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Part Seven - Recorded Encounters with the Enslaved: Christian Workers in Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2013

Alice Bellagamba
University of Milan-Bicocca
Sandra E. Greene
Cornell University, New York
Martin A. Klein
University of Toronto
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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1 Robin Law, “Human Sacrifice in Pre-colonial West Africa,” African Affairs, 84, 334 (1985), 53–87.

2 See, for example, Clifford Williams, “Asante: Human Sacrifice or Capital Punishment? An Assessment of the Period, 1897–1874,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, 21, 3 (1988), 433–441; Ivor Wilks, “Asante: Human Sacrifice or Capital Punishment? A Rejoinder,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, 21, 3 (1988), 443–452; Thomas C. McCaskie, “Death and the Asantehene: A Historical Meditation,” Journal of African History, 30, 3 (1989), 417–444; and Olatunji Ojo, “Slavery and Human Sacrifice in Yorubaland: Ondo, c. 1870–94,Journal of African History, 46, 3 (2005), 379–404.

3 The war in which Kuku was captured occurred as a result of an invasion of the polities located immediately east of the Volta River by the state of Asante. See Marion Johnson, “Ashanti East of the Volta’, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, VIII (1965), 33–59, and Donna J. E. Maier, “Asante War Aims in the 1869 Invasion of Ewe,” in Enid Schildkrout (ed.), The Golden Stool: Studies of the Asante Center and Periphery (New York: 1987), 232–244.

4 That Amma’s and Kuku’s fears were certainly not unique is evident from accounts discussed by Basel missionaries stationed in Akropong in the polity of Akuapem. See Peter Haenger, Slaves and Slave Holders on the Gold Coast: Towards an Understanding of Social Bondage in West Africa. Edited by J. J. Shaffer and Paul E. Lovejoy (Basel, 2000), 41, 44, 46 (fn. 70), 57–58, 79, and 101. See also Gareth Austen, Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free labour in Asante, 1807–1956 (Rochester, 2005), 38, 187–188, and 227. In one instance, the Basel missionaries thought a woman was actually lying about being the intended victim of ritual sacrifice to gain their support for other reasons. See Haenger, Slaves, 80–81. Austen sites a similar case in his study of slavery in Asante. See Austen, Labour, 197–198.

5 Kuku remembered the name of the Asante village in which he was enslaved as Konya. The community that most closely resembles this place in name and location is a village called Kona, c. 15 miles south of the Asante polity of Nsuta.

6 On the history of the Basel Mission in Abetifi, see Kofi Nkansa-Kyeremateng, One Hundred Years of the Presbyterian Church in Kwahu, 1876–1976 (Accra, 1976). See also Stephan F. Miescher, Making Men in Ghana (Bloomington, 2005), 5–6.

7 Edmund Collins, “The Panic Element in Nineteenth Century British Relations with Ashanti,Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, V: 2 (1962), 98.

8 Kwawu willingly sought British protection, according to K. Nkansa-Kyeremateng, because as a conquered territory of Asante since 1818, it had been “bled-white ... of troops and supplies ... [and by] Antwi Akomea, the Asante envoy in Kwawu ... for his personal aggrandisement.” Once Asante was defeated by the British in 1874, Kwawu requested the British flag but did not receive it until 1888. J. Nkansa-Kyeremateng, Kwahu Handbook (Bepong-Kwawu, 2000), 71. For more on Asante-Kwawu relations during this period, see Thomas J. Lewin, Asante before the British: The Prempean Years, 1875–1900 (Lawrence, 1978), 103–104, 149, and 163.

9 The manuscript is currently held at the Staatarchiv, Bremen: 7, 1025–30/1, and is entitled S. Quist, Nyanyuiegblola Aaron Kuku fe agbenonutinya. Enlola enye Osofo. (Kplalime, September 1929). For a translation of this text, see Sandra E. Greene, West African Narratives of Slavery: Texts from Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth Century Ghana (Bloomington, 2011).

10 It appeared as Paul Wiegräbe, “Aus dem Leben des Afrikanischen Evangelisten Aaron Kuku,Monatsblatt der Norddeutschen MIssionsgesellschaft, 91 (1930), 51–57, 67–71, 186–189, 214–217.

11 This practice of giving “death” or “ugly” names to children was based on a belief that the spirit of a dead child could return to its mother and be born again. That spirit might decide or be called back to the spiritual world by the inhabitants of that world, however, and thus would make the mother suffer by dying again. To prevent this, parents who had suffered the death of one child might give the next child born to them an ugly name to repel or fool those in the spirit world, making them believe that the child was not worth much and thus not worth calling back to the spiritual world.

12 Statements about his age and the dates of particular events occur throughout this narrative. It is wholly unclear, however, if it was Kuku who provided this information. Kuku – who had only six days of formal education – may have been able to recall his approximate age based on his memory of what he was able to do at the time of the Asante invasion. But this calculation of his age could have also been the work of Samuel Quist, who in 1929 recorded Kuku’s life history and clearly shaped it to conform to the format typical of biographies used in the Ewe-language schools in southeastern Ghana.

13 Kuku’s village, Petewu, was part of the Liati District, and was located c. 7 kilometers south of the separate political community of Fodome.

14 As indicated in accounts by a number of Europeans who witnessed this event, there were several gatherings, beginning first in July. On that day some 2,000 prisoners were marched through Kumase. Two months later, on September 2, more booty (goods and slaves) was paraded through the streets by 10,000 soldiers. Reports to the king about the commanders and soldiers who had died in the war occurred on September 4. On September 7, the actual report to the Asante king was given by the commander of the forces that had fought in the war. The days that followed were set aside for the mourning of the dead. It was during this period that prisoners were executed to accompany the deceased commanders as servants in the spiritual world. According to Ramseyer and Kühne, “one hundred and thirty-six high chiefs had fallen in this war, which gives some idea of the sacrifice of human life that followed. For each of the six [chiefs] belonging to Coomassie [i.e., Kumase] thirty of their people were killed, thirty for Sokora, and so on.” F. A. Ramseyer and J. Kühne, Four Years in Asantee (New York, 1875), 130, 135–138.

15 Oil-palms produce a nut that is processed to produce palm oil, a substance used locally in food preparation and for fuel in oil lamps. By this date, in 1870, there was also considerable demand in Europe for palm oil as well as palm kernel oil as a lubricant. When used for palm wine extraction, the tapper used a process that is still used today: “the tapper will first fell the tree.... They then cut a hole just below the crown of the fallen tree, creating a well in its trunk. At the bottom of this well they punch a small hole right through the tree. A collecting pot is then placed underneath. The hole is fired to encourage the free flow of liquid from the tree. This is done using a large staff of tightly wrapped palm fronds, slowly burning at one end ... finally, large leaves are placed over the top of the well to stop rain and insects from entering. When the tapper returns to collect the wine he will bore a new section inside the well. Fire is used once more and the process begins all over again. The tree is tapped continually until it produces no more wine.”

16 Kumase was the capital of Asante, a state that has been the subject of many historical studies. See Ivor G. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order (Cambridge, 1975); Thomas J. Lewin, Asante before the British: The Prempean Years, 1875–1900 (Lawrence, 1978); and Thomas C. McCaskie, Sate and Society in Pre-colonial Asante (Cambridge, 1995).

17 It appears that the dispute in question was not about succession to a political office, as indicated here, however. Instead, it probably involved differences within the governing council of Asante over whether or not to free the European prisoners who had been captured in the war that had also brought Kuku and thousands of others prisoners to Asante, and whether or not to free them without being paid a ransom. Fighting broke out in Kumase in March of 1872. See Wilks, Asante, 500–501. The death of the military commander mentioned here was probably unrelated to events in Kumase.

18 It was common practice in Asante to use prisoners of war and criminals condemned to death for ritual sacrifices. Some were even settled in villages as a reserve body of potential sacrificial victims to be used years later for this purpose. See R. S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution (New York, 1911/1969), 442–443.

19 Descriptions of the crimes that might result in capital punishment are described in Rattray, Ashanti Law, passim and Wilks, Asante, passim. Of all the crimes mentioned, the only ones that seems to have been serious enough to warrant a pregnant woman’s death was murder or the swearing of an important oath. Rattray, Ashanti Law, 302 confirms that pregnant women were also never executed, but usually held until they gave birth. After delivering, both the woman and the child were killed. The fact this woman was killed using the bloodless form of breaking her neck rather than decapitation was probably the result of her pregnant state.

20 Translator’s note: Instances of the term Neger – here Donkonegerin – are translated as “negro,” or in the latter case with a feminine inflection, “negress.” Editor’s note: “Donko” is the term used to refer to slaves that were non-Asante in origin. By the late nineteenth century, it was usually used to refer to slaves from what is now northern Ghana. See Rattray, Ashanti Law, 35–36.

21 Salaga was a large market town controlled in the mid-late nineteenth century by Asante. On the history of this town, see Wilks, Asante, passim; and Paul Lovejoy, “International Trade in West Africa in the Nineteenth Century: Salaga and Kano as “Ports of Trade,” in Toyin Falola (ed.), Ghana in Africa and the World: Essays in Honor of Adu Boahen (Trenton, 2003), 477–511.

22 Why decapitation? See Robin Law, “‘My Head Belongs to the King’: On the Political and Ritual Significance of Decapitation in Pre-colonial Dahomey,” Journal of African History, 30: 3 (1989), 399–415.

23 The location of the Basel Mission station in Abetifi was just outside of town. As was typical of the Basel missionaries who operated in southern Ghana, they often established separate communities for themselves and their Christian converts that were known as Salems. See Stephen Miescher, Making Men in Ghana (Bloomington, 2005), 5–6 and Paul Jenkins, “The Basel Mission in West Africa and the Idea of the Christian Village Community,” in Godwin Shiri (ed.), Wholeness in Christ: The Legacy of the Basel Mission in India (Balmatta, Mangalore, 1985), 13–25.

24 Schmid’s comment that he would not have defied the chief as did the local Kwawu Christian can be explained by Basel Mission policy and the political circumstances that brought the Mission to Abetifi in the first place. As indicated by Peter Haenger, the Basel Mission in Switzerland instructed its overseas missionaries on the Gold Coast “to admonish and encourage the converted [Christian] slave of heathen masters to be at all times loyally devoted to and love their heathen masters as well as to fulfill their duties industriously in every matter.” They did so, in part, because their mission activities could operate only with the permission of the local political authorities. If they encouraged slaves (whether Christian or traditional belief practitioners) to defy their masters, they would have faced unrelenting hostility from the local political authorities and many of the town’s inhabitants. On this point, see Peter A. Schweizer, Survivors on the Gold Coast: The Basel Missionaries in Colonial Ghana (Accra, 2000), 40. Only the British colonial government had the authority, backed by its military forces, to defy local norms that saw slaves as accepted symbols of social and economic status, and as integral (if not subordinate) members of one’s extended family. Even then, when the British abolished slavery in 1874, they did so with the proviso that they would hear petitions from aggrieved slaves only if there was abuse involved. Otherwise slaves were expected to obey their masters and masters were expected to treat their slaves as family members. Basel Mission work in Abetifi began in 1876, ten years before they were faced with the question of how to deal with Amma Tanowa’s case. Abetifi was their first successful mission effort in the state of Kwawu. By the end of 1886, they had stations in eight other Kwawu towns. See K. Nkansa-Kyeremateng, Kwawu Handbook, 87. African Christians were often much more vocal in their opposition to slavery as an institution. Perhaps the best known of these local African Christian anti-slavery advocates was David Asante. On Basil Mission policy and African Christian anti-slavery efforts, see Haenger, Slaves, 23–24; 134–140. On the history of the Basel Mission in Abetifi, see K. Nkansa-Kyeremateng, The Story of Kwawu (Accra, 1990), 67–69. On David Asante in particular, see Sonia Abun-Nasr, Afrikaner und Missionar: Lebensgeschichte von David Asante (Basel, 2003).

25 Kwamo Ado was not the king of Kwawu, but served under the Kwawu paramount chief as the chief of Abetifi. He was a signatory to the 1888 treaty that the Kwawu chiefs signed, recognizing their status as a protection of Great Britain. See Nkansa-Kyeremateng, The Story, 40–41.

26 The principle role of European women married to Basel missionaries stationed on the Gold Coast was as wife to her husband, mother to both her own children and the local African children adopted by the mission (enslaved girls and those born with physical deformities), senior “sister” to the younger married women associated with the Mission, and midwife. See Waltraud Haas, “The Nineteenth Century Basel Mission and Its Women Missionaries” and “On being a Woman in the Nineteenth Century Basel Mission,” in Waltrad Hass and Ken Phin Pang (eds.), Mission History from the Woman’s Point of View (Basel, 1989), 12–40.

27 Footnote in original text: A porridge that in West Africa is generally made from boiled yams that are pounded to a paste.

28 Footnote in original text: Incidentally, the slave woman was not bought free with mission funds. (Emphasis in the original.)

29 A mix of currencies circulated in the nineteenth-century Gold Coast. Gold dust was the traditional currency in Akan-speaking areas like Kwawu, but other currencies were used in areas that had trade relations with this region: cowries were used in what is now northern Ghana and in the districts east of the Volta, for example. Prices during the period were cited in British currency (pounds, shillings, and pence), in German marks, and in U.S. dollars, depending on the location and the individuals involved in business. See Austin, Labour, 128–134, on slave prices, the gold and cowrie currencies used, and their equivalencies.

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