Manhyia Royal Palace

Seat of the Post-19th Century Asante Monarchs

Current Asante narrative stresses that the Asante insisted on paying the British for the new royal palace in 1925, so their ruler need not be beholden to the colonialists. British records show their plan was to have Asante noblemen foot the bill.

When the British allowed Asantehene Prempeh I to return from exile in the Seychelles Islands and resume his position as "Kumasihene" (a term that attempted to limit his sovereignty to Kumase), their former actions left him no palace to return to. Upon his return in 1924, he took up temporary quarters in the new neighborhood known as Asafo. The British decided a "bungalow" in their own style would be most suitable, and planned to build it in Manhyia, rather than in the old palace site of Adum, which has since been commercialized.

Before Kumase's colonial growth, the Manhyia area had been a village just outside the city where the Asantehene had an additional residence. According to Fuller, the monarch kept his gunpowder at Manhyia, and it also hosted a critical meeting of the Asante chiefs before Wolsely's 1874 entrance into Kumase. After the destruction of his palace by Wolsely's men, Asante Kofi Karikari left Kumase for Manhyia, as did his principal chiefs. The British selected this same region for Prempeh I's residence. Although they initially referred to him a private citizen, they still constructed a new mansion for the monarch, budgeting 3000 pounds (the equivalent of just over 250,000 of today's dollars). The selected builders were the same construction company that had just built the new colonial residency. 
As Dumouchelle points out, Manhyia Palace is similar in style to the Residency, although the latter was larger and grander. Both were two-story stone structures with louvered windows and tiled roofs, although the Palace's Doric porch columns are less imposing (if airier) than the arches of the Residency's porch. Particular prominence was given to the Palace's ground floor porch and second-story balcony, which were as large or larger than the interior rooms. This became a Westernized equivalent of the pre-colonial Kumase-style adampan, the open-walled ground floor room of old aristocratic structures, where royals and noblemen's activities had a public face. 

Manhyia Palace is a symmetrical structure, the entrance porch leading to a wide hall. Its wooden-floored ground floor included five rooms, including a smoking room and an office for Prempeh I. The upper floor held three bedrooms, a dressing room, sitting room, and linen room. A separate garage and electric light (introduced 1929) were additions, and Prempeh II sought other expansions that included a guest house, a palace for the Queen Mother, a tennis court, and additional outbuildings. Dumouchelle observed that the arrangement of some of the structures--though made of permanent materials--was pre-colonial, with four open structures centered around an open courtyard (gyase).

Asantehenes Prempeh I (d. 1931) and two of his successors, Prempeh II (r. 1931-1970) and Opoku Ware II (1970-1999) also lived in the colonial building, and its current status as museum preserves original furnishings, dining services, telephones, and the first Kumase black and white television from 1965. It also houses precolonial swords, dress, and other royal regalia, as well as realistic fiberglass effigies of many former monarchs and queen mothers. Its public opening was planned as one of the culminating activities of a grand Jubilee celebration of Asantehene Opoku Ware II's 25th year on the throne, and took place in 1995. 

Malcolm McLeod, director of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and former Keeper of the British Museum's Museum of Mankind, was invited to advise those Asante who were planning the museum. As Schildkrout notes, his plans involved certain needed repairs and upgrades, the cleaning and conservation of the house's domestic contents, and considerations of the diverse audiences the museum would serve, but did not include object curation for the second floor, which would include some royal regalia. Objects from the royal treasury have different caretakers, not all of whom agreed with the concept of museum display. The exhibit cases were not filled until the day of the opening, and many were emptied that same night. Because objects can be in active use for ceremonies, the inventory remains fluid; some regalia items on view are now replicas, while others are temporarily exhibited.

Asantehene Opoku Ware II chose to dedicate the colonial structure as a museum for he had created a new palace next to it not long after his 1970 accession. This remains the residence of the reigning Asantehene, Osei Tutu II, which is shielded by wrought iron fencing. Outside both the old and new mansions are large public expanses that not only add to the grandeur of the palace compound, but are put to periodic practical use. Royal ceremonies take place on these lawns, with parade ground structures shielding musicians and select distinguished guests. The palace, museum, outbuildings, and grounds today occupy an area of about five acres, equivalent to the space the 19th-century Adum palace stood on, and used for both old and new purposes, albeit in Western styles.

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Ashanti New Town Road, Kumasi, Ghana ~ The old palace/museum is open to the public from 9 am-5 pm. The Asantehene's current palace on the same grounds is private property.