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