technology of warfare in Asante and Dagbon
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T. E., Mission from Cape Coast to Ashantee 1819
- 235 Tribute
being demanded from the neighbouring kingdom of Dagwumba, a war ensued,
and its troops were defeated. The King of Dagwumba, convinced that
his former reliance on superior population was vain, from the military
genius of the Ashantee and the commercial disposition of his own people,
dispirited from their lack of firearms, prudently invited a peace . . .
they respected his resources and were content to secure him as a
Robin, The Horse in West African History OUP 1980
- viii The
real subject of this book, it should be stressed, is not the horse, but
the human societies in West Africa which made use of horses. The book is
offered as a contribution to our understanding of the character of West
African societies during the pre-colonial period. Horses were employed
on a substantial scale in pre-colonial West Africa, most obviously in
warfare but also very widely as a token of great wealth and high
political status. Moreover, the keeping of horses, in an environment
highly uncongenial to them, involved considerable logistical problems
and imposed heavy expenditures upon the societies and individuals
concerned. The important role played by horses as an item of military
technology, in the symbolism of authority and status, and as large-scale
consumers of West African resources, makes the study of their use an
illuminating starting-point for the exploration of general questions
concerning the economic, social and political character of pre-colonial
West African societies. In so far as the horse in pre-colonial West
Africa served above all a military function, this book can be seen as a
contribution to the study of the relationship between `war and society',
a subject of growing interest in historical studies generally which has
already attracted some attention in the field of specifically African
history. In so far as the horse culture of West Africa generally
symbolized and reinforced the complex interconnection of military,
economic and political power, this book can be seen as a contribution to
the developing debate about the economic and social character of
pre-colonial African societies, of which other fruits have been the
growth of interest in the material basis of political authority and in
the institution of domestic slavery and the discussions of Marxist
scholars concerning the analysis of African `modes of production'. . .
ix . . . there were in West Africa in fact two
distinct traditions of horsemanship: a pre-Islamic tradition,
characterized by the use of a small breed of horses and by riding
without saddles and with a bitless form of bridle, and a tradition
derived from the Islamic world to the north of the Sahara, introduced
into West Africa from about the thirteenth century onwards, associated
with large horses and with the use of the bit, the saddle and stirrups.
. . in the east (including Upper Volta, Ghana and Nigeria) cavalry still
fought principally with the spear and employed protective armour, and
continued the older technique of riding with long stirrups and the legs
15 . . . the successful expansion of Dagomba
eastwards into Konkomba country in the seventeenth century was due to
their use of cavalry. (This is corroborated by the traditions of the
Konkomba themselves.) . . . Contemporary documentation of horses in the
area is lacking before the eighteenth century, when a European report
attests to the use of cavalry on a considerable scale by the Dagomba at
the time of the invasion of their country by the Asante in the 1740s.
16 Horses seem to have reached the kingdom of
Asante by the early eighteenth century. . . Men on horseback also
occasionally feature among the small brass sculptures used as gold
weights in the Asante area, though these seem normally to represent
northerners rather than local people.
MAINTENANCE, HEALTH, AND TRAINING
Horses in West Africa are generally kept under close control in stables
in the owner's compound . . . the mares kept in the rural areas for
breeding purposes are usually allowed to roam free and graze during the
day-time, returning to the owner's compound only in the evening. But
mares are little used for riding . . . and rarely seen in the towns. The
stallions used for riding are invariably kept, when not in use, in
stables where they are regularly tethered, and very often hobbled; their
food has to be brought in for them from the rural areas . . . Kings or
important chiefs, owning larger numbers of horses normally have large
courtyards of their palaces set aside for use exclusively as stables. .
73 Roofed stables . . . can . . . be seen . . .
at Yendi, the capital of Dagomba in northern Ghana. . . . The food given
to horses in West Africa normally consists mainly of grass and cereals,
especially guinea-corn supplemented by the leaves and stalks of other
plants, such as beans and groundnuts.
134 . . . in the Mossi-Dagornba area. . . ` the
infantry formed a single skirmishing line and made first contact . . .
Next the cavalry charged.' . . . `If the initial infantry attack was
unsuccessful, the cavalry reserved the right to beat a hasty retreat . .
. . . .The cavalry of Dagomba are also described, in at least one
account, as advancing `behind [a] screen of archers'.
Reports of the cavalry leading the infantry into battle are much less
common, though not unknown. A second account of the Dagomba army places
the cavalry in the front of the army, followed by infantry armed with
muskets, with the archers on the flanks.
142 In the clash between the coastal kingdom of
Asante and the hinterland cavalry state of Dagomba . . . it was the
Asante musketeers who emerged victorious. Even in this case, however,
the outcome of the initial Asante invasion of Dagomba in 1744 was
somewhat ambiguous. According to the contemporary account of Roemer, the
Asante invaders `were opposed by a large number of horsemen' whom they
attacked with apparent success, but themselves suffered considerable
losses' . . . `The horses became frightened by the shooting, since these
horsemen have no guns but lances or spears and sabres'. After the
battle, the Asante judged it prudent to withdraw, and were apparently
harassed by the Gonja cavalry on their retreat: `the Ashanti army
retired, surrounded by cavalry, straight across the wilderness into the
Ashanti bush'. The Asante claimed a victory, but were reported to have
lost over a tenth of their force, during the retreat. This account
suggests that the Dagomba cavalry were able to fight at least a drawn
campaign against the Asante musketeers. However both Dagomba and the
neighbouring kingdom of Gonja were obliged to acknowledge Asante
overlordship during the second half of the eighteenth century.
143 These campaigns serve to illustrate some of
the limitations to the effectiveness of early firearms in West Africa.
Before the later nineteenth century, most of the firearms imported into
West Africa were small-bore muzzle-loaders. Muzzle0loading means a very
slow rate of fire . . . Smooth0bore muzzles meant a very limited
accurate range, and it is presumably this which explains the curious
fact that in the campaign . . . in Dagomba in 1744 the muskets are
reported to have broken up cavalry attacks, not by inflicting actual
casualties on men or horses, but through the noise of their fire
disturbing the enemy horses.
179 The military value of cavalry was perhaps
less evident in confrontations between major states than in the
domination of politically fragmented and horseless peoples by
centralized kingdoms employing cavalry. The advantage afforded by
cavalry is clearly attested, for example, in the case of the conquest of
the Konkomba by the cavalry of Dagomba during the seventeenth century.
As Konkomba tradition graphically records, `The Dagomba rose and mounted
their horses, that is why we rose up and gave the land to the Dagombas.'
Thornton on Slavery and dependency theory
The history of slavery, the slave trade, abolition and
[mailto:SLAVERY@LISTSERV.UH.EDU]On Behalf Of Steven H Mintz
Saturday, July 29, 2000 12:37 PM
Slavery and dependency theory
which is moderated by Peter Limb <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
an on-going discussion of present-day underdevelopment in
Africa, which has touched on the history of slavery in West
and its connections to dependency theory. In the following
John Thornton discusses this issue.
John Thornton, Millersville University <email@example.com>
. . .
The issue of military dependency is more complex and
more rewarding. I have tried to examine in
Africa's military environment and the impact of
weapons in my latest book, _Warfare in Atlantic
1500-1800_ (London: UCL Press/Routledge, 2000).
gunpowder weapons are neither as complex or as
in relative terms as today's infantry weapons,
Africa military leaders decided to equip their
with them, they did create the necessity to keep
stocks, replace losses, etc. There is little doubt
military decisions were made with this sort of
in mind. But it seems to go too far, to
suggest that Europeans could foment African wars
will, as Mendosa suggests, through proxies, using
supplies as a lever. No one group ever
weapons supplies enough to leverage it, and
more, any long term shift in supplies could
have been matched either by local manufacture
blacksmiths in recent years have done quite
with much more sophisticated weapons), or by
to older weapons which are nearly as effective. . .
Davies, A. W., (District Commissioner), The History and
Organization of the "Kambonse" in Dagomba, June 1948
Fage, J. D., Ghana, A
Historical Interpretation, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1959.
Fage, J. D., Slavery and
the Slave Trade in the Context of West African History, Jour Afr Hist X 3 1969
Iddi, M. Dasana The
musketeers of the Dagbong Army Dagban Kambonse Legon Ghana 1973 MA Thesis
Iliasu, A. A., 1971, Asante's
relations with Dagomba 1740-1874 Gh Soc Sc Journal 1(2) 54-62
Tenkorang, S, The importance
of firearms in the struggle between Asante and the Coastal States 1708-1807 J
Hist Soc of Gh Vol IX 1-16