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People and history


Osei Tutu reorganized the Asante army, greatly improving tactics (Boahen, 1966). He attacked the Domaa first, defeating them, and then prepared to battle Denkyira, at that time the greatest power in the region. Defeating Denkyira was essential, for they controlled the trade routes to the coast, and could thus prevent the Asante from trading for European goods, including guns (Anti, 1996).

At first, the Denkyirahene (the king of the Denkyira) tried to befriend Osei Tutu, offering compensation to the Asante for past wrongs. But the zeal of the Asante for independence from the Denkyira proved too strong, and war broke out in 1699. Although badly defeated at the outset, the Asante shattered the Denkyira army in 1701, and reached into Denkyira lands, establishing overlordship (Davidson, 1998). Among the prizes of war came the rental agreement for Elmina castle. From this point on, the Asante were in direct contact with European powers.

Next the Asante attacked Akim, which had been an ally of Denkyira, defeating them in two wars. The new Asantehene, Opoku Ware (enstooled in 1720) next had to battle an alliance of Denkyira, Sefwi, Akim, and Akwapim soldiers-these even captured Kumase briefly before being defeated by the Union of the Asante (Davidson, 1998). Not content with these victories, the Asante spread out far to the north, covering an area larger than present-day Ghana (Boahen, 1966). In 1744, they occupied Dagomba, thus reinforcing their control over trade routes to the Niger River.

The Asante were fortunate in that all of their early rulers were good administrators as well as good warriors. In addition to conquering new lands, they introduced changes to government in order to meet the demands that administering such a large empire required. Government communications became more formalized and ritualized (cf. Yankah, 1995). Much of their success arose from the transformation of their economy from one based on foraging and small-scale ("ancient") agriculture to a very sophisticated approach involving crop rotation and leaving land fallow for lengthy periods (Wilks, 1993). Such a system required vast amounts of human labour, which was often paid for in gold.

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