The Asante culture is an ancient culture, containing many mysterious elements whose origins remain obscure. One of such elements is the Asante Traditional Buildings, whose intricate designs and decorations caught the attention of visitors - especially Europeans - to the Asante Kingdom from the late eighteen century to the early part of the twentieth century. They were particularly impressed by the comfortable and clean houses and the extensive decoration of the walls.
These buildings served mainly as palaces, shrines houses for the powerful deities who protected the Kingdom, homes for the affluent, and finally, as mausoleums. And like all buildings of value, the structures were the result of the Asantes’ desire to achieve harmony on earth with their creator, the Supreme Being, through the mediation of the lesser deities.
The typical house, whether designed for human habitation or for the deities, normally consists of four separate rectangular single-room buildings set around an open courtyard; the inner corners of adjacent buildings are linked by means of splayed screen walls, whose sides and angles could be adapted to allow for any inaccuracy in the initial layout. Typically, three of the buildings are completely open to the courtyard, while the fourth is partially enclosed, either by a door and windows, or by open-work screens flanking an opening.
The most striking feature of the buildings is their elaborate mural decorations. The upper walls are covered with interlacing geometrical designs, while the lower parts are boldly modelled bas-relief with a large variety of designs in red clay polished to a dull shine. The designs are frequently abstract or arabesque. Images of reptiles and other creatures like crocodiles, fish and birds also abound, amidst a profusion of plants.
It should be noted that these images were not merely ornamental. They had symbolic meanings, and the people who lived among them knew how to read and understand them perfectly. Like the Akan Adinkra symbols, wood carvings and sculptures, these pictures generally refer to Akan proverbial sayings that reflect the moral and social values of society. One of the unique cultural traits of the Asantes (who belong to the Akan ethnic linguistic group) is their widespread use of non-verbal communication. Indeed, almost every Asante activity can be expressed by means of symbols. One of the most common decorations on the Asante traditional buildings is the Sankofa bird standing with its head turned backward. It is a reminder that one needs to refer to the past, as a guide to the future.
Unfortunately, most of the masterpieces of the Asante indigenous architecture have been lost to the world, some due to warfare, especially during the 19th century, when the British destroyed most of the buildings with canons. But what really spelled the doom of the treasures of Asante heritage, was the irresistible socio-cultural and economic change of the 20th century, such as the phenomenal prosperity resulting from cocoa and gold trade and its attendant ‘modern life’. In the wake of this, ‘mud’ houses were replaced by houses made with ‘sandcrete’ blocks and corrugated aluminium. Added to this was the influx of Christian and Islamic religion, much to the neglect of these buildings, some of which were shrines of traditional religion. Lastly, the humid tropical rainforest, which has always represented a threat to earthen and wattle-daub wall and palm-thatched roofs, also took its toll on the Asante Traditional Buildings.
By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the Asante Traditional Buildings were gone. In the early 1960s, when these buildings were finally declared National Monuments, only sixteen of them still remained standing.
In 1980, UNESCO, through the World Heritage Committee, listed the Asante Traditional Buildings as one of the cultural properties of the world, after seeing that they satisfied the requirements of the World Heritage Convention, being ‘rare surviving examples of the significant traditional architectural style, that of the influential, powerful and wealthy Asante Kingdom’.
Currently, only ten of these buildings are standing, and all of them are ‘shrine houses’. Nine of them are within a thirty-five kilometre radius of Kumasi, the seat of Asanteman, the Asante Kingdom. These buildings include:
- Yaw Tano Shrine at Ejisu-Besease. Also known as Tano Yaw Shrine, This Shrine House is at Besease, about 20.8 km on the Kumasi-Accra road.
- Akwasi Sima Shrine at Adarkwa Jachie. Also known as Kwasi Kuma Shrine, this Asante traditional building is about 16 km on the Kumasi-Ejisu road.
- Tano Abenamu Subunu Shrine at Abirem. Abirem is about 12.8 km from Kumasi on the Antoa Road.
- Tano Kwadwo Shrine at Saaman. Saaman is about 12.6 km north-east of Kumasi, on the former Odumakoma Tempong road that led to northern Ghana.
- Atuo Kosua Shrine at Adwinase. This Shrine House is located off the Ejisu-Onwi road.
- Kentinkrono Shrine at Kentinkrono. This property is at Kentinkrono, about 20.8km on the Kumasi-Ejisu road.
- Tano Odomankoma Shrine at Bogwiase. This Shrine House is located at the foot of the rocky Mampong scarp, about 10 km from Effiduase, in the Sekyere West District.
- Asawase Shrine at Asawase near Ejisu. Also known as Tano Banie Shrine, the Asawase Shrine House is located to the south of Ejisu, about 10 km on the second-class road linking Ejisu and Apromase.
- Asenemaso Shrine at Asenemaso. Asenemaso is located on the Kumasi-Sunyani road, at a distance of about 15 km from Kejetia.
The tenth shrine house is at Patakro near Obuasi. It is known as the Abonsam Shrine, and it is about 3 km eastwards of the Obuasi-Kumasi road.
Opening hours are 9:00am to 4:30pm.