Amoako Atta I (1853-February 2, 1887), or Kwasi Panin, was the Okyehene (Omanhene, or paramount chief) of Akyem Abuakwa (reigned 1867-80 and 1885-87) at the time that the British proclaimed a protectorate over Akyem Abuakwa and other states in what is now southern Ghana in 1874. He tried, though unsuccessfully, to defend the traditional socio-political order of his state against the encroachment of alien institutions, including the Christian church, as represented by the Basel Mission.
Amoko Atta I, or Kwasi Panin, was born in 1853, and became ruler of Akyem Abuakwa in succession to his uncle, Atta Obuom (Obiwom), in 1867, when he was 14 years old. He fought as an ally of the British during the Sagrenti War of 1874 against Asante, and cooperated with the British colonial government in solving the problems created by the influx of Dwaben refugees into the Protectorate in the months following the end of the war. At his request, Chief Ampaw of Kukarantumi, northeast of Kyebi, the capital of Akyem Abuakwa, granted the British colonial government a portion of his stool lands between Kukurantumi and Adweso, to the southeast of Kyebi, for the rehabilitation of the Dwaben refugees. This was the origin of the modern state of New Dwaben, with its capital at Koforidua.
A former pupil of the Kyebi Basel Mission Primary School, Nana Amoako Atta I showed the Basel missionaries every mark of friendship, and took a keen interest in their school. He resisted a call from fetish priests to close it down and to curb its influence in spreading Christianity. Through his influence, the school’s enrollment increased at the end of 1867.
But from the third quarter of 1868 onwards, relations between Amoako Atta and the missionaries became marked by distrust and bitterness, as the Basel missionaries disturbed the political equilibrium of Akyem Abuakwa by inducing the king’s slaves and servants to accept Christianity and to become free men. Amoako Atta therefore saw in the work of the missionaries an attempt to undermine his power and prestige by the creation of a new social order based on an alien conception of law, freedom, and justice. He resented the division of towns into Christian and non-Christian (“heathen”) quarters. His relentless opposition to religious and political change in his state gained him the opposition of both the missionaries and the British colonial government. The resident missionary at Kyebi at that time was the Rev. David Asante who was Amoako Atta’s cousin, and who stood up to him. This clash of personalities led the British authorities to ask the Basel Mission to transfer David Asante from Kyebi. But the trouble between the mission and the Okyehene continued. Finally, in May 1880, when Amoako Atta was convicted on a charge of arson, by a British court in Accra, he was exiled to Lagos, in what is now Nigeria.
After five years of exile in Lagos, Amoako Atta was repatriated to the Gold Coast in January 1885, and was reinstated as Okyehene at the unanimous request of the chiefs and people. In December 1886, anti-Christian riots occurred throughout Akyem Abuakwa as a result of the alleged complicity of Joseph Bosompen, leader of the Basel congregation in Kyebi, in the theft of Amoako Atta’s money, jewelry, and cloths.
Nana Amoako Atta I was summoned to Accra by the British colonial government in January 1887 to attend the hearings of a commission of enquiry into the cause of the riots. On February 2, 1887, however, he died of “exhaustion from double pneumonia” before the commission could begin its work.
Amoako Atta has been misunderstood, for he may not have been so much opposed to Christianity per se, as to the encroachment on his powers by the mission and to the cultural arrogance of some of the missionaries.
J. B. Danquah (editor), The Akim-Abuakwa Handbook, London, 1929; H. W. Debrunner, A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra, 1967; Noel Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, 1835-1960, Accra, 1966. See also Paul Jenkins (compiler), “Abstracts From the Gold Coast Correspondence of the Basel Mission,” (bound typescript), Legon, 1971; Ghana National Archives ADM 1/12/3 (including Notes from General Intelligence Book), ADM 11/1437 (History of New Juaben and the Relations Between the Chiefs), ADM 1/9/1, ADM 11/1/1094, ADM 11/1/1096, ADM 11/1/3.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume One: Ethiopia-Ghana, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1977. All rights reserved.