The Golden Coast

Gus Casely-Hayford looks at the rise and fall of west Africa's Asante kingdom and its turbulent relationship with European powers

A gold head, thought to represent the head of an important enemy killed in battle, from the Asante kingdom. The abundance of this precious metal greatly shaped the region's history. (Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Since the late Middle Ages the Akan region of west Africa has held a special place in European imaginations. The pioneering 15th‑century Portuguese traders called the coastline where they first weighed anchor, El Mina (the Mine). Subsequent waves of European merchants were attracted by the same substance that lured the Portuguese, and had long drawn north African traders down across the Sahara desert: an abundant supply of the highest quality, buttery-yellow gold.

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