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From Liverpool to Cape Coast ...
Cape Coast Castle - thumbnailCape Coast Castle
During the voyage from Liverpool in late November I learned much about the traditions and the customs of the natives that we would soon be meeting; my most abiding memory being that of the Egugu, a secret society whose members use some imaginary charm or ju-ju, in the preparation of which, the heart of a virgin, plucked from the body of a living victim, is indispensable. Happily, now, this horrible rite is seldom, if ever, celebrated, though it is affirmed that girls are still sacrificed occasionally in the depths of the forest, the breast being cut off a living virgin, and the heart plucked out while still pulsating and throbbing in its last throes. With visions such as this burning deep in my mind, it was with some trepidation and excitement that, in the late afternoon of December 18th, after passing the white walls of the town perched on high ground, the ramparts of Cape Coast Castle became plainly visible. At six o'clock we dropped anchor about three-quarters of a mile from the shore and, before us, the town of Cape Coast, lit up by the last rays of the setting sun, made a scene of striking grandeur. Built on a solid rock is the castle, consisting of battlements and turrets, and with the main building and tower in the centre, while a blue sea rolls in great waves, which rise in crested walls of water as they break on the rock at the base. As the sun set in all its tropical splendour, throwing a crimson tint over the whole, the most prosaic could not fail to be struck with the rare and romantic beauty of the scene that would enrapture an artist and make a spring poet rave ...

Forest and Jungle to the Prah ...
March to Kumassi - thumbnailMarch to Kumassi
On the road at last from Cape Coast towards, Kumassi. For the first few miles after clearing the bazaar of Cape Coast Castle, the road, a hard gravel path, ran through a labyrinth of small bush covered hills until, about fifteen miles from the coast the bush gradually grew in height and density, with the huge bare shafts of the cotton trees towering here and there among the palms, giant ferns, and smaller trees that formed the general mass of foliage. Then we gradually moved into thick forest terrain, from which we would not again emerge till our campaign was over. The big yellow river Prah slowly slithered along between its forest-clad banks, and as we arrived at Prahsu, the rumours there were of encounters between our scouts and those of the enemy, and of blood drawn on both sides. We were told that King Prempeh laughs in scorn at the proposal that he shall come down to meet the Governor in conference. "The King of the Ashantis is the lord of heaven and of earth," is an established Ashanti belief on which the king and his captains are said to be ready to act. Today, too, we heard that the Ashanti plan of campaign is to draw in our force, and then to cut into it at the rear. At any rate, they seem inclined to fight. That they will do so is the great hope of those who toil through the long hot hours in this steaming fetid atmosphere; and one can not easily grudge them the feeling that our side will be victorious ...

Arrival at Kumassi ...
Troops arrive in Kumassi - thumbnailTroops arrive in Kumassi
Kumassi at last! The proud and dreaded capital of Ashanti! Major Baden Powell's force had worked its way by different paths through the bush, capturing many armed Ashanti spies on the way. The main road into the town was narrow but fairly good, and led through a dense patch of high jungle grass, fringed with medicine heaps. There were also many graves strewn with fetish images, and rotting vultures tied by the neck to the head posts. Shortly after our arrival, King Prempeh, with his chiefs and hundreds of followers, was seen advancing and when he was eventually seated on his throne, or raised dais, the palaver began with a weird dance of executioners and dwarfs round the throne. Three dancers in long flowing robes twirled and leaped in a mazy serpentine fling, till they dropped thoroughly exhausted, to be followed by others. The chief executioner also gave a solo dance, accompanied by the most diabolical leers and suggestive gestures, as he furiously brandished his huge beheading knife, accompanying each wild flourish with a series of blood curdling whoops and yells. Prempeh himself then approached and a more abject picture of pusillanimity could never be painted than of that despot as he passed, cringing and trembling, down the line. He afterwards advanced and shook hands with Sir Francis Scott who addressed a few dismissive words to him through the interpreter, informing him that Governor Maxwell would arrive the next day and that Prempeh must make his submission to him in native Custom. The palaver over, a start was made for the Palace, and the weird appearance of that barbaric state procession by torchlight, baffles description. The musicians marched first, some of the enormous drums being carried between four slaves, and beaten by drummers in rear. Hundreds of torches were lit, while the crowd of nobles, courtiers, captains, citizens, and slaves, went mad with transports of joy, excitement, and rum. The purport of all this enthusiasm was echoed in their cry: "Prempeh! Prempeh! Your fetish has proved too strong for the white man! No power on earth can prevail against thee!" Little did they realise what was to follow

The Submission of Prempeh ...
Submission of Prempeh - thumbnailSubmission of Prempeh
The King had been told to appear at eight o'clock, but after a weary wait, it seemed that Prempeh did not mean to come, so Captain Stewart and the interpreter went to tell him he must come at once, or he would take him by force. After a little further delay the King entered the compound and sat facing Governor Maxwell, Sir Francis Scott, and Colonel Kempster. The Governor said that no article of our last treaty with Ashanti had been kept; they had made no attempt to pay the war indemnity, and it was still owing. However, the British Government had no wish to depose Prempeh if he would agree to the following conditions: He must make his submission in native fashion; and pay an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold dust. Prempeh hesitated. It was a terrible blow to the prestige of that haughty despot, to whom "all the princes of the earth bowed down," to thus humiliate himself in the presence of those white men and his own people. He looked sheepish, toying with his fetish ornaments, and ready to cry with mortification, but then, quietly slipping off his sandals, the King arose, removed his circlet, and, with the Queen Mother at his side, reluctantly walked over to prostrate himself before the Governor, and embrace his feet. A perfect hush fell on the assembled multitude, and even the irrepressible natives were silenced as the King and his royal mother knelt, and tendered their submission; then rose to their feet, thoroughly humiliated and confounded, and returned to their people. Prempeh collected himself, and again rose, exclaiming in a clear voice, "I now claim the protection of the Queen of England." The Governor reminded him that only one of the conditions had been fulfilled and he was now ready to receive the indemnity which had been promised. Prempeh, with a deprecatory gesture, said he would pay in time, to which the Governor rejoined: " On that basis, the King and his retinue will be taken as prisoners to the Coast. Had a thunderbolt burst in their midst, the Ashantis could not have been more amazed. Consternation was depicted on every countenance, and all sat transfixed for a moment, then leaping to their feet, the chiefs begged that Prempeh should not be taken from them; but the denouement was startling and complete ...

The Killing Fields of Kumassi ...
Killing Fields of Kumassi - thumbnailKilling Fields of Kumassi
One of most notorious places in Kumassi was the famous Fetish Grove called Samanpon, or spirit house. In this grove the decapitated bodies were thrown after sacrifice. Kumassi means literally "the place of bloody death," and well its name described it. This horrible Golgotha is piled with the remains of hundreds of miserable creatures, executed simply to please the Ashanti rulers' insatiable lust for human blood. Huge cotton trees had their buttresses piled with bones and skulls; human remains were littered about in every direction, while the whole of that terrible place reeked with pestilential odours. Every step I took in that rank grass revealed hidden human bones mouldering there, while fat, contented-looking vultures, battened and gorged with human carrion, swarmed the trees above in hundreds. In some places the foundations of the old palace were still to be seen. The buildings stood in a large enclosure, surrounded by a fence of tall bamboo, and containing a fetish grove and private place of execution for any person it was thought expedient to decapitate on the quiet. It was here that Prempeh is said to have caused a public execution of four hundred young virgins, their blood being used for the stucco on the Palace walls. Even if the numbers are exaggerated, the information is probably true in the main, as virgin's blood is supposed to contain very sacred properties, and much of the Juju or fetish medicine of the West Africans must be obtained from different parts of a young girl immediately after slaughter ...

Return and Embarkation ...
Embarkation from Cape Coast - thumbnailEmbarkation from Cape Coast
After Prempeh's capture, the immense fetish trees were blown up one after another, and the sacred houses and temples set on fire, or razed to the ground. A cry of despair went up from the miserable creatures watching from the surrounding forest. "Our fetish is gone and our gods have deserted us!" In a few hours they had a practical lesson on the fallacy of fetishism that years of patient missionary labour could not have taught them. The day before, they would have declared that no power on earth could prevail against the gods of Ashanti; but when they saw Prempeh, the natural head of fetish, forced to humble himself and afterwards be taken prisoner, when the sacred houses and blood-washed trees, the very abode of the spirits, were destroyed by the white man's powder, and still the gods availed them nothing, their faith was shaken. It was a trial of orthodoxy that even the negro mind could not stand. Ashanti had stood as the great barrier to the development of our West African Colony, and the Expedition had been a brilliant success in fully accomplishing its object. While in Kumassi, however, the number of our sick swelled to rather an alarming extent, and the Medical Officers anxiously looked forward to the day the mud of Ashanti should be shaken off. Every white man, paradoxical as it may seem, was a sickly yellow, for the malaria was upon all in a slight or severe form. At last we made tracks from this hateful place to Cape Coast; and on February 8th, the sick, numbering nearly 250 officers and men, from the hospital were eventually carried to surf boats and swung on board the "Coromandel." The Headquarters staff then embarked, and quietly the Expeditionary Force left for Old England, having brought to a close the most peaceful, but also the most successful and best managed campaign that has ever graced the annals of English History

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