Gold production in the Loby region to the west of the Black Volta in the precolonial period was exclusively in the hands of lineages grouped in largely autonomous little towns, 118 in the area under study, of which Jebugu was the largest. The various peoples were a mixture of Voltaïc language speakers, who formed the majority, with Mande speakers linked to the wider Mande world. Government was not centralized, but operated at three levels of lineage organization. At the first, Level I, sukula or units of residence for each self-governing kin group joined together as the wards of each town, under a resident chief. At Level II, each kin group in each sukula came under the authority of the head of its lineage, who lived in one of the larger, ‘chiefly’ towns perhaps several days' journey away. At Level III, this lineage organization for the Mande speakers was linked to the Mande-Jula capitals outside the Loby region, at Kong, Bonduku, Bobojulasso and Buna. So far as gold was concerned, this three-layered political system was a commercial organization which brought producers and distributors together in response to market demands. Voltaïc-speaking producers at Level I were linked through the lineages to Voltaïc and Mande-speaking distributors at Level II; while both producers and distributors on these levels were collectively linked to the Mande-speaking distributors on Level III, who connected the region with the outside world. The control of distributors over producers was indirect, and exercised solely through the market. This picture from the nineteenth century of fiercely independent gold miners, with traditional skills, beliefs and rights, operating only in the absence of central government, confirms accounts of gold production in the western Sudan dating from the Middle Ages, and offers a valuable case for study.
The picture is supplemented and enhanced by what happened after the arrival of the French in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the changes they introduced in the political organization of the Loby region in 1898. The evidence shows that, until the end of World War I, Loby gold production remained largely in the hands of traditional miners, who retained their links with the old commercial-political lineage system, which continued to market the bulk of the Loby gold. The influence of the colonial state, which for all practical purposes must have been perceived as none other than a fourth political level imposed above the existing three, was itself indirect, and of a familiar kind. In response to an increased demand for gold on the coast, Loby producers raised both their output and their sales, demonstrating the effectiveness of their traditional organization.