Image I (Left): Map of the Asante Empire (present-day Ghana) in West Africa
Image II (Right): The majestic influence of the Asante Empire extended beyond the Asante region, ultimately encompassing present-day Ghana, and even reaching into parts of present-day Ivory Coast and Togo.
Formal education in Western (European) civilization was not known in the Asante Empire. The Western educational system was unique in that students were put inside a classroom and reported to a central authority figure, the teacher. The teacher would teach students information from a standardized curriculum, and students would have to take exams to show their knowledge. The Asante educational system was much different, with three main types of schooling, which included:
Apprenticeship from Parents
Before British conquest and colonization of the Asante Empire, children received their first educational lessons from their parents. A farmer would teach his child farming; a hunter would teach his child hunting; etc. Thus, every child grew up to be an expert in their parents’ trade. This system was crucial to maintaining a healthy nation since, in theory, no skills would be lost from generation to generation.
Community Organized Education
The community also played a part in the upbringing of its youth. The local chiefs organized cultural classes for the adolescents, and this type of schooling focused on teaching the children the customs and traditions of the Asante Nation. This cultural education was called “Aheneahene,” and community leaders would organize courses annually. Community leaders knew the children were the nation’s future leaders; therefore, they appointed a few months each year and allowed the children to practice the activities of adults. For instance, all the young people gathered during the dry season, between December and February, and lived their parents’ lives. The girls would be given to the boys in mock marriages, and the boys had to follow their pretended wives to farm and weed their in-law’s farms. When they returned from the farm, the girls had to cook for their pretend husbands. The only thing young people could not practice was sexual activities, and this was strictly prohibited.
In the evenings, the boys and girls would all meet at a spot where the mock chief and elders would settle cases in the same manner as the king and his court. Children also practiced other activities such as various dances of the state, drum language, warfare, and understanding the meaning of Asante symbols. The symbols are called the Adinkra symbols, and they have various interpretations when imprinted on art, clothing, or jewelry. Symbols like “Gye Nyame,” which means “except for God,” are placed on items to remind the people that they should not fear anything except God Almighty. Understanding these various cultural practices were necessary for the Asante’s life because chiefs spoke to their subjects through drums, signs, and tradition. Young people were even taught how to convey messages through body language and dances, often used for religious purposes or to escape in an emergency.
Sometimes, citizens wanted to learn skills outside their parent’s knowledge, or a community needed more people from a particular profession. In these situations, the individual would be given a specialized education or apprenticeship with someone familiar with those skills. For example, a community might need more people weaving fabric. Anyone interested in this skill would live with a skilled weaver for a few years, learn the craft, and spend their time in this new profession. Another example would be fishing. If a parent could not teach the child how to fish, the child could move and live with a fisherman who would teach them this skill. In the long run, it would help the family and community by allowing young people to pick an occupation that interested them, which often helped increase the productivity of the town, and eventually the nation. Many examples, such as blacksmithing, weaving, boat-building, and other professions, followed this apprenticeship. This work-based educational model was great for helping people expand their knowledge and push society forward. Typically, male children were taught skills first, while women were usually groomed for marriage.
Beautiful Asante (Akan) Woman
The Western educational system incorporates a wide range of beliefs about science, philosophy, and administration. According to Osei Kwadwo, author of An Outline of Asante History Part 1 of 3 Third Edition: A historical account of West African history (An Outline of Asante Traditions), one negative aspect of Western (European) Christianity was through the Western educational system, which had profound effects on the Asante people. First, it was used to indoctrinate the young people, so they see the world through the optics from the Western Christian perspective. Secondly, Western Christianity was seen as a good, moral, and a right-minded religion. On the other hand, the traditional religion of the Asantes, which was practiced for hundreds of years before British rule, was labeled by the whites as “immoral, primitive, and pagan.” This worldview also impacted history teaching, where the Western world was always seen as morally superior while the Asante world was seen as barbaric. It is this biased view of history that was instituted through the Western educational system and still has negative ramifications during the modern era.
Also, another aspect of Western education was its influence on the political system. After the Asante Nation was annexed by the British and schools were built, it became clear to those Asante people who attended Western schools would gain employment and attain high positions with good pay and benefits. The population of the Asante realized that to move up within this new British colonial government system, one needed to obtain a Western education. That is why within a few years, it was no surprise that those who have top positions were all Western educated and had adopted Christian beliefs. The British used this tactic to slowly change the culture of the Asante Nation and prevent any Asante nationalists from gaining power and influence under their authority. Western education also purposely lacked focus in the culture of Asante. Under British rule, people from other crown territories were allowed to travel to the Asante region to conduct trading and business. The British took a cosmopolitan view of society, and this wide array of foreign customs and influences threatened the Asante way of life.
“If care was not taken to promote the Asante culture directly, the people would be influenced by foreign traditions and would soon forget their way of life.” – Osei Kwadwo, author of An Outline of Asante History Part 1 of 3 Third Edition: A historical account of West African history (An Outline of Asante Traditions)
Twi (Akan Dialect): “Obi nnim ɔbrempɔn ahyɛase.”
English Translation: “Nobody knows the beginning of a great man.”
Image I (Left): An Outline of Asante History Part 1 of 3 Third Edition: A historical account of West African history (An Outline of Asante Traditions, by Author Osei Kwadwo
Image II (Right): Nana Osei Agyeman Prempeh II of the Asante (1931-1970)
“The next change was that Prempeh II accepted his new role as a guardian of Asante customs and traditions, handling land disputes and pushing policy initiatives. This was a remarkable change since the king could use the new political system to form coalitions and build schools, hospitals, and sports teams to improve people’s quality of life. This adaptation and willingness to serve his people was why Prempeh II was such a great man.” – Author Osei Kwadwo
The Western educational system introduced the Asante people to science, a structured educational format, and (Western) Christianity and provided a different perspective on teaching and educating the civilian population. Conversely, the Western educational system did not teach the values or customs of the Asante as the native educational system did. Another point could be that the Western system was used to intentionally change the culture of the Asante people and instill Western values into the population. The aim of spreading Christianity would have been an aim that the British strongly supported. The reason is that many British authorities saw traditional Asante beliefs as repulsive. Like the practices of human sacrifice and slavery were two big reasons the Western world did not respect the native belief system. Therefore, the British believed that adopting Christianity would help so-called “civilize” the Asante Nation, and help the populace prosper in the long run.
Europe before Invading Africa
Before Europeans traveled south to Africa, the European continent wasn’t a so-called “civilized continent” because infidels were burned to death at the stakes, and they were tortured in many cruel and various ways. In fact, there were numerous laws invoked by the Christian and Catholic authorities that were unjustly harsh. For example, Historian Joseph O’ Callahan gave an example of the Usages which gave the Catholic sovereign the specified right to cut off hands and feet, put out eyes, imprison, and hang. The punishment of women offenders was no different from the men because rulers cut off their noses, ears, lips, and breasts. Spanish Catholic monarch Alfonso VII punished criminals by cutting hands and feet off and by hanging. Alfonso IX traditionally had thieves hanged, drowned, or boiled alive. Ironically, crimes including homicide and rape could be pardoned, by paying the monarch a specific sum of money, which was an important source of income for European kingdoms during medieval times.
These and other practices were associated with the Spanish Inquisition, which were “completely fine, moral, and in accordance” with so-called “civilized” European nations during medieval times before the Transatlantic slave trade reached the shores of West Africa.
In large parts of Europe, when communalism broke down, it gave way to widespread slavery as the new form in which labor was mobilized. This slavery in Europe continued throughout the European Dark Ages, with the Crusades between Christians and Muslims giving added excuses for enslaving people. The Crusades were another means by which Europeans became aware of Muslim learning. Despite the horrible massacre they committed against the Muslims, the more intelligent Crusaders, according to Historian Aldo Mieli, recognized that they were in contact with a civilization (i.e., The Moorish Civilization: The Black-a-Moors, Arabs, and Berbers) far superior to their own and tried to become acquainted with Arab literature.
“I have, personally, always been amazed that in all of humankind’s wars we have never fought over the devil. You can’t even get a good conversation started about the devil. Everyone understands you and everyone agrees. But God? You can go off on crusades to slay the infidels; you can be put on racks and flayed to be made to accept a God in which you do not believe; you can be run from one country to the next in order to be free to practice your religion, but it never will occur to you to let others have the same freedom. God is an ideal, but evil is real.” – Revolutionary Poet Nikki Giovanni, author of The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni
Adinkra Symbols and Meanings. The 50 Most Important Akan Proverbs. Adinkra Symbols and Meanings. Jan. 1, 2024. https://www.adinkrasymbols.org/pages/the-50-most-important-akan-proverbs/
Captivating History. Maya History: A Captivating Guide to the Maya Civilization, Culture, Mythology, and the Maya Peoples’ Impact on Mesoamerican History (Mesoamerican Civilizations). Captivating History. August. 3, 2018. Dec. 30. 2023. p. 122.
Giovanni, N. The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni. HarperCollins e-books. (Feb. 6, 2009). Dec. 31, 2023. p. 532.
Hatshepsut.co. The Mighty Ashanti Empire: History’s African Superpower. Hatshepsut.co. Dec. 30, 2023. https://www.hatshepsut.co/ashanti-empire/
Kwadwo, O. An Outline of Asante History Part 1 of 3 Third Edition: A historical account of West African history (An Outline of Asante Traditions). Publishing House of Poku; 3rd edition. (October 24, 2022). Dec. 30, 2023. p. Cover, 116, 287-289, 392-398, 408.
Linda, M. Asante woman image. Meme Linda. Pinterest. Jan. 1, 2024. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/107101297373878510/
Minneapolis Institute of Art. Sante Kente Cloth. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Dec. 30, 2023. https://new.artsmia.org/programs/teachers-and-students/teaching-the-arts/artwork-in-focus/asante-kente-cloth
Rodney, W. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Verso. (Nov. 27, 2018). Dec. 31, 2023. p. 41.
Sertima, I. Golden Age of the Moor. Transaction Publishers; 2nd Printing edition. (January 1, 1990). Dec. 30, 2023. p. 197, 199, 393.
Wikipedia. Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II. Wikipedia. Dec. 30, 2023. https://ha.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osei_Tutu_Agyeman_Prempeh_II