Art of Asante, Crafts of Kumasi

Our time here in Kumasi has been spent studying the culture of the Asante ethnic group. The Asante, a subgroup of the larger ethnic group Akan, is the largest ethnicity in Ghana. On Saturday, we began our study here in Kumasi with a visit to the Manhyia Palace. The palace was built by the British in compensation for putting the Asante king, Prempeh I, in exile on the Seychelles Islands. The Asante did not want to accept the Palace as a gift, however, in worries that the British would use the palace as leverage. King Prempeh I refused to live in the palace until the Asante had fully paid for it.

In November, the Queen Mother, Nana Aida Kobi passed away after 39 years of ruling. She was the mother of the current king of the Asante, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. The Queen Mother's role, first and foremost, is a counselor to the King. She also holds the honor of nominating the next king. The whole city of Kumasi was in mourning as the final burial procedures took place from the 16th to the 18th of January. We had the privilege of attending the burial ceremony on January 16th, and it was a joyous and colorful celebration of the Queen Mother's life. We heard some of the traditional drumming that is done at funeral ceremonies and we saw several chiefs dancing along to the beats. Experiencing the traditional music for ourselves was an amazing moment. The drums were massive and loud. They are called "talking drums" and are beaten using a special stick shaped like a seven. There are many ways to change the sound and pitch of the drum, leading to a variety of music to dance along to. The funeral processions were held at Manhyia Palace.

The Palace now operates as a highly guarded museum - sorry, no pictures allowed! The inside is full of gold and silver artifacts, pictures of the previous kings who have lived in that palace, and elaborately woven clothes. We learned all the different symbols that were often stamped onto clothes that the King would wear draped over his shoulders. After our tour concluded, we drove to the outskirts of Kumasi to visit the craft villages were many of these intricate clothes are made.

We saw the looms used for weaving bright clothes together. Triple weave cloths were intricately patterned and bursting with colors. We then drove out to a small village that specializes in ink stamping onto cloths. Each stamp is intricately carved into symbols, each symbol meaning something different. We got to participate in the ink making process. The ink is made from the bark of the Badie tree. The bark is crushed inside a mortar and pestle, before being boiled up to four days to produce thick black ink. Students had the opportunity to stamp their chosen symbols onto their strips of colorful cloth. For example, two popular symbols among our classmates meant "tit for tat - do unto others as you would have done unto you" and "Except God"

Our time spent in Kumasi was filled with the art, music, and dance of the Asante culture. We have now pressed on to Cape Coast, having arrived there yesterday, January 18th.

More updates to come soon!


Kumasi Loom
Making the Ink