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Tag Archive | "Ghana"

Fort Coenraadsburg (Elmina)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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Situated at the end of a steep and narrow road , at the top of S‹o Jago Hill overlooking the historic Sao Jorge Castle, lies the smaller, but equally significant Fort Coenraadsburg. The original structure that lay atop the hill was a chapel built by the Portuguese in honor of St. James. In 1637, however, when the Dutch launched their final attack on the Portuguese at Sao Jorge, the S‹o Jago Hill was seized for strategic purposes. Soon after the Portuguese surrendered, the Dutch began the construction of a redoubt at the top of the hill. Ironically, the redoubt was constructed in order to ensure their own security against any possible attacks similar to the one they’d just conducted against the Portuguese.

In 1652, the Dutch began transforming the redoubt into a fort. Construction was completed in the 1660s, and Fort Coenraadsburg, as the Dutch called it, was established as a fully fortified garrison post. The structure of the building was unique. The fort, for example, contained no commercial warehouses, only military quarters. Furthermore, a drawbridge was located at the entrance of the fort, which connected the main building to the entrance breast work called the ‘ravelin’. The entrance gate to the fort stood 15 feet above ground. As a result, once the drawbridge was pulled up, there was absolutely no way to get either into or out of the fort.

As its architecture suggested, Coenraadsburg was built strictly for military purposes. It was, in fact, the only major coastal fort built under such circumstances. During the period of Dutch control of S‹o Jorge, Coenraadsburg was the most important of the castle’s many defenses. It was to remain of such importance for over 200 years of Dutch control until it was ceded to the British in 1872.

Situated at the end of a steep and narrow road , at the top of S‹o Jago Hill overlooking the historic Sao Jorge Castle, lies the smaller, but equally significant Fort Coenraadsburg. The original structure that lay atop the hill was a chapel built by the Portuguese in honor of St. James. In 1637, however, when the Dutch launched their final attack on the Portuguese at Sao Jorge, the S‹o Jago Hill was seized for strategic purposes. Soon after the Portuguese surrendered, the Dutch began the construction of a redoubt at the top of the hill. Ironically, the redoubt was constructed in order to ensure their own security against any possible attacks similar to the one they’d just conducted against the Portuguese.

In 1652, the Dutch began transforming the redoubt into a fort. Construction was completed in the 1660s, and Fort Coenraadsburg, as the Dutch called it, was established as a fully fortified garrison post. The structure of the building was unique. The fort, for example, contained no commercial warehouses, only military quarters. Furthermore, a drawbridge was located at the entrance of the fort, which connected the main building to the entrance breast work called the ‘ravelin’. The entrance gate to the fort stood 15 feet above ground. As a result, once the drawbridge was pulled up, there was absolutely no way to get either into or out of the fort.

As its architecture suggested, Coenraadsburg was built strictly for military purposes. It was, in fact, the only major coastal fort built under such circumstances. During the period of Dutch control of S‹o Jorge, Coenraadsburg was the most important of the castle’s many defenses. It was to remain of such importance for over 200 years of Dutch control until it was ceded to the British in 1872.

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Cape Coast Castle

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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In 1655 the Swedes began construction on a fort situated on one of the better landing places in West Africa, land which the Portuguese called ‘Cabo Corso’ meaning ‘short cape’. Over the next decade, Fort Carolusburg, as it was called, would change owners roughly half a dozen times, facing, among others, occupation by the Danes, Fetu and eventually Dutch. In 1664, the fort was captured from the Dutch by a joint English and Danish force. The English who remained in possession, renamed the surrounding area Cape Coast; a distortion of the original Portuguese name.

By 1674, the English had begun the building of Cape Coast Castle. It would serve as the Royal African Company’s headquarters on the Gold Coast until 1877, when the seat of the British government moved to Accra.

The Royal African Company flourished greatly in the 1680s. Significant quantities of gold were traded and were then minted in London. The notorious ‘Guineas’ as they were called, were stamped with the emblem of the Royal African Company. The coins soon became highly valued, and before long, their worth had exceeded that of the Pound Sterling. The Slave trade was also proving to be quite profitable for the Royal African Company. Due to the expansion of plantation economies in the West Indies, the slave trade grew rapidly during the second half of the seventeenth century, and soon surpassed the gold trade as the main source of revenue for the Royal African Company.

In response to this newfound prosperity, Cape Coast Castle underwent major changes in the 1680s. The northern side of the castle was significantly extended, creating a new bastion which ended in what is still known as ‘Greenhill’s Point’. This area provided protection for the strip of coast east of the castle, the sole area at which canoes could safely land Expansion also included a new building which was created on the southern end of the castle, overlooking the sea, and a rather low platform on which a number of guns could be mounted.

Beneath these new constructions, which formed a rather triangular figure, lay large, underground vaults. Catering to the prosperity of the Slave trade, the vaults were constructed as prisons and had the capacity to hold over a thousand slaves awaiting shipment. The vaults were dark and congested, with ventilation only allowed through small gratings along the sides. It was believed, however, that keeping the slaves underground would offer the garrison security against any type of insurrection.

Despite the various renovations that took place between 1673 and 1694, Cape Coast Castle retained approximately three quarters of the structure of the original Swedish fort. Between 1757 and 1780 however, the Castle underwent extensive changes and was almost entirely reconstructed.

In 1655 the Swedes began construction on a fort situated on one of the better landing places in West Africa, land which the Portuguese called ‘Cabo Corso’ meaning ‘short cape’. Over the next decade, Fort Carolusburg, as it was called, would change owners roughly half a dozen times, facing, among others, occupation by the Danes, Fetu and eventually Dutch. In 1664, the fort was captured from the Dutch by a joint English and Danish force. The English who remained in possession, renamed the surrounding area Cape Coast; a distortion of the original Portuguese name.

By 1674, the English had begun the building of Cape Coast Castle. It would serve as the Royal African Company’s headquarters on the Gold Coast until 1877, when the seat of the British government moved to Accra.

The Royal African Company flourished greatly in the 1680s. Significant quantities of gold were traded and were then minted in London. The notorious ‘Guineas’ as they were called, were stamped with the emblem of the Royal African Company. The coins soon became highly valued, and before long, their worth had exceeded that of the Pound Sterling. The Slave trade was also proving to be quite profitable for the Royal African Company. Due to the expansion of plantation economies in the West Indies, the slave trade grew rapidly during the second half of the seventeenth century, and soon surpassed the gold trade as the main source of revenue for the Royal African Company.

In response to this newfound prosperity, Cape Coast Castle underwent major changes in the 1680s. The northern side of the castle was significantly extended, creating a new bastion which ended in what is still known as ‘Greenhill’s Point’. This area provided protection for the strip of coast east of the castle, the sole area at which canoes could safely land Expansion also included a new building which was created on the southern end of the castle, overlooking the sea, and a rather low platform on which a number of guns could be mounted.

Beneath these new constructions, which formed a rather triangular figure, lay large, underground vaults. Catering to the prosperity of the Slave trade, the vaults were constructed as prisons and had the capacity to hold over a thousand slaves awaiting shipment. The vaults were dark and congested, with ventilation only allowed through small gratings along the sides. It was believed, however, that keeping the slaves underground would offer the garrison security against any type of insurrection.

Despite the various renovations that took place between 1673 and 1694, Cape Coast Castle retained approximately three quarters of the structure of the original Swedish fort. Between 1757 and 1780 however, the Castle underwent extensive changes and was almost entirely reconstructed.

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Sao Jorge da Mina (Elmina)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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St. George’s Castle, also known as Mina, is the oldest major stone structure erected by the Europeans in the Tropics. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, it was to be the first of many trading forts constructed along the Gold Coast and would play a vital role in the development of a trade whose social, political and economic ramifications would transform the histories of four different continents; Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Although European traders had been engaging in trade with Africa well before the historic voyages of the fifteenth century, it was the efforts of Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ and the initiation of the ‘Age of Discovery’ which marked the true emergence of Portuguese exploration of the African coast. Making good use of Portugal’s convenient geographic location at the South West tip of Europe, Prince Henry set out in search of, amongst various other things, a direct route which would lead him to the sources of Africa’s rich supplies of gold.

In 1443, Prince Henry reached Arguin on the South Saharan coast, and within two years, he established a trading post on an island just off the coast. By 1462, only two years after his death, Prince Henry’s explorers had reached the area of Sierra Leone, chartered the mouths of both the Senegal and the Gambia rivers, and had already brought small quantities of gold along with some slaves from Senegambia, back to Portugal.

In 1469, continuing in the spirit of his enterprising and adventure-seeking predecessor, King Alfonso V leased ‘the enterprise of Africa’ to Portuguese explorer Fernao Gomes. The contract was set over a period of five years, during which time, Gomes’ men were to explore a minimum of one-hundred leagues of coastline each year. In 1471 Gomes’ men reached what appeared to be the most promising area for trade. Unlike the land further west along the coast, which predominantly consisted of swamps and various lagoons, the explorers found solid land with a succession of bays which were ideal for providing sheltered anchorage. Most importantly, however, the area seemed to posses an abundance of gold, available for trade with the Portuguese for a relatively small cost. In awe of the amount of gold available for sale, the Portuguese explorers called the stretch of coast as the ‘Mina de Ouro’; the gold-mine.

Over the next decade, news of the wealth of the Mina de Ouro spread rapidly. By the late 1470s, sailing vessels from both Spain and France began appearing along the African coasts. Portuguese traders saw the ships as a threat to their trade, particularly as it concerned the valuable Mina de Ouro, and felt compelled to defend what they considered to be their territory. In 1480, as an attempt to maintain the Portuguese monopoly of trade along the coast, King John II of Portugal decreed the construction of a castle in the area, which would be dedicated to Saint George, Portugal’s patron saint.

At this time, the Portuguese had been concentrating their trade on a small area located at the mouth of the Benya River. When the Portuguese initially arrived, they were astonished by the large gold ornaments that adorned the necks of many of the local peoples. Marveling Portuguese traders began calling the area ‘a Mina’, meaning ‘the mine’. The area’s position at the mouth of the Benya provided easy access to the shores of the coast for loading and unloading cargo, and as a result made for one of the best neutral harbors along the coast. It was in this area that the Portuguese decided to build their castle.

On January 21, 1482 under the command of Diego da Azambuja, the Portuguese began construction on Sao Jorge. While materials such as beams, rafters, mortar and plaster had to be imported from Portugal, most of the stone needed for construction was quarried from the rocky peninsula on which the castle now stands, creating a natural defensive ditch across it. A number of soldiers and craftsmen were also brought in from Portugal to specifically build the castle and within a relatively short period of time, the construction was complete. Though the first Portuguese trading post at Arguin never ended up playing a significant role in Portuguese trade, the castle at Elmina immediately became, and has remained throughout history, the largest castle along the coast of Africa.

The establishment of Sao Jorge had tremendous effects on the efficiency of trade between Portugal and Africa. Ships no longer had to wait off-shore for what was often several months, while African traders sporadically came and went, offering their goods. Ships could now immediately unload their goods into the castle storerooms in exchange for cargo that awaited export in the castles. Such improved methods of trade decreased the amount of time involved in trade transactions. This also meant a decrease in the mortality rate among crew members. Often, during a long stay, crew members exposed to the new climate and conditions would become ill with fever, with many eventually losing their lives due to disease and other sicknesses.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, Sao Jorge was externally renovated in attempt to bring it structurally up to date with the current standards of Renaissance fortification. Among the major changes that took place, the Portuguese thickened the walls of the main block, reinforced the walls of the Great Court, and constructed bastions at each of the castle’s four corners. Batteries were also built on the north side of the Riverside Yard in attempt to direct the landing places and river mouth, and at the foot of the south bastion between the sea and the outer ditch, to control the approach along the sea shore.

In 1612, Dutch competitors built their first fort on the Gold Coast at Mori, a mere twelve miles to the east of Elmina. Nine years later, in 1621, control at Mori was transferred from the State to the new West India Company. The rapidly growing company soon extended its activities on the Gold Coast, claiming exclusive trading rights at ports such as Anomabu and ‘Little Accra’, the port of trade for the Accra State. Over the next decade, the West India Company would further its conquests to the other side of the Atlantic, attacking Spanish vessels in the Caribbean and eventually establishing new colonies in both North and South America. It was during this time that the Dutch invaded Portuguese-controlled Brazil, and it was from here that the Dutch began plotting their final attack on Elmina.

For the Dutch, the conquest of Sao Jorge, which was presently serving as the Portuguese headquarters, would play a significant role in the downfall of the Portuguese Atlantic empire. The Dutch had previously made several attempts to attack the castle, but each time were effectively repelled by the Portuguese. In 1637, the Dutch seized the nearby S‹o Jago Hill and launched their final attack on Elmina. Installing heavy guns on the top of the hill, they bombarded the castle, and within several days the Portuguese surrendered.

The Dutch proceeded to take over the castle and began making numerous internal renovations. S‹o Jorge served as Dutch headquarters until nearly 200 years later, in 1872, when the Dutch government permanently left West Africa, selling all possessions along the coast to the British.

St. George’s Castle, also known as Mina, is the oldest major stone structure erected by the Europeans in the Tropics. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, it was to be the first of many trading forts constructed along the Gold Coast and would play a vital role in the development of a trade whose social, political and economic ramifications would transform the histories of four different continents; Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Although European traders had been engaging in trade with Africa well before the historic voyages of the fifteenth century, it was the efforts of Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ and the initiation of the ‘Age of Discovery’ which marked the true emergence of Portuguese exploration of the African coast. Making good use of Portugal’s convenient geographic location at the South West tip of Europe, Prince Henry set out in search of, amongst various other things, a direct route which would lead him to the sources of Africa’s rich supplies of gold.

In 1443, Prince Henry reached Arguin on the South Saharan coast, and within two years, he established a trading post on an island just off the coast. By 1462, only two years after his death, Prince Henry’s explorers had reached the area of Sierra Leone, chartered the mouths of both the Senegal and the Gambia rivers, and had already brought small quantities of gold along with some slaves from Senegambia, back to Portugal.

In 1469, continuing in the spirit of his enterprising and adventure-seeking predecessor, King Alfonso V leased ‘the enterprise of Africa’ to Portuguese explorer Fernao Gomes. The contract was set over a period of five years, during which time, Gomes’ men were to explore a minimum of one-hundred leagues of coastline each year. In 1471 Gomes’ men reached what appeared to be the most promising area for trade. Unlike the land further west along the coast, which predominantly consisted of swamps and various lagoons, the explorers found solid land with a succession of bays which were ideal for providing sheltered anchorage. Most importantly, however, the area seemed to posses an abundance of gold, available for trade with the Portuguese for a relatively small cost. In awe of the amount of gold available for sale, the Portuguese explorers called the stretch of coast as the ‘Mina de Ouro’; the gold-mine.

Over the next decade, news of the wealth of the Mina de Ouro spread rapidly. By the late 1470s, sailing vessels from both Spain and France began appearing along the African coasts. Portuguese traders saw the ships as a threat to their trade, particularly as it concerned the valuable Mina de Ouro, and felt compelled to defend what they considered to be their territory. In 1480, as an attempt to maintain the Portuguese monopoly of trade along the coast, King John II of Portugal decreed the construction of a castle in the area, which would be dedicated to Saint George, Portugal’s patron saint.

At this time, the Portuguese had been concentrating their trade on a small area located at the mouth of the Benya River. When the Portuguese initially arrived, they were astonished by the large gold ornaments that adorned the necks of many of the local peoples. Marveling Portuguese traders began calling the area ‘a Mina’, meaning ‘the mine’. The area’s position at the mouth of the Benya provided easy access to the shores of the coast for loading and unloading cargo, and as a result made for one of the best neutral harbors along the coast. It was in this area that the Portuguese decided to build their castle.

On January 21, 1482 under the command of Diego da Azambuja, the Portuguese began construction on Sao Jorge. While materials such as beams, rafters, mortar and plaster had to be imported from Portugal, most of the stone needed for construction was quarried from the rocky peninsula on which the castle now stands, creating a natural defensive ditch across it. A number of soldiers and craftsmen were also brought in from Portugal to specifically build the castle and within a relatively short period of time, the construction was complete. Though the first Portuguese trading post at Arguin never ended up playing a significant role in Portuguese trade, the castle at Elmina immediately became, and has remained throughout history, the largest castle along the coast of Africa.

The establishment of Sao Jorge had tremendous effects on the efficiency of trade between Portugal and Africa. Ships no longer had to wait off-shore for what was often several months, while African traders sporadically came and went, offering their goods. Ships could now immediately unload their goods into the castle storerooms in exchange for cargo that awaited export in the castles. Such improved methods of trade decreased the amount of time involved in trade transactions. This also meant a decrease in the mortality rate among crew members. Often, during a long stay, crew members exposed to the new climate and conditions would become ill with fever, with many eventually losing their lives due to disease and other sicknesses.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, Sao Jorge was externally renovated in attempt to bring it structurally up to date with the current standards of Renaissance fortification. Among the major changes that took place, the Portuguese thickened the walls of the main block, reinforced the walls of the Great Court, and constructed bastions at each of the castle’s four corners. Batteries were also built on the north side of the Riverside Yard in attempt to direct the landing places and river mouth, and at the foot of the south bastion between the sea and the outer ditch, to control the approach along the sea shore.

In 1612, Dutch competitors built their first fort on the Gold Coast at Mori, a mere twelve miles to the east of Elmina. Nine years later, in 1621, control at Mori was transferred from the State to the new West India Company. The rapidly growing company soon extended its activities on the Gold Coast, claiming exclusive trading rights at ports such as Anomabu and ‘Little Accra’, the port of trade for the Accra State. Over the next decade, the West India Company would further its conquests to the other side of the Atlantic, attacking Spanish vessels in the Caribbean and eventually establishing new colonies in both North and South America. It was during this time that the Dutch invaded Portuguese-controlled Brazil, and it was from here that the Dutch began plotting their final attack on Elmina.

For the Dutch, the conquest of Sao Jorge, which was presently serving as the Portuguese headquarters, would play a significant role in the downfall of the Portuguese Atlantic empire. The Dutch had previously made several attempts to attack the castle, but each time were effectively repelled by the Portuguese. In 1637, the Dutch seized the nearby S‹o Jago Hill and launched their final attack on Elmina. Installing heavy guns on the top of the hill, they bombarded the castle, and within several days the Portuguese surrendered.

The Dutch proceeded to take over the castle and began making numerous internal renovations. S‹o Jorge served as Dutch headquarters until nearly 200 years later, in 1872, when the Dutch government permanently left West Africa, selling all possessions along the coast to the British.

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Fort Goede Hoop (Senya Beraku)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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By the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch were one of the few major European trading powers whose primary interest remained in the trade of gold rather than the trade in slaves. By the eighteenth century, however, the slave trade was firmly established as the major market of European interest, and the returns from the Gold trade were in steep decline. The Dutch, who had by this time lost a good deal of potential access to the major slave markets in the West Indies and Americas, now searched for a possible way to revive the ailing revenues of the Gold trade.

During this time, Akim, which was located north of Agona, was considered to be the most important producer of Gold. In 1704, the Dutch asked permission from the Queen of Agona to build a fort at Senya Beraku. The Dutch had previously established a lodge in the area in 1667, however abandoned it when their English competitors built a fort at neighboring Winneba.

In 1706, as a final attempt to find new sources of wealth which might restimulate the Gold trade, the Dutch built a small triangular fort at Senya Beraku, appropriately naming it ‘De Goede Hoop’ (Good Hope). It was to be the last fort the Dutch would build on the Gold Coast proper.

Though their hopes of engaging in a prosperous gold trade at Senya Beraku were never fulfilled, the Dutch did succeed in eventually using the fort to engage in the Slave Trade. By 1715, expansion was needed, and the fort was doubled in size. The renovations included the construction of a slave prison in the South West Bastion, which was capable of holding some 500 captives.

The fort remained under Dutch control until 1782 when it was captured by the English and held in their possession until 1785, at which point the Dutch regained possession by treaty.40 Two decades later, however, the Dutch, perhaps feeling that the fort was no longer of use to them, abandoned the castle, ending almost a century of European occupation. In 1868 as a result of the Anglo-Dutch exchange of territories, Fort Goede Hoop once again came under possession of the British.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch were one of the few major European trading powers whose primary interest remained in the trade of gold rather than the trade in slaves. By the eighteenth century, however, the slave trade was firmly established as the major market of European interest, and the returns from the Gold trade were in steep decline. The Dutch, who had by this time lost a good deal of potential access to the major slave markets in the West Indies and Americas, now searched for a possible way to revive the ailing revenues of the Gold trade.

During this time, Akim, which was located north of Agona, was considered to be the most important producer of Gold. In 1704, the Dutch asked permission from the Queen of Agona to build a fort at Senya Beraku. The Dutch had previously established a lodge in the area in 1667, however abandoned it when their English competitors built a fort at neighboring Winneba.

In 1706, as a final attempt to find new sources of wealth which might restimulate the Gold trade, the Dutch built a small triangular fort at Senya Beraku, appropriately naming it ‘De Goede Hoop’ (Good Hope). It was to be the last fort the Dutch would build on the Gold Coast proper.

Though their hopes of engaging in a prosperous gold trade at Senya Beraku were never fulfilled, the Dutch did succeed in eventually using the fort to engage in the Slave Trade. By 1715, expansion was needed, and the fort was doubled in size. The renovations included the construction of a slave prison in the South West Bastion, which was capable of holding some 500 captives.

The fort remained under Dutch control until 1782 when it was captured by the English and held in their possession until 1785, at which point the Dutch regained possession by treaty.40 Two decades later, however, the Dutch, perhaps feeling that the fort was no longer of use to them, abandoned the castle, ending almost a century of European occupation. In 1868 as a result of the Anglo-Dutch exchange of territories, Fort Goede Hoop once again came under possession of the British.

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Forts and Slave Castles of Ghana

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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FORTS AND CASTLES OF GHANA
European Contact with the West African Coast
Up until the early part of the fifteenth century, European nations were economically isolated for political and technological reasons. Politically, during this period, Europe was in shambles. She was intensely engaged in the Hundred Years War until 1435, was under attack from the Turks, and in the Iberian Peninsula, was controlled by the Muslims until eventual independence under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain was achieved in 1492. Technologically, Europeans had not been able to build ships that were capable of crossing the vast oceans. Before the early fifteenth century, it proved difficult to find one’s way in the uncharted seas until the compass was later perfected and, the astrolobe and quadrant invented.

Confronted by internal and external threats and technologically unable to access the sources of the trade goods’ production, Europeans relied on middlemen to bring goods like spices, gold, salt and ivory. The prices were high, but there was no alternative. With the conquests of the Moors and Turks in the Mediterranean, Europe was further isolated from the Trans-Saharan and Middle Eastern trade.

Portugal was the first country that was able to overcome her political and technical difficulties, and she initiated the ‘Age of Discovery’. In 1417, the nephew of the King of Portugal known as Henry ‘the Navigator,’ encouraged and financed these efforts of discovery beyond the Straits of Gibraltar so as learn about the unknown regions of Africa and find a sea route to East Indies, to make contact with the legendary Christian leader Prester John with whom Henry could attack the Muslims, to transform Lisbon into a center of commerce, and to gain direct access to Africa’s gold from primarily the Western Coast. Once the other European nations had resolved their conflicts and saw the possible profits of trade that could be attained from West Africa, the development of sailing technologies spiraled. The general aims were to facilitate trade, to Christianize and to establish various colonies or spheres of interest.

By 1471, Fern‹o Gomes and the Portuguese arrived on the part of the African coast where gold could be purchased in large quantities for little merchandise. This was at the mouth of the River Pra wherein there was alluvial gold. Due to the quantities of gold worn, the Portuguese thought that the gold mines must have been very near to the coast. Thus they began to to call the region “Mina de Ouro” (gold-mine). In 1482, the construction of the castle S‹o Jorge da Mina was begun (now called Elmina castle). It was the first of the 46 forts and castles that was built on the ‘Gold Coast’ which is now Ghana. It is from this point we begin our analysis of the transition from the trade in gold to that in slaves.

The Transition from the Gold Trade to the Transatlantic Slave Trade

I: When the Europeans arrived on the ‘Gold Coast’, their main priority was the procurement of gold. Walter Rodney in “Gold and Slaves on the Gold Coast” states that due to the fact that the Europeans came to Africa with few saleable goods, they were forced to engage in the purchase items like cloth and beads from other regions such as the Kingdom of Dahomey. They also purchased slaves, the majority of whom would be taken to S‹o TomŽ where they were used on the Portuguese ‘experimental’ sugar plantations. The Portuguese used to barter the goods from Benin in exchange for gold on the Gold Coast. Initially, African rulers on the Gold Coast purchased the cloth and beads and some of the slaves from Benin were used as porters of the goods. Many Gold Coast rulers were not opposed to acquiring labor from outside since they could be incorporated into the mining labor force. Therefore, many of the porters were incorporated into the societies to whom they carried goods.

Slavery had previously existed within West African society and was perceived as a form of service or indentureship. Some slaves functioned as bodyguards or house-servants, whilst others were expected to function as sources of free labor. Yet even despite this and the Trans-Saharan slave markets, those taken were not treated like chattels. A slave’s fate was not hopeless in that there was room for freedom and social mobility. Thus with this already existing market for slaves, it was initially possible for the Gold Coast States to supply slaves to the Europeans as the demands switched from gold to slaves. However, initially within the Gold Coast States, the Europeans did not pressure the rulers for slaves.

This is not to say that the Transatlantic Slave Trade had not begun but the point being that the Portuguese were not willing to jeopardize their relationship with those in Elmina, for example, by pressuring them to supply slaves since gold was in abundance in this region. Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not buy slaves in Benin, but rather brought Dutch cloth and beads with them to sell for gold on the Gold Coast.

II: Ten years after the construction of S‹o Jorge da Mina began, Christopher Columbus, in search for the East Indies ‘discovered’ Hispaniola and later the Americas. The Spanish soldiers and adventurers that came in his wake killed, pillaged and destroyed the Amerindian populations of Caribs, Arawaks, Tainos, Aztecs, and Incas. Those that survived this onslaught were only to be enslaved upon the establishment of the mines and plantations that would characterize the Americas from the 1540′s onward. Due to the high demand for sugar in Europe, sugar plantations established by the British, French and Dutch soon sprang up. The enslaved ‘Indians’ died in large numbers and only a lucky few were able to escape.

In Madeira, S‹o TomŽ and the other islands off the coast of West Africa, the Spanish and Portuguese had used African slaves to work on their plantations. Upon the destruction of the Amerindian populations, the Spanish and the Portuguese extended their use of African slaves to the Americas. In 1501, the first Africans were exported to the Americas from Lisbon for the purposes of slave labor. When the British, French and Dutch developed their plantations they adopted the same system of slave labor. This system was seen as cheap since a purchased slave, including any children the slave had, were considered a piece of property. The slave would have to work in any conditions for no pay and was seen as easily replaceable.

III: Most of what is now Ghana was engaged simultaneously in the Gold and Transatlantic Slave Trade. Initially most of the forts and castles had been built to facilitate the trade in gold. By 1734, however, almost all trade had switched to slave exportation. This complete transition was caused by a combination of mostly external interwoven factors: market forces of supply and demand, labor, and prices. Rodney points out that a large market was generated for slaves due to European capital and their ability to exploit Africans.

The English had a vast range of goods like muskets and powder with which they paid for the slaves. The Akwamu for example, were not able to gain full access to the gold in the Akan region due to the strength of the Akim. On their expansion into the Accra plains they began to participate primarily in the slave trade. With the money from the trade in slaves the Akwamu were now able to purchase arms with which to fight the Akim.

Those nations that had initially been characterized by their trade in gold such as the Netherlands and Portugal, soon shifted their emphasis and concentrated only on the trade in slaves. The internal structures of the Gold Coast states underwent changes so as to accommodate the demand for slaves. But this demand often drained labor from industries like gold production and drew many of them to a standstill.

With the decrease in access to gold fields and the increase in European demand for slaves, many African states shut off their gold production. Places in the Accra plains for example, became increasingly characterized with the supply of slaves, above all the state of Accra. Due to the expansion of the Akwamu in 1678, states such as Accra and Beraku were isolated from their sources that supplied gold, and as a result, shifted their emphasis to the supply of slaves.

The state machinery of the Akwamu and the Akim looked to the exploitation of the traditional forms of slavery which led to the internal and external search for slaves. Suddenly, punishment for some crimes became captivity and sale. Captives in wars could no longer expect to be ransomed but could expect to be sold and transported. The so-called ‘Gold Coast’ might as well have been called the ‘Slave Coast,’ for between September 1701 and April 1704, some 2,320 slaves were transported by British ships. In 1706, Cape Coast Castle alone handled 10,198 captives.

The goods the Europeans brought for trading purposes also changed with the transition from gold to slave exports. The purchasing power of linens fell and that for firearms, gunpowder, tobacco and rum rose. Brazilian gold also changed things. Now instead of bringing captives and exporting gold, the Europeans were bringing in Brazilian gold or other goods to purchase captives. Rodney suggests that the shift away from gold on the Gold Coast meant that in the grander scheme of things, slaves had become Africa’s most valuable resource to her own detriment. The extreme stress that this trade put on the sociopolitical fabric of Gold Coast societies did not balance with the ostentatiously spent ‘wealth’ of the rulers and traders of these societies.

Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on the Social fabric of Gold Coast States

The exportation of gold had a very different impact on the social structures of the Gold Coast states than that of the exportation of slaves. Within the Akan state, gold production provided a stimulus to the growth of the state. The Akan, for example, had been trading with the Arabs. With the arrival of the European ships, there was an added stimulus to production which led to an eventual increase in production. Population growth and political cohesion were not damaged. But with the onset of the trade in slaves, different consequences could be observed.

The removal of the adult male labor force from the subsistence economy severely damaged systems of production. The trade in slaves also became characterized by violence and warring. The political elites often overlooked the best interest of the state, and instead focused their energies on the search for slaves. As it became evident that the ruling groups no longer looked out for the welfare of their citizens, but rather to their own interests, many states were faced with sociopolitical instability.

An example of this was in the state of Akwamu on whom the Transatlantic Slave Trade had a devastating effect. The Akwamu, having stopped their trade in gold concentrated on the capture of slaves. The King and his men had several methods that they used to acquire the slaves, all of whom came from the Akwamu state. One method involved planting a group of women in each village. Each year on the King’s rounds the women would be asked to ‘confess’ to who had touched them. Those males turned in would be carted off as slaves if their freedom could not be purchased by their families or friends. There was also a practice of panyarring or man stealing. ‘Clever men’ under the official protection of the King, were simply employed to catch local residents . This internal exploitation by the elites resulted in the loss of their ‘social justification.’ The constant search for slaves weakened the state not only morally and socially, but politically as well, for its lack of a strong army base placed it in an ideal position to be overthrown by the Akim.

Some other states survived and were still powerful in the wake of the Slave Trade. The Asante are a prime example of this. The Asante participated heavily in the Slave Trade but the one thing that distinguished them from the Akwamu was the fact that they did not engage in internal raiding for slaves. The Asante elite insulated their state and forbade the export of any fellow Asantes. The horrors of slaving were therefore only permitted to occur outside Asante boundaries. With a large army that was well trained and constantly fueled with mercenaries, the Asante instead raided regions to the North. Slaves were gained through wars with the Gonja and the purchase of victims of war.

It is important to examine not only the social but political and economic repercussions as well of the Slave Trade on the Gold Coast states. The Asante Kingdom was indeed quite successful in terms of wealth, but where did this capital end up in the long run? Most of it rested with the political elites who proceeded to fuel a significant portion of it into the military and various ceremonies. Like many other African states, the bases of economic production for the Asante were thoroughly disrupted by the trade. And finally, in their attempt to satiate the seemingly endless European demand for slaves, military and political elites only ended up creating internal fragmentation and havoc within their society. Eventually, the Asante came to realize the true effects of the trade on their people and their land and rose in opposition to reclaim the coast. Such rebellion would lead to the eventual withdrawal of the Dutch and extensive warring with the British.

FORTS AND CASTLES OF GHANA
European Contact with the West African Coast
Up until the early part of the fifteenth century, European nations were economically isolated for political and technological reasons. Politically, during this period, Europe was in shambles. She was intensely engaged in the Hundred Years War until 1435, was under attack from the Turks, and in the Iberian Peninsula, was controlled by the Muslims until eventual independence under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain was achieved in 1492. Technologically, Europeans had not been able to build ships that were capable of crossing the vast oceans. Before the early fifteenth century, it proved difficult to find one’s way in the uncharted seas until the compass was later perfected and, the astrolobe and quadrant invented.

Confronted by internal and external threats and technologically unable to access the sources of the trade goods’ production, Europeans relied on middlemen to bring goods like spices, gold, salt and ivory. The prices were high, but there was no alternative. With the conquests of the Moors and Turks in the Mediterranean, Europe was further isolated from the Trans-Saharan and Middle Eastern trade.

Portugal was the first country that was able to overcome her political and technical difficulties, and she initiated the ‘Age of Discovery’. In 1417, the nephew of the King of Portugal known as Henry ‘the Navigator,’ encouraged and financed these efforts of discovery beyond the Straits of Gibraltar so as learn about the unknown regions of Africa and find a sea route to East Indies, to make contact with the legendary Christian leader Prester John with whom Henry could attack the Muslims, to transform Lisbon into a center of commerce, and to gain direct access to Africa’s gold from primarily the Western Coast. Once the other European nations had resolved their conflicts and saw the possible profits of trade that could be attained from West Africa, the development of sailing technologies spiraled. The general aims were to facilitate trade, to Christianize and to establish various colonies or spheres of interest.

By 1471, Fern‹o Gomes and the Portuguese arrived on the part of the African coast where gold could be purchased in large quantities for little merchandise. This was at the mouth of the River Pra wherein there was alluvial gold. Due to the quantities of gold worn, the Portuguese thought that the gold mines must have been very near to the coast. Thus they began to to call the region “Mina de Ouro” (gold-mine). In 1482, the construction of the castle S‹o Jorge da Mina was begun (now called Elmina castle). It was the first of the 46 forts and castles that was built on the ‘Gold Coast’ which is now Ghana. It is from this point we begin our analysis of the transition from the trade in gold to that in slaves.

The Transition from the Gold Trade to the Transatlantic Slave Trade

I: When the Europeans arrived on the ‘Gold Coast’, their main priority was the procurement of gold. Walter Rodney in “Gold and Slaves on the Gold Coast” states that due to the fact that the Europeans came to Africa with few saleable goods, they were forced to engage in the purchase items like cloth and beads from other regions such as the Kingdom of Dahomey. They also purchased slaves, the majority of whom would be taken to S‹o TomŽ where they were used on the Portuguese ‘experimental’ sugar plantations. The Portuguese used to barter the goods from Benin in exchange for gold on the Gold Coast. Initially, African rulers on the Gold Coast purchased the cloth and beads and some of the slaves from Benin were used as porters of the goods. Many Gold Coast rulers were not opposed to acquiring labor from outside since they could be incorporated into the mining labor force. Therefore, many of the porters were incorporated into the societies to whom they carried goods.

Slavery had previously existed within West African society and was perceived as a form of service or indentureship. Some slaves functioned as bodyguards or house-servants, whilst others were expected to function as sources of free labor. Yet even despite this and the Trans-Saharan slave markets, those taken were not treated like chattels. A slave’s fate was not hopeless in that there was room for freedom and social mobility. Thus with this already existing market for slaves, it was initially possible for the Gold Coast States to supply slaves to the Europeans as the demands switched from gold to slaves. However, initially within the Gold Coast States, the Europeans did not pressure the rulers for slaves.

This is not to say that the Transatlantic Slave Trade had not begun but the point being that the Portuguese were not willing to jeopardize their relationship with those in Elmina, for example, by pressuring them to supply slaves since gold was in abundance in this region. Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not buy slaves in Benin, but rather brought Dutch cloth and beads with them to sell for gold on the Gold Coast.

II: Ten years after the construction of S‹o Jorge da Mina began, Christopher Columbus, in search for the East Indies ‘discovered’ Hispaniola and later the Americas. The Spanish soldiers and adventurers that came in his wake killed, pillaged and destroyed the Amerindian populations of Caribs, Arawaks, Tainos, Aztecs, and Incas. Those that survived this onslaught were only to be enslaved upon the establishment of the mines and plantations that would characterize the Americas from the 1540′s onward. Due to the high demand for sugar in Europe, sugar plantations established by the British, French and Dutch soon sprang up. The enslaved ‘Indians’ died in large numbers and only a lucky few were able to escape.

In Madeira, S‹o TomŽ and the other islands off the coast of West Africa, the Spanish and Portuguese had used African slaves to work on their plantations. Upon the destruction of the Amerindian populations, the Spanish and the Portuguese extended their use of African slaves to the Americas. In 1501, the first Africans were exported to the Americas from Lisbon for the purposes of slave labor. When the British, French and Dutch developed their plantations they adopted the same system of slave labor. This system was seen as cheap since a purchased slave, including any children the slave had, were considered a piece of property. The slave would have to work in any conditions for no pay and was seen as easily replaceable.

III: Most of what is now Ghana was engaged simultaneously in the Gold and Transatlantic Slave Trade. Initially most of the forts and castles had been built to facilitate the trade in gold. By 1734, however, almost all trade had switched to slave exportation. This complete transition was caused by a combination of mostly external interwoven factors: market forces of supply and demand, labor, and prices. Rodney points out that a large market was generated for slaves due to European capital and their ability to exploit Africans.

The English had a vast range of goods like muskets and powder with which they paid for the slaves. The Akwamu for example, were not able to gain full access to the gold in the Akan region due to the strength of the Akim. On their expansion into the Accra plains they began to participate primarily in the slave trade. With the money from the trade in slaves the Akwamu were now able to purchase arms with which to fight the Akim.

Those nations that had initially been characterized by their trade in gold such as the Netherlands and Portugal, soon shifted their emphasis and concentrated only on the trade in slaves. The internal structures of the Gold Coast states underwent changes so as to accommodate the demand for slaves. But this demand often drained labor from industries like gold production and drew many of them to a standstill.

With the decrease in access to gold fields and the increase in European demand for slaves, many African states shut off their gold production. Places in the Accra plains for example, became increasingly characterized with the supply of slaves, above all the state of Accra. Due to the expansion of the Akwamu in 1678, states such as Accra and Beraku were isolated from their sources that supplied gold, and as a result, shifted their emphasis to the supply of slaves.

The state machinery of the Akwamu and the Akim looked to the exploitation of the traditional forms of slavery which led to the internal and external search for slaves. Suddenly, punishment for some crimes became captivity and sale. Captives in wars could no longer expect to be ransomed but could expect to be sold and transported. The so-called ‘Gold Coast’ might as well have been called the ‘Slave Coast,’ for between September 1701 and April 1704, some 2,320 slaves were transported by British ships. In 1706, Cape Coast Castle alone handled 10,198 captives.

The goods the Europeans brought for trading purposes also changed with the transition from gold to slave exports. The purchasing power of linens fell and that for firearms, gunpowder, tobacco and rum rose. Brazilian gold also changed things. Now instead of bringing captives and exporting gold, the Europeans were bringing in Brazilian gold or other goods to purchase captives. Rodney suggests that the shift away from gold on the Gold Coast meant that in the grander scheme of things, slaves had become Africa’s most valuable resource to her own detriment. The extreme stress that this trade put on the sociopolitical fabric of Gold Coast societies did not balance with the ostentatiously spent ‘wealth’ of the rulers and traders of these societies.

Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on the Social fabric of Gold Coast States

The exportation of gold had a very different impact on the social structures of the Gold Coast states than that of the exportation of slaves. Within the Akan state, gold production provided a stimulus to the growth of the state. The Akan, for example, had been trading with the Arabs. With the arrival of the European ships, there was an added stimulus to production which led to an eventual increase in production. Population growth and political cohesion were not damaged. But with the onset of the trade in slaves, different consequences could be observed.

The removal of the adult male labor force from the subsistence economy severely damaged systems of production. The trade in slaves also became characterized by violence and warring. The political elites often overlooked the best interest of the state, and instead focused their energies on the search for slaves. As it became evident that the ruling groups no longer looked out for the welfare of their citizens, but rather to their own interests, many states were faced with sociopolitical instability.

An example of this was in the state of Akwamu on whom the Transatlantic Slave Trade had a devastating effect. The Akwamu, having stopped their trade in gold concentrated on the capture of slaves. The King and his men had several methods that they used to acquire the slaves, all of whom came from the Akwamu state. One method involved planting a group of women in each village. Each year on the King’s rounds the women would be asked to ‘confess’ to who had touched them. Those males turned in would be carted off as slaves if their freedom could not be purchased by their families or friends. There was also a practice of panyarring or man stealing. ‘Clever men’ under the official protection of the King, were simply employed to catch local residents . This internal exploitation by the elites resulted in the loss of their ‘social justification.’ The constant search for slaves weakened the state not only morally and socially, but politically as well, for its lack of a strong army base placed it in an ideal position to be overthrown by the Akim.

Some other states survived and were still powerful in the wake of the Slave Trade. The Asante are a prime example of this. The Asante participated heavily in the Slave Trade but the one thing that distinguished them from the Akwamu was the fact that they did not engage in internal raiding for slaves. The Asante elite insulated their state and forbade the export of any fellow Asantes. The horrors of slaving were therefore only permitted to occur outside Asante boundaries. With a large army that was well trained and constantly fueled with mercenaries, the Asante instead raided regions to the North. Slaves were gained through wars with the Gonja and the purchase of victims of war.

It is important to examine not only the social but political and economic repercussions as well of the Slave Trade on the Gold Coast states. The Asante Kingdom was indeed quite successful in terms of wealth, but where did this capital end up in the long run? Most of it rested with the political elites who proceeded to fuel a significant portion of it into the military and various ceremonies. Like many other African states, the bases of economic production for the Asante were thoroughly disrupted by the trade. And finally, in their attempt to satiate the seemingly endless European demand for slaves, military and political elites only ended up creating internal fragmentation and havoc within their society. Eventually, the Asante came to realize the true effects of the trade on their people and their land and rose in opposition to reclaim the coast. Such rebellion would lead to the eventual withdrawal of the Dutch and extensive warring with the British.

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Antiwitchcraft Shrines among the Akan, Part 3

Saturday, December 13, 2008

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During my fieldwork in the district, very few women were in actual fact ever accused by a shrine-priest of witchcraft; the relative rarity of the event made the amount of time shrine-priests devoted to talking about this topic seem strangely disproportional. However, witchcraft discourses, I want to argue, serve another purpose. They allow shrine-priests to demonstrate to their clients first-hand knowledge of witchcraft, and they allow the priests to illustrate awareness of peoples’ hidden intentions and “guilty” actions and desires, both locally and around the globe. One young priest told me that everyone knows a lot about witchcraft, but it is the priests who know the most because they come face-to-face with the witch. Unlike many of the victims of witchcraft who, if they survive, are too terrified and threatened by their ordeal to reveal much about it, the priest lives to tell the tale. Priests revel in this information and use the details they know about witch-craft to enhance their reputation. Hence the popularity of witchcraft discourses among many shrine-priests is explained, at least in part, by their attempt to cover up their own fallibility and Uieir inevitably shakey grasp of most of the facts most of the time. Except for witchcraft confessions, most of their knowledge is acquired indirectly, and they are never even in complete possession of this material. It is each god alone who has the total picture, in the form of knowledge that is so all-encompassing that it is never fully transmitted to anyone else. Indeed, priests often expressed astonishment when I questioned them on this matter. As one priest laughed, “I do not have the mind to understand this knowledge…. It is too much for a man.” Another priest compared this knowledge to suddenly being told ever.

Gods and Shrine Disputes
Protection against witchcraft at a shrine often takes the form of a protective charm (suman) or medicine. Matters often become confusing, however, when, as is often the case, different parties involved in a dispute seek help from different shrines and have different ideas about the perpetrator of their suffering. In one instance, Robert, a university student from a village in the district, developed a raging toothache which, despite visits to the dentist, persisted. Worried, he speculated with his close family about the cause of his pain. he felt that a witch was attempting to make him fail his upcoming university law examinations. he visited a shrine where the priest told him that the god had warned him that the toothache was the result of an attack by a witch, although the god could not mention her name. Robert was given some protective medicine and told to return to the shrine at a specified date when the witch, having by then been caught, would confess to her sins and his toothache would disappear.

In the meantime, Robert’s sister, Joy, who lived in Sunyani, believed her brother to be the victim of evil medicine left in his path by her sister-in-law, who felt rebuffed because Robert had refused to lend her money to buy malaria tablets. This woman, the sister told me, had left a needle, a favorite form of evil suman, in Robert’s path. he had stepped on it and now had sharp pains in his mouth. Meanwhile, the sister-in-law heard about the accusation and went to another shrine to swear to the god that she had not committed such an act. There she was given medicines to protect her against the “evil” thoughts of “an unnamed witch who wished to steal my life-savings.” Then her niece also fell ill and went to yet another shrine to report what she assumed were more evil-doings by her aunt and to have the curse removed. There, the god told her that her illness was the result of her own bad thoughts and she was ordered to pay a substantial sum of money to the shrine in order to pacify the god she had angered with her maliciousness.

At no juncture were the conclusions of each shrine priest doubted or compared. They were simply taken as given, with each god believed to have complete knowledge of all the cases brought to each shrine. Of course, given that each god purports to see the whole, a serious clash between priests cannot be discounted, since that which appears as truth to one obosom may appear as a partial story to another. This contradiction leads to arguments and disagreements between accusers and accused as to the accuracy of interpretations put forward by different shrine-priests. Yet the gods are thought to possess true knowledge of the workings of people’s lives in the district.

Indeed, the mark of a powerful deity is that he or she knows a lot about each client before the client even comes to the shrine. In truth, priests also keep their ears and eyes open; at various times they mentioned that gods do not always pass on their knowledge about shrine-clients, so it is up to the priest to remain alert! They play down, however, their various intelligence-gathering activities in deference to the god’s all-encompassing knowledge. The believe they are passing on to the obosom only the small details and incompatible fragments of information about the lives they are watching, whereas the obosom has an overview of the “whole.” Besides gathering details from the priests, the gods collect the bits and pieces of information from dwarfs, who memorize the gossip they hear at shrines and other public places. They swarm unseen throughout the crowds in any large town or city, scrambling into crevices, cracks, and fissures in order to eavesdrop on private conversations. The dwarfs report this information to the gods in their high-pitched whistle, which can also be heard by priests who have had the special herbs rubbed in their ears. Gods also gather visual intelligence as they fly across vast stretches of the night sky all around the world. Visual observation of this type is thought to be more reliable than the unstable and uncertain gossip reported by the dwarfs. Those who fall under the gaze of the abosorn as they comb the night skies are swooped upon and noted, and the dwarfs are informed to watch these people attentively as they go about their activities.

As I have suggested, the information gathered is never passed on in full detail to the priests, who have at their immediate disposal only unconnected fragments of particular incidents or misfortunes. In the context of an infinite number of events embedded in the flux of everyday life, only the gods can organize and convert seemingly inexplicable circumstances into a coherent narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Ritual and Possession Shrines

The protection of the type of knowledge needed by the gods to control evil is dependent on rituals that once involved the negotiation of the spatial division between bush and town ( see McCaskie 1989,1992; McLeod 1981). Okomfo Yaw Kwalie explained how a state of affairs had arisen whereby those prohibitions that protected the town from the anger of the spirits of the bush, although still important, were no longer policed by the gods in the same way. In the past, any person’s violation of a prohibition involving the bush had led to a catastrophe’s befalling the whole town in the form of death to many people. Today this is not the case. Rather, the gods concentrate on upholding the taboos protecting the spirits (asunsum) of the gods and shrine-priests. The gods insist that their priests and those who seek their help obey the prohibitions of the shrines, which consist of an endless enactment of ritual liturgies. In their repetitiveness, these liturgies become a way of ordering time while simultaneously suggesting the expansiveness of the priest’s vision. Priests follow strict routines involving ritual prohibitions. The repercussions of ignoring a prohibition are most keenly felt by those who thereby cause the disappearance of their abosom. Priests must cleanse and bathe their honam (body) before communicating with a god. This is known as the washing of the km (soul), for what happens to the soul affects the body, and vice versa. Priests also must always engage in good deeds in order to keep their souls clean and happy. They must not engage in fights or quarrels or drink or gossip. They should refrain from sexual intercourse as much as possible. Each of the talismans that they wear upon their body also involves prohibitions. Okomfo Kah Nsiah may not eat if someone is sleeping in the vicinity, if someone is whistling, if someone enters the room, or if someone walks past carrying a mortar. Okomfo Kwadwo Yeboah may not bathe in the evening if someone in the afternoon has walked past whistling, but he must bathe twice in the evening if someone has brought red peppers into his compound.

Conclusion

This article has explored the intersection of witchcraft epistemology with the global and postcolonial world. It addresses the interplay between the secret, transcendental knowledge possessed by shrine-gods as they watch people and swoop around the globe, eavesdropping on rumor, gossip, and speculation, and the ambiguous process through which this knowledge is passed on by shrine deities to their priests. The knowledge of the priest, it has been argued, remains contingent because of the mediation process between a god and a priest: Priests remember knowledge retrospectively, whereas gods possess the complete picture of events. Yet, in spite of the very low rates of witchcraft confession, the popularity of witchcraft discourses among shrine priests enables them to reveal their first-hand, thorough understanding of mysterious evils and insecurities, both in the district and beyond. Among the Akan, knowledge of what is near at hand has always been supplemented by information obtained through the gods’ travel beyond the local and across frontiers. In the past this travel included the most spiritually dangerous destination, the bush. Today, in the postcolonial global world, their knowledge can extend to the far reaches of the globe. In this way transcendental knowledge becomes expressive of a continual interaction: a process in which form is made out of unformed fragments derived from widely separated sources.

1. Fieldwork was carried out between 1990 and 1991. During that time, I stayed with the Queenmother of Dormaa. With the permission of the Dormaahene, Agemang Badu I, I visited all the shrines of the district and offered a bottle of schnapps in order to introduce myself and inform the ancestors and gods of my visit. Through one of the priests, I was put in touch with the Dormaa Fetish Priest Association. Their chairman gave me permission to conduct formal interviews with all currently practicing priests in the district. However, although these introductions were invaluable, much of my fieldwork relied on the friendships I formed. It was through such contacts that dialogues could be established with priests and their clients.

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Jane Parish is a lecturer in anthropology and sociology in the School of Social Relations, Keele University. Her fieldwork concerned witchcraft and indigenous shrines in the Brong-Ahafo region. She is the co-editor, with Martin Parker, of the collection Age of Anxiety: Conspiracy and Social Science Theorising (Blackwell, 2001).

Copyright African Studies Association Dec 2003

During my fieldwork in the district, very few women were in actual fact ever accused by a shrine-priest of witchcraft; the relative rarity of the event made the amount of time shrine-priests devoted to talking about this topic seem strangely disproportional. However, witchcraft discourses, I want to argue, serve another purpose. They allow shrine-priests to demonstrate to their clients first-hand knowledge of witchcraft, and they allow the priests to illustrate awareness of peoples’ hidden intentions and “guilty” actions and desires, both locally and around the globe. One young priest told me that everyone knows a lot about witchcraft, but it is the priests who know the most because they come face-to-face with the witch. Unlike many of the victims of witchcraft who, if they survive, are too terrified and threatened by their ordeal to reveal much about it, the priest lives to tell the tale. Priests revel in this information and use the details they know about witch-craft to enhance their reputation. Hence the popularity of witchcraft discourses among many shrine-priests is explained, at least in part, by their attempt to cover up their own fallibility and Uieir inevitably shakey grasp of most of the facts most of the time. Except for witchcraft confessions, most of their knowledge is acquired indirectly, and they are never even in complete possession of this material. It is each god alone who has the total picture, in the form of knowledge that is so all-encompassing that it is never fully transmitted to anyone else. Indeed, priests often expressed astonishment when I questioned them on this matter. As one priest laughed, “I do not have the mind to understand this knowledge…. It is too much for a man.” Another priest compared this knowledge to suddenly being told ever.

Gods and Shrine Disputes
Protection against witchcraft at a shrine often takes the form of a protective charm (suman) or medicine. Matters often become confusing, however, when, as is often the case, different parties involved in a dispute seek help from different shrines and have different ideas about the perpetrator of their suffering. In one instance, Robert, a university student from a village in the district, developed a raging toothache which, despite visits to the dentist, persisted. Worried, he speculated with his close family about the cause of his pain. he felt that a witch was attempting to make him fail his upcoming university law examinations. he visited a shrine where the priest told him that the god had warned him that the toothache was the result of an attack by a witch, although the god could not mention her name. Robert was given some protective medicine and told to return to the shrine at a specified date when the witch, having by then been caught, would confess to her sins and his toothache would disappear.

In the meantime, Robert’s sister, Joy, who lived in Sunyani, believed her brother to be the victim of evil medicine left in his path by her sister-in-law, who felt rebuffed because Robert had refused to lend her money to buy malaria tablets. This woman, the sister told me, had left a needle, a favorite form of evil suman, in Robert’s path. he had stepped on it and now had sharp pains in his mouth. Meanwhile, the sister-in-law heard about the accusation and went to another shrine to swear to the god that she had not committed such an act. There she was given medicines to protect her against the “evil” thoughts of “an unnamed witch who wished to steal my life-savings.” Then her niece also fell ill and went to yet another shrine to report what she assumed were more evil-doings by her aunt and to have the curse removed. There, the god told her that her illness was the result of her own bad thoughts and she was ordered to pay a substantial sum of money to the shrine in order to pacify the god she had angered with her maliciousness.

At no juncture were the conclusions of each shrine priest doubted or compared. They were simply taken as given, with each god believed to have complete knowledge of all the cases brought to each shrine. Of course, given that each god purports to see the whole, a serious clash between priests cannot be discounted, since that which appears as truth to one obosom may appear as a partial story to another. This contradiction leads to arguments and disagreements between accusers and accused as to the accuracy of interpretations put forward by different shrine-priests. Yet the gods are thought to possess true knowledge of the workings of people’s lives in the district.

Indeed, the mark of a powerful deity is that he or she knows a lot about each client before the client even comes to the shrine. In truth, priests also keep their ears and eyes open; at various times they mentioned that gods do not always pass on their knowledge about shrine-clients, so it is up to the priest to remain alert! They play down, however, their various intelligence-gathering activities in deference to the god’s all-encompassing knowledge. The believe they are passing on to the obosom only the small details and incompatible fragments of information about the lives they are watching, whereas the obosom has an overview of the “whole.” Besides gathering details from the priests, the gods collect the bits and pieces of information from dwarfs, who memorize the gossip they hear at shrines and other public places. They swarm unseen throughout the crowds in any large town or city, scrambling into crevices, cracks, and fissures in order to eavesdrop on private conversations. The dwarfs report this information to the gods in their high-pitched whistle, which can also be heard by priests who have had the special herbs rubbed in their ears. Gods also gather visual intelligence as they fly across vast stretches of the night sky all around the world. Visual observation of this type is thought to be more reliable than the unstable and uncertain gossip reported by the dwarfs. Those who fall under the gaze of the abosorn as they comb the night skies are swooped upon and noted, and the dwarfs are informed to watch these people attentively as they go about their activities.

As I have suggested, the information gathered is never passed on in full detail to the priests, who have at their immediate disposal only unconnected fragments of particular incidents or misfortunes. In the context of an infinite number of events embedded in the flux of everyday life, only the gods can organize and convert seemingly inexplicable circumstances into a coherent narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Ritual and Possession Shrines

The protection of the type of knowledge needed by the gods to control evil is dependent on rituals that once involved the negotiation of the spatial division between bush and town ( see McCaskie 1989,1992; McLeod 1981). Okomfo Yaw Kwalie explained how a state of affairs had arisen whereby those prohibitions that protected the town from the anger of the spirits of the bush, although still important, were no longer policed by the gods in the same way. In the past, any person’s violation of a prohibition involving the bush had led to a catastrophe’s befalling the whole town in the form of death to many people. Today this is not the case. Rather, the gods concentrate on upholding the taboos protecting the spirits (asunsum) of the gods and shrine-priests. The gods insist that their priests and those who seek their help obey the prohibitions of the shrines, which consist of an endless enactment of ritual liturgies. In their repetitiveness, these liturgies become a way of ordering time while simultaneously suggesting the expansiveness of the priest’s vision. Priests follow strict routines involving ritual prohibitions. The repercussions of ignoring a prohibition are most keenly felt by those who thereby cause the disappearance of their abosom. Priests must cleanse and bathe their honam (body) before communicating with a god. This is known as the washing of the km (soul), for what happens to the soul affects the body, and vice versa. Priests also must always engage in good deeds in order to keep their souls clean and happy. They must not engage in fights or quarrels or drink or gossip. They should refrain from sexual intercourse as much as possible. Each of the talismans that they wear upon their body also involves prohibitions. Okomfo Kah Nsiah may not eat if someone is sleeping in the vicinity, if someone is whistling, if someone enters the room, or if someone walks past carrying a mortar. Okomfo Kwadwo Yeboah may not bathe in the evening if someone in the afternoon has walked past whistling, but he must bathe twice in the evening if someone has brought red peppers into his compound.

Conclusion

This article has explored the intersection of witchcraft epistemology with the global and postcolonial world. It addresses the interplay between the secret, transcendental knowledge possessed by shrine-gods as they watch people and swoop around the globe, eavesdropping on rumor, gossip, and speculation, and the ambiguous process through which this knowledge is passed on by shrine deities to their priests. The knowledge of the priest, it has been argued, remains contingent because of the mediation process between a god and a priest: Priests remember knowledge retrospectively, whereas gods possess the complete picture of events. Yet, in spite of the very low rates of witchcraft confession, the popularity of witchcraft discourses among shrine priests enables them to reveal their first-hand, thorough understanding of mysterious evils and insecurities, both in the district and beyond. Among the Akan, knowledge of what is near at hand has always been supplemented by information obtained through the gods’ travel beyond the local and across frontiers. In the past this travel included the most spiritually dangerous destination, the bush. Today, in the postcolonial global world, their knowledge can extend to the far reaches of the globe. In this way transcendental knowledge becomes expressive of a continual interaction: a process in which form is made out of unformed fragments derived from widely separated sources.

1. Fieldwork was carried out between 1990 and 1991. During that time, I stayed with the Queenmother of Dormaa. With the permission of the Dormaahene, Agemang Badu I, I visited all the shrines of the district and offered a bottle of schnapps in order to introduce myself and inform the ancestors and gods of my visit. Through one of the priests, I was put in touch with the Dormaa Fetish Priest Association. Their chairman gave me permission to conduct formal interviews with all currently practicing priests in the district. However, although these introductions were invaluable, much of my fieldwork relied on the friendships I formed. It was through such contacts that dialogues could be established with priests and their clients.

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Jane Parish is a lecturer in anthropology and sociology in the School of Social Relations, Keele University. Her fieldwork concerned witchcraft and indigenous shrines in the Brong-Ahafo region. She is the co-editor, with Martin Parker, of the collection Age of Anxiety: Conspiracy and Social Science Theorising (Blackwell, 2001).

Copyright African Studies Association Dec 2003

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