Over 300 years ago, Okomfo Anokye, the Ashanti empire’s priest or traditional healer who was also a friend and advisor to Osei Tutu (the Ashanti king at the time), convened a meeting of all the heads of each Ashanti clan. The plan was to unite under one of the chiefs whose stool would be larger than all the other stools, and any chief enstooled by any of the states would have to swear allegiance to him.
According to oral history, the meeting was also part of Osei Tutu’s meticulously planned overthrow of the Denkyira, a neighboring kingdom and a highly developed Akan state that was rapidly growing and gaining dominance over other southern states in the 16th and 17th centuries.
During the meeting, Okomfo Anokye conjured a mysterious golden stool from the heavens, which landed on Osei Tutu’s lap, indicating that he had been chosen as the “unquestionable king of the kings of the Asante Nation” by the ancestors and the gods.
The gold stool, according to Okomfo Anokye, contained the spirit and soul of the Asante Nation. Osei Tutu swore an oath of allegiance to the Golden Stool, and all the chiefs swore an oath of allegiance to Osei Tutu as well as an oath never to raise arms against the Golden Stool. That was the start of the Asante Kingdom (or the Ashanti Kingdom).
As a result, Osei Tutu became the first King of the Asante Kingdom. In 1699, the Asantes went to war against the dominant neighboring kingdom, Denkyira, and won with the help of Okomfo Anokye.
The Golden Stool is considered so sacred because it represents nationhood and contains the soul of the Asante that no one is allowed to sit on it. It is kept under strict security and is only taken outside on grand occasions such as the Akwasidae festival.
The great Ashanti Kingdom’s Akwasidae festival, which commemorates the time when the Ashanti Golden Stool was magically brought down from heaven and worships ancestral spirits, is held once every six weeks on a Sunday.
Having a significant place on the Asante’s traditional calendar, every paramount chief in Asanteman (Ashanti Kingdom) in Ghana’s city of Kumasi observes the day in his jurisdiction, but the main event is held at the Manhyia Palace. The Asantehene (Ashanti King) sits in the state for his subjects and other visitors to pay homage to him.
In a palanquin, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, arrives at the palace or festival grounds. Following him are other chiefs, courtiers, and members of his security detail. A display of rich Asante culture includes dancing, drumming from different cultural bands, and musket firing in front of chiefs and queen mothers presided over by the Asantehene, ministers of State, political party representatives, MPs, the business community, and international visitors, as well as the people of Asanteman. During the durbar held in the Asantehene’s honor, colorful brands of Kente cloth are also displayed.
The Akwasidae is primarily an opportunity to reaffirm the Ashanti people’s independence and the loyalty of each state to the confederacy formed following the Ashanti war of independence fought against the Denkyira. In other words, the festival is held to demonstrate loyalty to the Asantehene, the occupant of the Golden Stool.
The Golden Stool, which is thought to house the spirit of the Ashanti nation — living, dead, and yet to be born — has a curved seat 46 cm high, a platform 61 cm wide, and a depth of 30 cm. Its entire surface is gold-inlaid and hung with bells to warn the king of impending danger. The Asantehene sits near the installed Golden Stool at Akwasidae.
It’s worth noting that Akwasidae is divided into two parts. Aside from the public celebrations, there are “solemn private ceremonies” performed by members of the royal family at the king’s palace chambers, according to various accounts. There are rituals to cleanse the king’s spirit, as well as the offering of ceremonial meals such as mashed yam and strong drinks to ancestral spirits whose blessings are required to guide the kingdom’s affairs. According to the report, there is also the purification of “black, ancestral, hand-carved stools” to pay homage to deceased kings.
Overall, Akwasidae is a time to learn new history, reconnect with one’s roots, strengthen traditional bonds, and come together for the betterment of society. This month’s Akwasidae was held at the Manhyia Palace over the weekend in collaboration with the Olu of the Warri Kingdom, Nigeria, Ogiame Atuwatse III.
According to the Manhyia Palace, the Olu of Warri Kingdom’s visit to Asanteman was to strengthen the union between the two kingdoms and to congratulate the Asantehene on his 23rd enstoolment on the Golden Stool.
The Adae Kese Festival is the year’s final Akwasidae. It is usually held with the help of donations sent to the poor and needy.