The Ashanti Stool

During research for Ghost Forest, artist Angela Palmer found, through an extraordinary coincidence, an Ashanti stool belonging to the tribe’s famous warrior queen. It came up by chance in her local auction house. It transpires the stool has a deep, spiritual meaning to the Ashanti, whose homeland is where the artist sourced the trees for the Ghost Forest project. The stool is also made, of course, from the timber of a rainforest tree.

Below is an extract from an article Angela Palmer wrote for the Financial Times.

The Stool of Queen Asantuah

Anxious for a break from my usual reading matter on climate change, I fell upon a catalogue from a local auction house, my eye caught by Lot 406: “A historically interesting Ashanti stool”, bearing a silver plaque on its seat engraved with the words: “Taken from the compound of Queen Asantuah at Ojesu, W Africa, by HBW Russell CMG. 30th of August 1900.”

On the flight to Accra, I’d been mugging up on Ghana’s history and had just been reading about the Ashanti, for whom the stool is the “symbol of the soul of the nation”; the “symbolic source of all kingly power and authority”. The most sacred is the Golden Stool – the Ashanti throne. By tradition, no Ashanti king or queen is allowed to sit on the Golden Stool and it must be held aloft – it should never touch the ground.

At the time HBW Russell “took” one of Queen Asantuah’s stools, he was private secretary to Major James Willcocks, commanding officer of the British Ashanti Field Force. In March 1900, Sir Frederick Hodgson, the colonial British governor, went to Kumasi, seat of the Ashanti nation, and demanded the surrender of the Golden Stool in the name of the Queen of England. “Where is the Golden Stool?” he asked the Ashanti chiefs, “Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? …  Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool, to give it to me to sit upon?”

When the Ashanti refused, Hodgson dispatched his officers to terrorise villagers into disclosing its hiding place. On one occasion, British troops brutally beat children who refused to reveal where their fathers were. An incensed Queen Asantuah mobilised her troops to lay siege to the British mission in Kumasi.

After several months the cordon was broken when the British dispatched extra relief troops from the south and the Ashanti were quashed. Tribal land was confiscated and plundered, the queen captured and exiled to the Seychelles, where she died. But the British troops never found the stool and today it is under high security in the Ashanti palace in Kumasi.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.