ASANTEHENE AGYEMAN PREMPEH I
Agyeman Prempeh I (1871-1931) was Asantehene during British colonisation of Ghana. He refused to agree to the Asante Empire becoming under British control and was resultantly exiled. While in exile he learned to read and write, and later returned to the Asante Empire.
Asante (also known as Ashanti) - people from the south-central Ghana (and Togo and Côte d’Ivoire)
Asante Empire - the area inhabited by the Asante and ruled by the Asantehene
Asantehene - king/chief of the Asante
Entrepreneurship - setting up new business
Gold Coast - name for Ghana when the British held colonial power
Golden Stool - sacred Asante symbol of power and the seat of the leader
Offertory - a donation to the church
Protectorate - a situation where one state holds some power over the other
From the beginning of Prempeh’s reign, the British proposed that the Asante Empire could become a British protectorate, and Prempeh kept saying no. Prempeh thought a partnership with the British would better allow him to improve the Asante economy. However, Governor WB Griffith (Governor of the Gold Coast) said that the Asante could not stay independent as they controlled the trade routes that the British wanted. As a result, the British organised a military expedition to Kumasi. The British said the reason for this expedition was that the Asante were ‘barbaric’.
When the troops arrived in Kumasi, Prempeh welcomed them as guests. He forbade his generals from fighting the troops. There are different ideas about why he did not want to fight the British, some say that he thought a military confrontation might destroy the Asante nation, others say that he owed the British as they helped him to become Asantehene. The British troops said the Asante owed the British gold because the Asante had fought the British at a previous battle (Battle of Amoaful, 31 January 1874.). Prempeh offered to pay in installments as he could not pay in full at the time. The British did not accept and Prempeh was arrested, along with his parents, his younger brother and several chiefs. They were taken on foot to Cape Coast Castle.
Arriving at Cape Coast, Prempeh saw the sea for the first time. They were scared and sea-sick when they were taken to Elmina Castle by boat in 1896. The British were not happy that Prempeh was still in contact with the Asante and so decided to move Prempeh and the other arrested Asante to Sierra Leone in 1897. Prempeh asked for them to be allowed to stay at Elmina, saying that they were ‘bad sailors’ but the British still took them to Sierra Leone.
On 28 March 1900, while Prempeh was still in Sierra Leone, the British demanded the Golden Stool from the Asante. The Asante fought the British, as they did not want to give up the sacred Golden Stool but the British won. Now the British were more worried about the Asante and decided to move Prempeh further away, he was sent to the Seychelles with the other arrested Asante.
Prempeh realised that the only way he was going to get back to the Asante Empire was by getting the British to trust him. So he decided he would show them that he was loyal and to behave like the British. He learnt to read and write, and made the most of opportunities for learning about technology. He encouraged other Asante to do this so that they would have more knowledge when they finally returned to Kumasi. As the British were Christian, Prempeh took an interest in Christianity and made all the Asante camp go to church. In 1904 he was baptised and chose to become part of the Anglican church like the British Royal family. He took a christian name - Edward. He sent a letter to Kumasi encouraging the Asante to become Anglican. He also arranged for two out of his three wives to be sent away, so that he would be monogamous (only have one partner). He continued to celebrate his Asante beliefs as well but referred to these as Asante culture so that the British would not be concerned that he had another religion as well as Christianity.
While he was in exile, he kept sending letters requesting that the British allow him to return to Kumasi. In the letters he emphasised that he was modern with his ideas and that the Asante had been changed: they had abolished slavery, stopped human sacrifice and schools were doing well.
Finally, on 12 May 1924, he was told he would be repatriated if he lived as a private citizen (instead of as a leader) in Kumasi. He agreed but it was difficult for him to live as a private citizen, as he had not been replaced as Asantehene and was still the king of the Asante. Between 1924 and 1927, was a hard time as he was scared that the British would exile him again. For example, in 1925, he visited a supporter. The supporter said that he was going to sacrifice a slave for Prempeh’s followers who died whilst in exile. Prempeh was scared; human sacrifice was against Christianity and the British would not approve.
Prempeh wanted the Asante Empire to improve, he wanted his reign to have had a positive impact on the Asante Empire - he wanted a ‘positive legacy’. He thought he could do this in two ways: modernisation and tradition. In terms of modernisation, he encouraged education and entrepreneurship. For tradition he did three things: firstly, the Golden Stool had been hidden from the British during his exile and had been damaged. He restored the Stool and presented it at a church ceremony. Secondly, he brought back the remains of those Asante who had died in exile to Kumasi and held a grand funeral for them and Royalty who had died during his exile in March 1931. Thirdly, he stopped being monogamous and reintroduced the Royal harem; part of the Asante tradition was for the Asantehene to have wives from many different political families. This was a glorious time for Prempeh and it was the final year of his reign.
On 12 May 1931 Prempeh went to St. Cyprian’s Church. He wasn’t well enough to get out of the car and go in, but he sent in offertory and then returned home. A few hours later he died.
6 April 2020, Laura Webb
Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I was born around 1871 in Kumasi, Gold Coast (Ghana).
Aged 16 he was a candidate to become Asantehene (king). Prempeh has light-skinned, and some of the royal family were worried by this. This was because a priest, Okomfo Anokye, warned that if the next Asantehene was light-skinned then the Asante Empire would collapse. However, Prempeh was also known to be brave. One day, he was out hunting when a leopard attacked the group he was with. Prempeh saved a servant from the leopard. After this it was known that he was not cowardly.
The other candidate to become Asantehene was Yaw Atwereboanna. He had a reputation as extravagant (wasteful) and a womaniser, he also had ‘neck disease’ which meant he was not physically perfect. Asantehene had to be physically perfect.
Prempeh was chosen to be Asantehene, some sources say that the British helped Prempeh to become Asantehene. His stool name was Kwaku Dua Asamu III. He was installed in 1888 but could only be officially placed on the Golden Stool after the funeral of the previous Asantehene in 1894. While he was waiting to be enstooled, the Asante had experienced a civil war and in the 1890s Prempeh was successful in uniting the Asante.
Image: The Golden Stool
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