To the north-east of Kumasi are to be found the last material remains of the great Asante civilization, which reached its high point in the 18th century. As the dwellings are made from earth, wood and straw, they are vulnerable to the onslaught of time and weather. These buildings are the last remaining material testament of the great Asante civilization, of which they are a perfect illustration.
The traditional Asante (Ashanti) buildings are spread throughout the north and north-east of Kumasi. The majority of the Asante villages were destroyed during the 19th century in the wars undertaken by this people against English domination between 1806 and 1901. It was during this period that the royal mausoleum (Barem) was burned by Baden-Powell in 1895. There exists today only a small number of the traditional structures, habitats of men and gods, of which the majority are less than 100 years old.
The disposition of these structures is well known through eyewitness reports by early European travellers as well as contemporary studies. A series of poles and wooden imposts linked by bamboo slats form the framework which supports the thatched roof. The floor is of puddled clay. A rich decor of earth-facing over a core of wood reigns over the principal facade; this is comprised of a balustrade, imposts, and sometimes windows whose decorative openwork may be likened to that of the transenna (a heavy grill-work used for closing off the tombs of Christian martyrs). The decoration consists of geometric, floral, animal, or anthropomorphic motives.
The preservation of these structures built from heterogeneous material poses a difficult, if not insoluble, problem. The thatched roofs are made from obviously fragile material. At the time of the publication of Michael Swithenbank's basic book, Ashanti Fetish Houses, the majority of the houses had been given a roofing of corrugated iron. Since then, maintenance efforts have been agreed to by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board.
The wood of the framework of the roof, essentially derived from two tropical species (Hippocrates africana and Hippocrates rowlandii), is known for its resistance against termites. However, it does not appear to be very durable, owing to the process of biological deterioration at this latitude. The existence of the clay facings covering the wood core can likewise not be guaranteed over the coming decades.