What Kind of Kung Fu Did the Ashanti Soldiers Have?

One of the most enlightening trips I have taken was to the Western Region of Ghana, where I visited Princess (or Prince’s, depending on who you ask) Town, Fort St. Anthony and Cape Thee Points. While my group and I were there, we learned about Nana Jonkone and his interactions with the Germans. Like most Afro-European encounters, it began as a relationship built on trade and eventually evolved into one of European dominance and African subjugation. I wrote about our experience in 2013.

Every once in a while, I think about that mini excursion we took. I have looked for more material online since then, and have found none. I am afraid that just like much of Ghana’s proud history and traditions, the story of Nana Jonkone and his gallant resistance to the European (Dutch) invasion will be lost to some patty cake oatmeal version of sanitized events depicting Africans as welcoming, willing participants in their own destruction.

Nana Jonkone was king over a small area at Pokesu. Though his kingdom was not large, it did have an alliance with the mighty Ashanti Kingdom to the north. I haven’t had the opportunity to study up on what the terms of an alliance with the Ashanti would entail in those days (annual tributes, taxes or provision of a percentage of livestock, for example), but I imagine that there was some sort of Mafioso terms and conditions that the Ashantis levied on their lesser partners. Our guide that afternoon gave us a hint at what those may have been.

220px-Prempeh_IWhen the Dutch barbarians attacked Pokesu, Nana Jonkone travelled north to entreat the Asantehene for his help and protection. The Asantehene was happy to oblige and sent mercenaries to protect the coastal town. It would only cost Jonkone a calabash of gold PER mercenary for his help, and for 20 years, these strong men (and possibly some women) frustrated and prevented any Dutch attack or take over. When all seemed settled, the mercenaries left and the Dutch seized their chance, taking over Pokesu, dismantling Nana Jonkone’s seat of power and ultimately sending him into obscurity. Nana Jonkone was never seen or heard from again.

Last night I was watching the 36th Chamber of Shaolin for the first time, where the movie depicts the Manchu takeover of the Hans in China. San Te – the film’s protagonist – felt that if the Hans had kung fu from Shaolin, they would at least be able to protect themselves from the pervasive street harassment and indignity that the Manchus meted out on them on a daily basis. So then that got me thinking:


No seriously: Think about it. To stave off the aggression of a Dutch force replete with canons, muskets and bayonets protected by an impregnable wall of stones, they must’ve had some pretty impressive fighting skills. They possibly scaled walls. They may have even floated in the air, just like real kung fu masters!

But why don’t we know this? Surely there were Ghanaian fighting styles that our ancestors had to learn and become proficient at. What made the Ashanti military so unique that they were able to suppress and absorb the clans in their environs? It had to be Ashanti kung fu! The real shame is that we don’t know this. Right now, the old armory in Kumasi sits beneath a market or something. It should have been preserved as a museum.

If you are a historian and have more information on what made the Ashantis such a formidable fighting force, please leave the details in the comments or email me. I’d love to hear more! It’d be something we could all add to our information banks for Black history month. Thank you, and