On 19 January 1482, a Portuguese fleet of ships under the command of Captain Don Diego d'Azambuja landed at Elmina (a small town on the Gold Coast, what is now Ghana). D'Azambuja immediately set up a meeting with the king of Elmina. King Kwamena Ansa, dressed in all of his finery, met with the Portuguese captain, and during this meeting d'Azambuja asked for permission to build a permanent settlement. At first, Ansa denied his request, stating that he should watch the waves of the sea. Just as they come to the shore, reach the shore, and go back, so too should he continue to come to Elmina, trade, and go back to Portugal. After persistent requests however, Ansa finally agreed and allowed the Portuguese to build a fort known today as Elmina Castle.
I first heard this story from men and women in Elmina during field research there in 2001. When I asked people to tell me about the history of the town and gave them free rein to discuss any topic of their choosing, this was often the story that they chose to tell. Kwamena Ansa, it seems, is a local legend. His fame has extended beyond Elmina however, and into Western scholarship. In particular, David Henige has tracked the emergence of Ansa within Elmina's oral tradition. Henige argues that, while this historical figure can be traced through written sources reaching all the way back to the early sixteenth century, his recognition as a past king by local residents in Elmina has a much shorter history. Indeed, Ansa first emerged in kinglists dating back only to the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, Henige argues, local residents began reading European texts about Elmina's history in order to negotiate colonial courts. The inclusion of Ansa on kinglists represents, therefore, an example of feedback, which is the process of the integration of information from the written record into the oral tradition.