Street scene, modern-day Kumasi
“Obuasi” means: Under the Stone.
This is because Obuasi came into being with the Anglo-Gold Ashanti mine located here. There was no town here before the mine appeared. That is why no one is really “from” Obuasi. Because it is a mining town and many people spend their time deep underground mining for gold, its name means under the stone.
“Kumasi” stands for: If you Kill One Thousand, One Thousand Will Come Back.
Background: Kumasi is less than an hour’s drive from Obuasi. Since 1695, Kumasi has been the capital city of the Ashante Region, about an hour’s drive from Obuasi. With a population of over 1.2million, it is the second-largest city in Ghana (the largest being Accra). Kumasi is a very special place for the Asante people, as it was here that Okomfo Anokye received the Golden Stool from the heavens, the Golden Stool being the embodiment of the Asante nation’s soul as well as a symbol of the Asante Union (Asanteman). To this day, the Asante Kings (Occupiers of the Golden Stool) are buried here, in a mausoleum. They are buried sitting on their thrones, in sort of a mummified state (or so I was told — although I have seen the outside of the mausoleum, I will never be permitted to see the inside of it). I have also been told that in the past, when an Asante King died, 100 people were beheaded to accompany him into the afterlife. Nowadays, only one person is beheaded to accompany him, usually another inhabitant of the Royal Palace. To this day, the Royal Palace still houses professional beheaders (executioners) as well as its own private prison.
The motto of the Kumasi, and indeed, the Asante people is “Na kum apim-apim Be Ba”. It means: “If you kill one thousand, one thousand will come back”. The porcupine is a symbol of the Asante people, because just like the quills of a porcupine, “na kum apim-apim Be Ba”. The Asante people do not believe that death is the end of life. They believe that when your body dies, you are reborn into a new human body.
According to my friend Kojo Danquah,
“The motto of the Kumasi people was founded when they went and fought with the Fanti. The Ashanti were defeated, so a woman named Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Ashanti, organized a war again, and the Fanti were defeated at the Kumasi Fort. Most of the land of Fanti was captured by the Ashanti Kingdom.”
The Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa
The Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa is the stuff of legend in Ghana. The war she led against the British and the Fanti was the last major war in history led by an African woman. On March 28th, 1900 at a gathering of chiefs at the Kumasi Fort, Governor Arnold Hodgson, an Englishman, demanded that the Golden Stool be brought to him so that he might sit on it. None of the chiefs present denied his request. Apparently, it was at this point that the Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa stood up and declared war with the following words:
“Tomorrow, ghost widows will get husbands”.
She then turned to the Asante chiefs and told them:
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Her speech inspired the men to fight and roused them into action. For months they fought with great bravery. But then over 1400 British reinforcements arrived in Kumasi. On May 17th, 1901, Nana Yaa Asantwaa and other chiefs (Nana) were sent to live in exile in the Seychelles Islands, where the Queen Mother spent the rest of her days until her death on October 17th, 1921, as a result of a chronic toothache.