In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Asante and the Akan and Mossi States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • The Akan States and Pre-Asante Kingdom and Migrations
  • Economy
  • Family and Kinship
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Language and Thought

African Studies Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
Pashington Obeng
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0166


Studies of the Asante, Akan, and Mossi show the importance of migration, language, identity, polity, trade, and state expansion. Earlier works focused exclusively on either the Akan and the Asante as a subgroup or the Mossi. The current scholarly literature from various disciplines provides valuable insights into the evolution of West African societies, including their origins and migratory practices, as well as their cultural practices, how cultures interacted, and the ways in which discrete communities might have emerged as states or declined. The contemporary scholarship further expands its scope to address how imperial power, inheritance systems, gender, spirituality, and royal authority were intertwined in the West African region before and during migrations of the various groups. The West African groups on which attention has focused include the Akan of contemporary Ghana. Akan society consists of numerous subgroups, including the Asante, Fante, Brong, Akyem, Akwapim, Akwamu, Kwahu, Aowin, Wassa, Assin, Denkyira, Sewhi, and Adansi. Some Akan are also found in present-day Ivory Coast. Views on the origins of the Akan vary. While some earlier scholars suggested that the Akan and, by implication, the Asante originated in the vicinity of Ethiopia or the Niger-Chad region (Dupuis 1966, originally published in 1824, cited under Accounts by Non-Ghanaians) or Libya, Adu Boahen contends that based on linguistic and oral traditions and on archaeological evidence, the Akan might have emerged in the Chad-Benue region, the areas around the Lower Volta and middle Niger, the region between the Comoe and the Black Volta and the Pra River and Ofin River basin. Recent scholarship using archaeology and ethnography provides additional information on the debates about the Akan origins. Although the Asante kingdom is often mentioned in West African historiography, the Mossi state also played an important role in the precolonial period. Mossi people are another ethnic group who originally were located in the Mossi plateau in present-day Burkina Faso. Sources among French colonial authorities give some earlier historical data about the history and kingship systems as well as members of the Mossi society. Recent accounts shed further light on the socioeconomic organization and land use among the Mossi. Recent scholars in African studies who focus on dispersal of people have contended that the Mossi settled in areas such as Ouahigouya, Kongoussi, Kaya, Koudougou, Ougadougou, Manga, Tenkodogo, Koupela, and Bousla. The scholars argue that the Mossi state once constituted a strong kingdom that resisted the spread of Islam during its initial expansionary period. Mossi and Bamana formed the powerful Segu kingdom, which also flourished along the Saharan trade routes. The Mossi states were known for inland trading activities around the Niger River, where the ancient West African empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay flourished. When the trans-Saharan trade began to be eclipsed by European trade with West African states such as the Fante, Asante and the Brong, the Mossi shifted their trading ventures as they settled among the Asante and other societies south of their premigration locations.

The Author wishes to thank anonymous reviewers for their comments and corrections to the first draft. Thanks are also due to Chelsey Leigh Phelan Baturin for helping to collate and research the various sources for this work.

General Overviews

The Akan, the Asante, and the Mossi states have been the focus of numerous scholarly works. The Akan, including the Asante, constitute about two-thirds of the population of Ghana and settled mainly in the semi-deciduous areas of the country. In addition to linguistic and cultural similarities among the Akan, they also share kingship systems. Scholars point out that the Mossi, whose indigenous language family is often called More, carried their farming, smithing, and pottery skills during their migrations to new lands that include present- day Akan areas. While the Mossi moved to other West African societies, their natal communities were also inhabited by the Mande from Mali. Similar to the Asante, the indigenous Mossi considered land as property that could not be bought or sold. The living family members, who are the custodians of the land, are responsible for the protection of the land because they inherited it from their ancestors. With the introduction of a monetized economy and the commodification of land and other properties under colonial rule, the Akan, Asante, and Mossi states underwent socioeconomic and political changes, as discussed by scholars, who have focused on the accumulation of wealth and the emergence of new statuses in West Africa. The authors also focus on how traditional roles as well as notions of royal power and their underpinning belief systems were changing while other aspects of life appeared to remain the same. The diverse perspectives brought together underscore the multidisciplinary studies that bring a rich and rigorous scholarly attention to the Mossi, Akan, and Asante states. This section presents works that identify the crucial time periods in political history as a basis for understanding the social, religious, economic, and cultural practices of these West African states. Wilks 1993, a large work, begins with the Akan as a larger political organization before it centers on the related history, politics, and culture of the Asante kingdom. The author has published some of the most extensive collections on Akan and Asante history. Kwadwo 2004 provides an examination of each of the various Asante states and the history of their stools, which is necessary to comprehend before delving into the more recent history and consolidation of the Asante kingdom. Kwadwo 2004 serves as a preliminary reading for Opoku-Ampomah 1995, which explains how each of these segmented communities united as the Asante Union under Osei Tutu in the 18th century. Claridge 2010 focuses on the dissolution of the Asante kingdom. The author discusses the various wars fought by the Asante with neighboring peoples as well as the British, who eventually annexed the Asante state. Tufuo and Donkor 1989 complements these works through an analysis based on archaeological research on Asante history and society. Izard 1970 provides a helpful introduction to the history of the Mossi states.

  • Claridge, W. Walton. A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti from the Earliest Times to the Commencement of the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 2010.

    Comments on factors that led to the dissolution of the Asante. The author details the series of battles the Asante fought against the Brong, the Fante, and their other neighbors as well as against the British before the Asante royal household was deported from the Gold Coast. It also touches on how the British extended their colonial rule after the annexation of the Asante state. Originally published in 1915.

  • Izard, Michel. “Introduction à l’histoire des royaumes mossi.” 2 vols. Recherches voltaïques 12–13. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1970.

    Izard presents detailed a history of the Mossi kingdoms from the 15th and 16th centuries until the European conquest in 1896 and, within the context of three periods, the Mossi as a new entity, the colonial period, and the modern state.

  • Kwadwo, Osei. An Outline of Asante History. Vol. 2, Ashanti Region of Ghana: An Annotated Bibliography, from Earliest Times to 1973. Kumasi, Ghana: O. Kwadwo Enterprise, 2004.

    Kwadwo continues his research from Volume 1. In this volume, he annotates each of the individual Asante states and the history of their stools before their political division. A strong base for understanding how the states unified to fight against the British and for the political state thereafter.

  • Opoku-Ampomah, J. K. The Asante Kingdom: Illustrated Asante History. Ghana, West Africa: J. K. Opoku-Ampomah, 1995.

    Opoku-Ampomah examines how segmented communities in West Africa, especially the Akan and particularly the Asante, formed a united state in the 18th century under Osei Tutu. The Asante then began to expand their territory in West Africa under various Asante kings who came from the royal household.

  • Tufuo, J. W., and C. E. Donkor. Ashantis of Ghana: People with a Soul. Accra, Ghana: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1989.

    Tufuo, an officer in the courts of three Ashanti kings, and Donkor, an anthropologist and a member of a Banda excavations team, provide a firsthand historical overview of Ashanti culture as influenced by myth and legend and under King Prempeh II. They emphasize topics that include communal life and women, religion, chieftaincy, and heritage in Ashanti history and present society.

  • Wilks, Ivor. Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1993.

    In one volume, Wilks provides extensive information on the Akan states, particularly the Asante. Chapters 1 through 3 deal with the emergence of Akan society and its history. Chapters 4 through 7 focus on Asante culture while chapters 8 and 9 address Asante politics.

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