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Through their participation in an unequal Atlantic commerce, African merchants on the Gold Coast consciously transformed their dress in ways that expressed their cultural dynamism and economic success in an increasingly interconnected world. In discussing the web of cross-cultural commercial exchanges between Africa, Asia, and Europe, this article moves away from the tendency to regard Africans who adorned themselves in imported European clothing and textiles as ‘creole’ or ‘Europeanized’ elites. Labels like these not only assume the existence of an African cultural essence, but (inadvertently) deny the dynamism that has always characterized African cultures prior to the Atlantic economy. In the case of the Gold Coast, I examine how the Gã and Fante mercantile elite translated imported textiles and clothing into new cultural meanings, aesthetics and norms that emphasized family integrity, power as well as the ancestral, material and commercial value of inherited imported articles of adornment.
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