Cultures & Traditions
The Significance of Stools in Asante Culture
Among the Asante and other Akan peoples, stools play an important role in each person’s life milestones. When children learn to crawl, they receive stools as their first gift from their father. For young women, puberty rites entail sitting on their stools. A husband presents his wife with a stool when they marry. A deceased person is bathed on a stool before burial. Ceremonial stools are blackened and enshrined after the death of an important leader—an illustration of stools’ ability to represent a person’s soul.
Not only are stools ever-present in the lives of Asante peoples, but their basic form also remains constant. All Asante stools—whether for domestic use or public display—are carved from a single block of wood. The seat is typically curved and supported over a rectangular base by a central column and four corner posts. The midsection may be geometric or figurative but the motifs used on ceremonial stools represent associated proverbs.
State (or ceremonial) stools are the most important of all Akan royal regalia. Only chiefs and high-ranking officials are given the Asantehene’s permission to have their stools decorated with strips of intricately patterned silver or gold. Silver was only accessible through trade, often in the form of silver European coinage that was melted down.
The most important and sacred Asante stool is the Golden Stool. It represents the authority of the Asantehene (king), enshrines the soul of the nation, and symbolizes the kingdom’s unity. Made of solid gold, the Golden Stool never touches the ground; it is carried in processionals and has its own throne.
Prior to the establishment of the Asante kingdom, Akan peoples were organized in small independent states, each headed by a paramount chief. Around 1701, in the city of Kumasi, several of these states united under the military and economic strength of the Asante.
According to Asante oral tradition, the kingdom was founded when Chief Priest Komfo Anokye miraculously caused the Golden Stool to descend from the sky onto the knees of Nana Osei Tutu, thereby designating him Asantehene Osei Tutu I, king of all the chiefdoms he had conquered. The priest then ordered the chiefs of the formerly independent states to bury their existing regalia to signify their loyalty to the supreme Golden Stool.
- Roslyn Walker, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, Label text, 2018.
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Learn more about the role of gold in Asante court regalia.
Trace the Golden Stool's importance in the broader contexts of Asante arts and political history.
Encyclopedia Britannica~ Explore the biography of Osei Tutu, the first ruler of the Asante empire.