The Ashanti - pioneering in the jungle

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The Gold Coast, now Ghana, was a colony of the British Empire. B-P was sent there in 1895 to raise a native force to oppose the powerful Ashanti tribe. The Ashanti (Asante) were well known as fierce fighters, with the slogan

If I go forward I die
If I go backward I die
Better go forward and die

Baden-Powell's force was made up of hundreds of warriors from the Krobos, Elima, Mumford and Adansi tribes. They had to scout out a new route through the jungle, in enemy territory, and pioneer a new road which the main British force could follow to attack the Ashanti capital of Kumasi.

Pioneering in the jungle[edit]

Making a road through the jungle meant clearing the thick growth, laying roads through marshes, and constructing bridges over rivers and streams. B-P made sure his force was trained in skills of axemanship, pioneering and knotting. They built more than 200 bridges from spars and lashed together with vines. The Ashanti used drums for signalling over long distances, and the intricate language of the drums could be heard every night booming through the jungle.

Scout patrols[edit]

From the people of Ghana, Baden-Powell learnt the phrase "softly softly catchee monkey" - and he learnt that he could get the best work out of his force by dividing it into small groups, or patrols, and giving responsibility to the captain of each group.

The Scout Staff[edit]

The Scout Staff was copied from one used in the Ashanti campaign, to test the depths of swamps, to feel the way at night while secretly scouting out the enemy positions, and also used to hang telegraph wires from the brancehs of the jungle.

"It was in Ashanti, on the West Coast of Africa where my particular job was to organize and command a corps of native Scouts and Pioneers. "We were accordingly working two or three days in advance of the main body of European Troops and in the densest primeval jungle and forest, without roads or paths of any kind to guard us. "In order to circumvent the enemy much of our advance had to be carried out by night, which meant difficulties at nearly every step among fallen timber, boggy streams, tussocks of reeds and bushes, etc. "Without a staff, one could not have got along at all." - B-P

The Left Handshake[edit]


There are two stories about the origin of the left handshake in Scouting. The first is simply that the left hand is closest to the heart. But there is also a much more interesting story, which comes from the Ashanti tribe itself.

When B-P entered the Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti, he was greeted by a warrior chief who held out his left hand. He told B-P "the bravest of the brave shake with the left hand." So began the left handshake which is used by millions of Scouts all over the world.

The explanation of the left handshake is that a warrior uses the left hand to hold the shield, while the right hand holds the spears. So to show your trust in someone, you put down the shield and greet them by holding out your left hand.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys
  • Hillcourt, Baden-Powell: the Two Lives of a Hero
  • MacDonald, Sons of the Empire: the Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement
  • The Scout Trail, handbook of the Scout Association of South Africa.
  • Lord Rowallan, Forward to The Left Handshake by Hilary St. George Saunders
  • The Spirit of the Staff