The Ashanti kingdom was founded during the 18th century by Opemsuo Osei Tutu who unified the Ashanti states through allegiance to the Golden Stool, or Sika Agua Kofi, which mystically symbolised the soul of Ashanti nationhood. Through bravery and skill the Ashanti dominion expanded from their central Ghanaian homeland, bringing them into conflict with the strongest colonial power at the time – Britain.
A series of wars culminated in 1873 with the capture of the Ashanti capital of Kumasi, which was looted. Some fine examples of regalia from that period are still on display at the British Museum and the Wallace Collection in London. A series of colonial administrators and further uprisings eventually led to a reconciliation between the parties, and the establishment of a British protectorate, which became part of the Gold Coast colony.
By this time the role of the Asantehene had been resurrected by King Prempeh, who was succeeded by his nephew, Prempeh II, in 1931 as the occupant of the Golden Stool. During his reign the Gold Coast colony was transformed into the independent nation of Ghana in 1957. The royal succession process of the Ashanti is a matrilineal one, which meant that when his uncle Prempeh II died in 1970, Opoku Ware II (as he became) was one of several potential successors to the Golden Stool. He was subsequently nominated by the Queenmother, or Nana Asantehemaa, and accepted by the Ashanti people.
The future monarch was born under the name Jacob Matthew Poku in Kumasi the capital of Ashanti, then the Ashanti Protectorate, in 1919 into the Ashanti royal family. At the time, Prempeh I was Asantehene, as the Ashanti Emperor-King is called, before being succeeded by his nephew Prempeh II in 1931.
After attending Anglican school, Poku went to Adisadel College in Cape Coast. Then, he worked as a building inspector and later for the Public Works department from 1937 to 1943. After that, he was trained as a surveyor and worked on the Kumasi Traditional Council Hall and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
He married his wife Victoria, also from Ashanti royalty, in 1945. In the 1950s he studied law in the United Kingdom and was called to the Bar in 1962. He later became known by the Ashanti name Barima Kwaku Adusei.
Returning to his native country, he worked in the capital Accra first and then set up a firm in Kumasi. Through his success as a lawyer, Adusei was able attain a great respect in Ashanti politics. In 1968, the National Liberation Council military government appointed him to their executive board as Commissioner of Communications
Adusei’s life was changed inestimably in March 1970, when shortly after he was appointed the ambassador-designate to Italy, his uncle Prempeh II died. His distinguished legal career and record of public service, along with the support of his wife and family meant that he was officially enstooled in July 1970 as Asantehene, and given the added sobriquet of Otumfuo, or “the highest”. Reports speak of his belief at the time that the role of Asantehene was even more important to him than representing his country, in that proper guidance for the Ashanti would lead to progress for all Ghanaians.
As King, Opoku Ware II maintained a good relationship with Ghana’s President Ignatius Acheampong, and later Jerry Rawlings. He focused on trying to implement the traditional justice of the Ashanti tribe, rather than becoming involved in national politics
In his tenure as Asantehene Opoku Ware concentrated on local affairs and in implementing traditional tribal justice, rather than taking on a national political role in opposition to the government. This was evidenced by the support of the then President, Ignatius Acheampong, concerning disputes over the costs of the Asantehene’s traditional palace in the 1970s.
The Ashanti people, however, have remained active in Ghanaian national politics at all levels, particularly in opposition, and are viewed by some in government with trepidation, due to their disproportionate wealth and influence.
Opoku Ware was unique in that his wife, Victoria, ruled almost as an Ashanti First Lady until her death in 1995, following the celebrations for the Asantehene’s Silver Jubilee.
Their three children will not be considered as candidates, although his son, Prince Akyempe-Hene, may be consulted.
It remains to be seen if Opoku Ware’s successor will follow his low-key example or attempt to formulate a more high-profile role for traditional leaders in Ghanaian politics.
In 1995 or 1996, Opoku Ware II’s wife Victoria died. On February 26, 1999, the King himself died. He was succeeded on April 26 by Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II after a period of mourning