Sola Rey

West African Kings & Gold

Historian David Olusoga uncovers a history that is as surprising as it is revealing.

The English had one of their great bursts of fascination with this continent and its people ultimately it wasn’t the Portuguese the English had to win over but the local (African) kings.


We know that the first English traders who arrived in west Africa held audience with the local kings and they probably SAT around like this in the sun waiting for their ceremonial arrival. We also know from the accounts of those traders that the relationship between the English and the Africans was one of trading partners that is, they were dealing with society’s who were worldly with savvy. They had been in contact with the Berbers and the Arabs trading with them since the fifth century and the Portuguese had already been here for decades, so they weren’t people who are easily duped.


So 1 English trader tells us that the Africans are very wary in their bargain and that they will not lose one Sparkle of gold of any value. There’s a Dutch trader he says “when we’ve got them things that they did not like, they have mocked us in a scandalous way.”

We can still get a glimpse of what those early traders experienced. The Ashanti of the direct descendants of the Acand. The people who were here when the English first set foot on African soil, and in the procession of the Ashanti King there’s a vivid display of what first drew the English to this place. Gold and in quantities the confirmed the medieval legend that Africa was a land of riches.

The sense you get being here with the Ashanti is the people who gold has been important for one and a half thousand years. These were people who started trading in gold back in the 5th century and there are people here the king of the chiefs who are literally dripping in the stuff. Gold is everywhere and it’s part of a moment to the history of Africa and Europe that we forget about.

What’s important it wasn’t about slavery but about this stuff, it’s about gold and the wealth of Africa. If you look carefully when the King shake someone’s hand another hand comes up underneath to support his arm because he’s wearing so much gold, you need help with the weight… So there is a figure in the court of the Ashanti king who is the official proper of the Royal arm.

The Ashanti kingdom is now part of Ghana a modern democracy but the king of the Ashanti still has an influential role. Like most royals Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II rarely speaks to the media. It’s part of his regal mystique but he has granted us an interview with his deputy Ashanti. It’s difficult not to notice that you’re wearing quite a lot of gold today. You can’t tell the history of the people of this part of the world without talking about gold and part of protecting the kingdom historically has been to keep invaders away from the gold mines the source of the well.


But that was the original idea why the Antarctic troops had so many complaints to preserve the gold mines for Ashanti. It was the British who decided to colonize Ashanti.

David Olusoga:

But so late? in the 1890s they get up here. It’s 400 years of defeating the colonial ambition.


Ashanti’s were determined to make life unbearable for them, most of the British people who died outside their country. That not in Ashanti… Because of the gold, they want to take away from Ashanti. Ashanti said no.

The West African Kings were canyon to work out that the arrival of the English was an opportunity for them because up until that point the Portuguese had been using their monopoly position on the coast to keep the price of gold down, so when the English and other Europeans stand up it introduced some competition back into the market so the Africans even offer the English goods on credit with the prophets payable on the return journey.

So this is long-range long-term financing of international trade deals between African Kings and English traders.

Those first English visitors could prove the viability of a trade with Africa. So more than a thousand years after the first Africans came to Britain the soldiers of the Roman Empire. The English had gained a tentative foothold in Africa.

Map of the Roman Empire

From that moment on there would be increasing two-way traffic between this vast continent and the British Isles. Those first traders returned home with pepper ivory and gold but they also went to step further….

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