Ancient Egypt was a civilized nation of ancient Northeastern Africa, laid along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is currently known as Egypt. The ancient Egypt we are talking about had a complex cultural practice in relation to the burying of the Pharaoh (Supreme king of Egypt) What we did not know, was the similarities and connections that ancient Egypt had with another ancient Sub-saharan West African kingdom; the Asante Kingdom.
The Asante kingdom was established around 17th century B.C and it was one of the most powerful empires in the Sub-saharan region. It conquered many kingdoms and stretched it territories wide from it home. Like ancient Egypt, the empire was graced with glory, power, and dignity.
Throughout my research, I came across some critical significances of surprising rituals that both ancient Egypt and the Asante Kingdom shared in common. In this post, of ajonafrica.com, we are discussing the common rituals performed in burying ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and the Asantehene (Supreme ruler/king) of the Asante Kingdom.
Killing slaves to serve the king in the afterlife
History has recorded that, ancient Egyptian Pharaohs were buried with of slaves. These slaves were killed and only their head was buried in the tomb of the Pharaoh. Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. And the Pharaoh needed to be served in the afterlife. There could be no other but the slaves. In fact, the Pharaoh was recognized as a god, and the Egyptians believed he continued his life in the next world. This made it wise to send servants who were to serve him as if he was alive and ruling Egypt.
The Egyptians believed that the Pharaoh was so supreme that everything in Egypt belonged to him. In the belief that says “What belongs to Pharaoh on Earth, also belong to him in the Afterlife” had to be proven to demonstrate his authority. In so doing, his servants (also called retainers) had to serve him in the Afterlife and the only possible way was to kill them and put their heads in the tomb where the Pharaoh was buried.
There are shreds of evidence that prove the retainers/slaves were killed to serve the Pharaoh in the afterlife.
The custom of retainer ritual sacrifice occurred at the beginning of Pharaonic Egypt. The earliest cases dated from late Egyptian Prehistory, in the reign of Naqada II (Gerzean) (3500-3200 BC) when Egyptologists discovered decapitated bodies in several cemeteries. The evidence of human sacrifice is more clearly seen in the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt when the capital was still in Abydos. The burial chamber of King Hor-Aha contained thirty-six graves of males all aged 20-25 who had died from strangulation. Egyptologist Jacobus Van Dijk proposed that ‘given the uniform age of death that these men were all killed simultaneously’. In addition to these retainers, there were also six more graves found containing the remains of court officials, more servants, and artisans.
Commencing with King Hor-Aha, the Pharaohs Djer, Djet, Den, Semerkhet, Queen Merytneith and Pharaoh Qaa all had numerous retainer sacrifices found in their tombs. King Djet, the grandson of Hor-Aha had 318 sacrifices buried with him, but altogether, the estimates appeared to be much higher a possible 580 sacrifices.
It was not possible that these number of individuals died out of natural causes that will make Egyptologists, Archaeologists, and historians to say they were killed to join the Pharaoh and serve him in the Afterlife.
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So were the Asantes doing the same burial rituals?
The Asante kingdom, which is the modern day Republic of Ghana, is a West African country. In the history of the Asante Kingdom, the Asante people were mighty and powerful in the sense that, they were able to conquer other kingdoms and captured them as slaves. The ruler of the Asante Kingdom called (Asantehene) translated as the King of Asante. Like the Egyptians, The Asantehene was the owner of the Asante land and everything in it including the people.
The Asantehene was the lord of the Asante people and they all worshipped him. Like Pharaoh of Egypt, slaves were chosen to serve the Asantehene. In the selection of the slaves who qualified to serve the Asantehene, the person should be no disability, but a whole person, beautiful, and if a woman, virgins were preferred.
The Asantes also believed in the Afterlife. They believed death is just a mere transition from this physical world to the spiritual world where one gets to join his ancestors. In this believe, series of rituals were performed to aid in the journey or the transition of the deceased king to the afterlife.
Because of the royal status of the Asante, he was supposed to have slaves who would serve him in the Afterlife. To get servants for the dead Asantehene, slaves were killed and their heads were put in the same casket of the Asantehene and buried.
The head of the slaves was a symbolic representation that, the King was going to continue to enjoy his royal lifestyle in the afterlife by having slaves to serve and worship him.
You may also read The Asante Kingdoms and how it was founded
Although this history was not recorded, it has been an oral tradition that has been told from generation to generations. There are controversies on this custom of the Asantes. People have tried to dispute the facts in it but another set of people also hold the knowledge that the ancient people of the Asantes practiced this ritual till the 21st century where modernization has worked hard to rubbish many African cultural practices of which the Asantes are no exception.