Biography of Okomfo Anokye
Place of Birth:
Occupations: priest, statesman
Okomfo Anokye (active late 17th century) was an Ashanti fetish priest, statesman, and lawgiver. A cofounder of the Ashanti Kingdom in West Africa, he helped establish its constitution, laws, and customs.
The original name of Okomfo Anokye was Kwame Frimpon Anokye (Okomfo means "priest"). Some traditions say that he came from Akwapim in the Akwamu Kingdom southeast of Ashanti, but his descendants claim he was born of an Ashanti mother and Adansi father and was related to the military leader Osei Tutu (the other cofounder of the Ashanti Kingdom) through a maternal uncle. When Osei Tutu succeeded about 1690 to the leadership of the small group of Akan forest states around the city of Kumasi which were already grouped in loose military alliance, Anokye was his adviser and chief priest. Tutu and Anokye, who must be considered together, carried out the expansionist policy of their predecessors, defeating two powerful enemies, the Akan Doma to the northwest and the Denkyera empire to the south. To throw off the Denkyera yoke required a powerful unity that transcended the particularism of the Ashanti segments, and Anokye employed not only the political influence of his priesthood but also added the spiritual ties that transformed the loose Ashanti alliance into a "national" union in 1695.
Anokye and Tutu established rituals and customs of the Ashanti state to diminish the influence of local traditions. They designated Kumasi the Ashanti capital. They established a state council of the chiefs of the preexisting states admitted to the union and suppressed all competing traditions of origin. Finally, they reorganized the Ashanti army.
The war with Denkyera from 1699 to 1701 went badly at first, but when the Denkyera army reached the gates of Kumasi, Anokye's "incantations" supposedly produced defections among their generals. The Ashanti broke the Denkyera hegemony and captured the Dutch deed of rent for Elmina Castle. This gave the Ashanti access to the African coast and involved them henceforth in the commerce and politics of the coastal slave trade. After Tutu's death in 1717, Anokye is said to have returned to Akwapim and died there.
The greatness of Anokye the lawgiver and of Tutu the warrior is measured by the permanency of the nation they created, its symbolism and ritual alive today in the greater state of Ghana. A historical judgment on Anokye is that he enabled the Ashanti "to succeed where Hellas had failed," that is, to retain their national unity after their war of liberation.
- The best general work that includes information on Anokye is W.E.F. Ward, A History of Ghana (1948; 4th ed. 1967), which treats the rise of the Ashanti in the context of Gold Coast history and gives a historical interpretation of the Okomfo Anokye-Osei Tutu tradition. The Anokye tradition is recorded in R.S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution (1929). Also useful for an understanding of Anokye and the Ashanti is A. Adu Boahen's account, "Asante and Fante, A.D. 1000-1800," in J.F. Ade Ajayi and Ian Espie, eds., A Thousand Years of West African History (1965; rev. ed. 1969).
- Basil Davidson, Black Mother: The Years of the African Slave Trade (1961) and The Growth of African Civilization: A History of West Africa, 1000-1800 (1965; rev. ed. 1967), treat Anokye enthusiastically and vividly. John E. Flint, Nigeria and Ghana (1966), is more scholarly and tries to distinguish between the contributions of Tutu and Anokye. Anthropologist Ivor Wilks appears to doubt the authenticity of the Anokye tradition, or at least to question his contemporaneousness with Tutu; in his "Ashanti Government" in Daryll Forde and P.M. Kaberry, eds., West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century (1967), he accounts for the rise of the Ashanti Union without reference to Anokye.