In early 1817, the British government sent a diplomatic delegation led by Thomas E. Bodwich to the Asante capital Kumase, to begin formal relations between the two nations, Asante and Britain. Bowdich negotiated and signed the “Anglo-Asante Treaty of 1817” with the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Bonsu aka Osei Tutu Kwame. Bowdich spent about five months traveling through Asante under escort, and he experienced Asante jurisprudence, trials and appeals, which ended with the final appeal before Otumfuo Asantehene at Manhyia.
Bowdich records that during discussions with Otumfuo Osei Bonsu, he brought up the claims of ‘human sacrifice.’ This was part of the propaganda that the British and other Europeans consistently levelled against Asante. According to Bowdich’s account in his book “Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee: With a Descriptive Account of that Kingdom,” the Asantehene calmly explained to him that Asante operated under laws from “antiquity.” Asante law had the death penalty. without that law, much of Bowdich’s belongings would have been stolen on his trip by thieves. Yet from Cape Coast Castle to Kumasi, his belongings were safe, because from the coast to Kumasi, everyone understood the consequences of flouting Asante law.
Otumfuo Osei Bonsu, then reminded Bowdich that he had been informed that ‘your King kills people in his country, and in India as well.”. Bowdich had met some Indians in Kumase and he reasoned that they had apprised the Asantehene of the British colonial policy in India. I bring this up to underscore that there’s always been law and order, leadership, and accountability in Asante.
Therefore, the sight of the powerful Baafuo Bantomahene, and his Bantoma sub-Chiefs kneeling before Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, begging for reprieve is not uncommon. Nor does it diminish Baafuo’s immense standing and his reputation an iota. Also, in Akan customary law, it is normal for a defendant to seek total discharge, or reduction of punishment by kneeling in supplication and guilt. It is also affirmation that in Asante even the powerful must respect the law or face the consequences.
Three of our Asantehene: Osei Kwame (Kwame Panin); Kofi Kaakari Okumkom/Osape; and Mensa Bonsu (Bonsu Ketewa) were tried before a court of Nana Asantehemaa; Amanhene; and Kumase Abrempon, found guilty and then destooled. In Asante governance, our Chiefs are advised to follow the law and avoid getting swollen-headed by the trappings of power. Our Adikrofuo; Abrempon; Amanhene; Otumfuo Asantehene, are aware of that; and are conversant with the consequences. At their enstoolment, therefore, they are cautioned against thinking they are above the law. Nor can it be said that Otumfuo Asantehene acted capriciously. To the contrary, Otumfio is not a dictator, neither is he autocratic. As he has mentioned before, our Asante trials are fair, thorough, and exhaustive, so much so that, when a decision is finally rendered, the guilty party shows his satisfaction with the process by giving thanks, and presenting unsolicited gifts beyond what is required.
A finial atop an Okyeame Poma or Linguist Staff captures the strength and power of the Law succinctly. Whatever you are, whoever you are, there’s a Power (Law) for you to answer to. The finial depicts a powerful Leopard who was intoxicated with his own sense of power. It learns quickly and rather poignantly, that there’s a power above him represented by the Lion. Looking rather pitiful, and chastened, the leopard prostrates before the mighty Lion, head bent, and submissively allows the Lion to drink from a pot on his head. To add insult to injury, an antelope, a prey of the leopard looks on at the humiliation of the otherwise fearful leopard. The intoxication of power has its limit; and it does not end well for the one who becomes power drunk.
Osɛi Gyata. Ɛsrɛmu Sɛi Gyata. Osɛi ara na yɛsuro no. But even He, understands the limits of power. The lesson to learn is that only the lion drinks from the pot of the leopard, carried by the leopard, and witnessed by the subjects for emphasis. When you run afoul of Asante law and custom, you become like a pitiful leopard before authority.
Our ancestors were very intelligent. Compare and contrast with our national political dispensation.
By: Sankofa Asante