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History, Early States and Kingdoms

The ancestors of today’s Akan speakers settled in the forest region of central Ghana by the 13th century and became involved in the prosperous trade with the north by the 15th century. According to oral traditions, the Ga-speaking people of the coastal plains and the Ewes of the Volta region migrated to Ghana from the east around the 13th century. By the second half of the 15th century when the first Europeans arrived in the area, the ancestors of most of today’s ethnic groups were already established in the present territories. In this period, the various groups began organizing into states. Over the years, trade contacts with the Islamic states of the north and, later, with the Europeans on the coast contributed to the rise and fall of these local states. The Ga people of the coastal plains organized into an effective political unit in approximately 1500. Islamic trade networks stimulated the development of Akan states, and the Akan-speaking Denkyira people of the southwest rose to become a dominant power by the 1650s. In the northern regions of the country, the Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprusi contested for political power in the 1620s. However, it was the Ashanti Kingdom, located in south central Ghana, that was the most influential.

The Ashanti people, members of the Twi-speaking branch of the Akan, settled the upland region near Lake Bosumtwi by the mid-17th century. Under a series of military leaders, they expanded and gathered into five major political units. Around 1700 an Ashanti confederacy, under the leadership of Osei Tutu of Kumasi, conquered the Denkyira state. Osei Tutu was declared the first asantehene, the king of a united Ashanti nation. Under his leadership and that of his immediate successors, the new nation expanded rapidly into an empire.

Political relations in the Ashanti confederacy were defined, preserved, and regulated by an oral constitution. The asantehene held power as commander in chief of the Ashanti armies. He had the authority to hear citizens' appeals, and all major chiefs of the Ashanti nation swore an oath of allegiance to him. Rulers of the confederate states, however, were allowed many privileges, including control over the inheritance of land and the right to preside over cases brought before them. Ashanti expansion toward the coast began in the first decade of the 19th century. By 1820 Ashanti held some degree of military and political influence over all of its neighbors.

 

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