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The Mankessim Kingdom (1252–1873) was a pre-colonial African state in modern-day Ghana. It is regarded as the heartland of the Fante people, and operated as capital of the Fante Confederacy in the 19th century. The town of Mankessim still exists and is located in the central region of Ghana about an hour and half west of Accra. The Mankessim Kingdom's influence included not only their own kingdom, but the whole of the Fante people and at times the entire coast of modern-day Ghana.

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Origin

The Fante people claim to have separated from the Asante, another Akan people, around 1250 AD. This act became the origin of their name, "Fa-atsew" meaning "the half that left". The Fante left their Asante brethren at Krako, present day Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, and became their own distinct Akan group. The Fante people were led by three great warriors known as Obrumankoma, Odapagya and Oson (the whale, eagle and elephant respectively). According to tradition, Obrumankoma and Odapagya died on this exodus and were embalmed and carried the rest of the way.

Founding

Oson led the people to what would become Mankessim in 1252. Legend has it that the Fante's chief fetish priest Komfo Amona planted a spear in the ground when they reach the settlement. The spear is called the Akyin-Enyim, meaning "in front of god". The place became the meeting ground for Fante elders and the head fetish priest when discussing important matter for the kingdom and even for all Fante people. The first omanhene (king) of Mankessim was installed here, and later kingmakers would go to the site for consultation. According to the Fante, the spear cannot be removed by mortal hands.

The land the Fante reached was initially called Adoakyir by its already existing inhabitants, which the Fante called "Etsi-fue-yifo" meaning people with bushy hair. The fante conquered the people and renamed the settlement Oman-kesemu meaning big town. The name exists today as Mankessim. The Fante settled the land as their first independent kingdom and buried Obrumakankoma and Odapagya in a sacred grove called Nana-nom-pow. Komfo Amona also planted the limb of a tree he had brought from the Akan homeland in Krako to see if a place was good for settlement. The day after the priest put the limb in the ground, the people found the plant buding. The tree was named Ebisa-dua or consulting tree and is one of the most important shrines in Mankessim, today.

Organization

The Fante quickly organized themselves into military groups or companies called asafo to fend off non-Akan groups in the vicinity as well as separate Akan groups, most notably the Asante in later centuries. Tradition states that the Fante sub-groups Ekumfi, Abora, Enyan, Nkusukum and Kurentsir were the first to settle Mankessim. They were later joined by the Gomoa, ajumako, akatakyi and Edina.

The Asante Threat

In the early 19th century, the Asante began expanding their control over Ghana sending many people fleeing to the coast. Fante communities outside of Mankessim became constant targets of the Asante and decided to unite on occasion to fight off the Asante. They had plenty reason to do so. In 1806, the first Ashanti-Fante War resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Fante. In 1811, the Fante again went to war with the Asante losing again in open battle, but forcing a withdrawal by using guerrilla tactics. In 1844, the Fante put themselves under British protection, but were guaranteed self-governing. The British and Dutch on the coast did little to recognize Fante sovereignty, however.

Head of the Confederacy

Finally, in 1868, the Fante formed a confederacy of their own with British backing to guard against further Asante aggression towards the coast. 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 Kwasi Edo led the confederacy all of its short existence acquiring the lands of neighboring Asebo, Cabesterra and Agona kingdoms. They also formed a viable resistance to the Asante juggernaut. While not armed with an army as well trained or supported as the Asante, the Fante succeeded in playing their arch-enemy against their powerful British supporters. Mankessim, through the confederacy, monopolized trade on the coast and became a force to reckon with by both the Asante, British and Dutch.

Decline

The early successes of the confederacy were short-lived and a protracted war with the Dutch, backers of the Asante Confederacy, left them 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 return for money, guns and a license to make war on any invading Asante on behalf of the British. Mankessim continued to hold cultural and political importance among the Fante, but was never again an independent force in the region.

Sources

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