1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kumasi

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KUMASI, or Coomassie, the capital of Ashanti, British West Africa, in 6° 34′ 50″ N., 2° 12′ W., 168 m. by rail N. of Sekondi and 120 m. by road N.N.W. of Cape Coast. Pop. (1906), 6280; including suburbs, over 12,000. Kumasi is situated on a low rocky eminence, from which it extends across a valley to the hill opposite. It lies in a clearing of the dense forest which covers the greater part of Ashanti, and occupies an area about 11/2 m. in length and over 3 m. in circumference. The land immediately around the town, once marshy, has been drained. On the north-west is the small river Dah, one of the headstreams of the Prah. The name Kum-asi, more correctly Kum-ase (under the okum tree) was given to the town because of the number of those trees in its streets. The most imposing building in Kumasi is the fort, built in 1896. It is the residence of the chief commissioner and is capable of holding a garrison of several hundred men. There are also officers’ quarters and cantonments outside the fort, European and native hospitals, and stations of the Basel and Wesleyan missions. The native houses are built with red clay in the style universal throughout Ashanti. They are somewhat richly ornamented, and those of the better class are enclosed in compounds within which are several separate buildings. Near the railway station are the leading mercantile houses. The principal Ashanti chiefs own large houses, built in European style, and these are leased to strangers.

Before its destruction by the British in 1874 the city presented a handsome appearance and bore many marks of a comparatively high state of culture. The king’s palace, built of red sandstone, had been modelled, it is believed, on Dutch buildings at Elmina. It was blown up by Sir Garnet (subsequently Viscount) Wolseley’s forces on the 6th of February 1874, and but scanty vestiges of it remain. The town was only partially rebuilt on the withdrawal of the British troops, and it is difficult from the meagre accounts of early travellers to obtain an adequate idea of the capital of the Ashanti kingdom when at the height of its prosperity (middle of the 18th to middle of the 19th century). The streets were numerous, broad and regular; the main avenue was 70 yds. wide. A large market-place existed on the south-east, and behind it in a grove of trees was the Spirit House. This was the place of execution. Of its population before the British occupation there is no trustworthy information. It appears not to have exceeded 20,000 in the first quarter of the 19th century. This is owing partly to the fact that the commercial capital of Ashanti, and the meeting-place of several caravan routes from the north and east, was Kintampo, a town farther north. The decline of Kumasi after 1874 was marked. A new royal palace was built, but it was of clay, not brick, and within the limits of the former town were wide stretches of grass-grown country. In 1896 the town again suffered at the hands of the British, when several of the largest and most ancient houses in the royal and priestly suburb of Bantama were destroyed by fire. In the revolt of 1900 Kumasi was once more injured. The railway from the coast, which passes through the Tarkwa and Obuassi gold-fields, reached Kumasi in September 1903. Many merchants at the Gold Coast ports thereupon opened branches in Kumasi. A marked revival in trade followed, leading to the rapid expansion of the town. By 1906 Kumasi had supplanted the coast towns and had become the distributing centre for the whole of Ashanti.