“The King of Ashantee (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1850; pp. 68-69)
Ashantee is an extensive kingdom of Western Africa, lying along the gold coast of Guinea. It has about 1,000,000 inhabitants, who are governed by a king, and an aristocracy of four persons. This king is a very curious personage. His dress, as may be seen in the engraving, consists of a close vest covered with metal ornaments and scraps of Moorish writing, as spells against danger; his trowsers, invisible in the picture, are loose cotton drawers, and his head-dress a cap of gold or gilded rams’ horns. He wears gold ornaments in profusion, some of them being well wrought, others being unshapen lumps of gold. The teeth and smaller bones of vanquished foes he also ostentatiously displays about his person. His will is law to the people over whom he rules, except on questions of foreign policy, when the aristocracy may even veto his decisions. He is heir to the gold of all his subjects. His family are not exempt from capital punishment, though their blood cannot be shed; if death be awarded them, they are drowned in the Dah.
The king’s wives amount to the extravagant number of 3333, and this mystical number is carefully kept up. If the king makes a present of a woman to one of his distinguished men, another immediately supplies her place. If any one is accused of crime or treason towards the king, he is made to undergo a species of ordeal. The culprit is forced to chew about one-eighth of an ounce of poisonous bark, and then drink three or four calabashes of water. If he vomit, he is pronounced innocent; but if his stomach be strong enough to retain the poison, it is held to be a conclusive proof of guilt.
The features peculiar to negroes are not found among the Ashantees. Many of them have faces of Grecian shape and precision. Among the females may often be seen the most graceful forms. In all things but in color, they have what are allowed among us to be the requisites for beauty. Their dress is various, every one consulting his own taste. In some places, nakedness is hardly covered, and in others the dress is cumbrous. Among one tribe, it is considered highly respectable to wear large trowsers, of several spans of cloth, and great breeches there are synonymous with great men. One of their chiefs, on seeing a European take off his gloves, exclaimed in astonishment, “Alla akbar, he has pulled off the skin from his hands!” A deliberative assembly is called a palaver.
The religion of the Ashantees, is contained in the allegory of “The Book and the Calabash.” The Great Spirit, after creating three white and three black men, placed before them a large calabash and a sealed paper, giving to the black race the choice of the two. They took the calabash, which contained gold, iron, and the choicest productions of the earth, but left them in ignorance of their use and application. The paper, on the contrary, instructed the white men in every thing; made them the favorites of the Great Spirit, and gave them that superiority which the negroes always readily acknowledge.