David Asante (December 23, 1834-October 13, 1892), a missionary with the famous Basel (Lutheran) Mission, helped to make Twi the powerful literary language it is today.
The son of Owusu-Akyem, an Akuropon citizen of the ruling Asona clan, David Asante was one of the first converts to Christianity in his birthplace, Akuropon, capital of Akuapem, a state 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Accra. He began his education as a houseboy to the Basel missionaries, the Revs. J. F. Widmann and J. C. Dieterle, later becoming their personal assistant. His first task was to learn English, as his mother tongue, Twi, was not then a written language. He was an intelligent and industrious scholar, and at the age of 17 was baptized a Christian on Christmas Day, 1847. In 1848 he became one of the five foundation pupils of the Akuropon Basel Mission Seminary, or training college. He then studied for five years, learning German as well as Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
After qualifying as a teacher-catechist, Asante was appointed to Larteh, 5 mi (8 km) southeast of Akuropon, where he combated fetishism and other unChristian customs. He established a congregation there, and built the mission house, which was still standing in the mid-1970s, as well as a chapel. From Larteh he was transferred to Gyadam, then the capital of Akyem Kotoku, on the Birem River, about 15 miles (24 km) north of Kyebi. Here his task was to help the Rev. Simon Süss, who was trying to establish a congregation there. Here, too, he found he had to combat fetishism and related practices. He was later transferred to the Akuropon Seminary as a teacher, and also to collaborate with the Rev. J. G. Christaller (q.v.) in the writing of Twi books for schools.
In 1857 the church sent him to Basel, Switzeraland, where he arrived in August for training as a pastor. His brother Oforikae joined him there in 1860, but died of tuberculosis in 1861. David Asante completed his studies in 1862, was ordained a pastor in the Lutheran Church, and then in June returned home to serve the Mission at Akuropon, then under Widmann’s direction.
He was transferred to Larteh after his marriage, on July 28, 1864, to Lydia Martha, a teacher in the girls’ boarding schools at Abokobi. At Larteh he found that Christians were being persecuted, and the same practices he had condemned in the 1850s were continuing. In 1871 he was sent on a dangerous mission to Begoro, north of Kyebi, one of the divisions of the Akyem Abuakwa state, to find out what he could about two Basel missionaries, the Revs. Friederich A. Ramseyer and J. Kühne, who had been captured by the Asante. (In the event he was unable to obtain information, and the missionaries were released after the British occupation of the Asante capital, Kumase, in the Sagrenti War of 1873-74.) In 1872 he was sent to Kukurantumi, another division of Akyem Abukwa, to establish a mission station there. He opened a school for converts, and had a stable congregation consisting mainly of freed slaves.
In 1875 he was transferred to Kyebi to replace a European missionary. Here he met with the strongest opposition he was to encounter throughout his career. It came from the Okyehene (paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa), Amoako Atta I (q.v.) who was Asante’s cousin, as well as from Amoako Atta’s mother, and other courtiers. The quarrel stemmed from Amoako Atta’s opposition to the conversion of slaves to Christianity, and to the abolition of slavery by the British. Amoako Atta and his entourage felt that the processes of Christianization and the abolition of slavery were causing him to lose his source of power and revenue. The Christians, he felt, were defying his authority because they lived in separate communities which regarded the missionaries as their heads. Asante. Supporting both the conversion of slaves and the abolition of slavery, insisted on having his way, despite the persecution of Christians which resulted. Finally matters came to a head, and the British government asked the Basel Mission to transfer Asante away from Kyebi. The persecution of Christians nevertheless continued after his departure.
Asante was next transferred to another non-Christian community at Nsakye, near Aburi, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Accra. Here his work was made difficult because mulattoes from Accra, who were regarded by Africans as Europeans and Christians, came to consult the local fetish, named “Onyaawonsu” (“Soothsaver”), Asante managed, however to check this practice, and to establish a stable congregation.
He was later sent to Anum, on the east bank of the Volta, 50 miles (80 km) inland, to reopen a mission station there which had been abandoned because of the Asante and Togoland wars of this period. He revived enthusiasm for Christianity in the area, and travelled as far as Palimé in Togo, and Salaga in what is now northern Ghana to promote his missionary work. He also urged the mission to start work in the states of Buem and Krakye (Krachi), both located in what is now the Volta Region of Ghana, where he had met with opposition from the local population, who worshipped a god called Odente.
In 1885 he was given a period of rest, which he used to travel through the Central Province of the Gold Coast (between Accra and Takoradi), selling copies of the Twi Bible, which he had helped Christaller to translate. He visited Cape Coast and Saltpond, as well as Kumase, where he met with Ramseyer, the Basel missionary who had been held there as a captive of the Asante from 1869-1874.
He was transferred back to Akuropon in 1888, but was unpopular among the people there because of his frankness and blunt way of checking abuses. He often defended Christian converts before the tribunal of the Omanhene (paramount chief) of Akuropon.
During his missionary life, Asante produced several books in Twi, among which were translations of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, of a book about ancient heathenism in Germany, and of a German history book, which became known as the Kapa History. He wrote a Twi hymn, coined new Twi words, and contributed to the establishment of Twi as a literary language. He died at Akuropon in 1892.
L. H. Ofosu-Appiah
David Asante, (translation into Twi, with J. G. Christaller), Kristofo Nyamesam ho Kyere (“The Doctrine of the Christian Religion”), Basel, 1872, (Twi translation) Kapa History, Basel 1872, (Twi translation) Abofra Ayisaa Nhoma Bi (“The Orphan’s Letter”) by Oguyomi of Ibadan, booklet, Basel, 1873, (Twi translation) Germane Asase So Krisosto (“Chritianity in Germany”), Basel, 1875, (Twi translation) Okristoni Akwantu (Pilgrim’s Progress’) by John Bunyan, Basel, 18?, (Twi translation) Onipa Koma (“Man’s Heart”), Basel, 1874, Wiase abasem mu nsemma-nsemma wo Twi kasa mu (“Stories from General History”), Basel, 1874, 2nd revised ed., edited by J. G. Christaller, Basel, 1893, Twi Kenkan Nhoma (“Twi Reading Book”), Books I-IV, 5th ed., Basel, 1912; J.G. Christaller, A Grammar of the Asante and Fante Language Called Tshi (Twi, Chee) Based on the Akuapem Dialect With Reference to Other (Akan and Fante) Dialects, Basel, 1875, A Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language Called Tshi (Chwee, Twi), Basel, 1881, 2nd revised edition, edited by J. Schweizer, published as Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Languages called Tshi (Twi), Basel, 1933; H. W. Debrunner, A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra, 1967; H. J. Keteku, The Reverend David Asante, Accra, 1965; Wilhelm Schlatter, Geschichte der Basler Mission 1815-1915 (“History of the Basel Mission”), Basel, 1916; Noel Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana 1835-1960, Accra, 1966. See also articles by David Asante in The Christian Messenger, between 1883 and 1890, Basel.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.