From Accra we return by boat to Seccondee, whence we go by train to Coomassie, the capital of Ashanti.
The distance by rail from Seccondee to Coomassie is 168 miles, and under existing travelling conditions the journey takes about twelve hours. The train passes through African junglelands that present gorgeous pictures of forest trees and flowers, reveal exciting glimpses of famous goldfields, and recall modern history stories of savagery, memories of which almost make one's hair stand on end.
At Coomassie we are met by our host and his wife. He is the Agent-in-Charge for the same British cocoa-buying organization with whose representative we stayed at Accra. His wife is one of the twelve white women in the whole European population of Coomassie, which now reaches a total of about eighty.
Our host and hostess prove to be two of the kindest of all the kind people it has ever been our good fortune to meet on our travels. All day and every day they devote themselves to making our study of Ashanti cocoa production a varied round of entertainments, and their many good friends in the neighbourhood play such an active part in this conspiracy in our honour that we shall always remember Coomassie as one of the most hospitable places we have ever visited. It is, too, a particularly picturesque and historically interesting city.
Ashanti is now a Dependency of the Gold Coast Colony. We shall better understand and appreciate the country as we find it to-day if we remind ourselves how it came under British rule.
All of you, of course, have heard of the Ashanti wars, the last of which was fought as recently as 1900. Doubtless, too, you know something of the fame of the Ashantis, in days not long gone by, as a savage race of born warriors, who threatened to overrun a great part of West Africa. In putting an end to the Ashanti reign of terror, our old British Army - the now revered Contemptibles - had to employ the pick of its troops. During the long and fierce struggle, Coomassie and the neighbouring country were the headquarters of the Ashanti kings and their most powerful chiefs. In 1875, when the Black Watch made their famous entry into Coomassie, the place was a primitive native village. The first European building of any importance to be erected there was the British Fort, which was begun in 1896. In this little stronghold the Governor of the Gold Coast, his wife, his staff, a few soldiers, and some missionaries, endured one of the most terrible sieges in the history of the British Empire. That siege is a very modern history story, dating back only to 1900, and in 1900 the whole of Ashantiland was still one of the most fearsome parts of Darkest Africa.
The Coomassie of to-day is a garrison town, designed on garden city lines and occupying an extensive clearing. It is well planned, many large buildings of a permanent character have already been erected and others are springing up rapidly, and there are numbers of roads leading out in all directions to the surrounding country. Special quarters, devoted to special purposes, have their individual characteristics; thus, large "factories," similar to the commercial premises known by that name in the Gold Coast, are features of the European business section; bazaars and market-places are the pulse of the crowded native quarter; the Fort, officers' bungalows, and barracks, typify the Government centre; and pretty country houses, situated in spacious grounds, are conspicuous in the European residential reserve. But whilst Coomassie has something different to show us at every turn there is a charm common to every part of the town.
Whence springs that charm? Day after day, and many times a day, we put this question to ourselves and to one another. Sometimes we think the key to the secret lies in the happy and contented appearance of all the inhabitants, Europeans, Ashantis, Syrians, and Hausas, each in their way being merry and prosperous. Sometimes the explanation seems to be the cheery presence of gardens everywhere, even the roads in the heart of the town being showgrounds of avenues of trees and flowering shrubs. As we look on the graves of the men who gave their lives to keep the old flag flying, as we stand by the well to which the besieging hordes of Ashantis gallantly allowed our besieged fellow-countrymen to go unmolested to fetch water, or as we pass the now overgrown bush trails along which the majority of the emaciated garrison cut their way out to seek for help ana the relief force at last dashed to the rescue of those who still held the Fort, we swallow a lump in our throats and feel that Coomassie's power of fascination for us lies in its historic associations, which are so much a part of our times that we have met people who went through the siege. Be the explanation what it may, there is something that gives individuality to Coomassie, and it is something with a strong power of appeal.
The flourishing and progressive condition of Coomassie as we find it to-day is due to the successful development of the cocoa industry by the Ashantis as farmers and by British merchants as organizers of the export trade. Is it not an extraordinary record of civilization for a born and bred fighting race such as the Ashantis to have settled down, within the short space of twenty years, to the peaceful pursuit of cocoa farming, and to be making a phenomenal success of their new career?
Between the British and the Ashantis there is the bond of mutual respect for "grit." Already that bond of esteem has led to a mutual friendship which is acting as a prime factor in the rapid regeneration of Ashanti.
Wherever we go amongst them the Ashantis give us a right royal welcome. We do not like all their habits and customs, but as a people we like them very much, and we believe they have a great future before them in their remarkably rich country. Indeed, under the new regime in which they have become partners of the British Empire, we see Coomassie, at a not far distant date, as one of the leading cities of Africa, and Ashanti as one of the Empire's main sources of wealth in minerals and tropical agricultural products.