The recent social media backlash against the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, for being pictured under an umbrella during a closed-door meeting with the King of Britain, King Charles III, has sparked a debate about the significance of the umbrella in the Ashanti Kingdom.
While some social media users are surprised that the Asantehene was using an umbrella even in an enclosed room, literature suggests that the use of the umbrella by rulers in the Ashanti Kingdom has a symbolic meaning beyond protection against extreme weather conditions.
In the Ashanti Kingdom, the umbrella is a symbol of royalty, authority, and power. It represents the king’s ability to shield and protect his people, not only from the elements but also from harm and danger. The umbrella is a prominent feature of royal regalia, and its use is reserved for the king and other high-ranking chiefs.
The umbrella is also used in ceremonial and ritual contexts, such as the Adae festival, which is an important occasion for the Ashanti people. During the festival, the Asantehene and other chiefs are carried on palanquins under umbrellas while being paraded through the streets.
Therefore, while the recent social media backlash may suggest otherwise, the use of the umbrella in the Ashanti Kingdom is not limited to protecting the king from extreme weather conditions but is instead a significant symbol of the king’s authority, power, and protection over his people.
Here are some of the reasons for the use of the umbrella in the Ashanti Kingdom:
The Akan people developed a variety of umbrellas, referred to as ‘kyinyɛ’ in the Twi dialect, to provide a canopy for their chiefs and kings. The Asantehene, the overlord of the Ashanti Kingdom, possesses a diverse range of umbrellas that symbolize significant traditions and his authority.
One such umbrella is the Prɛkɛsɛ, which was created for King Opoku Ware, with ‘prɛkɛsɛ’ as its ntuatire. This umbrella represents the Asantehene’s omnipresence and omnipotence, similar to that of the ‘prɛkɛsɛ,’ as his presence is felt everywhere.
Another umbrella is the Ɔyɔkoman, which was made for King Osei Tutu. It signifies that the royal family belongs to the Ɔyɔko clan, making it representative of them.
When Otumfuo Osei Tutu met King Charles, the umbrella he used looked like one of the umbrellas from a set of three called ‘akrɔnpɔnkyinyɛ’ or ‘as patom kyinyɛ.’ This umbrella is created using two ‘ahahrata’ leaves and is used as a symbol of unity, with the proverb “Ahahrata mienu kabom a, ɛyɛ ɔpepe” meaning “when two ahahrata leaves are brought together, they yield thousands; a symbol of unity.”