The major Fante cities are “Ogua” Cape Coast, Central region and Secondi-Takoradi, Western region. Mankessim (Oman kesi-mu) is the traditional and spiritual capital of Mfantseman. The Fante people are one of the largest Akan groups, along with the “Asantefo” or Ashantis, the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Bono, the Kwahu, the Baoule, Ezema and others.
Despite the rapid growth of the Ashanti Kingdom and constant war with the Ashanti and allied Dutch in the mid-1800s, the Fante’s have always retained their state to this day and fought numerous wars to protect their northern flanks from Ashanti incursion and several other wars with the Dutch to protect their Western flanks. Currently, they number about 5 million, the second largest grouping of Akan people or about 14% of modern Ghana’s total population. Inheritance and succession to public office among the Fante’s are traditionally determined by matrilineal descent, which is common among Akan peoples.
When the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, the Fante prevented them from venturing inland and leased properties for Portuguese trading missions. But when the Portuguese objected to Fante rules and regulations, the Fante expelled them after a series of skirmishes and battles. Thereafter the Dutch arrived, followed by the British. The Fante served as middlemen in the commerce between the interior and British and Dutch traders on the coast. The Fante became a very wealthy and prosperous state upon their dealings with the various European powers.
In the early 18th century, the Modern Fante Confederacy was formed, with the aim of establishing themselves as a nation to be taken seriously by their European counterparts and the withdrawal of Europeans from Fante lands. The Fantes for centuries already had a very complex system of federal government in which various states co-exist in a lose alliance. Each Fante state is led by a Paramount Chief. However in times of war, they always mobilized a Union army often commandeered by the Paramount Chief of Abura. Facing such stern resistance, the Danish vacated all trading forts in Mfantseman. The Dutch, however decided to stay leading to many wars between Fante and the Dutch who failed to colonize them. The British left Cape Coast and moved the capital of Gold Coast to Accra as a response to the resistance movement. The modern Fante Confederacy was established in response to the threat of Europeans attempting to colonize vast areas within modern day Ghana. So in 1844 a bond was signed between the Fante Confederacy, on behalf of the Gold Coast, and the British, allowing the Gold Coast to gain total independence without war one hundred years later.
Several Ashanti-Fante Wars followed due Ashanti quest for direct trade routes to the coast. On one occasion, the Fante were aided by the British, who, however, managed to seriously weaken the strong Fante confederation established between 1868 and 1872, believing it a threat to their hegemony on the coast. The British and the Dutch took sides in these Ashanti-Fante wars thereby creating a schism between these two powerful Akan states. Such European Colonial strategies, later identified as “divide and conquer”, are what eventually enabled the entire Gold Coast and many other African nations to be colonized.
Whiles Mfantsefo are known widely to be a peaceful people, in times of war they rally for the common defense. Due to wars with the Dutch and allied Ashanti, the combined strength of the Fante Union Army numbered over thirty thousand men in 1844. It was under the command of Amfo Otu, Paramount Chief of Abura, that they laid siege to their own town of Elmina and it’s European Castle, eventually expelling the Dutch from their stronghold in Elmina and Ahanta. Another great Fante warlord, Badu Bonsu II, Paramount Chief of Ahanta, had killed some Dutch emissaries and soldiers in a series of wars due to disagreements about money and resistance to European control. He was later captured and beheaded by the Dutch in one of these wars. His severed head was taken to Amsterdam and was only recently returned to Ghana for traditional burial after 200 years.
The Fante have produced numerous illustrious and prominent people in Ghana, notable among whom are Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General), Jacob Wilson Sey (first indigenous multimillionaire on the Gold Coast), British journalist and writer Ekow Eshun, Ottobah Cugoano (abolitionist and natural rights philosopher), Sam Jonah (ex-CEO of AngloGold Ashanti), John Atta Mills (former president), Kwesi Amissah-Arthur (former vice president), Cardinal Peter Turkson (first Ghanaian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church), Kow Nkesen Arkaah (former Vice President of Ghana), and a major number of the advocates of independence, not only in Ghana but also in the West African sub-region and the African diaspora, such as John Mensah Sarbah, James Kwegyir Aggrey, Ottobah Cugoano (Fante-British Slave Abolitionist), (Chief Takyi, Leader of Jamaican slave revolt), Paa Grant (founding father of the UGCC) and J. E. Casely Hayford. Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, although a native Nzema, was born not far from Takoradi and spoke the Fante dialect. Other notable Fante luminaries include Joseph Ellis and Joseph Biney who both discovered the gold deposits in 1897 situated at Obuasi in the Ashanti region. Fante native from Elmina turned Spanish moor, black navigator Pedro Alonso Niño (1468–c. 1505) AKA EL NEGRA “THE BLACK” who sailed with Christopher Columbus across the blue ocean in 1492. Born in Palos de Moguer, Spain, and of African Descent, His father was a Fante seaman from Elmina in present day Ghana. He explored the coasts of Africa in his early years. He piloted one of Columbus’ ships in the expedition of 1492, and accompanied him during his third voyage that saw the discovery of Trinidad and the mouths of the Orinoco River.