Mankessim: The heartland of the Fante people

Stories and facts

The Mankessim Kingdom (1252–1844) was a pre-colonial African state located in what is now modern-day Ghana.

This kingdom is regarded as the heartland of the Fante people and served as the capital of the Fante Confederacy in the 19th century. The town of Mankessim still exists today and is situated in the Central Region of Ghana, approximately an hour and a half drive west of Accra.

The Mankessim Kingdom's influence was extensive, reaching across the entire Fante population and, at times, spanning the entire coast of what is now Ghana.

The Fante people trace their origins to a separation from the Bono people around 1250 AD. This event inspired their name, "Fa-atsew," meaning "the half that left." The Fante left their Bono brethren at Krako, present-day Techiman in the Bono East Region of Ghana, becoming their own distinct Akan group.

They were led by three great warriors: Obrumankoma (the whale), Odapagyan (the eagle), and Oson (the elephant). According to tradition, Obrumankoma and Odapagyan died during the migration and were embalmed and carried to the new settlement.

In 1252, Oson led the Fante to what would become Mankessim. Legend states that the Fante's chief fetish priest, Komfo Amona, planted a spear called Akyin-Enyim (meaning "in front of god") in the ground, marking the spot where Fante elders and the head fetish priest would meet to discuss important matters.

The first Omanhene (king) of Mankessim was installed here, and future kingmakers would visit the site for consultation. The spear, according to the Fante, cannot be removed by mortal hands.

The land initially called Adoakyir by its aboriginal inhabitants was renamed Oman-kesemu, meaning "large town," by the Fante after they conquered the people they referred to as "Etsi-fue-yifo" (people with bushy hair).

The name has evolved into Mankessim. The Fante settled the land as their first independent kingdom and buried Obrumakankoma and Odapagyan in a sacred grove called Nana-nom-pow. Komfo Amona also planted the limb of a tree brought from Krako to test the suitability of the land for settlement. The following day, a tree started to grow, named Ebisa-dua, or the consulting tree, which remains an important shrine in Mankessim.

The Fante quickly organized into military groups called Asafo to defend themselves from non-Akan groups and other Akan groups, notably the Ashanti. The first Fante sub-groups to settle in Mankessim included Ekumfi, Abora, Enyan, Nkusukum, and Kurentsir. They were later joined by the Gomoa, Ajumako, Akatakyi, and Edina.

In the early 19th century, the Asante Kingdom expanded its control over Ghana, pushing many people towards the coast. Fante communities outside of Mankessim became targets of the Asante and decided to unite in defense.

The first Asante-Fante War in 1806 ended in a humiliating defeat for the Fante. In 1811, another war with the Ashanti again resulted in defeat for the Fante in open battle, but they forced a withdrawal using guerrilla tactics.

By 1816, the Asante had expanded to the coast and absorbed the Fante. In 1844, the Fante sought British protection through the Bond of 1844, ensuring self-governance but with little recognition of their sovereignty from the British or the Dutch on the coast.

In 1868, the Fante formed their own confederacy with British backing to guard against further Ashanti aggression. The Fante met in Mankessim and elected the kingdom's Omanhene as Brenyi over the Fante Confederacy. In 1871, the seven Fante kingdoms and 20 chiefdoms signed the Constitution of Mankessim, formalizing their alliance.

Omanhene Kwesi Edu led the confederacy throughout its short existence, acquiring lands from neighboring Asebo, Cabesterra, and Agona kingdoms. The confederacy successfully resisted the Ashanti, playing their arch-enemy against their powerful British supporters. Through the confederacy, Mankessim monopolized trade on the coast and became an important economic force.

The early successes of the confederacy were short-lived. A prolonged war with the Dutch, who supported the Asante Confederacy, left the Fante in ruins. In 1873, the British proclaimed the entire coast of Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) a protectorate of the crown.

The Fante dissolved their confederacy that same year in exchange for money, guns, and a license to make war on any invading Asante on behalf of the British. While Mankessim continued to hold cultural and political importance among the Fante, it was never again an independent force in the region.

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