Guide The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For AfricaS Gold Coast

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Ashanti Kingdom —History. Ashanti African People —History. There was one notable exception. The dramatic war between the Zulus and the British immediately captured the imagination of people throughout the West. In the first great battle of their six-month-long war, the Zulus very nearly annihilated a large British force, killing 52 officers, soldiers, and about of their African allies. More than a century later, the pageantry of red-coated Britons wielding bayonets against the short stabbing spears of flamboyantly costumed, impossibly brave Zulu warriors continues to be celebrated in books, on television, and in epic motion pictures such as Zulu and Zulu Dawn.

The extraordinary bravery and the military success of the Zulus earned them the respect of the British who fought against them and fascinated generations of Europeans and Americans, who have read about their resistance or seen it depicted in films. But for most people in Europe and America, recognition of the valor of African fighting men begins and ends with the Zulus.

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It has gone very largely unnoticed that both before and after the Anglo-Zulu war, African soldiers fought against invading European armies whose modern rifles, machine guns, and artillery killed them in terrible numbers. The men, and sometimes women, in these African armies were often gallant, and sometimes they won battles despite their inferior arms.

But most of the battles these African soldiers fought made little impact on European consciousness at the time, and they have since faded into almost complete obscurity. Some of the longest and most effective military resistance to European conquest took place in West Africa; by far the longest was the century-long struggle of the Asante of Ghana against the British.

From to , Asante armies fought numerous small and large battles against the British. In several of these they were the clear victors, the only West African army to defeat a European army in more than one major engagement. In the final conflict of , despite the British use of machine guns and powerful 75mm artillery, the Asante several times forced British columns to retreat.

The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa'S Gold Coast

Wolseley had fought and been wounded in several previous wars, but he called his campaign against the Asante the most horrible war he had ever fought in. And he very nearly did not win it. The Asante and the British fought more than one horrible battle. They fought bravely and cruelly as they struggled with disease and starvation as well as bullets and bayonets.

Much of this misunderstanding was the inevitable consequence of the British insistence on their racial and cultural supremacy, but the Asante too could be arrogant and self-righteous. The roots of conflict lay in the differing cultural heritages and economic interests of the two peoples. Although the most fundamental cause of the conflict was economic, the Asante practices of human sacrifice and slavery also played a part, as did British ignorance about the significance of the Golden Stool. What follows will describe the conflict between these two proud peoples, especially their military campaigns and something of the men who fought in them.

The emphasis will be on the military resistance of the Asante, but that can only be understood by examining the actions of the British, not least because most of the firsthand accounts of these wars were written by them. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Asante and British troops fought dozens of battles. Some were small-scale affairs fought more or less by mistake. Others were well-planned campaigns that involved many thousands of men. The Asante fought with such bravery that from the first battle to the last the British sang their praises.

Despite an inferiority in weapons that grew as the years passed, the Asante willingness to face death in battle never wavered. How they fought and why they did so is the subject of this book. In the mids, when my long-standing interest in this subject was piqued enough to start this project, all of those people who had firsthand knowledge of the events had passed on, and although searches of the Public Record Office in London, the Balme Library at the University of Ghana, the Basel Missionary Archives, the British Museum, and many other libraries and archives yielded much, I discovered nothing of major significance that previous scholars had missed.

Instead of continuing my frustrated search for something original, I found myself relying heavily on the published work of scholars, missionaries, soldiers, travelers, and newspaper correspondents. To modern-day scholars who find themselves cited in the bibliography, I extend my thanks for their marvelous work, as I do to all of those earlier merchants, missionaries, soldiers, colonial officers, and newsmen who braved inclement weather, deadly diseases, and bullets to record their experiences of that tumultuous century.

This book, like my two earlier books for The Free Press on African resistance to colonial rule— Like Lions They Fought and Mau Mau —is meant mainly for the general reading public rather than scholars. To make the book as accessible as possible to these readers I have avoided the use of technical anthropological terms for various aspects of Asante society and culture, and I have held the use of Asante terms to an absolute minimum. For example, I have referred to the Asante monarch as king rather than Asantehene, the Asante term, which is routinely used by most scholars when referring to the holder of this office.

I have also tried to reduce the number of place-names for villages, rivers, districts, and the like as well as the personal names of men and women whose roles were not central to the events being described. For this I apologize to the Asante people, but I hope that they will understand that my purpose is to make their history more easily understood to outsiders.

I would like to thank John McLeod of the British Museum for helping me to get started long ago, Merrick Posnansky for good advice about sources, various people at the University of London for helping me track down fugitive unpublished materials, and many of my students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles UCLA , for critically reviewing earlier versions of the manuscript.

I thank John Olmsted for skillfully and good-naturedly making the manuscript ready for the light of day, and Sharon Belkin for drawing the maps. I am especially grateful to my editor, Adam Bellow, for giving me his continuing support and for his enduring interest in the African experience. My greatest debt is to my wife, Karen Ito, for her astute anthropological criticism of the manuscript and, even more, for making everything worthwhile.

Incomparably the most powerful state in West Africa, it ruled over more than three million people throughout what is now Ghana then called the Gold Coast. This was more than half as many people as there were in the United States at that time and more than one quarter as many as the population of Britain, which was only eleven million in In area the empire was larger than England, Wales, and Scotland combined or, from an American perspective, the state of Wyoming.

From south to north it stretched for over four hundred miles, and it dominated nearly five hundred miles of coastline. If one could have flown over this large area at that time, the dominant impression would have been a seemingly endless expanse of dense tropical forest, only occasionally broken by clearings for a few large towns, smaller villages, and widely scattered plantations. One would see little to suggest the presence of the complex civilization that the Asante leaders had developed over the preceding two hundred years by military conquests that gave them dominion over defeated peoples, many of whom were forced into slavery.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the Asante armies fought and won over twenty major battles that extended their empire to include all of present-day Ghana. These were anything but bloodless victories, and this remarkable success could not have been achieved unless a very large number of Asante men and women believed that their empire was worth dying for. Great states had existed in West Africa for centuries before the Asante Empire—or Greater Asante, as historians now prefer to call it—came into being.

Far to the east of modern Ghana, the ancient kingdom of Ghana flourished for about a thousand years before it collapsed and disappeared in the middle of the thirteenth century. Its capital city of Kumbi Saleh, some one hundred miles north of modern Bamako, was the largest yet seen in West Africa, having about fifteen thousand people.

Ghana owed its greatness to its army of two hundred thousand men, whose iron-tipped spears allowed them to exact tribute and collect taxes from smaller states and chiefs over much of the western Sudan. Arab visitors raved about the wealth and elegance of the court, mentioning such extravagances as royal guard dogs wearing gold and silver collars and a thousand royal horses with silken halters that slept on carpets attended by three men for each horse. Ghana was succeeded by many other states in the western Sudan, the greatest being Mali, which remained powerful until sometime after A.

Farther to the east the Songhay Empire arose, and directly to the north of the Asante were the Mossi states. All of these states emerged in the savanna zone north of the great forest belt that covered the land closer to the sea. Free of the tsetse fly of the forest area, horses thrived there and trade flourished. Contact with the Arab world of merchants and scholars enriched these African states as well. The kingdoms of the southern forests were smaller in size and less opulent, but when the earliest Portuguese traders came to the Gold Coast in the Os, they found surprisingly regal men ready to trade with them shrewdly and with dignity.

For example, at their new trading post of Elmina, they met a king whose jewels, brocaded jacket, and elegant manners, combined with his shrewdness, fairness, and good judgment, made a highly favorable impression. Along the coast and just inland from Elmina lay numerous kingdoms of Akan- or Twi-speaking peoples, whose land contained many of the richest gold deposits in the world.

These Akan people shared similar religious beliefs and governmental practices and were excellent farmers and skilled cattlemen despite the great heat and humidity. They manufactured many tradable goods, from cotton cloth to spears and fishhooks, and were highly accomplished gold miners. They also kept slaves, most of whom came to them from the north in return for gold. The abundance of these two sources of wealth—slaves and gold—would bring more and more Europeans to the area until the British achieved a monopoly on trade and finally conquered the Asante. The Asante had created a national identity and deep patriotism, despite dependence on recent conquests and slaves, thus making them a formidable foe.

Edgerton writes with respect but does not idealize a people capable, like their foes, of brutality. He recounts a succession of conflicts and delineates the workings of the Asante state, the ambitions and tactics of the invaders and numerous anecdotes from the field of battle. His conclusion: though the Asante mostly wanted peace, the British? Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.

While most people are aware of the British wars against the Zulus, many are not as aware of the British campaign against the Asante empire of what is now the West African nation of Ghana. Edgerton anthropology and psychology, UCLA has written a book for general readers that details the military and cultural clash between these two peoples. Based on secondary sources and travelers' accounts of the time 19th century , the text is full of fascinating narratives and anecdotes from both sides, which makes for easy and fun reading.

Although many books have been written on this general topic, most are either more academically oriented or broader in scope. History buffs-especially military buffs-will enjoy this book. Paul H. Thomas, Hoover Inst. See all Editorial Reviews. Not Enabled. Share your thoughts with other customers.

Write a customer review. Showing of 9 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase. I've seen quite a few reviews declaring that the book gives a utopian view of Ashanti society, which I personally strongly disagree with. This book goes out of its way to show both the good and bad of Ashanti society, which I respect, though I do think that it falls prey to two common misconceptions surrounding the Ashanti.

Generally though, good read. I definitely recommend it. One person found this helpful. Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase.


Perhaps because I lived in the Gold Coast as a child, I found the book an interesting and well written history. Perhaps a bit too politically correct in the way that the author presents the pre-British society of the Asante to be quite idyllic apart from the constant human sacrifices! Format: Paperback Verified Purchase. Many students or afficianados of 19th century British colonial wars in Africa are only familiar with the more well-known episodes of same, such as the Anglo-Zulu War, the Boer Wars or the travails of Gordon and Kitchener in the Sudan.

This book is fascinating for its very readable study of the Asante formerly Ashanti tribe of modern day Ghana, which actually had a standing army armed with muskets and organized along neo-European tactics, who dominated their tribal neighbors and gave the British army and its African conscripts a real run for their money over an approximate year period. The author treats both sides of the conflict fairly, and it is apparent that the Asante wanted peace with the British in order to enhance their own prestige and trading opportunities in the area, but the British, under the guise of stamping out oppression to their coastal tribe allies and to stop human sacrifice, took it upon themselves to march inland and crush Asante dominance on several occasions, although not without being bloodied in the process.

This is one of those works of history that opens the door to a little known chapter of British military history, and which reads like a novel. Highly recommended, and contains some interesting illustrations and photographs as well. Excellent work here by the author, who writes with no bias, as we come to understand it in the modern text. Both sides are described for better and worse, warts and all. Slavery it seems practiced by the great African kingdoms all over Africa, is not something I remember being taught in school here in the US.

Interesting Information about the ashanty tribe and additionally better understanding about the colonialism in and of africa. The term gold coast is also better understood. Format: Paperback. Edgerton is a rather engaging book that can be read on several levels. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Fall of the Asante Empire , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about The Fall of the Asante Empire.

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Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jun 07, Andrew rated it liked it Shelves: ghana , united-kingdom , african-history. Edgerton is about the slow British invasion of modern day Ghana and the slow eclipse of the powerful Asante Empire. The Asante Empire was a regional power in Western Africa, roughly corresponding to the border of modern Ghana, that stretched its power over a large number of diverse states and peoples in the region.

The Asante Empire was ruled by a King who was commander of the armed forces, and served a largely constitutional role in terms of exercising direct political power. Political power was held largely by a diverse body of princes, generals and notables who met frequently to decide on major issues of state and direct policy choices to be carried out by the King and state. The Asante's had a huge and well disciplined army, to the point that British soldiers in the field were largely impressed by the discipline and courage of Asante soldiers - a tough thing to concede to the notoriously stoic British soldier in this time period.

The Asante's power was at its height in the early 19th century, and they were easily able to hold their own against all but the largest European expeditionary force. Asante troops were armed with flintlock muskets only slightly inferior to British weaponry early in the 19th century. Their armies were large enough, and the terrain of Ghana difficult enough, to make defense of the capital, Kumase, fairly easy.

The British attempt at conquest began at the beginning of the 19th century, but did not conclude until the beginning of the 20th century, when an Asante rebellion was put down and various tributary states finally conquered. During this time the British fought numerous battles with Asante armies. The Asante were largely victorious up until the 's, when superior British arms Breech loading rifles, for example began to overtake Asante arms.

The British also employed local Fante militia, who were hostile to Asante influence, as allies. This relentless hundred years of warfare between Britain and the Asante was costly to the British, who lost hundreds killed and wounded in battle, and thousands to diseases like malaria in the deep bush of Ghana. The Asante, however, began to shake. The Empire was built on a confederation of tribal states who were cowed into submission by the threat of Asante punitive raids.

The British succeeded in holding off repeated Asante attacks on the fortress port of Accra. They also supported and armed local hostile tribes against their tributary masters. This shook the foundations of Asante power, and the state began to crumble, culminating, after the rebellion, in the destruction of Asante power and the annexation of the Gold Coast region into the British colonial Empire.

Edgerton has written a fairly interesting book that does get tiresome after a while. The book is most interesting when describing either the composition of the Asante state, or the slow build-up of British influence in the region, as they competed with French and German interests in Western Africa.

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However, the dizzying portrayal of one hundred years of warfare, with multiple battles, numerous Kings and generals, and numerous governors in the Ghana region, make a difficult and dry read. Edgerton tries his best to craft an interesting book, and in some places does an excellent job. However, the lack of good sources from this time period, and from Asante sources, make reasoning very difficult. Edgerton often guesses the motivation behind certain decisions, but due to a lack of good sources from the Asante, it is difficult to speculate on why and how certain things occurred.

Although it posses interesting information on the Asante Empire, and on British colonial interests, the confusing nature of the one hundred year conquest, and the lack of good Asante sources, make this a difficult read to enjoy. Still, this can be recommended for those interested in the topic of British colonial expansion, or reading more on the Asante Empire. Rich with details, Edgerton paints a vivid picture of life and culture within the Asante kingdom at the apex of its power — a realm which reminded me of a cross between fictional Wakanda and Aztec Tenochtitlan -- before delving into the antecedents of the century long conflict.

One of the great strengths of this book is its balance. Edgerton keeps his narrative objective, noting acts of heroism, savagery, miscalculation, and misunderstanding on both sides of the conflict. Just as importantly, Edgerton does not limit his story to military side of things, but seasons the narrative with important civil, cultural and economic context.

Aug 30, Tim Martin rated it really liked it Shelves: history , reviewed , africa. Edgerton is a rather engaging book that can be read on several levels. It is an account of one of the last existing preliterate sub-Saharan African civilizations, the author providing speculation and first-hand contemporary accounts of one of the most noteworthy and powerful non-European civilizations of West Africa.

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As one might imagine it is also a vivid, detailed, and exhaustive though certainly not tedious tale of the various cold and hot wars that broke out between an ambitious, imperialistic British Empire and a sometimes bellicose but often surprisingly peace-loving native civilization, a tale filled with bravery, treachery, humor, and tragedy, of an African state that though locally quite powerful was increasingly aware of the growing disparity in military might between the two civilizations.