At its zenith in the eighteenth century, the Asante Kingdom was one of the richest and most powerful states on the African continent. Today, one of the few vestiges of this once flourishing kingdom are ten traditional shrines believed to have been built in the nineteenth century. Scattered in villages to the north and northeast of Kumasi in central Ghana, these earthen buildings demonstrate some of the artistic achievements of the Asante culture. Decorative reliefs cover the dwellings with intricate, interlacing geometrical designs, depicting animals and Adinkra symbols. For a time the shrines were well preserved, as master craftsmen from each village were responsible for their maintenance. However, as government oversight of heritage eclipsed local stewardship in the mid-twentieth century, traditional materials and techniques were replaced with more cost-effective materials like corrugated metal roofing and cement plaster. The site is inscribed on the World Heritage List, but only one of the ten shrines, Besease, has been restored. The remaining nine are in advanced stages of decay, compounded by a loss of traditional know-how, remote locations, and disuse.
2012 World Monuments Watch
WMF first engaged with the Asante Traditional Buildings following their inclusion on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, bringing to international attention the deteriorated conditions of the structures. With a primary goal of advocacy and awareness-building, WMF also facilitated a Watch Day event at the Asawase Shrine near Kumasi to involve and encourage the local community to participate in the protection of their rich heritage. With support from the U.S. embassy in Ghana and the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, WMF was then able to conduct conditions assessments, map the ten structures considered most vital to the Asante, and perform documentation and research related to preserving the site. In August 2014, WMF returned to the region to perform urgent repairs and refine the conservation plan. Working in full collaboration with local authorities, WMF at all stages has worked to build capacity by engaging local stakeholders and training members of the community to steward the maintenance and preservation of these remarkable buildings.
Conservation of Besease used a process of community engagement and training to revitalize the shrine and to build a cadre of craftspeople with traditional skills. WMF’s work parallels such efforts, and has focused on developing an overall conservation plan while performing emergency repairs to a number of the buildings. The success of these efforts will serve as a model for others and ensure that the cultural heritage of the Asante is preserved for future generations.