Quassi, also spelled Kwesi (ca. 1690 – ca. 1780) whose real Fanti name from Gold Coast (Ghana) was Kwasimukamba (Kwesi Mukamba) was a Surinamese healer, botanist, slave and later freedman of the 18th century.
He was renowned for being “absolutely the first discoverer “of the Quassia tonic.
His name Quassi was given to a plant species “quassia” (bitter wood).
Quassia amara (Amargo, Bitter-ash, Bitter-wood) is a species in the genus Quassia, with some botanists treating it as the sole species in the genus.
Quassia amara is used as insecticide, in traditional medicine and as additive in the food industry.
Graman Quassi was sold into slavery in Suriname as a child, a Dutch protectorate in South America.
As a slave, he was known as an obeah (one skilled in medical and spiritual knowledge) and he used it to his advantage.
He used his medicinal knowledge to heal the Europeans and the slaves as well.
He was paid for his services and with that, he gradually became a person of influence at the time.
As a slave in Suriname, a Dutch colony in South America, he participated in the wars against the Saramaka maroons as a scout and negotiator for the Dutch.
For his services to the Dutch in helping to defeat Maroon rebellions, Graman Quassi was given a golden breastplate engraved with ‘Quassi, faithful to the whites’.
He was also assigned the position of personal slave to the governor and later given his own freedom (in an act called manumission).
To the Surinamese, Graman Quassi was a traitor and to the Dutch, their secret weapon in defeating the Maroon rebels.
Anthropologists, who were on a mission in the Maroon communities in Saramanka, heard oral tales about Quassi.
He was described as the “traitor who gained medical Knowledge from them” and eventually led the Europeans into their forests to capture them.
In one of their narrations, their chief at the time cut off Quassi’s right ear.
Quassia amara – also known as amargo, bitter-ash, bitter-wood, or hombre grande (Spanish for big man) – is a small tree with elongated, bright red flowers.
Quassin, a chemical derived from the plant, is one of nature’s most bitter substances.
Quassi was the first botanist to scientifically describe the medicinal plant, which was named after him by taxonomist Carl Linnaeus.