The Fante people live around Cape Coast and Elmina. They are members of the Akan tribe. The Fanti language is part of the Kwa group that numbers about 1,170,000. Inheritance and succession to public office are determined mostly by matrilineal descent.
According to oral tradition, the Fanti arrived in their present habitat from the north by the 17th century. They served as middlemen in the commerce between the interior and British and Dutch traders on the coast. In the early 18th century, the Fantes formed a confederation, primarily as a means of protection against Ashanti incursions from the interior. Several Fanti-Ashanti wars followed. The Fanti were aided by the British, who, however, destroyed the strong Fanti confederation established between 1868 and 1872, believing it a threat to their hegemony on the coast. In 1874 a joint Fanti-British army defeated the Ashanti, and in the same year the Fanti became part of the British Gold Coast colony.
The Fante people claim to have separated from the Asante, another Akan people, around 1250 AD. This act became the origin of their name, “Fa-atsew” meaning “the half that left.” The Fante left their Asante brethren at Krako, present day Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, and became their own distinct Akan group. The Fante people were led by three great warriors known as Obunumankoma, Odapagyan and Oson (the whale, eagle and elephant respectively). According to tradition, Obunumankoma and Odapagyan died on this exodus and were embalmed and carried the rest of the way.
Oson led the people to what would become known as Mankessim in 1252. Legend has it that the Fante’s chief fetish priest, Komfo Amona planted a spear in the ground on arrival at the settlement. The spear is called the Akyin-Enyim, meaning “in front of god.” The place became the meeting ground for Fante elders and the head fetish priest when discussing important matter for the kingdom and even for all Fante people. The first Omanhene (king) of Mankessim was installed here, and later kingmakers would go to the site for consultation. According to the Fante, the spear cannot be removed by mortal hands.
The Fante first arrived at their initial settlement called Adoakyir which was named by its existing inhabitants, which the Fante called “Etsi-fue-yifo” meaning people with bushy hair. The Fante conquered the people and renamed the settlement Oman-kesemu meaning big town. The name exists today as Mankessim. The Fante settled on the land as their first independent kingdom and buried Obunumakankoma and Odapagyan in a sacred grove called Nana-nom-pow. Komfo Amona also planted the limb of a tree he had brought from the Akan homeland in Krako to see if a place was good for settlement. The day after the priest put the limb in the ground, the people found the plant budding. The tree was named Ebisa-dua or consulting tree and is one of the most important shrines in Mankessim today.
The Fante quickly organised themselves into military groups or companies called asafo to fend off non-Akan groups in the vicinity as well as separate Akan groups, most notably the Asante in later centuries. Tradition states that the Fante sub-groups Ekumfi, Abora, Enyan, Nkusukum and Kurentsir were the first to settle at Mankessim. They were later joined by the Gomoa, Ajumako, Akatakyi and Edina.
Finally, in 1868, the Fante formed a confederacy of their own with British backing to guard against further Asante aggression towards the coast. The Fante met in Mankessim and elected the kingdom’s Omanhene as Brenyi over the Fante Confederacy. In 1871, the seven Fante kingdoms and 20 chiefdoms signed the Constitution of Mankessim formalizing their alliance.
Omanhene Kwasi Edo led the confederacy all of its short existence acquiring the lands of neighboring Asebu, Cabesterra and Agona kingdoms. They also formed a viable resistance to the Asante juggernaut. While not armed with an army as well trained or supported as the Asante, the Fante succeeded in playing their arch-enemy against their powerful British supporters. Mankessim, through the confederacy, monopolized trade on the coast and became a force to reckon with by the Asante, British and Dutch.
The early successes of the confederacy were short-lived and a protracted war with the Dutch, backers of the Asante Confederacy left them in ruins. In 1873, the British proclaimed the entire coast of Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) a protectorate of the crown.
The Fante dissolved their confederacy that same year in return for money, guns and a license to make war on any invading Asante on behalf of the British. Mankessim continued to hold cultural and political importance among the Fante, but was never again an independent force in the region.