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HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COAST

?A LOOK AT GHANA?S UNTAPPED RESOURCES

?You must always know the past, for there is no real Was, there is only is?. ? William Faulkner

It is the third largest of 10 administrative regions, occupying a total land surface of 24,389 km2 (9,417 sq. mi) or 10.2 per cent of the total land area of Ghana. In terms of population, however, it is the most populated region with a population of 3,612,950 in 2000, accounting for 19.1 per cent of Ghana?s total population. The Ashanti region and Kingdom of Ashanti and Ashantiland is known for its major gold bar and cocoa production and also harbors the capital city of Kumasi. Welcome.

The Manhyia Palace served as the residence of Otumfuo Prempeh I and Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, K.B.E. the 13th and 14th Kings of the Asante Kingdom. The building was put up by the British Government for Otumfuo Prempeh I in 1925 who returned from exile in the Seychelles Islands in 1924, to replace the old Asantehene?s Palace at Adum which was destroyed during the Yaa Asantewaa war. The war was fought between the British and the Asantes because of the refusal of the then Asantehene to offer the Golden stool to the then governor of the Gold Coast, as demanded by the governor.

The Manhyia Palace is both the seat of the Asantehene and his official residence. It is located at the capital of the Ashanti region, Kumasi. The old palace was converted into a museum in 1995 after the new palace was built, the Manhyia Palace Museum. King Opoku Ware II built the new palace which is close to the old one and is currently used by the current Asantehene King Osei Tutu II. However, Opoku Ware II was the first king to live in the new palace, which he occupied until his death in late 1999.

The palace courtyard hosts numerous important Asante traditional and cultural events. These include the Adae festival, which occurs every sixth Sunday when the Asantehene receives homage from his subjects and subservient chiefs, as well as visitors of significant importance.

The large courtyard of the palace holds statues of past and present great Kings and Queens of the Ashanti Nation. This palace remains in use today and houses a small but most interesting history museum of the Ashanti Kingdom.

Oral traditional has it that before the building of the Manhyia Palace there had been two Palaces for the Asante Kings, one built by Nana Osei Tutu at Adum in the area where the present Kumasi Home Stores is sited and its location is marked by Nana Prempeh I, Kumasihene?s House.

The second Palace was built by Nana Bonsu upon returning from the Coastal Campaign of 1806. That Palace was situated in the area where the Kumasi Fort, now Military Museum is currently situated. He used this Palace as a Museum where he kept valuable Asante items and relics for show to visitors. The first Palace later was burnt down together with other houses in 1874 by the soldiers of Sir Garnet Wolseley who also demolished the second Palace known as Nana Bonsu Aban.

After the Sagrenti war (as pronounced by the then indigenes) of 1874, Nana Kofi Kakari, the then Asantehene, at that time rehabilitated the first Palace and lived there. His successor, Nana Mensah Bonsu, Nana Kwaku Dua II and Nana Prempeh I also lived in that Palace subsequently. Its destruction occurred during the Yaa Asantewaa War when the stool and what was left of its regalia were removed from the Palace for safe keeping in other parts of Asante Kingdom. One interesting development was that after the exile of Nana Prempeh I, the British reconstructed ?Nana Bonsu Aban? and called it the ?The Kumasi Fort?.

The Fort was used by the Resident Commissioner as administrative offices of the Asante Region and Northern territories. The Governor and his followers were in the Fort when the Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 was declared. When Nana Prempeh I returned from Seychelles Islands to Kumasi in November, 1924, there was no Palace for Asantehene. He therefore had to stay at the then Asafohene?s Palace. It was this state of affairs that pressed the British Government to put up the present building now housing the Museum for Nana Prempeh I. However, Nana Prempeh I turned the offer down and only moved into it as his residence after Asanteman had paid for it in full.

One most important attraction to the palace that adds to the rich experience of tourists is the Manhyia Palace Museum. This Museum, although small in size, holds numerous and historic artefacts, war amulets and others of the Ashanti Kingdom. The palace was opened in 1995 during the Silver Jubilee celebration of the accession of the Golden Stool. The palace museum is of great historical interest and importance not only to the Ashanti Kingdom but Ghana as a whole owing to the important role of the Ashanti Kingdom to the rich Ghanaian history.

The palace museum is a two storey structure with open verandas and a courtyard. The ground floor of the museum is used by the Kings to receive their distinguished visitors like the Governor, the Chief Commissioner, District Officers and other Dignitaries.

A visit to the palace also affords visitors the opportunity to see the Legendary Okomfo Anokye Sword. The wonderful Museum architecture depicts traditional Ashanti building of the 1900?s. A small outhouse was added in 1995 for use as the Museum shop, where other crafts and traditional items are sold as souvenirs.

The main thing that Jennifer and I both wanted to do in Kumasi was go to the central market. This market claims to be the largest in West Africa and it is INSANE!! The market is vaguely divided into sections according to the goods that are being sold and so we headed for the fabric section. Just getting through the market was challenging- there are so many people all scrambling to get wherever they?re going and so little space between all the vendors, vegetables and every kind of good you can imagine. It?s loud and fast and you?re hit with a new smell every three seconds. I loved it. The whole market is composed of narrow alleyways with wooden shops just big enough to step into. But I have never seen so much fabric in my life! It only costs about ~15 cedis ($10) to buy three yards of fabric and less than that to have it made into hand-made, custom dress. And it?s so much fun to do the shopping! I took a picture of the three fabrics I got- aren?t they gorgeous?!

For some reason, you?re not allowed to take pictures in the market. I gave it a few tries anyways but it?s hard to be sneaky when you stand out. I also took a picture from outside- all of the short tin roofs that you can see across the street are a part of the market. It?s huge!

We stayed in the market so long it was time for dinner by the time we got back onto the street. The highlight of dinner was a salad that had real lettuce and wasn?t actually dripping in mayo (salads are usually one part cabbage, one part mayo and ketchup mixture). We got to the hotel just in time to be inside for the giant rainstorm that hit Kumasi that evening. Sunday morning we got up early and tried to fit as much into the day as possible. One thing I didn?t realize when planning the weekend is that since everything moves slower in general, touring around a city would, of course, take much longer as well. For example, the first place we went was to go see the Okomfo Anokye Sword, which has been lodged in the ground for three centuries and it a key part of Ashanti history. I guess whoever was supposed to open the museum slept in that morning because all we got to see was the small wall that surrounded the sword as we peaked through a window.

The rest of the day went much more smoothly though. We went to the Manhyia Palace, where the Ashanti King lives, and toured the museum that is open to visitors. The museum is in the house where the Ashanti Kings lived until recently and is filled with items that past kings used, as well as unnervingly realistic wax statues of the kings and queen mothers in many of the rooms. Taking pictures isn?t allowed, but it was amazing to be in the presence of so much history.

One thing that I learned about at the Palace are the Adrinka (adinkra) symbols. All of the symbols have different meanings and once you start looking for them, you can see them everywhere. All of the symbols were along the outside of the gate of the palace.

From there we went to the cultural center, which is a large piece of land that has been gated off and filled with shops, local artisans working on their crafts, and a museum. I especially loved getting to see how brass figurines were made. For each one, the man has to first make a wax version. Then he covers it in a charcoal paste and lets it harden. He cleans off parts of the charcoal so he can use a syringe and connect each wax segment together so that all the wax will melt out of the charcoal when heated. This leaves a hollow space that is then filled with the heated, liquid metal. It?s an incredibly intricate process and it was so cool to have it explained and demonstrated.

The museum was also a marvel. They had thrones from past kings that were hundreds of years old, drums that they could make sounds like the roar of a wild animal, ?bullet-proof? war clothes for the king that were made of cloth and had protective charms hanging all over them, scales and tools used to measure gold dust when that was the currency used in Ghana, and the set up for the king to wash his feet (which includes elephant tusks to rest his feet on because a kings bare feet can never touch the ground). No photos allowed here either, but we stayed for quite a while just soaking it all up.

The bus ride back in the dark and the rain was quite a bit more unnerving than the one to Kumasi. And our bus wasn?t prayed for before we left. I don?t think it was because it was unnecessary. But still a better the ride experience than this poor ram we saw along the way. Now that looks terrifying.

Public transport is available to Kumasi, from Accra or any of the major bus stations in the various regions. Once in Kumasi, it is located on the Antoa road just a kilometer from the Nation Museum, Kumasi.

The best time to visit is during the Adae festival, which occurs every sixth Sunday when Asantehene sits in state to receive homage from his subjects and subservient chiefs and renewal of their allegiance to the Ashanti King.

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