Ghana@50 - From Gold Coast To Ghana

Mon, 19 Feb 2007 Source: Boateng, Kofi A.

- Part 1- Foundations of colonization

By Kofi A. Boateng, New York. Culled from “A History of Ghana” by F.K. Buah and other historical papers.

Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492. Ten years prior to that, in 1482, the Portuguese explorer, Dom Diego de Azambuja was granted permission to build the first European fort in Elmina. Trading between Europe and the peoples of the land lying between one degree longitude and five degrees north of the Equator was established and based on mutual respect long before the current world superpower, the USA was even an imagination. The descriptive “Gold Coast” would not make its appearance in common parlance until the mid 1800s, four centuries after the ravages of the slave trade that replaced the orderly trade in gold and merchandise in the 1500s.

The land was peopled by groups with their systems of government, manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, social norms and warfare categorized into two large, though non-homogenous groups of the Akans (comprising the Bono, Denkyira, Twifo, Heman, Asen, Fante, Adanse, Akwamu, Asante, Akyem, Awowin, Sehwi, Nzima and Wasa); and Non-Akans (comprising The Mole- Dagbani, Ga, Adangbe and Ewe). Material and human trading was so lucrative that there was intense competition among the Europeans to establish their trading companies, build their forts and establish control over the coast. By the beginning of the 1800s, the competition had thinned down to three European powers with possessions on the coast: the Dutch with their seat in Elmina (captured from the Portuguese in 1637); the British with their seat in Cape Coast and the Danes with forts in Christiansborg and additional forts to the east.

Four hundred years from the first arrival of the Portuguese in 1471 there was no European colony of the land and people. Relationships were commercially driven, including the sad saga of transatlantic trading in humans for destination- the so called “new world” of the Americas. This is called the pre-colonial period and we should note local people of distinction. Anthony William Amo from Axim was the first African to obtain a doctorate degree that he obtained from the German University of Wittenberg in 1734. Philip Quacoo was the first West African to be ordained a priest of the Anglican Church and the first to be made headmaster of the Cape Coast Castle School. The expansion of Asante into an empire was consolidated under King Osei Tutu (1695-1717). The greatest of the early Ga rulers, Okai Koi who ruled from 1610 to 1660 succeeded in warding off threats from the Akwamu and Nyagse, ruler of Dagbon, annexed several territories from 1476 to 1492.

The discovery of America in the fifteenth century spelled considerable trouble and doom for the people of West Africa. As Europe built mines and plantations in the Americas so its appetite for free labor to do the hard work grew. By the time Britain abolished slavery in its empire in 1833, at least twenty million people had been forcibly taken from the area. The local wars fed this human trade as conquered people were sold in exchange for European goods.

As the Asante empire spread southward, they engaged in at least seven wars with British forces; in one of which the British Governor, Charles MacCarthy was captured and beheaded. In 1827, the Asante were defeated in a decisive battle in Akatamanso near Dodowa. As a condition of surrender, Asante was made to renounce its control over the southern states.

The president of the British merchants association from 1830 to 1843 was Captain George Maclean who was based in Cape Coast. He used diplomacy instead of war to begin to lay the foundations of future direct British rule and colonization. He encouraged the spread of Christianity from the coast to Asante. In 1831, he concluded a treaty of peace with the kings and rulers of Asante, Cape Coast, Abora, Anomabo, Denkyira, Twifo, Wasa, Asen, Akumfi, Adwumako, Nzima and Asikuma. In 1841, the House of Commons in Britain took over the administration from the Merchants Association and the successor to George MacLean, Commander H.W. Hill, got some important rulers of southern Ghana to sign a pledge formally recognizing British jurisdiction and renouncing some local customs the British found abhorrent. This pledge was signed on March 6, 1844 and became known as the Bond of 1844. It did not make the Gold Coast a colony but formalized the relations between Britain and the various people of the coast.

The original signatories were: Kwadwo Tibu (Denkyira), Kwesi Otu (Abora), Tibo Kuma (Asen), Kwesi Anka (Asen), Awusi (Dominase), Amoonu( Anomabu) and Joseph Aggrey( Cape Coast). Additional rulers from the coast, including the king of Accra later signed. The agreement contained three clauses:

(1) Whereas power and jurisdiction have been exercised for and on behalf of her Majesty the Queen (Victoria) of Great Britain and Ireland… on the Gold Coast, we, chiefs of countries and places so referred… do hereby acknowledge that power and jurisdiction, and declare that the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and of property. (2) Human sacrifices, and other barbarous customs… are an abomination and contrary to law. (3) Murders, robberies, and other crimes and offences, will be tried and inquired of before the Queen’s judicial officers and the chiefs of the district….

We begin to see the official use of the name GOLD COAST to describe the coastal land. We also see the genesis of March 6, later to be Ghana’s independence day some 113 years from the signing of this agreement.

In Part 2, we shall cover British Colonial rule and the rise of nationalism.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Boateng, Kofi A.