HISTORY OF GHANA
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Fage, J. D., Ghana, A Historical
Interpretation, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1959.
© 1959. Reprinted by permission The University of Wisconsin Press
. . . in the fullest sense Islam
was never wholly assimilated by the Negroes of the Sudan. The mass of
the people preferred their own religion, culture, and way of life. This
is shown in any number of ways, but one example is of particular
historical interest. The principal weakness of the great Sudanese
empires was the failure of their rulers to establish any valid
relationship between themselves and the subject kinship groups other
than the possession of superior military force, and possibly the
establishment of peace and commercial prosperity over an unusually wide
area, though much of the prosperity was channelled into palaces and
capital cities of the rulers, and the maintenance of peace depended on
the continued military superiority of the ruling group. Such a valid
relationship between rulers and ruled was almost impossible to achieve
in a land where the basic ties were those of kinship, where the
intercession of departed ancestors was an integral part of religious
worship, and where land could only be thought of as belonging to the
descendants of ancestors who first settled and cleared it. However, some
of the later Songhai kings of Gão attempted to use Islam as a new
cement of empire transcending all relations based on kinship. But the
result seems to have been the reverse of that looked for: namely, as M.
Rouch suggests, the provocation of a strong animist and tribal reaction
and the weakening and eventual disintegration of the structure of
The economic role of the new states and towns in the Sudan close to the southern edge of the desert was essentially that of go-betweens in the trade between the Mediterranean and the Negro worlds. The northern merchants came to places like Ghana, Gao, Timbuctu, or the Hausa cities, and there exchanged their goods for commodities brought in by essentially Negro merchants. Some of these commodities doubtless originated within the area of political control of the rulers of these cities, but even the most extensive empires, such as Mali, stopped short of the West African forest, while the Hausa states, which were often commercially and industrially extremely important, were mostly of quite small extent. Many of the typical Sudanese exports, especially kola nuts, which are a forest crop, and probably many of the slaves and some of the gold, came from regions far to the south of the great commercial and political centres in the Sudan. But they were brought in by Sudanese merchants based in these centres, who gradually established trade routes extending ever further to the South.
The area encompassed by the former Gold Coast colony, which is entirely south of latitude 11º, was too remote from the line of great Sudanese commercial emporia ever to have been included in the great empires which waxed and waned about them. Nevertheless, by the time that Europeans first penetrated into the forest that lies behind the Gold Coast proper, that is by the early nineteenth century, it is evident that the kingdom of Ashanti was the terminus of two major trade routes from the Sudan. One led from the northwest, from the area inhabited by Mande speaking Negroes, an area which encompasses the area of the upper Senegal and of the upper Niger down to as far as Timbuctu, and which in political terms included the great states of Ghana and Mali. This route was dominated by a caste of Mande traders, the Mande-Diula. The other led from the northeast, from Hausaland, and was controlled by Hausa traders. When the Mande and Hausa traders first reached as far south as Ashanti might not be easy to determine exactly, but they were already well established there by the nineteenth century as traders, and even as propagators of Islam - not that they had much chance of success in weaning the Ashanti, or even less strongly organised Gold Coast peoples, away from the traditional beliefs which were so essential a part of their whole way of life. Nevertheless, we should note that Joseph Dupuis, who visited Kumasi, the Ashanti capital in 1820, and who had had consular experience in North Africa, was able to converse with these traders in Arabic, and even to acquire geographical manuscripts written in Arabic.
Although we can say no more of the penetration of the trade routes from the north into the Gold Coast forest than that the northern traders were already established at Kumasi by the early years of the nineteenth century, there is some dating evidence available for the establishment of trade with the north in the regions immediately north of the Ashanti forest. Trade between the ancient state of Bono (conquered by Ashanti and incorporated in the Ashanti Union as the state of Techiman) and the northwest, in gold and also in kola nuts, is traditionally stated to have begun in the reign of the second king of Bono, whose dates as given by Mrs. Meyerowitz are 1328-63. The capital, Bono-Mansu, became a twin city, with separate Muslim and native towns. This feature, of which Ghana provides an early prototype was also found in Bono-Mansu's trading rival, Begho, the capital of Banda, about seventy miles further west. By the end of the sixteenth century, the tensions implicit in such a situation, heightened by an increase of immigration from Mande country, an immigration which gave rise to the state of Gonja, caused the destruction of Begho and serious difficulties in Bono.
For the northeast route, we are told that trade between Gonja and Kano (in kola nuts) began in the time of Kano's nineteenth king, whose dates as given by Palmer are 1452-63, while Islam is said to have reached Dagomba, east of Gonja and to the northeast of Ashanti, in the time of King Zangina, about the end of the seventeenth century. The direction from which Islam reached Dagomba is not known. It could have come through Gonja or it could have come along the northeast trade route. If the latter, the time lag compared with the advent of Islam along the northwest route is consistent with the fact that the establishment of Islam in Hausaland was also due to the Mande and is to be dated about the fourteenth century.
But though the influence of trade and of cultural propagation brought from the Sudan by Mande and Hausa merchants has been of the greatest importance in the history of the peoples within the area of the former Gold Coast colony, it is not the only link which these peoples have with the great events which we have just been considering in the lands where the Sudan merges into the desert. The most remote traditions of origin of many of these peoples suggest that the original founders of their states were emigrants from the Sudan. The mode of organisation of some of these states, especially north of the forest, would also suggest that the process of state-formation we have been reviewing also extended south towards the Gold Coast in some way although of course it need not necessarily have been transmitted by actual emigrants from the great Sudanese states.
We have earlier made a basic distinction between the peoples of the northern Gold Coast savanna who speak mainly Gur languages and the peoples of the Gold Coast forest speaking Kwa languages. An examination of the traditions of origin of the former is simplified by the fact that, although something like two dozen indigenous political units were eventually recognized by the British after the establishment of their government in the Northern Territories, only three of these units were of much size or consequence, namely Dagomba, Mamprussi, and Gonja, and many of the lesser units were either offshoots of Dagomba and Mamprussi or were, or had been, subject to them. The traditions of origin of the rulers of Dagomba and Mamprussi, and also of the three major Mossi states just to the north, in the French colony of the Upper Volta, point unequivocally to their ancestors having emigrated from the region of Hausaland and Lake Chad at a time which must be closely related to the period, about the eleventh century, when the Hausa states themselves were beginning to take shape. These kingdoms of the Gold Coast Sudan may thus be fairly simply classified as second-degree examples of the process of state-formation in the Saharan Sudan which we have already examined. It is permissible to conjecture that they may have been created by kinship groups that did not succeed in the struggle for trade and power further to the north, and which chose to emigrate rather than to remain as subject peoples.
The case of Gonja is somewhat more complex. In the first case, it is further south than Mamprussi and Dagomba, less of a Savanna state and more nearly in the forest. Secondly when European contact was first established with Gonja, its political structure was much more in decay than was the case with Dagomba and Mamprussi, or with Ashanti and lesser states in the forest. Thirdly, although Gonja's traditional origins were more definitely expressed and much later in time, averring that the state was created by migrants from Mande-land as recently as the early seventeenth century, clearly the great majority of its people are not Mande and not overly Mande-influenced, and the language of the country is a Kwa language related to the languages of the forest. The Mande element in Gonja was obviously small and was limited to a recent and not very successful ruling element. The significance of this will become apparent after some account has been given of the traditions of origin of the Kwa-speaking peoples of the country.
For the purposes of this survey, the inhabitants of the Gold Coast forest and coastlands can be divided into two groups: a smaller group concentrated in the extreme southeast, largely in the more open country between the Akwapim-Togo hills and the sea, and a larger group, the peoples speaking languages termed Akan, who inhabit the remainder of the country, the more forested part. The smaller group comprises two subgroupings, the Gã and Adangme of the Accra plains, and the Ewe of southern Togoland. Their languages are mutually unintelligible, but their social organisations are rather similar; what specifically political and military organisation they have seems to have been borrowed from their Akan neighbours; and their traditions of origin indicate that both groups came to the Gold Coast from the east in a number of waves, the earliest probably arriving not earlier than about the fifteenth century.
The Gã, Adangme, and Ewe traditions conform to an observable cultural and linguistic pattern, namely that the Kwa-speaking peoples are distributed about a lateral axis parallel to the coast. They would seem also to suggest that the prime centre of dispersion of this culture is in the east, among the Yoruba and the Edo, the peoples who produced the world-famous Ife and Benin brass castings. Thus the line of migration of the Ewe is remembered as Ketu-Tado-Nuatsi (Notsie); that of some of the Gã-Adangme groups ran through Nuatsi from "Same between the rivers Efa and Kpola" a location which suggests the Niger delta, while according to a Benin tradition, the Gã left there c. 1300. Ketu is today the capital of one of the westernmost Yoruba states; Tado, about sixty miles from the coast on the river Mono, was the centre of dispersion for the Adja, a people akin to the Ewe, who together with the Fon, or Fõ constituted the core of the great state of Dahomey, a state much influenced by the Yoruba; Nuatsi, the modern Nuatje some fifty miles north of Lome, the port and capital of French Togoland, was the Ewe centre of dispersion. Small groups of Adangme survive as islands among the Ewe in Togoland. The Ewe name for Gã is Ge and there is a people who call themselves Ge in southeastern French Togoland whose language is usually classified as a dialect of Ewe. Similarly in southeastern Dahomey are the Gu or Egun, and, according to Dr. S. O. Biobaku the earliest Negro inhabitants recalled in Yorubaland were "probably Efa or Egun peoples."
Enough has been said to demonstrate that Gã, Adangme, and Ewe traditions are consistent with the idea of the Kwa-speaking peoples developing along a coastwise axis from east to west. But the earliest traditions as yet recovered among the much larger Akan group of Kwa-speaking peoples in the Gold Coast all indicate a dispersion not from the east, but from the north or northwest, from the Niger valley from Timbuctu westward, the region of development of the empires of Ghana and Mali. It is plausible to interpret traditions among the Akan, particularly in the territory of ancient Bono and modern Gonja, as indicating that their ancestors left the Niger valley at about the time when Ghana was in decline and Mali was beginning to emerge, that is to say about the twelfth century, and some confirmation of this may be seen in traditions of the upper Niger valley.
The Negroes of Ghana and Mali were what we should now call Mande-speaking peoples; the word "Mali" indeed is a variant form of "Mande." But the Mande languages are of a sub-family of the Sudanic family of Negro languages quite distinct from the Kwa subfamily to which the Akan languages belong. Thus not only do Akan traditions run contrary to the east-west line of other Kwa-speaking groups of the Gold Coast, but they also appear to be inconsistent with the linguistic evidence. The impasse is more apparent than real, and a key to its solution is provided by the situation in Gonja. The Mande traditions of origin of Gonja, as has been seen, are not the traditions of the bulk of the people, but of a small ruling class which established its domination comparatively recently (c. seventeenth century), and which has not totally identified itself with the people at large. The latter in fact belong to the Kwa cultural grouping. Their language and the language of the country, Guang, is Akan, and they possess residual traditions of origin of their own, separate from those of the ruling class, which, as we have seen, can be equated with those of the Akan states. Clearly the modern state of Gonja has resulted from a comparatively small band of invaders (from Mande-land) imposing their rule on (Akan) groups already resident in the country when they arrived. Although the invaders have dropped their own language and have taken up that of the mass of the people, their conquest was too recent, and perhaps also not sufficiently positive, to result in a complete merging of the two stocks and their traditions.
The same pattern of state-formation by invaders from outside is to be see, in a much more complete form in Dagomba, and presumably also in Mamprussi, though there the evidence is less well defined. Here the process of symbiosis is more complete, but it is interesting to note that it has gone further in western Dagomba, the region first settled by the invaders from the northeast, than it has in eastern Dagomba, an area of later expansion. In western Dagomba, the invaders have totally eclipsed the original Gur kinship groups: the traditions, which are totally those of the invaders, refer significantly to the killing of the tengdanas, the priest-leaders of the original holders of the soil, and to marrying into their families. In eastern Dagomba, incorporated into the state only after the rise of Gonja in the west in the seventeenth century had forced the Dagomba to move the centre of gravity of their state further to the east, more of the old social structure remains. Further east still, protected by the marshes of the Oti River from the cavalry of the state-forming invaders, among the Konkomba the primitive kinship form of society has survived almost intact, and it is more than a presumption that it was people like these Konkomba groups who provided the mass of the material that the Dagomba invaders fashioned into their state.
From evidence already discussed, it would seem that the trade route towards the Gold Coast from the northwest, from Mande-land, developed earlier than that from the northeast, from Hausa-land. This may afford at least a partial explanation for the fact that the first European to visit Mossi and Mamprussi, Capt. L. G. Binger, during his journey of 1889-90, saw in their states abundant features of Mande provenance. Such features would seem less in evidence in Dagomba, the most southerly state of the Mossi-Mamprussi-Dagomba complex (which was not visited by Binger), but their common earliest traditions suggest that when the state-forming immigrants arrived from the northeast, there was already a Mande influence of some kind existent among the Gur groups, and that in Mossi certainly, and possibly in Mamprussi also, the process of social symbiosis covered Mande peoples as well as Gur-speaking autochthones.
Be this as it may, the picture we get from Gonja and Dagomba is one of comparatively small groups of invaders forming the more numerous peoples of pre-existent kinship groups into states, and in course of time merging with them ethnically and linguistically. This process of the eventual mergence of small groups of state-forming conquerors with the more numerous populations of the conquered would seem to be the key to a great deal of African history. It would seem almost certain that the Akan traditions of migration from the north or northwest are not necessarily traditions of the bulk of the people, but more essentially those of successive waves of immigrants who organised earlier kinship groups into political states of the type being developed further north in the Sudan.
In the case of Gonja, we know that the earlier inhabitants were already what we should now call Akans; in the case of Dagomba we can deduce that they were Konkomba or similar Gur-speaking groups. It is also known that when the Gã arrived from the east about the fifteenth century they infiltrated among and sometimes absorbed Akan groups, the Kpesi and the Afutu. Remnant groups of these peoples still survive to the immediate west of the Gã area; their languages or dialects are closely related to the Guang of Gonja. Similar languages are found in pockets north of the Gã and through the Volta Gap in the Akwapim-Togo hills back towards Gonja. It has been inferred from this linguistic evidence that the first Akan migrations to reach the coast came from the north through the Volta Gap in a clockwise sweep around the borders of the forest, and that the Akan penetration directly through the forest towards the sea was a later phenomenon. It may be that previously the forest was but thinly occupied, and that its settlement by the Akans does represent more of a movement en masse. However, the evidence of the Gonja, and Gã migrations suggests that the first Akan settlements were appreciably earlier; with the result that, even if the Akan state-formers had not tended to eclipse earlier traditions (as has undoubtedly been the case), the formation of the first Akan states took place at too remote a period of time for us to have any idea of what the pre-state peoples were like.
In general terms, however, just as we can consider the early history of Dagomba, Mamprussi and Gonja essentially as the impingement into a mass of indigenous Gur- or Kwa- speaking peoples, of state-forming invaders coming down the lines of the major northeastern and northwestern trade routes which linked the Gold Coast to the great empires and commercial centres of the Sudan, so too it is permissible to think of the creators of the Akan states impinging along the northwestern highway into an already existent pattern of "Kwa" kinship groups distributed along their east-west coastwise axis. This leads us to take another look at the westwards movement along this axis from what is now southwestern Nigeria, in particular from the land of the Yoruba states and of Benin, of the Gã and Ewe Kwa-speaking peoples. It has already been remarked that much of the political organisation of these peoples is Akan-inspired, that is, that it derives indirectly from the northwestern impulse from the Sudan of state formation. On the other hand, in point of time the Gã and Ewe movements would seem to be associated, as an end product, with successive waves of state-forming movements coming south or southwestwards from the Sudan east of the Gold Coast, in what is now Nigeria. These are the "Kisra," "Oduduwa," and "Bayajidda" invasions remembered in the traditions of the peoples of Hausaland, Nupe, Yorubaland, and Benin. The circumstances suggest that the effects of these invasions were deflected westwards by the coast, but that the state-forming impulse itself did not proceed much further west than Ketu, or, at second remove, to what became Dahomey. Recent work by Dr. Biobaku suggests that while the ancestors of the Gã and Ewe might derive from the earliest remembered invasion of Yorubaland from the north, the "Kisra" invasion, their westwards emigration could be a flight from the later consequences of the second major state-forming movement, the "Oduduwa" invasion, which produced great states like Oyo and Benin which expanded by conquest.
The general Gold Coast pattern might therefore be tentatively viewed in something like the following terms. Before about the eleventh century, the land was occupied by a number of small kinship groups. Those in the northern savanna we may call "Gur" groups; those in the south, in or near the forest, "Kwa" groups. In remote and isolated parts of the country such as the Oti marshes and some mountain regions of Togoland, kinship groups of these types still survive in something like their original form; the process of state-formation has not taken place at all. Elsewhere, however, this primitive pattern has been upset by the state-forming activities of relatively small groups of immigrant Negroes coming southwards as a consequence of the process of change initiated in the Sudan through the expansion of the Mediterranean peoples and their trade. The immigrants tended to approach the Gold Coast either along the northwestern trade route, from the region in which Ghana, Mali and other great predominantly Mande states emerged, or along the northeastern trade route from the region of Hausaland and Bornu. The newcomers began to create states on the Sudanese model from among the local kinship groups on which they imposed themselves, and with whose members they eventually merged in race and language.
From the northeast came the founding ancestors of Dagomba and Mamprussi, arriving about the fifteenth century. At about the same time the Gã and Ewe began to arrive from the east, possibly as a consequence of state-forming upheavals in what is now southwestern Nigeria. A number of waves arrived from the northwest, the earliest settling just north of the forest by about the thirteenth century, and then spreading eastwards round it through the Volta gap to the sea and then westwards along the coast. These early waves produced, among others, the first Akan groups of what is now Gonja and of the coastlands, and large or important states such as Bono and Banda. Later waves tended to push into and through the forest, creating there and at the coast a large number of small states, small perhaps because the difficulty of movement in and through the forest tended to break the immigrants up into small groups. The Fante states of the coast emerged from this movement, while many of the small forest states were eventually, in the eighteenth century, incorporated into the Ashanti Union. Finally, about the seventeenth century, the creators of modern Gonja appeared, who, by the time of the arrival of the Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century, had hardly succeeded in forming the earlier Akan groups into a coherent state.