.…In important matters all the other chiefs of the kingdom are called together to discuss the case, but they are sure to vote in accordance with the view of the council, for who would dare to oppose the Kotoko?


1 The following abbreviated references have been used in the footnotes:

C.O./96 refers to the volumes covering all Gold Coast despatches to and from London, with enclosures and Colonial Office minutes, in the Public Record Office, London. C.–7917 refers to Further Correspondence Relating to Affairs in Ashanti (London, 1896) and C.–7918 to Further Correspondence Relative to Affairs in Ashanti (London, 1896), both being Papers presented to the United Kingdom Parliament by command of Her Majesty.

In writing this paper—a by-product of my research into a more recent period of Ashanti political history—I have been considerably helped and encouraged by Ivor Wilks of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana; I am indebted to him for supplying the references from Dutch records. I have also benefited greatly from discussions with a number of Ashanti friends, notably Nana H. Owusu-Ansah of Kumasi.