LA REINE POKOU: Founder of the BAULE People

The AKAN people probably came from North Africa and very early on settled in the center of today’s Ghana. Around the middle of the 17th century, the AKAN were divided into a lot of small kingdoms, sometimes linked by alliances, sometimes subjected to bloody conflicts. A great man decided to unify this divided people; OSSEI TOUTOU, King of the ASHANTI was to become the uncontested king of most of the AKAN people thanks to his military valor and also thanks to the Golden Throne (Golden Stool).

In the AKAN people, the throne is transmitted through the women. Only the sister or the niece of the king can give birth to his heir. When NYAKOU KOSIAMOA (Abla Pokou’s mother) was born – under the reign of OBIRI YEBOA MANOU, King of the ASHANTI – her family was in disgrace. Her uncle OSSEI TOUTOU had been banished from the ASHANTI kingdom. Suddenly, everything had changed when OBIRI YEBOAH died. The wise men of the seven clans, advised by the gods, had chosen MANOU* as the King Mother. And she then, chose her only son, OSSEI, as the new king. (*MANOU: grandmother of NYAKOU KOSIAMOA)

OSSEI came back with a mysterious man (priest) named OKOMFO ANOKYE who had a great influence on the king. The little NYAKOU did not like the sisters of the new king: AKOSSOU and NKETIA. Her uncle, OSSEI TOUTOU, ignored NYAKOU until one day when she was about 12 years old. That day, on her way back from fetching water, she was stopped by her uncle who was having a discussion with his men. OKOMFO ANOKYE told the king that although she was the king’s younger sister’s daughter, she was pure and faithful, and that she was the one that the gods had designated. Her uncle decided to give her in marriage to the king EDOU PENIN of the AMOKOUN kingdom.

In the past, OSSEI TOUTOU and AKOSSA (the previous king of AMOKOUN) had fought violently. OSSEI had been victorious and had been imposed a new king (EDOU PENIN) unto his new vassals.

NYAKOU settles in AMOKOUN as the new wife of the AMOKOUN king who may have appreciated the fact that he would be the father of OSSEI TOUTOU’S successor. NYAKOU becomes pregnant but her husband dies before she can give birth. The new king of AMOKOUN (EDOU II) marries NYAKOU and welcomes the birth of NYAKOU’S first child: PRINCE OPOKOU WARE.

Less than a year after the birth of the child, the new king dies from the same mysterious ailment as the first king. Losing 2 husbands in less than a year makes people think that NYAKOU is a bad omen for AMOKOUN. Fearing the all-powerful OSSEI TOUTOU, the AMOKOUN people decide against killing NYAKOU, and come to the conclusion that she has to leave the kingdom with her son.

After her return to KOUMASSI, OSSEI TOUTOU gives his niece her third husband, ADOU GYAMFI. Very soon, NYAKOU has a second child (a girl), circa 1700 (ABLA POKOU). At that time, OSSEI TOUTOU is at the top of his reign. He has just defeated NTIM GYAKARI, the king of DENKYRA (probably his own son) and continues his prestigious reign over all the AKAN.

In the mines, slaves extract gold. Some expeditions outside the borders enable them to bring back more slaves that they exchange with Europeans against rifles and gunpowder.

NYAKOU enjoys that little OPOUKOU is of great interest to OSSEI as well as to OKOMFO. Her aunts AKOSSOUA and NKETIA are jealous that their own sons are ignored by the king. NYAKOU gives birth to her second son: DAKON. The 3 children are raised together until OPOUKOU turns 8 and leaves his mother’s house.

Abla is raised as a young woman and is also prepared by her great-grandmother MANOU to her future duties since she might one day become Queen. Since the gods had predicted a special fate for ABLA POKOU, OKOMFO teaches her about her role as a princess as well as about the duties of future kings. The priest OKOMFO ends up spending more time teaching ABLA than teaching her brother and future king OPOKOU WARE.

At the age of 17, ABLA POKOU has a vast knowledge and is the most beautiful woman of the ASHANTI kingdom. At that time, the AKIM people are showing signs of rebellion. It is said that the Europeans from El Mina and from CAE are supplying this rebellious group with arms. When the King of AKIM refuses to pay the 4000 ounces of gold (due annually), OSSEI ignores OKOMFO’S warnings that the war would be a tough one and attacks the AKIM.

While he was crossing the PRAH river, OSSEI is killed by a bullet and his 300 men are massacred by the AKIM. There are no survivors. COROMANTEE (the place where this massacre occurred) will remain a sacred place in the heart of all the ASHANTI.

Invaded by a furious ASHANTI people (secretly led by the old OKOMFO), the AKIM kingdom is entirely destroyed. But this did not solve the problem of the ASHANTI kingdom. In normal circumstances, the death of a king is shrouded in silence until after several weeks; when the succession has been prepared and the name of the successor has been chosen, the royal death is official announced.

But, this time, the tragic death of OSSEI is known the next day. Every nephew of OSSEI TOUTOU secretly starts anticipating his role as the new king. OSSEI TOUTOU had made sure that the elders knew that he had designated OPOKOU WARE as his successor.

But one of AKOSSUA’S sons (AKOSSOUA: OSSEI’S sister) named OKOUKOUADANI tried to convince some vassals (that OSSEI had defeated) to help him become king. OKOKOUADANI promises them to waive all taxes. A number of these small kings side with him and provide him with gold and arms. One night, he disappears from KOUMASSI after telling his mother AKOSSOUA that he will come back to be king.

Although the majority of the ASHANTI people consider OKOUKOUADANI a traitor, some small kings (such as the DENKYRAS and the AKWAPIN) see in this quarrel a way to gain their independence. This war will last 2 years. The death of OKOUKOUADANI in 1720 will put an end to the war of succession, which caused a heavy death toll on all sides.

Only the Europeans seem to have won something out of these 2 years of anarchy during which they did not stop furnishing weapons to both sides. The Europeans think they have achieved their goal: the ASHANTI seem to be on the decline. The Europeans hope that soon they will be able to play their favorite game in this part of the world: to divide the Empire in order to get more exotic fruits, more slaves and more gold out of it.

But after a few months, OPOKOU WARE regains control of the situation. This peace is going to reign over the ASHANTI for 20 years. Trade is booming with the Portuguese and the Deutsch; the ASHANTI are trading gold and ivory for guns, tobacco and alcohol (the slave-trade is also happening).

During that seemingly peaceful time, ABLA POKOU gets married to her brother DAKON’S companion, AMO. The union of POKOU and AMO remains fruitless. This unbearable infertility leads ABLA POKOU to repudiate AMO.

At a time when everything that happens in the labor of the gods, people are starting to wonder why ABLA POKOU is cursed with her infertile womb.

Year 1742. On the day of the celebration of yams, a messenger asks to speak with the king and announced to him that the AKIM are once again rebelling and killed a group of ASHANTI traders who were transporting weapons from Europe.

The ASHANTI army gets ready to avenge the murders. ABLA POKOU, 40 years old and childless, does not take part in the preparations of this military expedition in KOUMASSI.

And then, the optimism of the ASHANTI people is crushed when a new messenger comes to announce: EBIRI MORO, King of the SEFURI has just invaded the ASHANTI kingdom….he burns, he massacres, he destroys everything. He is on his way to KOUMASSI….”

OPOKOU WARE has left with all his abled men. There was nobody left to defend KOUMASSI and the heart of the ASHANTI kingdom. POKOU comes out of her isolation and without being invited to do so, speaks up during the counsel assembly, presided by the Queen who let her speak her mind. Everybody listens to her speech:

“Gather the children and the women. Take them far away. Do not take anything with you but a few provisions, the Golden Stool and the other royal insignia. Tell those who want to take along their riches that the important thing is the survival of the ASHANTI people.”

The most respected elder (the Guardian of the Sacred Traditions) speaks up to say that he approves of ABLA POKOU’S plan. ABLA POKOU asks the elders permission to stay in KOUMASSI and orders everybody to leave their gold and their riches in KOUMASSI for 2 reasons: 1. They need to travel light in their exodus and 2. ABLA POKOU knows that no army can resist riches and looting for gold. The SEFURI will waste precious time looking for valuables. Thanks to her decision, ABLA POKOU has just traded the future of a people against a few bags of gold, some jewels and some clothes.

After hearing from one of his spies in KOUMASSI that OPOKOU WARE has set out to exterminate all of the AKIMS, EBIRI MORO gathered all his weapons and swore vengeance on the ASHANTI. Two days later he had crossed the border at the ford of the TANO RIVER.

Once inside the ASHANTI kingdom, the SEFURI burn the fields, rape and kill the women and burn their victims. Once inside KOUMASSI, the pillage (the sacking) lasts a few hours only. The SEFURI slaughter all the people who had stayed in KOUMASSI.

EBIRI MORO takes over the royal palace. The venerable QUEEN NYAKOU is found dead. ABLA POKOU has survived the massacre and is taken hostage along with the royal princess EKOUA who has refused to flee.

OPOKOU WARE is in the capital of the AKIM when he hears of the pillage of KOUMASSI. OPOKOU abandons his plan to exterminate the race of the snakes (as he says) and orders his men to return to KOUMASSI. They arrived too late in KOUMASSI but find some relief in learning that some refugees (mainly children and women) had fled before the enemies had arrived in town. One of the chiefs of the ASHANTI army, AMANKWA TIA sets off immediately to avenge the massacre.

EBIRI MORO decides to separate the 2 royal princesses before crossing the TANO RIVER. EKOUA will be taken to the WASSA Kingdom and the other hostage (POKOU) will be detained in the AOWIN. While the King and the 2 hostages continue on their way, the bulk of the SEFURI army settle their camp for the night on the bank of the TANO RIVER watching carefully over their stolen riches. In the early morning hours, the sleeping SEFURI are attacked by the ASHANTI colony led by AMANKWA TIA and annihilated.

The following days will mark the destruction of the SEFURI Kingdom. The pillage of KOUMASSI has been avenged. But OPOKOU WARE will not be satisfied as long as the 2 princesses are kept hostages. Most of the royal princesses have died during the massacre. The 2 remaining princesses are not (directly) blood related to OPOKOU. OPOKOU wants EKOUA to marry soon and bear a son who could one day succeed him.

The King of WASSA gives EKOUA back to OPOKOU after having learned of the bloody defeat of the SEFURI. When he sees EKOUA, the King, OPOKOU WARE, exclaimed, “EKOUA, efri iye!” which translates to, EKOUA, welcome!

EFIRIYE (meaning, the welcomed one) will become the name of all the women in the royal line.

OPOKOU has never really loved his half-sister ABLA POLOU who has the spirit of a politician and even of a conqueror. 

Excerpts from the book La Reine Pokou. Fondatrice du royaume baule by Jean Noel Loucou and Francoise Ligier

Translated for Amandla by M. Kouassi

Posted by on Jul 13 2023. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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