Biography of the Okomfo Anokye
There is some uncertainty regarding Anokye’s lineage. One tradition holds that he was born in Akwapim, in the kingdom of Akwamu (now in south-central Ghana). Asante historians have claimed that Anokye’s mother was an Asante and his father was an Adansi. Some scholars claim that he was related to Osei Tutu, the military leader with whom he would later establish the Asante empire.
Anokye was raised in Akwapim, which was a noted centre of fetish activity. He became a fetish priest, taking the title Okomfo (usually rendered in English as “priest”). He met Osei Tutu, and the two became close friends and eventually established the legal, political, and philosophical foundation of the Asante empire. According to historians, Anokye is believed to have used his strong oratorical skills and considerable intellectual and psychological abilities to influence many of the regional states to unite under Osei Tutu and gain military and political strength, which they could use to confront their enemies.
By 1695 Anokye and Osei Tutu had created a capital region (Kumasi), organized the state councils, reorganized the army according to a new martial philosophy, and sworn unity with all minor kings of the region. It was Anokye who was responsible for producing the famed Golden Stool, the unifying symbol of the Asante that established the legal authority of Osei Tutu as the first Asantehene, king of the new Asante empire.
Asante went to war against the dominant neighbouring kingdom, Denkyera, in 1699. The war lasted for two years, with the Asante army having to beat back the Denkyera army from the gates of Kumasi. Anokye reportedly turned the tide of the war when he was said to have shouted incantations toward the Denkyera army. Soon many of their generals defected to the Asante side, and the war, which had been going badly for the Asante army, quickly turned in Asante’s favour. From that time forward, Anokye was considered one of the greatest of all priests. The actual circumstances surrounding his death are not clear, but some claim that he died in Akwapim in 1717.
Anokye had a profound impact on the Asante nation in its origin. He is the principal architect of Asante laws, customs, and beliefs about religion and supernatural powers. He has a record of great deeds and miraculous cures. It is said that, among other things, he climbed palm trees with his sandals on and carved a game of Oware—a strategy game utilizing shallow indentations and pebbles or the like—out of a stone slab with his bare fingers. The sandals and the slab of stone are on display in Awukugua, Ghana. Other exploits of Anokye include the redirecting of rivers, the restructuring of Asante institutions, the fetching of water in a basket without spilling a drop, and the commanding of the Golden Stool to land on the knees of his friend Osei Tutu, thus making him the first king. Everything that Anokye did seemed to attest to his power over nature. He was even said to have lived in a house without a roof, but he was never wet because the rain did not fall inside his house. Tradition also holds that Anokye buried a sword in the ground to the hilt, and the sword reportedly cannot be removed without destroying the Asante Nation. The sword said to be the one that Anokye buried remains firmly in place on the grounds of a hospital in Kumasi that bears his name.
The Asante wrote songs in Anokye’s name, and he was honoured in praise poetry. His fame and reputation grew immensely after his death, and the Asante remember his warning that if the Golden Stool were ever to be destroyed or captured by the enemies of the Asante, the nation would descend into chaos.