West Africa Gold Coast - Encyclopedia

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"GOLD COAST, WEST Africa (see 12.203). - In spite of the fact that the Gold Coast forms a British Crown colony (to which Ashanti and the Northern Territories are the adjoining protectorate) it consists (1921) of an agglomeration of small selfcontained and mutually independent native states, each of which is under the immediate management of its own tribal organization. This consists of a paramount chief, variously called Omanehene by the Akans and by the people who have come under the Akan influence, Manchi by the Gas and all kindred peoples, Konor by the Krobos and Fia by the Ewe-speaking folk in the neighbourhood of and beyond the Volta. These paramount chiefs are in each case chosen for the offices they fill by the tribesmen concerned, the candidates belonging to one or more families from among whose members alone a chief can be selected. The Akans trace descent exclusively through the female line and among them a chief can only be succeeded by the son of a female relative and never by one of his own sons. The non-Akan peoples of the Gold Coast recognize descent through the male line; but with Akans and non-Akans alike, men are selected to fill the office of chief, nominally by popular suffrage, in reality by the principal sub-chiefs, counsellors and elders of the tribe or section of the tribe concerned, care being taken to choose the most suitable of the eligible candidates. All chiefs are liable to " destoolment " at the decree of their people if they fail to give satisfaction. Every paramount chief is the occupant of a stool, which is reputed to be the seat of office of the original founder or leader of the tribe; and in this often fragmentary wooden relic the spirits of his ancestors are believed to abide, and to them, through it, sacrifices are offered, and libations of blood (formerly human, to-day that of fowls or goats) are poured over it on all ceremonial occasions. Each paramount chief is assisted in his office by a number of sub-chiefs of varying rank, whose jurisdiction, until quite recently, was personal rather than territorial. These sub-chiefs, with certain counsellors and elders of the tribe, jointly deliberate with the paramount chief upon all matters of importance. All evidence is given before them in public; but all in authority retire to consider their verdict, which is subsequently announced to the tribesmen by the Linguist, who is the mouthpiece of the paramount chief on all formal occasions. The bulk of the population, no matter what their age, are collectively classed as " young men " and, in spite of the democratic principles upon which the tribal organization is theoretically based, they ordinarily have very little voice in public affairs.

Until the spread of permanent, as opposed to shifting, cultivation was brought about by the extensive planting of cocoa, the territorial limits of the numerous tribal areas were very roughly defined, but as the value of land has appreciated, boundary questions have come into ever greater prominence and have given rise to interminable litigation, the cost of which has wellnigh ruined several of the tribes concerned. The judicial powers of the chiefs of all ranks are defined by the Native Jurisdiction Ordinance, appeals lying to the provincial and supreme courts, and ultimately to the Privy Council.

So far as it is possible to trace local history prior to the incursion of Europeans, it would appear that the Twior Tschi-speaking people, who to-clay form the predominant native race, and to which the Akan tribes of the colony, and Fantis and the Ashantis alike belong, were expelled from the open country of the upper Volta valley by Arab or Fulani Mahommedan invaders, probably about the 10th or 11th century A.D., and were forced to seek a new home in the tsetse-fly infested forest country, whither their mounted assailants could not follow them. The country which is now Ashanti and the Gold Coast colony appears at that time to have been inhabited by a number of negro tribes possessing a culture far more primitive than that of the Twi-speaking folk, who it is probable were in some instances still in the neolithic stage. The newcomers rapidly overran the forest country, subdued or absorbed the autochthonous inhabitants, and established mutually independent tribal units alike on the coast and in the interior. It is probable that.the original invasion of the forest area was undertaken almost simultaneously by a number of separate bands of fugitives; and that, as these communities suc cessively outgrew the food-supply yielded by the lands which they had occupied, further emigrations took place, the section of a tribe separating itself from the rest sometimes electing to form a wholly distinct political unit, and sometimes continuing to recognize an actual allegiance to the tribal organization under which it had once lived, or at any rate a perpetual alliance with it. In many cases, no doubt, the aborigines were exterminated, but in others they survive to this day, the Efutu tribe in the central and the Gwangs and Cherepongs in the eastern province of the colony, for instance, still retaining their identity, their languages and some traces of a distinct tribal organization. In the western parts of the Gold Coast the aborigines appear to have come under Akan influence, but to have avoided actual conquest; while on the eastern side the Akan invaders came into contact with such people as the Gas, the Krobos and the Ewe-speaking people beyond the Volta, all of whom, it is probable, are descendants of invaders who pushed westward into these coastal districts from the neighbourhood of the Niger estuary. In quite recent times one Akan tribe, the Akwamus, established themselves in lands which they still occupy on both banks of the Volta, at a point some 60 m. from its mouth; but with this exception, the Akan or Twi-speaking peoples of Ashanti and the colony form a distinct ethnological wedge sandwiched between different stocks.

Sir William Brandford Griffith was British governor of the Gold Coast from 1886 to 1895, in which year he was succeeded by Sir William Maxwell, Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements, who first started the colony upon an upward grade. Under his administration some very important boundary disputes were settled with the French; Kumasi was occupied by an expeditionary force, which met with no resistance, and Prempeh, the Ashanti king, was deported, first to Sierra Leone and subsequently to the Seychelles. On Sir William Maxwell's premature death he was succeeded by Sir Frederick Hodgson, under whose administration a search for the " golden stool " - the throne of the Ashanti kings - caused an extensive rebellion in Ashanti, which led to the final conquest of the country. Sir Matthew Nathan succeeded to the governorship in 1900, and under his administration Sekondi was converted from an insignificant fishing village into an important seaport, and the railway from that place to Kumasi was constructed. In 1904 Sir John Rodger became governor and held the post till his death in 1910. During his term the waterworks both at Accra and Sekondi were inaugurated, though he did not live to see them completed. He was succeeded by Mr. Thorburn, the Colonial Secretary of Southern Nigeria, formerly a member of the Ceylon civil service, who in 1912 was followed by Sir Hugh Clifford, the Colonial Secretary of Ceylon. During his administration, which lasted till July 1919, the railway extension from Mangoase via Koforidua to Tafo was completed, and the whole line from that place to Kumasi was surveyed and demarcated. Numerous public works of importance were constructed, in spite of the World War, e.g. the up-to-date railway workshops at Sekondi, with the electrical installation which supplies lighting for the town; the Government offices, general post office and headquarters police barracks at Accra; a very large number of bungalows of modern type which, with the segregation areas in which they are situated, have revolutionized the living conditions of the official population in most of the principal centres alike in the colony and in Ashanti; and some 600 m. of motor-road. Sir Hugh Clifford was succeeded by Brig.-Gen. F. G. Guggisberg in Sept. 1919. By him extensive harbour works at Sekondi were projected and an extension of the railway from Tafo to Kumasi was being made in 1921.

On the outbreak of the World War the adjoining colony of Togoland was invaded by the Gold Coast Regt. under the command of Lt.-Col. Bryant. Lome, the capital, was abandoned without a struggle, the enemy retiring up the Lome - Atakpame railway in the direction of Kamina, the place in the interior where a gigantic wireless installation had been completed in the preceding July. On Aug. 28 the German force, after destroying the wireless installation, was compelled to surrender, their defeat being accomplished by the Gold Coast Regt., which had been joined a few days earlier by a platoon of French native troops.

A larger French force arrived at Kamina a few days later. A provisional agreement for the immediate partition of Togoland between Great Britain and France was negotiated by Sir Hugh Clifford and by M. Nouffland, the lieutenant-governor of Dahomey, at Lome on Aug. 30, and was confirmed by their respective Governments. Under it slightly more than half the geographical area of the country was placed under the French, the remainder - which however included Lome, the only port of entry and the terminus of the three railway lines - being administered on behalf of Great Britain by the Government of the Gold Coast, which bore all the charges connected with the conquest and the subsequent occupation of the country. The net revenue derived from customs and from the railway, though collected by the British, was divided equally between them and the French. Under British rule the western districts of Togoland prospered exceedingly, it being calculated that within two years the areas under cultivation exceeded by 33% those which had been tilled in German times. The work of administration was carried on by a handful of British officers, selected for that purpose from the Gold Coast, under Maj. Rew, the officer commanding in Togoland, who exercised both military and civil functions under the guidance of the governor of the Gold Coast. By an agreement concluded in Paris in July 1919, the greater part of the territory hitherto occupied by the British, including Lome, was surrendered to the French, only a few frontier districts remaining under the Gold Coast.

After its conquest of Togoland the Gold Coast Regt., leaving a small force to garrison the occupied territory, took part in the Cameroon campaign and did not return to Kumasi until May 1916. In the following July the bulk of the regiment embarked for East Africa, where it took a distinguished part in the campaign both in German and Portuguese territory, returning to the Gold Coast in Sept. 1918. During this time it was regularly supplied with drafts of men recruited in the Gold Coast and trained at depots established throughout its dependencies, including the occupied area in Togoland, and at the time of the Armistice the regiment had expanded into a brigade, commanded by Brig.-Gen. R. A. de B. Rose.

Since 1890 a great social and economic revolution, which even the war was powerless materially to affect, has been wrought in the Gold Coast, and latterly in Ashanti also, through the spread of cocoacultivation. In 1891 a parcel of cocoa weighing 80 lb. and valued at £4 was exported from the Gold Coast. In 1901 cocoa weighing 960 tons and valued at £42,827 was exported; and by 1911 the export had expanded to 35,261 tons, valued at £1,613,448. During the last year before the war 50,554 tons of cocoa were exported, equivalent at that time to about one-third of the total cocoa crop of the world. In spite of the war these figures during the succeeding years were not only maintained, but exceeded, the annual exports of cocoa from 1914 to 1919 being 52,888; 77,278; 72,161; 80,37}; 66,343 and 176,176 tons. The decline in 1916 was due to the tightening of the blockade into Germany via Holland, and the recovery in the following year to the opening-up of direct trade with the United States. The serious falling-off in 1918 was due to the shortage of shipping, and a large part of the enormous exports in 1919 consisted of cocoa that should have been shipped during the preceding year. The exports for 1919 were valued at £6,481,569. The cocoa industry has throughout been entirely a native enterprise, Europeans acting only as carriers, purchasers and shippers; and the introduction of this permanent form of cultivation has created private property in real estate, which is not contemplated by local custom, under which all lands are communal. Apart from this, the spread of the cocoa industry has brought great wealth to the African population, which has been utilized by them to improve the character and material of their houses, their clothing, their diet - meat being now consumed in large quantities throughout the country - and generally to raise their standards of comfort. Their increased expenditure upon imported spirits was comparatively trifling; but under an international agreement the importation of such spirits was prohibited, with effect from Feb. 1919. Owing to the very high duties imposed upon these articles the revenue they yielded was large, and the sudden cessation of this source of income was making itself acutely felt in 1921, with the return of more normal trade. Cocoa cultivation, moreover, is such light toil that it disinclines the natives to work their palms or to undertake similar comparatively heavy tasks; and kola-nuts, of which more than 16 million tons were exported during 1919, are the only other export with a steady tendency to increase.








£ 924,862

£ 3,439, 8 3 1

£ 2,697,706








1 ,465,946








The revenue and expenditure of the Gold Coast and its dependencies and the value of the trade of the country for various periods are shown in the following table: - Owing to the shortage of silver, notes having face values of Li, 10s., 2s. and is. were introduced in 1918, the shilling notes proving most unpopular among the natives. In 1920 silver coins of the same quality as the new issue in Great Britain were put into circulation, and later in the year token coins, resembling in every way the 3d., 6d. and is. pieces issued by the West African Currency Board, which was established in 1912-3, but minted from an alloy, were put upon the market. These were gradually replacing the paper money of low denomination, but were not regarded with much favour by the natives of the Gold Coast.


Lady Clifford, Our Days on the Gold Coast (1919); The Red Book of West Africa, ed. by Allister (1920); Sir Charles Lucas, The Gold Coast and the War (1920); W. W. Claridge, History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti (1915); Sir Hugh Clifford, The Gold Coast Regiment in the East African Campaign (1920). (H. CL.)

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