Jokes about “Kumasi people” not being exactly civillized have become fashionable on social media these days. Here and there, someone makes a cursory joke about how funny it would be for Kumasi people to use the escalator at their new mall.
This brand of jest is born not from good old fair-natured humour but from a faulty ideological education passed on from one generation to the next among “non-Kumasi people” in Ghana. Since the phrase “Kumasi people” is used wholesale and the usual Ghanaian safety valve “some” does not precede it in such “jokes,” I shall take the liberty of saying “non-Kumasi people” with the same careless abandon. Please do indulge me.
Mocking of “Kumasi people” is usually done by “Accra people” because the capital city of Ghana is a rainbow metropolis perceived as “the city.” Accra doesn’t belong in urban or demographic terms to any one tribe. Having lived in Accra for 21 years after our family moved from Kumasi, I can say that jokes about “Kumasi people” are quite popular here. “Accra people” do not usually think “Kumasi people” are as civillized as them, for the simple reason that most people born and bred in Kumasi, especially on traditional lines do not have a good command of the English language.
So good spoken English and its attendant manners form the basis of civilization to “Accra people.” I regret that Kumasi is not a rainbow city like Accra and therefore we cannot refer to “Kumasi people” without meaning Asantes, and herein lies the challenge. Kumasi is a four century old imperial city of a traditional Kingdom, the crown city of the Asantes. To be fair to everyone, when you visit Kumasi, it is immediately clear in every facet of social and economic life that you are in the land of the Asantes. It is on this premise that I proceed. This is not a tribal jousting contest; I am addressing the idea of “Kumasi people” and civilization.
Civilization is not “English.” In fact, it is an insult to the Japanese and the Chinese to say that they have to speak English to be civilized. These races have very advanced age-old philosophies and sociologies. The Japanese were drinking tea and had fine education in their arcane Tea Ceremony hundreds of years before the British knew how to spell “tea.” They had architecture, literature and very far reaching philosophy. The traditional Japanese do not need to speak English, French or Spanish for that matter to be civilized.
When the imperial enterprise of the British advanced in The Gold Coast, they annexed all lands until they met these dark-faced, cloth-clad “Kumasi people.” R.S. Rattray, a British historian observed in his work, Ashanti Law and Constitution, that the Asante were among the most civilized peoples of Africa. The British who own the English language thought so 200 years. “Accra people” don’t think so today.
The Asante do not mix their philosophy with foreign ideas. They will not speak your English, as a colonial master no matter what you do. If you say Seychelles, they intentionally pronounce it “Soshay” and it becomes a neo-Asante lexicon; essentially, a pretense at and a mockery of syncretism.
When the British finally captured Kumasi and discontinued the office of the Otumfuo, Asante become a British protectorate until 1935 when the British allowed “the Kumasi people” sovereignty. With their King in chains, exiled on an island a world away, they still governed themselves and ignored the British. They rallied their national soul around the golden stool. The “Kumasi people” got independence from the British in 1935. This is why British historians always treat Asante as different from Ghana in a sense. The rest of Ghana got independence 22 years later.
The British found a very intricate matrix of national constitution and civilization among the Asantes that no other people in Africa had. They observed a Commonwealth similar to theirs practiced by a people who say “prane” instead of “plane” today. The Asante concept of cosmology, government and traditional federalism shocked the British.
The British were deeply impressed with the defence structure of the Asante empire, the “Kumasi people,” and wrote that they were a highly organized war machine whose kings “can bring 200,000 men to the field, and whose warriors are evidently not cowed by Sniper rifles and 7-pounder guns.” (Rattray)
The Anglo- Ashanti wars are very well recorded in history; a black faced “uncivilized” people worthy to be matched up with the British in war and military organization almost two hundred years ago? Till today, the English Monarchy and the House of Winston, the royal family of Great Britain respect the Asante monarchy as much as they do the Japanese or the Monagesques. (Monaco)
As for the system of monarchy that the “Kumasi people” have kept for over 400 years, the less said about it, the better. A complex order of chiefs, head chiefs, vanguard chiefs, dukedoms and earlhoods that no one can deny is one of the most remarkable in the whole world.
The Asantehene was giving State of the Union addresses before America became a nation. How have these “Kumasi people” kept the majesty and power of the Asante monarchy till today, in the mystical puzzle of king-making and dignified accessions to the throne, without losing one statute of their royal constitution? Did you know the Asante are the only people in Ghana whose paramount royal court has room for chiefs of other tribes?
They are also the most welcoming of foreign tribes. There are lands given specially to foreign chiefs on Asante land and no Asante has the right to take it from them. Justice and fairness is a foundational ethic of the tradition of these “Kumasi people.” This is also why they possess the most vast collection of treaties and covenants with kings from Cote D’Ivoire, Southern and Northern Nigeria and many other places. Hmmm, talk of civilization.
As you can see, the uniqueness of the Asante is a simple fact and stands by itself even if you do not compare it to any other group in Africa. No comparison here. No tribalism.
The test of civilization is not “spoken English.” If it was, then the Spanish,Portuguese and Chinese are not civilized. It is rather the native philosophy of nationhood and identity of a people and how they foster a social economy, cultural ethics, manners and ideology that stand the test of time. The English, Japanese and the Chinese pass this test easily. So do the Asante.
If you bring the same test to Africa (not Ghana,) the Asante philosophy and nation stands tall as the one of the shining models of civilization in the whole world.
The “Kumasi people” have a national flag. The “Kumasi people” adopted the church of England as the royal church of Asante. The Anglican church is the imperial church of the “Kumasi people.” Without “good command” of English and “how to blend colours” (I laugh), these Kumasi people are the doyens of big business in Ghana.
How come an “uncivilized Kumasi person” once a “shoe shine boy” or a peddler on the streets employs people with good command of English just by his native education and disposition? Billionaires!!!!! This is the same way there are Spanish speaking non-English mannered men from South America who are billionaires.
So “Accra people, “next time you want to jab “Kumasi people,” about Rs and Ls and about their New Mall, remember that they are one of the few peoples in Africa who do not need a word of English, any IT education or technology to be civilized. Their civilization is a centuries-old cemented conclusion. And just maybe, it’s good they “don’t speak much English.” What if they were very educated and “Englishy” people? What would they do with Ghana?
I am an Asante but I have often been accused of not acting or speaking like one. I can take any joke aimed at “Kumasi people” and i often have. What I can’t take is ignorance. Ignorance of what civilization is.
Written by: Yaw Sarpong Kumankuma