K. Wade, The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell,
CHAPTER VIII. ASHANTI
‘‘Crowns and thrones may perish
Kingdoms rise and wane."
Ashanti Expedition—experiences of a native
levy—the wages of a king the nigh] march to
Bekwai—hoisting the British flag— how to
avoid fever—Kantankye receives promotion.
look at the map of the West Coast of Africa you will find
about half-way down it a spot marked as Cape Coast
Castle, Gold Coast. This is the gateway to the great
forest country of Ashanti, which was to be the scene of
B.P.’s next adventures.
expedition of 1895-1896, in which he took part, was the
fourth Ashanti campaign within fifty years. In his book,
The Downfall of Prempeh, published at the conclusion of
the expedition, B.P. has told the full story of it, and
he gives as the main objects of the expedition the
protection of the loyal tribes and the abolition of
slavery and of human sacrifice.
the King of Ashanti, had "ever since 1874 stood in
the way of civilisation, of trade and of the interests of
the people themselves." At any rate, that was the
British Government’s view of the situation, as voiced by
stated in his book that: "In England we scarcely
realise the extent to which human sacrifice had been
carried on in Ashanti. In the first place the name
Kumassi (the capital of Ashanti) means ‘The Death
Place.’ The town possessed no fewer than three
places of execution, one for private executions which was
at the Palace, a second for public decapitations was on
the parade ground; a third for ‘fetish sacrifices’ was in
the sacred village of Bantama . . . the victims of
sacrifices were almost always slaves or prisoners of
November 13th, 1895, Major Baden-Powell received his
orders to proceed on special service in connection with
the proposed expedition to Kumassi, under Sir Francis
Scott, and on the 23rd November he sailed from Liverpool
in the B. & A.S.N. s.s. Bathurst. The boat called at
Grand Canary and at Sierra Leone, from which place a
telegram was sent forward to Cape Coast Castle requesting
that a hundred reliable natives might be enrolled for
service as Scouts. B.P. was to command these Scouts as
part of his native levy, so he occupied himself on the
voyage in drawing out a scheme for their organisation.
with him on the ship a book on the previous Ashanti
Expedition of 1874, by Sir William Butler, called The
Story of a Failure. It described how Sir William had
raised a native levy among the Krobo tribe and organised
it with twelve white officers. He took this force up
country with the remainder of Lord Wolseley’s column, but
for the attack on Kumassi he was ordered to move by a
separate path to outflank the enemy. The day before the
battle he found himself, with his twelve officers,
deserted by his Krobos.
from the experience of this officer that B.P. stipulated
that his levy should be formed of as many different
tribes as possible, so that when one lot mutinied he
would still have others on his side.
December 13th the expedition disembarked at Cape Coast
Castle, and B.P. got to work on the collection of his
natives and the distribution of their various duties.
December he noted in his diary:
Mr. Cathline as interpreter. Sent for Chief Ando of
Elmina to confer on arms, etc., in store at Prahsu.
Interviewed King Matekouley of the Krobos. He
produced 50 fighting men ready to march to-morrow,
15th inst., and stipulated that they should receive
subsistence and that he himself should have a hammock
and carriers. His remaining 265 to be ready to march
on 16th under Captain Graham. Chief Ando of Elmina
expressed himself willing to accompany me as adviser
and to bring 25 picked warriors should H.E. the
Governor personally desire him to do so."
December.—"Sir F. Scott saw King
Matikoli. H.E. and Sir F. Scott saw Chief Ando. The
following numbers and rates of pay for native levies
under my command were then determined upon:
||Adansis under Chief You Bin.
||Krobos under King Matikoli.
||Elminas under Chief Ando.
||100 Winnebahs under Captain
||King at 10/- a day
||Chiefs at 7/6
||Captains at 2/-
||Men at 9d
numbers there were afterwards added four companies of
Adansis, two of Bekwais and one of Abodoms, making the
total strength of B.P.’s natives up to 860. Their work on
the expedition was to scout ahead and on the flanks, to
clear the bush, make roads and base camps for the main
army of some 10,000 men coming up behind.
assembling of an army of West Coast natives was not so
easy a task as it is to write the numbers down on paper.
The kings and chiefs of the country were better at making
promises than at carrying them into effect, and it
required both "a smile and a stick" to deal
with these "wobblers."
of 500 men had been promised by noon on December 16th
Here is B.P.’s account of what actually happened:
December, Noon.—" The parade ground
outside the castle lies an arid desert in the midday
sun and the sea breeze wandereth where it listeth.
Not a man is there. It is a matter then for a hammock
ride through the slums of the slum that forms the
town. Kings are forked out of the hovels, where they
are lodging at the end of a stick; they in their turn
rouse out their captains, and by two o’clock the army
is assembled. Then it is a sight for the gods to see
Captain Graham (nicknamed ‘The Sutler’) putting each
man in his place…. If it were not for the
depressing heat and the urgency of the work one could
sit down and laugh to tears at the absurdity of the
thing, but under the circumstances it is a little
wearing. But our motto is the West Coast proverb,
‘Softly, softly, catchee monkey.’ In other words,
‘Don’t flurry, patience gains the day.’ It was
suggested as a maxim for our levy of softly-sneaking
Scouts, but we came to adopt it as our guiding
principle, and I do not believe that a man acting on
any other principle could have organised a native
levy on the West Coast—and live. Gradually out
of chaos order comes. Kings and chiefs are installed
as officers, and the men are roughly divided into
companies under their orders."
was then served out with a red fez with a black tassel.
The regiment, after being inspected by H.E. the Governor
and Colonel Sir Francis Scott, moved off on the first
stage of its march to Prahsu under B.P.’s command, with
Captain Graham, D.S.O., of the 5th Lancers, as second in
December.—" Marched with my command
from Eqkuma 6 a.m., arriving Akrofu 8.45. After two
hours’ halt proceeded to Dunkwa (total 11 miles).
Mustered, checked loads. paid subsistence money.
the march proceeded from day to day, until on the
22nd December the native levies crossed the Prah,
thus doing in seven days what it had taken Wolseley
sixty days to accomplish in the expedition of 1873.
is interesting to compare B.P.’s experience with his
levies with that of Wolseley in the earlier campaign.
In 1873, after one month’s fighting experience, Sir
Garnet Wolseley wrote home telling of the
"miserable behaviour of the native levies and of
the urgent necessity for the reinforcement of British
contrast was B.P.’s report in 1896 that his native Scouts
"have proved highly efficient and done excellent
days after crossing the Prah, B.P. and his men had
cleared their way through the bush and established
themselves in camp at Akusirem, within thirty-five miles
of Kumassi. This bush-cutting business, of course, made
progress rather slow, and was attended by many
and turning," wrote B.P., " now up, now
down, clambering over giant tree roots or splashing
through the sucking mud—all in moist and
breathless heat, till tired and dripping, we reach
the next site for a camp. Two hours’ rest for midday
‘ chop ‘ (food) and then parade. More delays, more
excuses, and at last every man has his tool issued to
him, and every company has its work assigned to it.
No. 1 to clear the bush. No. 2 to cut stockade posts.
No. 3 to cut palm leaf wattle. No. 4 to dig stockade
holes. No. 5 to mount sentries and prevent men hiding
in huts; and so on until everyone is at work.
where are the hole diggers?’
have retired to have some chop.’
They’ve only just finished two hours of chop.’
the white chief works them so hard that they have big
you, their chief, will all be fined a day’s pay.’
well, the white man is powerful. Still we prefer that
to not having our chop. Many thanks.’
but you’ll have to work as well. See this little
instrument? That’s a hunting crop. Come, I’ll show
you how it can be used. I’ll begin on you, my
need to. They all fly to their work. Then you go
round. Every company in turn is found sitting down or
with that tree, my lad. You with the felling axe! Not
know how to use it?’
three days I felled trees myself till I found that I
could get the tree felled equally well by merely
showing the cracker of the hunting crop. The men had
loved to see me work. The crop came to be called
‘Volapuk’ because it was understood by every tribe.
But though often shown it was never used.
bush clearing company are sitting down. Not a yard of
bush cut. ‘Why?’
we are fishermen by occupation, and don’t know
anything about bush cutting.’
bush soon comes down nevertheless, and, what is more
wonderful, by sunset there is an open space of some
seven or eight acres where this morning there was
nothing but a sea of bush jungle. Large palm-thatched
sheds have sprung up in regular lines, and in the
centre stands a nearly finished fort, with its earth
rampart bound up by stockade and wattle. Within it
are two huts, for hospital and storehouse. Trains of
carriers are already arriving with hundreds of boxes
of beef and biscuit to be checked, arranged, and
stored. At sunset sounds the drum, the treasure box
and the ledger are opened, and the command comes up
Company, how many men present?’
it has only got fifty-nine on its establishment.’
Company ? ‘
here, Sir, but some few men away sick—and two he
never come.’ And so on and so on. At last it is over
except that a despatch runner comes in with a
telegram, forwarded from the last telegraph station,
to ask from Cape Coast Castle offices immediate
reason why the men’s pay list has been sent in in
manuscript instead of on Army Form O-1729."
the most exciting incident of the expedition was the
night march of the flying column to Bekwai.
of Bekwai, a tributary of Kumassi, sent messengers to Sir
Francis Scott, saying that he wished to come under the
British flag, but that protection must be sent at once,
as otherwise he would be taken by King Prempeh and
executed as a traitor.
to B.P., therefore, to organise a flying column, which,
cutting its way through the nine miles of bush by night,
surrounded Bekwai Palace on the following morning and
hoisted the British flag there.
night march’ B.P.’s force had actually got round the
enemy who were in position at Essian Qwanta to resist any
advance. It was a game of hide-and-seek, and the hiders
"got home." In the morning the enemy found that
instead of attacking them in front, where they expected
it, B.P.’s force was behind them and had cut them off
from any help from Bekwai —whom they counted as an
ally—and was likely to cut them off from getting
back to their main body at Kumassi. So they fled, and the
road was thus left open for the main British force to
come along without opposition. This was really the
turning point of the expedition.
how the Chief Scout describes the flag hoisting ceremony:
monarchs are hard to hurry, but there was much
business to be done, and business on an expedition
such as this has to be done quickly. So that, after
several messages requesting the King’s wishes as to
where and when the ceremony of hoisting should take
place, I had the staff set up in a spot of my own
choosing, paraded my force and sent to tell the King
that all was ready. This had the desired effect in
the end, although the guard of honour of Houssas and
of the B.P. Scouts had some time to wait before the
din of drums and horns and the roaring of the crowd
told that the royal procession was on the move.
Presently it came in sight—a vast black crowd
surging and yelling round the biers on which the King
and chiefs were borne. Above and around them twirled
the great state umbrellas. In front were bands of
drummers with small drums. then dancing men who
leaped and whirled along, fetish men in quaint
head-dresses, drummers with kettledrums, trumpeters
with their jaw bedecked ivory horns, and then the
great war drums carried shoulder high and hung with
skulls which were, however, for this occasion covered
with a strip of cloth signifying that it was a peace
ceremony. There were the King’s court criers with
their tiny black and white caps, running before; and
behind there rushed the crowd of slave boys carrying
their masters’ stools upon their heads. The roar and
the drumming became intense as the procession came
rushing up the road— for it moved at a fast
pace—and the umbrellas whirling and leaping gave
a great amount of life and bustle to the scene. At
last the throne and chair were set and the people
marshalled by degrees into some kind of order. I then
offered to the King the flag with all its advantages,
which the King, with much spirit in his words,
King then moved from his seat to the flagstaff.
Though it was but a few paces the move involved no
small amount of ceremony. The umbrella had to be kept
twirling over him while the bearer moved only on the
ball of the foot. Men went before to clear every
stick and straw from the royal path. The fetish man,
in a handsome Red Indian kind of feather head-dress
and a splendid silver belt, appeared to bless the
scene. One man supported the King by holding his
waist, and was himself similarly supported by two or
three others in succession behind. Another mopped the
King with a handkerchief, while boys armed with
elephants’ tails kept off stray flies from the royal
presence. The King was dressed in a kind of patchwork
toga with a green silk scarf, on his head a small
tortoiseshell cap, and on his wrists, among the
pendant fetish charms, he wore some splendid
bracelets of rough gold nuggets and human teeth.
all his barbaric splendour the King moved up to the
flagstaff. The flag was at the masthead in a ball,
and as he pulled the halyard that let it fall out in
long gaudy folds, the band of the Houssas struck up ‘
God Save the Queen ‘ and the troops presented arms.
King made a gesture as of going to sleep, with his
head on his hand, and said that under that flag he
should remain till he died…. Later in the day the
King and chiefs came in procession and called upon
the British officers. This consisted in their filing
past, bowing to each officer, and holding his hand
out as if to bless him—the greater chiefs
B.P. himself the King shook hands three or four times
over, and even went so far as to dance a few steps—a
thing almost unheard of for one of his dignity and
intended as a very special compliment to his deliverer.
sounds to us like a sort of dream or fairy tale,
nevertheless it is a true description of what took place
was not the intention of the flying column to give the
King something for nothing. He had to pay for his
deliverance by providing men for B.P.’s army, and, after
much "palaver" and threats on the part of the
British to remove his newly found protection, the King
provided a large party of carriers to join the force.
piece of good Scouting had cleared the way for the main
body to follow up, and on January 17th the white forces
entered Kumassi by the main route, while B.P. and his
levies also entered by side tracks.
within one month of landing on the Gold Coast the British
were in occupation of Prempeh’s capital, without
bloodshed or disorder. It was then comparatively easy to
complete the work in hand.
story of Prempeh’s surrender, of the occupation of his
palace, of the capture of the Execution Bowl which had
received so many innocent heads, of the total destruction
of Bantama, of the horrible discoveries in the execution
grounds, and other details which at first seem too
gruesome to be possible, have all been written down
elsewhere by the Chief Scout himself. They are not things
to dwell on, but it is only by learning of them that we
can realise how necessary was this expedition and what
good work was thereby accomplished.
Execution Bowl—an enormous brass bath—was
brought home by B.P. and lent to the Royal United
Services Exhibition Museum, where it may be seen to this
return march to Cape Coast Castle was a more difficult
task than the advance on Kumassi, because there was no
longer any hope of a fight ahead to buoy the spirits of
the weary marchers. They were weighed down with rounds of
ammunition which— thanks to the good organisation of
the undertaking— had never been required, and they
had only themselves and their discomforts to think of.
January 20th, Prince Henry of Battenburg, who was serving
with the main force, died of fever—"a martyr,
if ever there was a martyr, to his sense of duty,"
commented B.P. in his diary. Fever was rife in that hot,
airless forest country, and both Captain Graham, B. P.’s
second in command, and his successor went down with it.
The Chief Scout attributes his own escape from it to his
habit of carrying two shirts, one on his body and the
other slung round his neck, while on the march. He was
thus never without a dry shirt to change into.
he sailed, B.P. had received a piece of advice from Lord
Wolseley as to how to avoid fever. He told him to take to
smoking. He said that his dodge was to have a double set
of mosquito curtains, and after going to bed inside them
to smoke a pipe so as to warm up the atmosphere inside
and drive out the malaria, and the mosquito curtains
would then keep it out. In those days it was not known
that mosquitoes caused malaria, but these precautions
were equally good against mosquitoes.
obediently bought a pipe and some tobacco and used it
religiously for two or three nights in Ashanti. But owing
to the damp climate the tobacco went mouldy, so he threw
the whole lot away—and never got fever after all.
February 5th, soon after daybreak, the West Yorkshire
Regiment marched into Cape Coast Castle, bringing with
them King Prempeh, the old Queen and their
"court." The whole party was then embarked for
Elmina Fort under escort of native police. So ended the
reign of a cruel King. He lived in banishment until 1924,
when he was allowed to return to Ashanti as a harmless
thirty years have passed since the Ashanti Expedition of
I895-I896, but B.P. has never been forgotten by the men
who served with him there.
Captain Rattray, of the Ashanti Civil Service, wrote to
him as follows:
old Ashantis all remember you. You are called ‘Kantankye,’
which means ‘He of the Big Hat.’ I cannot
understand this, for it is a name they gave you long
before the Boy Scouts came into being. Can you give
reply the Chief Scout explained that he wore the cowboy
hat long before Boy Scouts were invented.
into the West African village at the British Empire
Exhibition (I924), the Chief Scout found himself quite at
home. The son of a man who had served with him in 1895
greeted him, and the son of King Prempeh’s predecessor as
King of the Ashantis was also there anxious to make the
acquaintance of "Kantankye."
Kumassi, it is quite a modern civilised township now, and
the Gold Coast is as well populated with Boy Scouts
to-day as most other parts of the world.
good work on this expedition B.P. became Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel, and he had only been back with his
regiment for a few weeks when he was singled out again
for special service.
From: Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924. Chapter
X: Old Places with New Faces.
VII. Swaziland, Malta and Home. A
shooting trip to Knysna—first encounter with
an elephant—a mission to Swaziland—an
interview with Oom Paul—life in
Malta—adventures in many
countries—maneuvers in Ireland.
VIII. Ashanti. The Ashanti
Expedition—experiences of a native
levy—the wages of a king the nigh] march to
Bekwai—hoisting the British flag— how
to avoid fever—Kantankye receives promotion.
IX. Matabeleland. Special service
again—troubles in Matabeleland—Sir
Frederic Carrington arrives—scouting in the
Matoppos—the Wolf that never sleeps—the
case of Uwini—home with Rhodes.
X. Old Places and New Faces. India
revisited—Officer Commanding 5th Dragoon
Guards—work and sport in plenty—a
shooting trip with Sir Baker Russell—on
special service to South Africa—ready for
XI. The South African War, 1899-1902. The
declaration of war—beseiged in
Mafeking—seven months beseiged—the
story of the stamps—food
shortage—arrival of the relief column.
XII. The South African Constabulary. The
hero of Mafeking—Lord Roberts’
despatch—a new job—the South African
Constabulary—home at last—an interview
with King Edward—appointed Inspector-General
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Last Modified: 6:12 AM on August 9, 1997