LECTURE II: THE RISE OF AYAWASO
“Ayawaso was a city on a hill whose light pierced the surrounding darkness, and brought purity and knowledge to people far and wide. If we are to know ourselves completely, we must first seek knowledge of the thoughts and deeds of our forefathers at Ayawaso; and write them upon our hearts.”
The second part of these Lectures deals with the kingdom of Ayawaso. Although Ayawaso is widely recognised as the first centralised kingdom to emerge on the Gold Coast, its role in the development of modern Ghanaian culture seems to have been generally under-researched. Reindorf’s work has largely documented the extent of Ayawaso and its connections with the early kingdoms of the Gold Coast; but the detailed political history of Ayawaso as well as the social and economic systems which underpinned Ayawaso culture have barely engaged the attention of historians.
There is evidence to suggest that Dangme civilisation preceded Gá culture. Prior to the centralisation of the Gá-Dangme states, Osudoku appears to have been the epicentre of Dangme culture; the founder of the Dangme dynasty is identified as La Nimo. By the time of the rise of Ayawaso there were about thirty major Gá-Dangme towns strewn across the plains; these were united by the Gá priest-kings into a centralised kingdom.
What is known about the Accra plains prior to the emergence of the Gá-Dangme kingdom is owed to archaeologists. Anquandah has suggested that the Accra plains were inhabited during the first four millenia before Christ by Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers who were given to fishing for fresh water molluscs along the inland waterways of the Odaw, Densu and Nsaki rivers; little is known of the identity of these Stone Age inhabitants.
Under King Ayi Kushi and his son Ayitey the Gá dynasty, organised around key Gá Mashi quarters, started to assert its authority across the Accra plains, exploiting well-defined Ga-Dangme social arrangements to ensure solidarity amongst scattered subjects and to maintain authority. It has been suggested that the Gá dynasty had a “prince with a few body-guards who had commission to rule over the Tshis [Akyems] in the interior.”
Although the connection between the Gá dynasty and the ruler of the interior is not defined, there is ample evidence, particularly in the royal names of Ofori, Ankama, Ayikuma, etc. (which are common to the Gá and Akyem royal households) to suggest a blood connection between the Gá and Akyem rulers.
Ayitey is said to have marched with the Gá, Dangmes, Obutus, Awutus and the Twi prince to establish the inland kingdom of Ayawaso. It is thought that fourteen large towns were founded by the Gá alongside Ayawaso; these included Akpadegon, Amonmole, Fanofa, Dokutso, Pletekwogon, and Kushibiete or Legon. Several other towns were established by sub-divisions of the Gá. These included Wodoku, Lashibi, Wodode, Wo-Akwamu, which belonged to Nungua; Tebiano, Podoku, Lakanmabi or Ashaman and Takimabi, which belonged to Tema; and Ladoku and Ajangote, belonging to Labadi. The various towns founded across the Accra plains as well as the rest of the Adangmes, Agotimes, Akwamus and Akwapims were absorbed into the kingdom of Ayawaso which is said to have extended from Aharamata to Popo beyond the Volta.
From the hill-top capital at Okaikoi, near present-day Ayawaso, the Gá monarchs kept a watchful eye over their kingdom and consolidated their hold over the trade in gold, establishing considerable influence over peoples on the periphery of their domain. A large military force was developed to deal with upheavals and ensure tranquility within the kingdom. Dapper reported that the king of Accra had fifteen to sixteen thousand men at his command in time of war.
Equally, Romer commented that the king of Accra had “many thousand archers, assagay or spearmen and swordmen; each of his eighty generals carried a gun with ten charges of gun powder and bullets.”
The army was supported by a thriving guild of blacksmiths as well as traders, merchants, farmers, salt-makers and fishermen. Aside from a standing professional army, all able-bodied persons were drafted into service during times of war. Munitions and military assistance were regularly obtained from European merchants; and vassal states sent their princes to the king’s court to be educated in the arts of warfare and statesmanship.
Archaeological evidence documented by Anquandah suggests that Ayawaso flourished through a number of inter-connected activities. Excavations at Ayawaso and surrounding hills have revealed excellent pottery with complex artistic motifs and stylised figures. Alluvial gold appears to have been dredged from the rivers Densu and Nsaki and sold to the Portuguese; the resulting commerce introduced Portuguese cloth, iron rods, European pottery, firearms, alcohol to the Gá kingdom.
Further excavations at Ayawaso have also revealed fragments of walls of furnace used for iron-smelting and smithing; finished iron implements have also been excavated as well as clay crucibles used for melting down brasswear and for the manufacture of jewellery and other ornaments.
Clearly the military organisation of the Gá was fairly more complex than could be found among comtemporary peoples. It was based on a system of regimentation that drew on the house (we) and quarter organisation of the Gá-Dangme towns. Each individual fought as part of a wider unit headed by a recognised leader; the units were in turn connected to the the quarter chief under whom it fought. The resulting military system is examined in some detail in section 2.2.1 below.
The territory of the king of Accra was divided into two basic units, corresponding roughly with the plains to the East and West of Okaikoi. The Eastern plains or Boka-Nná were well-known for the pottery of Shai, and the animal husbandry of the Ningo and Prampram coastlands. The Western plains or Jor-Náá (valley site (after the Densu depression)) were largely settled and worked by agrarian farmers of Awutu and Awutu origin. The king’s territory was subdivided into the coast lands of the South and hunting lands to the North. The first family known to have occupied the coastal strip of Accra was that of Lakote Aduawushi.
Towns and their households were organised along well-defined principles under which each citizen could be identified through an alternative generational naming system in which each individuals name is coded to reveal not only the town and quarter from which he or she originated, but also his or her position within the family.
According to the traditions of Naiwe and Sakumowe, the Akwapim hills were used by the Gá rulers for the settlement of slaves; hence the name (Akwa-apim or “a thousand slaves”). On the other hand, the territory which was later granted to the Akwamu was used for the settlement of fugitives. Thus when the occupants of these territories, led by a certain Amu, started to assert themselves the Gá stated dismissively: Akwé-Amu or “see what Amu is up to”.
Blood relationship between the Gá-Dangme monarchs and the Akyem appears to have ensured peace between the two peoples. But to consolidate their power further and to unite the Gá with their neighbours, the Ayawaso kings contracted several strategic marriages. The Obutu and Awutu were joined to the Gá-Dangme through Mampong Okai’s marriage to the grand-daughter of Wyetey, Dode Akabi; and to cement their relations with the Dangme further King Okaikoi contracted a marriage to a Shai princess.
Having united their neighbours through military strength and diplomacy the Gá dynasty then proceeded to build its economic power, chiefly by monopolising the gold trade. By the reign of Mampong Okai the Gá monarch was living in considerable style; and Akwamu, Akwapim, Obutu, Awutu and the Eastern territories as far as Popo formed part of the kingdom. Dapper remarked that the king of Accra “hath the repute of a potent prince … He hath a more absolute sovereignty over his subjects than any of his neighbours.”
There were several influential officials at the king’s court. The king’s treasurer was described as he who “keepeth his gold and other riches; receiveth and payeth all and doth all other business for the king. He is next to the king, and he commonly hath more golden rings about his neck, arms and feet than tmx king himself.
In addition to several officials of military rank there was also the dzara-manche or captain of the traders who exercised considerable authority over the gold trade; he collected taxes and settled quarrels; he also punished offending traders.
The king himself was largely concerned with maintaining law and order in his kingdom; and keeping external powers at bay. He kept a council of elders and and retained considerable judicial and executive powers.
By the reign of Mampong Okai the Gá-Dangme had successfully monopolised the trade in gold in the South-Eastern part of the Gold Coast. Mampong Okai himself was reputed to be so rich that he went under the appellation Owura Mampong Okai; his son Okaikoi was nicknamed “Afadi” or the prosperous one.
In common with Gá monarchs of the time Okaikoi had kept a large court; and had many wives, courtiers and court musicians. Aside from the monarchical princes of the house of Tungmawe there seemed to have emerged an oligarchy of powerful personages who started to exert their influence powerfully in town-quarter politics.
Aside from the general acknowledgement that Ayi Kushi was the first Gá king within living memory little has been recorded this individual; he is particularly revered by the Gá-Dangme high priests. Like a veritable Black Moses, Ayi Kushi emerges from the oral tradition as an illustrious and astute leader as well as law-giver who united the Gá-Dangme into a powerful tribe; and set the precedent for the diplomatic and conquering activities of later Gá kings.
To organise the Gá into a strong nation Ayi Kushi needed to establish a powerful core group of powerful leaders who felt sufficiently loyal to their forebears as to defend its honour at all times. Ayi Kushi also realised the value of peace and political stability as the basis of all social progress. To this end he embarked on a series of brilliant military campaigns which drove a number of people’s, including the Le and Kyerepong tribes to the interior; he also instituted a number of commandments, now incorporated into the baptismal or kpodziemóblessings of all Gá infants.
Central to the lore surrounding Ayi Kushi are what are generally regarded as the Seven Commandments of Ayi Kushi. Legend records that the commandments of Ayi Kushi were given to the gathered tribal elders on Kushibiete or Legon hill (hill of knowledge). Ayi Kushi’s Seven Commandments were for the members of the group to love and to cherish the commandments of their fathers; to obey the will of the Deity at all times; to show extraordinary self-sacrifice for the group; also, to show sacrifice as a life-long duty to one’s children; not to steal; not to lie; and to be utterly truthful and pure in all one’s activities.
The Commandments appear to have risen out of Ayi Kushi’s concern to preserve the religious purity of the Gá-Dangme; the fight for religious purity was ultimately to lead to the expulsion of the major religionists to the coastal strip where a hard stratum of the aboriginal Gá-Dangme religion was ultimately mixed with the nature-gods exemplified by Nai, Sakumo, etc; and by the orgiastic antics of the akon cult and other fetish religions.
At Legon, Ayi Kushi is also said to have bound the Gá leaders and their peoples by a Sacred Covenant; the leaders pledged themselves and their descendants to perpetual loyalty to the ruling house. In return the Grulers vowed to rule justly according to the precepts of the religion of their ancestors; and to defend the interest of the Gá-Dangme at all times. In recognition of this covenant Ayi Kushi decreed that both his remains and those of the assembled Gá-Dangme leaders, including Obutu and Awutu leaders, were to be interred on Okaikoi hill which was to be a symbol of the perpetual unity of the peoples of the South-Eastern coast of the Gold Coast.
Part of King Ayi Kushi’s duties as supreme lord of the Gá-Dangme was to occasionally sit in judgment over disputes between his various subjects; he appeared to have delegated part of this job to leading priests and other influential people. Thus developed the custom of holding court and public arguments under trees in the court-yards priests; Sakumo-tsoshishi and Osrama-tsoshishi in the present Gbese quarter being well-known examples.
Ayi Kushi’s judgments laid down the various rules which ensure the ethnic cohesion of his people; for instance, his precept that patrilineality is the defining principle of Gá-Dangme citizenship has generally been observed to this day. For assimilated peoples such as the Akwamu, many of whom were married to Gá-Dangme women matrilineality (emphasising the Gá-Dangme female blood) became all-important.
After the political leaders had departed Ayi Kushi invoked the name of the Almighty in the manner of his ancestors, and made a covenant with the leaders of the quarters and the households. Amidst scenes of thunder and lightning the peak of Legon hill is said to belched sulphurous smoke as the old king called on the name of his ancestral God.
Before the assembled mass of Gá, Adangme, Awutu and Obutu peoples, the king is said to have prayed, poured water on the ground and asked the Almighty to bless and set his people aside to be an example of piety to other peoples. Ayi Kushi is believed to have retired to the coastal strip, and died shortly after gathering the people on Legon hill; his remains were, as he had decreed, buried on Okaikoi hill.
Ayi Kushi was succeeded by his son, Ayitey, who consolidated the gains of his forebear principally by the complete assimilation of the Awutu and Obutu into the Gá-Dangme polity through marriage. Further, the inhabitants of the new territories were encouraged to inter-marry with Gá-Dangme peoples and to think of themselves as Gá-Dangme. In this way the people of Senya Bereku and Awutu became assimilated into the family of Naiwe; to the present day the ruling families of Awutu and Senya Bereku bear the title of Nai in recognition of their blood relationship with the Gá.
By the time of King Mampong Okai the kingdom of Accra was the most powerful and most prosperous political entity to have yet emerged in Southern Ghana. So magnificent was the king’s court and his power over the interior tribes that that he was styled Owura Mampong Okai; he was said to have ridden in a chariot and started to turn the attention of the Gá-Dangme tribes to the presence of Europeans on the coastal strip. Owura Mampong Okai extended his kingdom further eastward as far as Popo; his death was followed by the regency of Dode Akabi, “an intelligent and masculine woman and Princess of Obutu”, whose alleged cruelty is still remembered by the Gá.
Dode Akabi’s easy acession to power and her long reign (1610-1635) obviously suggest the degree of assimilation of previously non-Gá peoples. However, Dode Akabi’s has hitherto been treated rather unfavourably by historians. Reindorf relates a series of brutal decrees issued under her authority; she was finally killed after she had ordered her subjects to sink a well at a place called Akabikenke.
Her accession to power as the first major female figure in Gá, and indeed Gold Coast, history should certainly rank as a remarkable event attesting to the skills of this powerful personality; Dode Akabi certainly displayed the ruthless decisiveness that has marked the careers of admired male statesmen the world over. Her alleged atrocities aside, Dode Akabi appears to have kept the kingdom intact. However, the manner of her death indicates a degree of dissent among her subjects.
Dode Akabi’s regency and greatness is, perhaps, best analysed in the context of her role in the evolution of chiefship in the Gold Coast. Until her acession to power, chiefship appears to have been a male preserve. The chief in the theocratic state of Accra was by definition also a high priest or wulomo; he took a personal part in ritual dancing. As the high priest could only be male, Dode Akabi’s rise to power necessarily entailed a schism between the powers of the wulomo and that of the king; this marked the secularisation of Gá-Dangme politics, and the concentration of religious authority in the hands of the wulomei.
Since her authority, unlike her predecessors’ was no longer derived from privileged access to the Deity, Dode Akabi had to formulate new methods of governance; this she did principally through the previously untried method of direct legislation which appears to have so drawn the ire of her subjects. She brought a new magnificence to royalty, chiefly by combining Western luxury with new standards of culture.
Analysed this way, Dode Akabi emerges as a formidable figure whose rise as the first female political leader of the Gold Coast opened new vistas of power to her gender. She is generally believed to have introduced much display, jewellery and colourful attire into the institution of chieftaincy; some even attribute the custom of sitting on stools to Dode Akabi. Prior to Dode Akabi stools were mainly taken into war, and held aloft to lift the spirit of the troops; popularly regarded as having no authority from the Deity, she demanded to sit on the war-stool to visually symbolise her authority over her people.
The reign of Okaikoi was the beginning of a fresh assertiveness by the Gá-Dangme. Okaikoi’s power was based largely on the cult of the warrior, signalling the final shift of power from priest-kings to secular kings whose power rested almost exclusively on their ability to manipulate and control affairs within the Gá-Dangme polity.
Okaikoi appears to have continued Dode Akabi’s policy of political control of his subjects, casting aside the previous practice of rule by consensus and through the authority of the Deity; it was the first major challenge to the theocratic basis of Gá-Dangme kingship. Surrounding himself with a body-guard of selected youth, Okaikoi demanded unlimited recognition and subservience from both subjects and conquered peoples; he also institutionalised the practice of princes of provincial states serving as armour-bearers in the king’s court, formalising a practice which had always existed among the Gá-Dangme in a more general form.
Further, Okaikoi formed the Akwashong or supreme military command; this was intended to provide the basis of a renewal of Gá-Dangme military power. The king used the Akwashong as the basis for a new praetorian guard of fighters trained in aspects of warfare ranging from the handling of firearms to fist-fighting. Although this soon led to resentment on the part of the old generals, it also led to the hitherto unexcelled expertise of the Gá at akotoku or fist-fighting. Okaikoi himself was famed for his personal valour; he was said to have killed leopards and lions bare-handed, and to have distinguished himself in battle and in several duels with neighbouring princes and noted warriors.
Confident in his own physical strength and courage as well as the fighting quality of his men, Okaikoi ignored his generals more and more. This divided the Gá-Dangme army and led to a conspiracy to topple the king; the conspiracy, hatched by Nikoilai and other generals involved the betrayal of the king into the hands of the Akwamu. According to Reindorf, the generals and the majority of Okaikoi’s warriors arranged with the enemy to fire without bullets.
Thus, deserted and betrayed by his generals, the great king took his final stand against the Akwamus with a small force made up largely of his body-guard. With unequalled courage and ferocity he held the advance of the entire Akwamu army for the greater part of the day, killing six commanders himself. Eventually tired by his exertions and realising the treachery of his generals, King Okaikoi retreated to Nyantrabi where he mounted his royal stool, prayed for the prosperity of those warriors who had stood by him, and asked that no success should attend the efforts of the deserters; then took his own life. However, the courage of the king and his body-guard enabled thousands of women and children to be evacuated from Ayawaso, earning for him an imperishable name.
2.2 The contribution of Ayawaso to African history
2.3 The social and military organisation of the Gá-Dangme
Gá-Dangme society is highly ordered in an ascending order along the basis of we, akutso, quarter, town and sub-group; each being a territorial and social unit through which the individual is linked the Gá-Dangme polity.
The individual is born into a specific adebo shia (plural: adebo shiai) which constitutes part of a we or a larger ancestral household. Presently, the we are concentrated in the ancestral settlements of the Gá-Dangme and in the outlying villages. A we usually comprises a maximal lineage made up of smaller lineages linked by remote ancestry or common residence. Members of the we are usually referred to as the we-ku or wekumei (people of the we-ku) and acknowledge the same weku yitso (head of family). It is the responsibility of the wekuto inculcate in the individual the Gá-Dangme social and economic ethic, and to ensure that he or she performs his or her role as a good citizen. In ancient times, the we-ku was much more closely-knitted and fought in the same war company or ta-ku under an asafoiatseappointed by the neighbourhood or akutso.
In practice, the akutso (plural: akutsei or group of [family] trees) constituted the basis of the Gá-Dangme socio/political order; the akutso is the Gá-Dangme state in microcosm. It provides the first major forum for dicussion of issues affecting the body-politic; and in serious cases sends a deputation to the chief, articulating the concerns of the leaders of the various we. The man-dzranó (public square) of the akutsoprovides a place for public assembly, news-exchange and debate, initiating young people into the art of public speaking, political discussion and public entertainment.
The akutso therefore forms an important segment of the quarter; through the man-dzranó it performed, in ancient times, a role now undertaken by the daily and periodical press; through debate and public assembly, it also offered individuals the opportunity of vigorous intellectual exercise.
The average citizen mixed with the exalted personages of the generation and if he was sufficiently diligent learnt of heroic exploits, the origin of customs and traditions and the general history of the group. By superior mental cultivation in this manner, many individuals rose above their rank; some were able to found we of their own; others were elevated to the quarter council; yet others, like Wetse Kojo, were able to found their own quarter.
The quarter is a political division of the Gá-Dangme polity; all smaller units are sub-divisions. The quarter is linked to the King through the quarter stool whose occupant or chief regularly swears oath of allegiance to the King, particularly prior to and during the Homowo/Asafotufiam/Nmayen festival.
The residence of the chief or mantse-we is an important point in traditional politics, constituting in essence an appellate court with jurisdiction over all matters arising within the limits of the quarter; it also exercised original jurisdiction in all matters considered to be of sufficient importance to merit the attention of the chief and his councillors.
Although a chief may delegate a good number of cases, he occasionally hears an important action himself. On such occasions he sits formally robed and surrounded by several courtiers robed according to rank. Matters of law aside, various other issues, mainly political and social, constantly engage the attention of the mantse-we officials.
Such occasions become a compelling demonstration of formal and idiomatic speech as well as custom, usage and procedure. The mantse-we tends to form the minds of many eminent courtiers and citizens used to listening to important matters and keen to acquire knowledge of traditional custom.
In times in war, heads of families and other influential persons in the akutso are called upon to provide troops and logistics. Able-bodied youngmen gather at the public square and are drilled for the war by specially appointed officials. The akutsei collectively appoint their ownasafoiatse, usually a distingiushed veteran of an old war, and one who would subsequently be capable of representing the interests of theakustei at quarter meetings. The asafoiatse is therefore usually a man of forceful personality and considerable leadership qualities, able to instil discipline and inspire confidence in the troops. The various asafoiatsemei are in turn commanded by a shipi or captain of captains who is directly under the Akwashongtse (head of the Akwashong) or General Commander; the king remains the Commander in chief, and consults closely with the Akwashong.
Although the men generally fought as one group during battle, individuals stuck with their own neighbourhood company under theasafoiatse. The entire body of fighting men was in turn divided into 4 main parts. At the rear were the reserves who kept the munitions and supplied them to the frontmen as and when required. In the main body of fighting men, troops from the seven quarters were divided into three units, corresponding roughly with the right wing, the van and the left wing. The king, if he happened to be at the war front, fought in the van together with the Akwashongtse and other distinguished generals. The other wings and sub-divisions were commanded by theshipi.
As the ranks resounded to the clash of arms exhortations were heard from the rear, urging the men to fight ever forward and animating the zeal of the troops. If any prisoners of war were captured, the task of quartering them fell to the rear; and if reinforcements were needed fresh troops were called up from the rear. It was the duty of the commander of the rear to also gather intelligence for the army. If the war was delayed or prolonged he got some of his men to procure rustic attire and mount reconnaisance surveys on the position of the enemy. He also kept a hawk’s eye on the progress of the war and gave the Akwashongtse valuable advice on strategy and tactics, pointing out weak lines of defence in the ranks of the enemy and co-ordinating the movement of logistics and fresh troops.
The traditional constitution of the Gá-Dangme
Underlying the rigid social structure of the Gá-Dangme is a well-defined traditional constitutional framework. At the apex of Gá-Dangme constitution is the triumvirate of Gá, Krobo and Ada kings – sovereigns of the three major parts or (man-wudzi) of modern Gá-Dangme. Known as the Three Kings or Mantsemei ete, the core territory or mantiase of each king is divided into into recognisable quarters, invariably ruled by royal princes. Quarter organisation is based on the number seven, representing the number of actual or hypothetical groups in which the Gá-Dangme arrived on the coastal plains.
The number seven has therefore been institutionalised and conventionalised into the traditional constitution. True, there are several towns whose quarters are less than seven; but this represents a dysfunction of the political system rather than an aberration. In former times, the number seven had always been restored when due to amalgamation or the accident of migration the Gá towns and quarters had been reduced in number. Thus, people from Osudoku and from Labadi were invited to constitute the Gá towns of Osu and Teshi; in this way, the principle of man-kodzi kpawo (seven-branched town) was restored.
In turn the territory of the Gá-Dangme as whole is divided into man-dzi or urbanised areas and kosé, the country. The major traditional towns of each King are further subdivided into quarters. Each town is headed by a manche-wulu or nene ? (major chief); the quarters of the major towns are headed by quarter chiefs or divisional chiefs.
At the base of the political structure are the aklowai (villages) and the akutsei (sections) of the major towns. Individuals are attached to a particular sub-group through an aklowa or akutso. Within each aklowa or akutso are the great family houses or adebo shia from which the major Ga-Dangme lineages originate.
Each part, town, division, akutso and aklowa of the Gá-Dangme polity is represented by a stool which the head occupies. It appears that the initial Gá-Dangme practice of symbolising kingship through ayawa or brass stools was well-established before the founding of, say, the Asante kingdom in 1701. Reindorf records the ownership of stools among the Gá and the Guan as early as ….. However, as is well illustrated by the carving of the Ngleshi stool by Otu Brafo it appears that Akan religious concepts, attributing fetish and mythical powers, have been added to the functions of the stool; this, however, applies only to the stools of Otublohum and Ngleshi.
The Gá-Dangme chief, as we have seen, is lineally descended from the prophets and priest-kings of the past. He combines in his role the functions of a law-giver, judge, administrator, prime-minister, war-leader, supreme defender, and ritual functionary. As war-leader, the chief acts as commander of the combined troops of the quarters under his stool; he, in consultation with the relevant wulomo, declares war and sues for peace.
The actual assembling of troops and the provision of logistics fall within the remit of the various family heads, shipi, asafoatsemei, andtatsemei. But once assembled, troop movement and prosecution of a war were controlled by the chief through his chief generals.
The chief functions as political leader, ceremonial head, and traditional judge. As political leader, the chief occupies the town stool which symbolises the collective spirit of his people and is on ceremonial occasions obliged to perform appropriate rites for the people. However, as we have noted, the role of the chief has become more and more secularised in recent times. In the days of yore, he led his people in war and organised voluntary labour. Today, he still retains a notional role as war-leader but his political function is practically restricted to liasing with the main quarter and lineage heads; and ensuring the observance of the traditional calendar.
As ceremonial leader, the chief co-ordinates the activities of the religious hierarchy, sanctioning the observance of the major festivals and traditional injunctions. During the major festive occasion he appears in official regalia and takes part in ritual dancing. Aside from public ceremonies, the performs private ceremonies within the palace for the well-being of the town.
In many ways, the chief is propped in place by the Gyase or king-makers; the Gyase is a body of men constituting an electoral college, frequently selected from the major quarters to ensure the nomination and appointment of the most suitable candidate from the appropriate lineage as chief. Traditional politics is therefore often dominated by the Gyase; a radical Gyase tends to become the king-maker and the king-destroyer. The Gyase-tse or head of the Gyase occupies a powerful role, determining the composition of the Gyase and the longevity of the chief. The Gyase is drawn only from specific lineages; the rules of heredity that this entails can keep the majority of subjects unrepresented. An over-powerful Gyase therefore tends to lead to political instability.
The powers of the Gyase can, if unchecked, diminish the liberties of the manbii or townfolk. Unfettered control of a chief by the Gyase is therefore a recipe for traditional dictatorship, mitigated only by the powers of central government. Loss of land rights and lack of accountability are the commonest manifestation of unfettered traditional government.
It appears that in ancient times the powers of the Gyase were held in check by the office of Shikitele. This survives in a vestigial form only at Labadi. In origin the Shikitele was an elected representative of the manbii with powers to overrride, or at least veto, the Gyase as well as to articulate the concerns of townfolks to the chief. The revival of this admirable institution should have a beneficial effect on Gá-Dangme traditional government.
As the proclamation of messages was an original duty of the Gá-Dangme priest-kings, the office of Okyeame was a latter-day addition to Gá-Dangme government. After the secularisation of kingship, there developed the office of Kélor or sayer, the equivalent of the presentOkyeame. Given the mystery with which kings surrounded themselves, the Kélor became an important court official through whom all royal messages were publicly transmitted. Although the Kélor can sometimes restrict access to the king and enjoys pride of place on ceremonial occasions, he has little constititional powers besides,
The principal asafoiatse is another important offical. The duties of the Asafoiatse are more particularly set out below. It suffices here to state only that the Asafoiatse has currently acquired special importance as one of two important officials who presence and participation are necessary to lend validity to certain ceremonial functions; the other official being the Okyeame or Kelór.
Over a hundred years ago Reindorf noted;
“The [unwritten] Constitution has run out its three stages:the prophet stage, in which the foretelling priest heldthe reins; the priest-stage, in which the high priest of the national fetish had the reins; and the king-stage. The best method, therefore, left to the educated community is, to reorganize the whole structure of government on Christian principles, before we shall be acknowledged as a nation.”
Admittedly, Reindorf did not attempt to embark on a systematic study of the Gá-Dangme Constitution; if he had, he would have discovered a living structure which stood only in need of definition and refinement. Common origin, a common migratory journey, and the administrative structures of the kingdoms of La Nimo and Ayawaso as well as subsequent history have led to the evolution of a common Gá-Dangme Constitution on the basis of a traditional confederacy.
The need to defend themselves and their contiguous territories against common enemies as well as the need to survive, to multiply and to prosper, provided a powerful spur for the development of constitutional relations which have only to be properly set out to be as valid for the Gá-Dangme as it was in ancient times.
In ancient times, power was naturally located in the larger political entities of Accra, Krobo and Ada, and to a lesser extent in the larger settlements of Nungua, Ladadi, Osu, Teshi, Tema, Kpone, Prampram, Ningo, Odumase, Somanya, Agormanya, Dodowa, Shai, Obutu, Awutu, etc. The Three Kings of Accra, Krobo and Ada were compelled to defend the smaller settlements and therefore to exercise rights of jurisdiction over them.
As between The Three Kings, there was a relationship of equality tempered only by the power conferred on the King of Accra, largely by historic accident, to act on behalf of all the Gá-Dangme. Although the concept of the stool in traditional politics has been depicted as a distinctively Akan idea it appears that the Gá-Dangme kings occupied brass (ayawa) thrones long before the concept spread among the Akan peoples.
Early Gá-Dangme political organisation was based on the concept of the mantso, representing the “town-tree” as a metaphor for the Gá-Dangme polity. According to the concept of mantso the Gá-Dangme peoples constitute the friuts or citizens of the town tree. each citizen is in turn connected to other citizens through a branch which may be Gá, Dangme, Krobo, etc. All the branches are in turn linked to one great trunk, standing externally in the chosen territory of the Gá-Dangme peoples, with roots extending deep into the past. under this concept every citizen is directly linked to the base of the tree and his or her social and moral condition concerns the town-tree directly as it might lead to the destruction of the whole.
An explanation of the Gá usage of the term man is necessary here to clarify the discussion. Etymologically the word is derived from ma, namely, to erect or establish. Man is the contraction of the word ma mli(n), i.e. “within what has been established or founded.” Themanche, usually but not always descended from the founder of the town was generally acknowledged as the leader of the town. Thus even during the period of strict theocracy the wulomo also remained a king or manche, although the two functions were fused and the religious function appeared to have pre-dominated.
The original Twi form of man is kro, as in Oseikrom or odikro (He who reigns in the town). Thus the Akan adoption of the word man, as in Adansiman, reinforces the view that certain Akan forms of statecraft were in fact borrowed from early Gá-Dangme ideas of social and political organisatin. This is buttressed by the fact that the vowel “a” is stressed in Gá-Dangme whereas the Twi-speaking peoples tend to pronounce their “a” with a softer “e”.
A corollary of the notion of mantso is the idea of single blood or sap running throughout the mantso and invigorating the citizens with a sense of hard work and duty. The town-tree image conveys figuratively an image of the Gá-Dangme as a single people united by common blood that courses through their veins and infuses them with a single and undying national spirit. In the courtyard of all Gá-Dangme priests and on other sacral ground stands a giant fig-tree, symbolising the unity of the Gá-Dangme peoples.
A common Gá-Dangme ethic developed on the basis of common unity emphasises (and partly recited at kpodziemo or “outdooring” ceremonies) honesty, hardwork and respect. Indeed the Gá are named after the fierce and hard-working soldier ant (Gaga or nkrang) known for the qualities of unyielding determination, loyalty and cooperation.
Currently the term mantse tends to be used, without differentiation, to describe all occupants of village, town, quarter and tribal stools; this is apt to lead to considerable confusion in determining political hierarchy and obfuscates the structure of traditional authority. The appropriate term for headmen or leaders of villages, hamlets and new towns is wetse; the term was, for instance, used to describe the first leader of the Jamestown polity.
In theory, a wetse is leader of a lineage or we; the founder of a village or new town often begins by founding a new lineage around which new families cohere to create a new mantso. The founder may be an outstanding individual, a great warrior, adventurer, prosperous trader; or he may be a prince keen to establish his own dominion outside the established principalities.
A wetse may also be created by an established monarch who has it in his gifts to reward particularly illustrious subjects by the creation of new titles. Another of the king’s gifts is the title of tatse; this is awarded not only to outstanding warriors, but also to individuals who had defended the interests of the polity in other endeavours. A great wetse or tatse and his followers could in ancient times successfully create a new town and exercise control over lands appurtenant to his realm.
Under the wetse or tatse, will be members of his own immediate family and lineage; various family groups drawn to the new town; and visitors who may come for business. Over all this people, the wetse and his leading courtiers exercise political authority. The leading courtiers are normally drawn from the households of the most loyal servants of the wetse. If this system continues undisturbed for a considerable period of time, normally a number of generations, the original settlers become the indegenes of the town; they impose their customs on newcomers as the law of the land. Newcomers in turn would normally feel obliged, by force of human habit, to follow the behaviour of the original settlers.
The rights of the founders of the town, if unquestioned, became supreme law; their rights to the land was often visually reinforced by various tombs of their ancestors attached to the land; and their exclusive knowledge of rituals to secure the prosperity of the town. In time, the descendants of the wetse or tatse become kings, their right to such office having become universally acknowledged. As the king and his noblemen became keen to protect their prerogatives and hereditary rights, the power of appointing kings became located in a gyaseessentially made up of noblemen. As we have seen, the Gá-Dangme evolved the peculiar office of shikitele to check the powers of thegyase, but the office seems to have fallen into desuetude across the various towns.
Towns, often alatas, founded by a wetse or tatse, were different in administration and source of authority from towns founded by descendants of the original Gá-Dangme. An alata often started as a republic where public matters were resolved under giant fig-trees reminiscent of the dispute settlemnt procedures of the great wulomei.
On the other hand, it was widely recognised that through extensive inter-marriage the original Gá-Dangme blood had become so mingled among the various Gá-Dangme groups that virtually any Gá-Dangme, by settling on unoccupied land within the control of any of the Three Kings, could found a town or quarter of his own. This principle operated operated successfully in the founding of Osu by people from Osudoku and in the founding of the quarters of Anorhor (Osu) and Krobo and Kle-musu in Teshi; the founders of Teshi Krobo and Klemusu having immigrated from Krobo and Ningo respectively.
Other examples of alatas are the townships founded across Accra by the descendants of Hausas and other Muslim elements. Some of the ancestors of the Hausas and Yorubas were brought by Sir John Glover to fight the Ashanti and Awuna wars. Unlike the true alatatownships of the past which were invariably assimilated into the traditional scheme to maintain the seven-quarter arrangement, the Hausa and Yoruba townships do not appear at first glance, to have been assimilated into the Gá-Dangme polity.
However, the case of Republic v. Gá Traditional Council; Ex Parte Damanley suggests that such communities have been incorporated into the Gá political structure. According to Quartey-Papafio, Alhaji Braimah was made head of the whole Muslim community in Accra in 1909; however, full incorporation should, for instance, have made the descendants of Alhaji Braimah and the other Muslim leaders at leastasafoiatsemei of the Gbese quarter on whose lands their townships are located.
The apparent lack of assimilation of new communities in the urban areas into the Gá-Dangme traditional constitutional structure arises out of the overall failure to formulate a proper administrative mechanism for the area.
Furthermore, the new alatas (including zongos) could be more perfectly incorporated into the Gá-Dangme constitutional structure by the direct assimilation of their ruling houses into the quarter system. This seems to have been achieved in the incorporation of the Tabongs or Brazilians, who settled in Accra in 1836, into the Otublohum quarter.
As the quarters in several Gá-Dangme towns, for instance Osu and Nungua, number less than the constitutionally required seven, new quarters could be created in such towns to account for newly-assmilated Gá-Dangme. In all such instances, it is obligatory that at least the ruling house of the assimilated group adopts Gá-Dangme names.
Overall, the traditional Constitution of the Gá-Dangme may be briefly described as follows. At the apex are the Three Kings of Gá, Krobo and Ada who rule the Gá-Dangme jointly and pursue the interests of the peoples tirelessly. The Three Kings must be distinguished from other mantsemei; they are actually mei-a-tsemei or me(i)atse; namely, rulers over peoples rather than mere rulers over towns or territory.
The Gá word mei (people: as in Fante-mei or Brofo-mei) is to be distinguished from man (town). Mei therefore signifies the larger group, whereas bii (children or units) signifies the sub-group as in Teshi-bii or Asere-bii. The term manche is sometimes used here to refer to the Three kings, and to distinguish the meitse from the town chief for whom the term mantse is reserved.
Clearly, then as leaders of Gá-mei and Dangme-mei, the Three Kings occupy a different rank of office from the leaders of Gá-Dangme towns. In the past the institution of the Three Kings function through the meitsemei akpee which met before every Homowo festival to review the traditional calendar, take stock of progress of their peoples over the previous year, and plan for the coming year. Although the above system operates in a variety of forms in the present age, there is a need to formalise it.
From the functions performed by each of the three sovereigns at the meitsemei akpee in the past, the following roles can be extracted. As there are two major Krobo kings, of Manya and Yilo respectively, the Krobo office rotated between them on a yearly basis. The Gá Manche, as a direct descendant of the original leaders of the Gá-Dangme acted as head, spokesperson and representative of the triumvirate; the Krobo king acted as Premier or Chief Minister; and the king of Ada was the judge and overall military commander of the Gá-Dangme. The king of Ada was also the President of the Afi adafi or yearly assembly of Gá-Dangme traditional leaders.
Below the meitsemei on the constitutional heirarchy were the mantsemei; these were divided into senior mantsemei and other mantsemei. Each mantse often, though not always, has a mankralo under him who assists in the administration of private and public affairs and deputises in the absence of the mantse. Senior mantsemei are generally the political leaders of traditional Gá-Dangme towns like Osu, Teshi, Tema, Kpone, Prampram, Ningo, Dodowa, Somanya, Odumase, Agormanya, Amedica, etc.
These chiefs often have several classes of chiefs under them, and rule large numbers of people. Thus a town chief like the Nungua Manche has under him, in order of importance, quarter chiefs, chiefs of smaller towns, village chiefs, and headmen. As the Gá-Damgne have a clearly-defined social and political structure, each of this chiefs fit neatly into a constitutional structure.
In general the quarters, preceded the town in order of formation, but principally through political leadership in times of war the town chief has gained constitutional authority over the quarter chiefs. The authority of the traditional town chief is therefore higher than that of the quarter chief who frequently occupies an older stool than that of the town chief. As a result, the various smaller towns, villages and headmen, while usually belonging to one or other of the traditional quarters also acknowledge the constitutional authoirty of the Nungua mantse, particularly in matters of jurisdiction and land.
The traditional quarters of Gá Mashi deserve special mention. As we have seen, the Gá Manche is directly descended form the original prophets who led the Gá-Dangme in their areas of origin and through the migratory journeys into their present location in Ghana. Throughout the the history of the Gá in particular, various lineages have been closely identified as the descendants of the original sub-leaders of the party of migrants.
These lineages gradually developed into core political groups closely associated with the Gá sovereign. In time, princes of the Gá royal household who lost out in the succession to become Gá manche were commissioned to rule the various Gá Mashi quarters; and encouraged even to intermarry with the founders of of the various alatas.
The Gá-Mashi quarters therefore occupy a special position in the traditional constitution; they are in effect princedoms or principalities which enjoy a special relationship with the Ga Manche. Moreover, as in the case of the traditional towns, the Ga Mashi princedoms also have under them large numbers of people as well as smaller towns, villages and headmen; and are therefore constituionally at par with the large towns. The fore-going constitutional arrangement has implications for politico-military power. Law-making and political power are concentrated in the hands of the king/chief and his councillors or elders; military power is, in the first instance, vested in the principal military captains or shipi of the various quarters who form an authority known as the Akwashong.
In times of war the power of the Akwashong was such that major political decisions could not be taken without consulting the Akwashong; the Akwashongtse or head of the Akwashong therefore exercised enormous political power. However, ultimate military authority is vested in the king; only the king and his councillors could sanction war.
In times of peace the Akwashong usually functions as a court of arbitration and serious criminal offences. When exercising its judicial functions the Akwashong sits at Mojawe (literally “house of blood”). It usually conciliates opposing sides in political and other disputes involoving the various Gá-Dangme towns and quarters; it also tries serious criminal offences including treason and murder.
The enlistment or recruitment of troops was a matter for the companies. Each company or ta-ku (asafo) was headed by a asafoiatse who in turn relied on heads of families and the akutso or neighbourhood network for troops (tabiloi) and logistics.On the battlefield, nothing but utter fearlessness and courage were expected of each Gá-Dangme soldier or tabilor Warriors on the war-front are especially said to be possessed by the war spirit, Dade-krama; and to exhibit supreme qualites of hekáh (fighting spirit) and hewah (courage). The individual soldier usually carries a simple musket and in the earliest wars, donned a turtle-shell for armour. He also carried a supply of food and some water; his bullets were carried in a deer-skin pouch, and he held a spear for close combat.
Before the troops advance the war has to be “boiled” by the king and chiefs who consult the major war gods of Sakumo, Lakpa and Kotokro. Reindorf described the process thus:
“A large pot is set on fire; the names or souls of the principal and powerful men of the enemy are called out and caught by means of enchantment. For every name, a piece of stone or any other thing is taken to represent it, and then put into the pot. When all are thus named, represented and caught, some leaves and other things are added to them in the pot to get boiled. When boiling, if the pot happens to burst, then the enemy is more powerful. The practice is repeated, till they are satisfied that the enemy is got weakened. After this every body feels encouraged and spirited to fight and conquer.”
Various oracles were also consulted by the principal military leaders and chiefs; while the troops resorted to their own means of supernatural protection. The names of great kings were invoked; the process was repeated in every household where the ancestors and the recently departed were called upon to protect the living and give them superhuman courage. Once these had been done the army felt fortified to enter into battle. The result of the feverish preparation for war and the various religious rituals was to invoke divine protection and to spark in every heart a fighting spirit which drove the men to fight on fearlessly. According to some authorities the priests were bound to accompany the men into battle. During the campaign he acted as foretelling priest, advisor and doctor.
The Gá-Dangme kings, chiefs and religious leaders derived revenue from a variety of sources to maintain their power. Under the earlier rule of the foretelling priests, payment for the use of land and the access routes to the towns were the chief sources of revenue. Ferry tolls, collections for the use of sacral sites, markets and public performance grounds or mandzranó constituted other sources.
Vestiges of the old system of revenue collection can be seen in the payment today to the Nai Wulomo and other wulomei for the use of markets and the high seas (bele-naa-nin). The right to revenue collection from markets is publicly demonstrated when the wulomeisymbolically empower the youth during the annual ayekoo ceremony to exercise a right to portions of all wares and market goods. The right of the wulomei is exercisable over all markets within the realm of the Gá-Dangme and over a selection of public places, including certain car and lorry parks.
The above constitutional structure applies generally to each of the Gá-Dangme groups, including the Gá, Krobo and Ada. It is also followed with minor adaptation within the various towns and quarters; and therefore unites the Gá-Dangme peoples within a cohesive and unifying framework. Above all, it provides a strong sense of purpose and brotherhood which has always set the Gá-Dangme peoples aside as a uniquely organised and collectively motivated people. It remains to be seen how the traditional constitution and its operators respond to the changing political and socio-economic climate of modern Ghana.
The traditional constitutional order was confirmed and endorsed by all the Ga-Dangme during the period immediately prior to the great Battle of Katamanso. It was indeed, religiously sanctioned in a number of meetings at Amuginaa and Sakumotsoshishi at the end of which King Tackie Kome I was chosen as Ga Manche to lead the Ga-Dangme into war.
The culminating event took place in 1826 at the Sakumo shrine where to the hearing of the assembled political and military leaders of all the groups, towns and quarters of the Ga-Dangme, a divine voice ordained that Tackie Kome should lead the Ga-Dangme into war. This necessitated the founding of the Tackie Kome We of the Ga royal household. Significantly, it also united the household of the war deity, Sakumo, with the with the descendants of Ayi Kushi who already constituted the Teiko Tsuru We; the Ga-Dangme have never lost a war since the appointment of Tackie Kome.
The constitutional effects of the appointment of King Tackie Kome were wide-ranging; it is symbolised in the Ga royal emblem of manko ta manko nó (a kingdom upon a kingdom) and denotes the supremacy of the Abola principality and Tungmawe in particular over other subdivisions. It brought a new order and discipline in Ga-Dangme political affairs. Three ideas underpinned the new constitutional order:buleh (respect), toindzoleh (peace and tranquility) and hedzoleh (liberty). Under the principle of buleh emphasis was laid on law and order which were traditionally seen as arising naturally from the respect of traditional institutions and the observance of the order of seniority in familial, political and religious relationships.
Toindzoleh entailed the preservation of the realm for orderly economic development; this involved the development of institutions for the peaceful resolution of disputes and the maintenance of a strong standing army to ward off potential invaders. It also entailed frequent diplomatic activity to calm political conflicts.
As a result of buleh and toindzoleh the Ga-Dangme enjoyed unprecedented personal freedom; this ensured the keeping of Accra as a freeport and that the part of the coast occupied by the Ga-Dangme became an island of tranquility in the midst of raids and raging tribal wars elsewhere.
Traditionally, there is no greater setting for the display of the constitutional structure of the Gá-Dangme as the annual festivals of Homowo,Nmayen and Asafotufiam. On such occasions the king and his great chiefs sit in state to receive lesser chiefs who converge on the ancestral settlements. Each chief and headman presents a piece of symbolic log or lai as a token of his allegiance; he also brings an entourage of leading councillors, warriors and commonfolk to support the superior chief during the town parade and the sprinkling of traditional food.
The entire occasion is marked with great pomp and pageantry with sustained firing of musketry and with music and merriment as well as the beating of great drums or obonu. Within the various quarters and households, the process of renewal of bonds and allegiance through the presentation of lai is repeated across all manner of relationships, even between sons-in-law and their fathers-in-law. Within the palaces, the chiefs renew their own vows to seek the well-being of their subjects to the leading councillors and influential townsfolk; and settle outstanding political differences amicably.
In the past, the Gá Manche organised an annual Panmonaa (literally “Place of Deliberation”) as part of the Homowo festivities during which leaders met the townfolk, considered the state of the town, and planned activities for the coming year. There was also an annual too(collection) from every Gá which was used in improving the town and providing social amenities.
In the days of yore, strangers to the town who wished to be assimilated into the group formally presented themselves to the political or religious authorities during the festal season and, if found to be sufficiently loyal and of good repute, were assigned to specific quarters whose set of names he or she adopted for his children. Residents, both subject and stranger, who with proven records of service to the group and with a sufficiently large following could apply to be made wetse, entitling them formally to set up their own we or traditional household. In this way individuals advanced their own chances of joining the group of town councillors.
Each quarter, town, principality or village often has a number of royal households; in appointing the King or a chief the royal households play a critical role. Firstly, the Gyase and kingmakers decide, by a process of rotation, the appropriate royal household to nominate a candidate. The heads of royal household concerned then consider a list of candidates on the basis of a set of criteria, including lineage, intelligence, judgment, courage, and various leadership qualities.
Inevitably this frequently involves fine distinctions between the various candidates. Increasingly, therefore, factors like level of education, conduct, achievement to date and overall social standing constitute a secondary set of criteria for determining eligibility for leadership. In practice, most kingmakers tend to have a rule of thumb, vaguely described as the “presence of the spirit of leadership” in determining which candidate accedes to high office. In case of a tie it is sometimes said that the rightful candidate is revealed to the kingmakers in the course of prayer; this, it is said, often resolves difficulties between competing factions.
All things being equal, candidates above the age of thirty are preferred; the most cited reason being that enough would be known about such an individual’s conduct, social standing and actual or potential achievements to enable the kingmakers to make a good choice. On the other hand, it is argued that choosing a younger candidate could be pure lottery as his conduct, political skills and general intelligence and faculties could still be at the ripening stage; although he might be of the purest morals and gravest deportment, particularly prior to attaining the age of majority, there is no knowing how the pressures of office might affect a young person.
It ought to be borne in mind that the traditional system does not enjoy the advantage of the European practice of primogeniture where the first-born of the appropriate parents generally tends to inherit the throne. In the Gá-Dangme system the king/chief could be drawn from a wide selection of candidates. Therefore, there is little opportunity to concentrate on a particular individual from birth and make certain that he is tutored and afforded the opportunity of developing into a king/chief.
It appears that King Okaikoi and his predecessors and immediate successors instituted a formal system of training for princes which attracted not only the sons of the Gá-Dangme chiefs, but also princes from Akwamu and elsewhere. A Gá-Dangme royal academy would go a long way towards strengthening traditional institutions and enable traditional functionaries to acquire knowledge in local administration way beyond what prevails at present.
Traditional law and procedure in the King’s court
In this section we consider briefly the nature of traditional law among the Gá-Dangme and the role of the king in maintaining a system of law and order. In view of the customary nature of a large corpus of traditional law, some attention is paid to the dispute settlement process before heads of families and other traditional functionaries.
Overall, a picture emerges of a well-organised legal structure in which both law-giving and sanctions play a vital role. We, however, leave entirely to one side the vast amount of customary case-law developed by the Ghanaian courts since colonisation in 1874. We believe that in this way the nature of Gá-Dangme customary law can be distilled from the actual practices of the people unpolluted by the foreign concepts which have crept into the official customary law of Ghana.
It is widely acknowledged that the principles laid down by Sarbah, particularly in his Fanti Customary Laws, have shaped the nature of Ghanaian. At the same time it cannot be gainsaid the rules of official customary law formulated by the courts, partly through reliance on Sarbah’s work, derive largely from cases involving a disproportionate number of Gá-Dangme. Reliance on the decisions reached in such cases would therefore have the effect of importing Sarbah’s notions into Gá-Dangme traditional law.
To appreciate the role of the monarch in the final formulation of law, it is important that we start our discussion by first considering the nature of customary law in traditional Gá-Dangme society and to consider the quarter as a community. In common with most other peoples, the existence of well-recognised rules of conducting affairs has been a feature of Gá-Dangme society.
Many of these rules which had existed from time immemorial came to be recognised as the rules of traditional or customary law. They applied to all members of the group as well as to newcomers and others involved in business and other transactions with members of the group. A general distinction was, however, made between non-binding rules and binding rules. A further distinction was made between rules intended to have legal effect and other rules having a merely moral consequence.
Most of the binding rules arose from past disputes involving members of the quarter and were fairly well-defined. Common sense and notions of fairness were critical in the initial formulation of the rules of traditional law, but as they came to be applied as precedent by persons acting in a judicial capacity, they took on a legal character all of their own. The major rules of traditional Gá-Dangme law cover the areas of nationality, land, chattels, marriage, testamentary disposition, defamation and modes of enforcing payment of debts.
The law of persons
Since ancient Gá-Dangme law applied principally to persons belonging to the Gá-Dangme nation particular rules were formulated to define who was a Gá-Dangme. A Gá-Dangme person was generally recognised as one who being born of Gá-Dangme parents, belonged to a particular weku or extended family. Ordinarily, it was easy from Gá-Dangme nomenclature to establish the address, antecedents and lineage of the individual. The Gá-Dangme name was coded in such a way that people familiar with the society could tell immediately the quarter and lineage from which an individual hailed as well as his rank in the immediate family.
Thus, an individual named Kotey is easily recognizable as a first born male hailing either from the Jorshi lineage of Asere in Gá Mashi or from Klan-naa (Hyena-side) in Labadi. Such an individual was clearly subject to Gá-dangme traditional law. Persons of part Gá-Dangme origin were also subject to traditional law, provided the subject-matter of the dispute has any connection with Gá-Dangme territory.
Foreigners were subject to Gá-Dangme traditional law where the dispute involved land or a serious crime. A civil dispute between foreign parties could be tried in a traditional provided the parties so agree. In the case of foreigners who had either actually assimilated into Gá-Dangme society or were deemed to have become assimilated, jurisdiction lay with the traditional authorities, especially where the individual had severed all ties with his place of origin and his or her parents had lived and died on Gá-Dangme soil.
As we have observed, the individual is linked to the Gá-Dangme socio-political system through the weku; generally speaking, this consists of all persons descended in the direct male line through a common or hypothetical ancestor. Individuals are accountable to the family elders, normally comprising respected members of the oldest living generation.
In particular, the Weku Yitso or head of family exercises enormous moral pressure on other members of the family to conform to social rules and convention and to retain for the family and untarnished image. Erring members, if they cannot be brought to heel by their own parents and siblings, are frequently called before the head of family and counselled.
The weku expands through the birth of new members; but occasionally an individual may decide to adopts child unrelated to the family. As an adopted persons becomes a full member fo the extended family, the adoption is usually well-publicised to fellow members. The consent of the elders and the head of family are necessary to make the adoption valid. This is because the adoption may have consequences for succession to the propert of the adoptive parents, with necessary disinheritance of other members of the family.
Partly because of the implications of adoption for succession, fostering is much more widely practised among the Gá-Dangme; it involves the placing of a young relative or stranger in the home of the individual fosterer. The child resides in the new home and is brought up as a member of the family but has no rights of succession, and upon attaining the age of majority may rejoin his or her natural family.
On the other hand, an individual may in extreme circumstances severe ties with his or her own weku; the practice, known as tako mlifoo, is rare and is frowned upon. It is usually preceded by acrimony and ugly disagreements over family issues. Once an individual severes ties with his or her extended family in this way, he or she harbours no expectation of succession to the property of other members of the family; but he or she may insist upon the partitioning of any property to which he or she may be entitled. Also, the individual avoids the social gatherings of his or her ex-family, including weddings, funerals and suchlike.
During times of peace and harmony within the extended family, it functions as a social support system for the members. It provides a residence, a common pool of funding to underwrite funerals and other expenses, holds a common feast on festive occasions and in the head of family, supports and represents the individual during marriage, provides a venerable personage to act on behalf of the individual in grave social matters.
The adebo-shia, usually located in the ancestral quarter, provides a common residence for members of the weku although few choose to reside there. However, many feel a deep sentimental attachment to the adebo-shia and converge there on festive occasions when they catch up on the latest news in the old quarter and renew acquaintances with childhood friends. Thus, many members of the family happily contribute carpentry and other repair works to the old family houses and are perenially concerned about the poorer kin who tend to occupy the family houses.
During funerals the family houses acquire special importance; the body is conveyed to the family house where it is laid in state overnight to be viewed friends and relatives who fill the family house with mourning and lamentation. The family house itself may be specially refurbished for the occasion, and all branches of the family congregate to the funeral both to observe funeral rites and to make a contribution towards expenses.
Family members may also contribute towards other expenses incurred by the extended family. Such expenses may range from the cost of festal food to lawyer’s fees. The expenses are carefully worked out and adult members of the family called upon to participate the payment of the debt. The unemployed, the sick and the disabled may be exempted, but all other members are expected to contribute; contributes are sometimes even made for persons abroad.
The Weku Yitso or head of family embodies the virtues and qualities that the family seeks to portray to the outside world. Although many rules may in practice exist as to how the head of family is appointed, he or she is normally selected from the oldest generation by the popular acclamation of his or her peers. Many heads of families are wealthy individuals with considerable influence in community affairs which they generally put to the advantage of the extended family. Thus individuals seeking apprenticeship, education, money to start up business or general advice normally consult the head of family.
In carrying out his or her duties the head of family is particularly concerned about the conduct of the family. Indeed, some believe that ensuring proper moral conduct of family members and conformity of the actions of members of the family to group-approved standards are the primary duty of the head of family.
The head of family steps in the shoes of a line of family leaders, and in overseeing family business seeks to uphold the standards and values followed by his or her predecessors. Making certain that family members live in harmony with each other is an important part of the duties of the head; he regularly consults with leading and influential members of sub-branches of the weku.
The head of family may sit in a quasi-judicial capacity over family disputes, but on the whole his duty is to conciliate in family disputes, and in the end to reconcile the parties. He carefully calls all relevant witnesses and obtains their evidence; examines each party’s argument and evidence; and puts pertinent questions to clarify aspects of the case. When the head of family gives his verdict it is generally enforced, but an aggrieved party may take the case further to the quarter authorities.
The head of family also litigates the family title to land either directly or through a representative. When the head acts in this capacity he or she ususally levies a contribution on the members of the family. Since the head of family is normally the one who sues and can be sued on behalf of the family, he or she tends to keep possession of legal instruments and other important documents of the family, including wills, title-deeds and birth certificates.
In ancient times marriage was formalised with the approval and participation of the head of family. It normally linked the extended family to other extended families both within and without the quarter; it was therefore vital both for social cohesion and for bringing new members to the extended family through the process of kpodziemó or outdooring. Among the Gá-Dangme marriage is a union of a man and a woman to live as husband and wife within the rules of traditional law, including the potentially polygamous character of the marriage transaction.
To be valid, traditional law marriage required the following:
- Status of the parties;
- Consent of the parties
- Consent of the of the parents or persons in loco parentis;
- Gifts or bridewealth; and
- The marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity.
To contract a valid marriage the parties should be of the appropriate age and status. Girls are usually considered ready for marriage once they complete their education or apprenticeship. In the olden days many girls married as soon as they attained the age of puberty, but the practice is now generally frowned upon. Men may marry once they complete their apprenticeship or have learnt a trade and are capable of independently generating their own income. However, many men choose to acquire some basic property before contracting a marriage.
As individuals remain firmly within the structure of the extended family, the extended family often exercise enormous control over the young unmarried person. The parents of a young man frequently influence his choice of wife, sometimes even recommending a particular girl whose character and family are well-known to them.
Should either or both parents be dead, or should they be incapable of properly acting on behalf of their son an influential uncle or prominent figure in the figure may take it upon himself to contract a marriage for the young man. Such an individual frequently continues to exercise some influence over the young couple, often advising them on matrimonial problems and counselling them on how to raise their children.
The agreement of the parties to marry is usually a straightforward matter, providing there are both of age and can support themselves financially. In that case, if a man wishes to take a girl as wife he initially requires her consent. If such consent is forthcoming, the man then approaches the girl’s family either directly or through persons acting on his behalf. The family’s consent may be withheld for a number of reasons: they may feel themselves socially superior to the man and his family; that the man is incapable of supporting their daughter; or simply object to some factor in the man’s background.
The man’s initial approach to the family of the girl is known as the shibimo; it the Ga-Dangme equivalent of the English banns. The shibimoadvertises to relatives and the world that a woman has been promised to a particular man. The girl is discreetly advised to be less familiar with adults of the opposite sex.
Once the shibimo has been carried out, the man amy take anumber of other steps to conclude the marriage. He first gets his family to present two sets of gifts to the woman’s family: the agbo-shimó (literally, “request to enter”) and ebaa-tsee (literally, “fig-leaf”) gifts. Theagbo-shimo shifts simply puts the girl’s family on notice of the man’s intention of marrying her; and ebaa-tsee further puts potential suitors on notice of the fact that the girl has been promised to someone else. the girl advertises the ebaa-tsee to others may by habitually appearing in public in adult attire and adorning herself jewels given by the man.
Once the above stages have been completed a date may be fixed for the ga-woo or engagement. The ga-woo represents a firm encroachment of English ideas on Ga-Dangme notions of marriage, the Bible and gold ring being the principal gifts. The Bible indicates the man’s intenetion to convert the traditional maariage into a Christian marriage should his future circumstances allow. In the meantime, however, it remains a potentially polygamous traditional marriage; and the man enter enter into further marital relationships with other women. In practice, the wife’s consent may be necessary for further marriages, although the traditional law does not strictly require it.
The ga-woo proper is an all-women’s affair; one set of women carry over gifts from the family house or residence of the man to the family house of the girl where they are met and entertained by another set of women. If the girl belongs to the Krobo sub-group of the Dangme, a small stool is included in the gifts. this symbolises the stabilising role of the wife in ensuring that the matrimonial home becomes the seat of the new family and a point to which the children may always return in later life.
Once the ga-woo has been successfully carried out in this way the women return home rejoicing and carrying sundry tokens of the happy occasion. Thereafter the couple may freely co-habit and consumate the marriage without undergoing a wedding or kpeemo. In the present age most-weddings are celebrated in church. In the past the traditional Gá-Dangme wedding was celebrated at the residence of thewulomo. The parties dressed in white, the national colour of the Gá-Dangme and were accompanied to the wulomo’s shrine by relatives and friends. The high priest administered the shibimo shiwo vows to them and sprinkled water on them ritually.
The shibimo vow consisted of a series of undertakings by the couple to strive continually for the success of the new relationship; to bring up their children righteously; to devote themselves daily to the intellectual and moral development of the children; and to jointly work hard and ceaselessly to make the children the proud possessors of a worthy heritage.
The above is generally the procedure for contracting marriage to a maiden, but there are exceptional situations. The first is the marriage of an elderly couple; frequently such persons have no desire to attract the publicity of a public event to themselves. There is therefore usually only a discreet exchange of gifts between the extended families.
However, where a woman co-habits with a man merely as a mistress or jolley she may not expect any special treatment by the man’s extended family. This has not stopped several women from openly parading themselves as the mistresses of particularly wealthy men, and probably hoping thereby to come into some property at a future date.
If the mistress is sufficiently wily she may get the man to lavish expensive gifts and ornaments on her; gifts made to such women, being tokens of love, are not recoverable upon the termination of the relationship. A variation of the jolley theme is where a man takes a sweet-heart or lorbi and discreetly maintains her during the subsistence of his own marriage. The rights of the lorbi are the same as those of thejolley; however, gifts inter vivos to a jolley or lorbi is valid.
Another exception occurs where a girl is discovered to be with child prior to marriage. In that case the family makes careful enquiry of the girl. Once it has been established that a particular individual is responsible for the pregnancy, his family is approached. If they consult their son and thereafter accept responsibility, agbo-shimo and ebaa-tsee gifts amy be presented, entitling the man’s family to claim the child.
The Gá-Dangme do not demand expensive gifts as bridewealth. Two basic forms of marriage are contracted depending on the size of the gift: two-cloth marriage and six-cloth marriage. A two-cloth marriage results from a marriage transaction conducted in the normal way. A six-cloth marriage is a different affair; the man usually announces that he intends the marriage to be a six-cloth marriage and therefore offers thrice the bridewealth demanded in an ordinary marriage. The wife of a six-cloth marriage acquires special status; should the husband contract any further marriages she is considered the senior and privileged wife. The children of a six-cloth marriage tend to have special prerogatives in the enjoyment of the father’s property during his life-time.
To be valid, a traditional marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity recognised by the people. Because of existing rules of exogamy, individuals may not marry a wide class of persons, including cousins, the siblings of step-sisters and brothers, uterine brothers and sisters and their children.
The traditional drink or nma-daa (millet-drink, but now invariably made from corn) together with imported schnapps or gin play an essential part in the marriage transaction; without it no traditional marriage can be said to have been properly conducted. Bottles of schnapps and gin accompany the emissaries who first apprise the girl’s family of the marriage proposal.
Various items may be represented by sums of money and handed over to the girl’s family. in addition the man may present a special gift such as a sewing machine to his prospective wife. Nma-daa is used as a celebratory drink, drank particularly at the conclusion of each stage of the marriage transaction.
Once a marriage has been successfully concluded, the girl either goes to reside with the man or co-habits with him on appointed days. The later is normally the case where the man has other wives. The children of the marriage, although members of the extended family of the man, also play a role in the mother’s extended family. During their youth the children may reside with either parent, if both parents do not share a common residence. However, where the father owns property they may reside there, particularly during adolescence and while learning a trade.
During the subsistence of the marriage the husband remains the head of the household, and is under obligation to bring the children up accroding to the moral precepts of the Gá-Dangme. He must protect the family from physical danger; inculcate the values of the community in the children, particularly boys; instruct them and ensure their intellectual development; and secure their futures financially.
On the birth of each child he or she is formally afflicated to the father’s extended family through the kpodziemó or outdooring ceremony. On that occasion members of the child’s maternal and paternal families assemble in the courtyard of the parent’s house or the ancestral home. The purpose of the gathering is to formally introduce the child to the lineage and to the community. He or she is given a name derived from the father’s line. The Gá-Dangme maintain an alternate generation system of nomenclature; as a rule children are given the names of the grandfather and those of the granfather’s brothers and sisters. Also, a child may be given a day name or the name of an illustrious ancestor.
Other aspects of the kpodziemó ceremony are to bless the child and to offer prayers for his success in life and longevity. A man or woman of exemplary character is usually selected to perform the blessing ceremony for the child; children are often said to take after the personality and qualities of the individual who performs the ceremony.
As might be expected many marriages end in dissolution; as a result clear rules have over time been formulated to regulate divorce. We need not delve into the reasons why matrimonial bliss might suddenly turn to bitterness and acrimony. We need only state that occasional disagreement is natural to the marital condition. When, however, a couple’s problems persist and all attempts at solution fail, a divorce might be considered. In the meantime, however, all manner of individuals would have attempted to conciliate the parties.
Where the parties are unable to reconcile their differences either of them amy approach a third party, usually a trusted relative or friend who would seek to the advice the couple on an informal basis. If matters do not improve, the parties’ parents might be approached; the grievances of each party is then considered and proposals for improvement put forward.
If the relationship continues to deteriorate a few other advisors might be considered; but ultimately the conclusion might be reached that the parties are incapable of continuing as marriage partners.
The above is generally the case where no clear-cut ground of divorce can be cited by either party. In a number of cases, however, one party might be aggrieved the specific conduct of the other and cites that as the ground of divorce. Grounds of divorce under this head include:
- The husband’s inability to maintain his wife and children; or the wife’s inability to maintain a proper home;
- Disobedience to the husband or to respected members of his family, and;
- Inability to carry out marital obligations.
A husband’s adultery with an unmarried woman is usually no ground for divorce at the instance of the wife; this is because under traditional law a man may marry a number of women. However, a wife’s adultery is a ground for divorce. If the husband chooses to condone adulterous behaviour he may nevertheless demand adultery fee or ayifale from the paramour. The wife’s behaviour is reported to her family; and she may be required to slaughter a sheep in pacification of the husband. In the past, the sheep-skin was permanently placed at the foot of the marital bed to remind the wayward wife of the obligation to keep to the straight and narrow.
Desertion or abandonment of one’s wife and children is a ground for divorce under traditional law. It was the husband’s duty to feed and cloth his wife and children. When he ceases to undertake these responsibilities; and particularly when stops visiting the wife and children, he is deemed to have deserted the wife who then becomes entitled to start divorce proceedings. Where the couple lived under the same roof desertion could commence with the expulsion of the wife whereupon she would return to her own family house with or without her children.
Cruelty takes many forms, ranging from denial of conjugal rights to wife-beating and husband-battering. Occasional acts and omissions perceived by one party to be cruel may be tolerated; however, where cruelty becomes a regular feature of the marriage the affected party may seek divorce.
A husband’s inability to maintain his wife and children or a wife’s inability to carry out domestic responsilities constitute another ground of divorce. Upon marriage, a husband is deemed to have assumed responsibility for providing for his wife and children. Where a man’s family is in the eyes of the world left destitute and in permanent need of the necessaries of life, the man is considered to have woefully failed to meet his responsibilities. In the same vein a wife is assumed to have acquired the skills and knowledge to fully the duties of housewifery and child-care; inability to demonstrate such skill and knowledge may entitle the husband to divorce.
Obedience to in-laws and influential members of the husband’s family are considered a sign of a wife’s good conduct. A wife who uses vituperative language and shows no respect for in-laws and respected family members is considered liable to influence the husband negatively; and soon gets into trouble with the husband’s extended family.
It is further feared that such a wife might turn her children against the extended family; the extended family therefore readily supports a husband’s bid to divorce a wife on grounds of disobedience to family members. Husband’s who fail to take decisive action against such wife’s are regarded as hen-pecked, and frequently reminded of the aphorism: gbla taa eshweó weku or “a marriage may be dissolved but the extended family remains.”
A party to a marriage may be rendered incapable of carrying out his or her marital duties due to a variety of reasons. Impotence and sterility renders a spouse physically incapable of carrying out the expectations of a marriage and are grounds of divorce in traditional law. In the past other factors, such as witchcraft, especially when it was alleged to result in the continuous death of children, were considered as rendering a party psychologically incapable of carrying out the expectations of marriage.
Where a marriage is dissolved through no fault of the wife a man may not recover any of any gifts or expenses made or incurred when the marriage was contracted; on the other hand, a wife initiates a divorce, particularly in order to marry a lover she is liable to return the husband’s gifts and other expenses incurred in contrating the marriage. Once these have been returned to the husband’s family the marriage is formally considered to have ended, and either party may enter into a new contract of marriage to another person.
Although the King is not directly concerned with marriage and divorce, appeals from heads of families and quarter chiefs ultimately lies to the king’s tribunal. For that reason the royal tribunal has opportunity, from time to time, to re-state the traditional rules of marriage and divorce.
The universal division of property into immovable property or realty and movable property or chattels is recognised in the traditional law of the Gá-Dangme. Immovable property is subdivided into land and house; and a broad distinction is recognised between mere chattels and valuable chattels like chattels gold ornaments, kente cloth, tools of trade, and industrial plant.
Further, it should be appreciated that there is a distinction in traditional law between ancestral property and self-acquired property; the distinction applies to both realty and chattels. Thus a gold-ring maybe part of an ancestral heirloom which is retained by the family and used on ceremonial occasions. Property in things acquired by ancestors and bequeathed or devised to the family in common remains vested in the extended family and cannot be validly sold on by individual members of the family to third parties. On the other hand, self-aquisitions may be freely sold by the acquirer.
The concepts of ownership, possession, custody and control as well as waste and improvement to land and other property were well known in traditional notions of property. On the whole, ownership aros out of original acquisition or legitimate transfer by way of gift inter vivos, purchase, etc. Where by expending labour or through the exercise of superior mental powers or business skills an individual reduced a piece of previously unowned land into their possession, generated a product or developed an artistic motif, traditional law rules were developed to allow them to retain ownership of such land, product or motif.
Thus if Tettey, a stool-subject, regularly farmed on a piece of land, building a dwelling house on part of the land, and regularly defended his farm and home against intruders and trespassers, the traditional law recognised that he had acquired title to such land. Such title was both alienable and heritable.
However, to support and confirm Tettey’s title against all comers he was required to formally approach the village leaders for a confirmation of his title. As a stool-subject he paid a token amount of money and presented an assortment of drinks to mark and publicise the occasion. The leaders ensured that Tettey’s land was carefully demarcated from the holdings of others; therefore, his neighbours might be called to witness the ceremony and to raise any objections they might have. Subsequently Tettey could call upon both his neighbours and the village leaders in disputes over his title to the land. Alternatively, Tettey could initially approach the leaders for an express grant before commencing to work the land.
If on the other hand, Tettey felled timber and made a canoe (ahima orlele) or oar out of the log by his own independent effort or by the assistance of paid individuals, the canoe or oar remained his. He acquired absolute title to it as he was responsible for its creation; he owed it of no one else. An individual could acquire a large number of things either directly in this way or by purchase, using money obtained through the sale of products created by himself. Therefore, the traditional production process was based entirely on the generation of things by individuals who acquired the original title. Things produced in this way could be sold on to several persons, but title could be established only through a chain of legitimate acquisitions from persons who had acquired the item in a direct line from persons the original creator and his buyers had dealt with.
This clear-cut picture is somewhat muddied by the communal character of the majority of tradtional production. Many things were produced by family or social groups instead of individuals. In that case, the product of the collective effort was shared out at the end of production process with each individual owning what was legitimately allocated to them.
If the product was not divisible or was purposely created to be retained by the group, then members of the creating family or group acquired a collective title. If the product had an income-yielding capacity, like a canoe or house, then the concepts of improvement and waste with their consequential effects on quality, influenced the final value.
Although the product may be retained by someone else yet the original producer or acquirer might still own it if there had been no legitimate process of transfer of ownership. In that case, the acquirer was recognised by the traditional law as having ownership, but not custody and possession. If on the other hand, the product was temporarily in the hands of the acquirer’s apprentice then the acquirer was held to have both ownership and custody, but not possession. If, however, the product was transferred by way of sale, or consensually by way of gift the acquirer lost both ownership and custody as well as possession.
Intellectual property rights in artistic motifs and the like are best illustrated today in the work of coffin makers in Nungua to the East of Accra. Taking a central motif, say a cocoa-pod or canoe, from the life of the deceased traditional coffin makers designed a casket to reflect the life and vocation of the departed. The rights to such designs, as well as to the designs of gold-smiths, state umbrella-makers and similar artists, were vested in the originator.
Chattels or nibii were recognised as belonging to a separate class of property. However, the Gá-Dangme concept of chattels also recognised a distinction between crops, goods, stock-in-trade and general merchandise and other easily perishable or fungible items.Emblements or growing crops produced by the labour of the cultivator and harvested annually are considered as goods and therefore fall under the traditional law relating to chattels.
Generally speaking, only chattels of value are regarded by the Gá-Dangme as really constituting property: vehicles, capital equipment, gold and silver ornaments, furniture, cattle, household utensils, tools of trade, etc. Thus a wealthy individual or niatse may possess in addition to land and houses, mummy-trucks, cars, canoes, corn-mills, silverware, gold-chains, gold-earrings, gold bracelets, gold-rings, gold-pendants, crockery, household furniture, cattle, sheep, poultry, expensive clothing as well as other sundry items of property.
In the present age such an individual may also own a company and have industrial plant, office equipment, a current account, deposit account, bills of lading, shares, bonds, debentures and stocks and may also have taken out a life assurance policy.
Although females may also own all the items of property listed above, there are certain things which are considered to be distinctively female property. Items associated with the kitchen and housewifery such as cooking utensils and sewing machines are presumed to belong to a wife. Also, expensive cloths, including damasks, velvets and Dutch wax prints, are generally associated with women.
Traditionally, most female property was obtained with profits from market-trading. Trading therefore became a typical vocation of Gá-Dangme women; some travelled to the weekly inland markets to purchase bulk products for resale in the great urban markets such as Makola, London and Salaga markets; others made a more profitable business of achieving commercial success in the urban markets dealing in local goods and imported European produce.
Various market traders became fabulously wealthy, and in addition to erecting Italianate buildings around the city, became the mainstay of their extended families. In the bed-chamber of the successful female trader’s house would normally be a wardrobe or sideboard stocked with expensive clothes, jewels and other valuables; the sideboard, with its displays of lavender and other perfumes literally became the domestic symbol of a woman’s economic status. Less successful women tended to keep their personal property in trunks and boxes tucked away in the corner of the bed-chamber.
As in the case of land, personal movable acquisitions are distinguished from ancestral property. Personal acquisitions were accumulated through the personal effort or enterprise of the individual; they were entirely to be disposed by the acquirer as they choose. They may be sold, part-exchanged, pledged or given away without any interference by the extended family. Ancestral personal property, although they may be kept by an individual family member, remain the extended family’s. Movable ancestral property includes shika futru (gold dust), gold ornaments, and paraphenelia of office.
Problems often arise where an individual having custody of inherited family property mixed them with their own property and disposed of them at will. Even worse, ancestral property in the possession or custody of individuals may wrongly be regarded by their children as the personal property of the parents leading to ugly disagreements upon the demise of the possessor. In some families there is a tradition of periodically calling for an account of ancestral properties in the possession of individuals; this avoids unnecessary litigation and reinforces extended family solidarity.
As indicated, an individual may own domesticated animals; birds are also owned on an extensive scale: ducks, guinea-fowl, turkey, chicken, pigeons, etc. Although birds and animals may freely mix, and even stay for a lengthy periods, with other herds and flock ownership remains vested in the owner. Different rules appear to apply to wild animals; such creatures may be freely hunted over the open plains and forests.
The hunter owns the body of animals killed on unoccupied and uncultivated ground. Where a wild is caught in this way and kept in captivity for a considerable period, but escapes the original capturer retains his right to ownership provided the identity of the animal can be established. The right to kill burrowing animals, such as hares and rabbits vests in the owner of the land on which they are found. The owner is entitled to a half share of all animals killed or captured by his permission; he is equally entitled to a half share of crops plucked from self-sown perrenial trees on his plot. The hindlegs of wild animals killed in the uncultivated fields and forests belong to the chief or headman of the area.
Owners of private creeks as well as traditional priests exercise similar rights to catches of fish. Rights to catches from creeks are best developed in the Ada area; there individuals are permitted to fish in private creeks for small quantities of fish on the understanding that the owner is entitled to a fifth of the total catch. The Nai Wulomo exercises a right to a quantity of all commercial fish landed on the beaches of Accra; fish given to the Nai Wulomo in this way is known as bele naa loo and the right to it is known as bele naa loo kómo.
Finally, the Korle Wulomo has the prerogative of casting the first few nets when the fishing season commences in the Korle lagoon. It was suggested that the Sakumo Wulomo exercises a similar right over the Sakumo lagoon. The rights of the high priests extend to salt and other commercial produce. These rights of the high priests are vestiges of their former powers as leaders of the Gá-Dangme and owners of the land. However, individuals may freely trap fiddler crabs and land crabs, pick crustaceans and use cast-nets without the necessity of giving portions to the high priests.
During the herring and sardine season in August (Obué) owners of fishing canoes may occasionally let them to a crew of fishermen who give them a third of the catch. Each crew member brings his own oars (tabló) and stock of food; the crew may collectively own the fishing gear. Where they also borrow the fishing net and gear of the owner of the canoe, the owner becomes entitled to two-thirds of the total catch comprising mainly sardines (kankanma) and herring (mann).
The above arrangement known as nimaa is similar to the English concept of bailment or renting of movable property. It extends to capital equipment and income yielding devices such as hunting rifles, seine nets (tsani), cornmills, sewing machines and mummy-trucks. In each case, the bailee is granted use of the property for a specified period, and is obliged to share his profits with the bailor.
Emblements and fungibles were usually measured by the basket or kenten, being being baskets of various sizes for measuring out fixed quantities; in the case of maize or corn, an olonka or measuring tin was used. The concept of kenten was frequently employed notionally. Thus certain profits-á-prendre inuring to the owner of land was often worked out in terms of an actual or notional basket. Therefore mushrooms, herbs, vegetables forming part of such profits may be measured in terms of notional baskets.
Land and Property
Land or shikpon is considered the most important form of property, being largely permanent and indestructible. As the shikpon of the Gá-Dangme was collectively acquired through original settlement and uninterrupted ownership, the ultimate title to all Gá-Dangme land is vested severally in the Three Kings upon the approval of whose predecessors in office the various quarters were allocated their portions of land. It is emphasised that the quarters did not acquire any land by separate effort from that of the mantso; traditional rules that tend to give the impression that some quarters own their territory separately from the overall mantso are based on notions of possession rather than original acquisition.
The notion of land in traditional Gá-Dangme law includes the earth itself, its features and all that grows, covers or is attached to it, such as plants, herbs, wells, pits, creeks, lakes, rivers and houses. Given the variety of landscapes in Gá-Dangme territory, there is often a striking contrast between different kinds of land. Thus the forest areas to the north (koo) and the intermediate plains (nná) are in stark contrast both to which other and to land along the sea coast or nsho-gonno).
Typical Ga-Dangme territory is covered by stunted vegetation and grassland scattered with mango, baobab, palm and cashew trees, and in the rural and semi-rural areas with occasional farm patches. Anthills, streams, rivers, and other physical features formed natural boundaries. In certain areas place-names are based on physical geographic features of the locality: Korle Gonno (Korle’s hill), Dzorwulu (Big Valley), Faase (Beyond the river), Tesano (On the rocks), Teshi (Beneath the rocks), etc. Traditionally, land was sold in parcels orkpaa measured in abasam or arm-lengths.
Following the decline of Ayawaso Gá settlements were concentrated along the sea coast, particularly near the European forts; the Dangme maintained settlements in several large inland towns as well as along the riverine areas of the Volta. The sale and development of Gá-Dangme lands have tended to follow particular trends and directions away from the earliest settlements.
Title to land could be acquired in any of the following ways:
- Original settlement;
- Prescriptive acquisition; and
- Purchase from the original acquirers.
As we have observed, Gá-Dangme land was acquired by original settlement; this meant that unoccupied areas of the original acquisition could only be occupied by the various stools through the actual or implied consent of the monarch. Occupation of such land took two main forms: ancestral settlement and the founding of rural abodes by hunters, farmers and religious communities.
The ancestral settlements, as we have already noticed, occurred on the basis of actual residence on particular patches of land and identification with the quarter which owned the land. Full involvement in the activities of the quarter entailed allegiance to the stool, contribution to war effort and the development of relation, principally through marriage, with the main lineages.
The acquisition of rural and semi-rural land took a different form. The villlage or aklowa was the focus of settlement; they were usually founded by hunters and farmers. A hunting village normally started as a hunter’s lodge; a place where the hunter regularly set camp and gradually established as a half-way house between his hunting grounds and his family home in the ancestral quarter.
He may cultivate particular medicinal herbs and vines, and plant trees to dress his wounds and sustain himself after long forays. If a hunter’s lodge was located on good ground with access to a stream and near enough to the main inland routes it usually developed into a village, attracting other individuals who gradually established a village community wth the founder as the chief.
However, physical propinquity to any of the above did not matter if the founder of the village or one of the leading residents developed a reputation as a great healer or a religious sage. In that case, people travelled from far and wide to seek treatment; the terminally-ill and those with recurring symptons as well as their relatives might never return. In addition, possessed persons might be brought from the traditional quarters for training as mediums or woyei.
In other cases, the influential men of a quarter may purposely decide to establish a village on a particular spot to serve the food-growing needs of the quarter in times of famine. Such villages often also served as garrison outposts, keeping the quarter informed on the movement of enemy warriors. Yet other villages were founded by fishermen along the coast who used them as drop-in sites to mend their nets and tackle, replenish their stock and prepare for the next voyage.
Each village community attracted strangers who came to settle, to seek sanctuary and to the escape the tensions of the old quarter. As the population multiplied and agriculture took a firm root perennial trees appeared to patricular patches of land; these may be self-sown or the result of the labours of a particular individual or family.
In addition, individuals would regularly cultivate particular patches of land or keep animals and poultry on it, they therefore continually kept an eye on the land to keep out intruders and other undesirable characters. Land, albeit never expressly granted to an individual or family, could be held in this way for several generations, becoming family or ancestral land. Once a family had firmly brought a piece of rural or semi-rural land under its control in this way, traditional notions allowed it to successfully litigate its interest in the land against third parties and to defend the suits of trespassers.
Lands acquired by families in this manner may be designated as initial acquisitions; they were acquired in the distant past; and their roots of title are generally shrouded in the mists of antiquity. Occasionally, however, litigators were able in the Ghanaian courts to trace their family antecedents into the period of the original founding of a village, and established initial acquisition.
After the period of initial acquisitions clear rules had to be formulated to regulate transfer and other dealings in land. Further, rules were developed to regulate the killing of particular animals on the land as well as to spell out the community’s interest in treasure troves subsequently found on the land.
Accession normally occurs where alluvium is deposited on a river bank, gradually solidifies and becomes part of the land. Although the ultimate title to land would be vested in the stool to whose land the new land is attached, individuals whose lands abut on the new deposit may exercise rights of ownership, the old land being the principal object to which the new land or accessory is added. Accession of this type regularly occurred on the banks of the Volta near Ada; smaller types of accession occur on the Sakumo, Songor, and Korle lagoons as well as at the estuary of the Densu river.
Another method of acquiring title to land was by conquest. Traditionally, this occurred largely in respect to land on the Northern frontiers which had to be constantly defended against intruders, and occasionally to be re-taken from foreign intruders.
Interests in land
Transfer of interests in land
The holder of an interest in land may validly transfer such interest in any of the following ways.
- If the owner holds the absolute title to the property and he or she is of age and sound mind then the transfer be may consensual and effected by private treaty. The parties to the transfer may enter into such agreement as they deem fit provided the terms do not affect the interest of any other party, and it is not detrimental to the interests of the traditional state.
- If the holder holds only a qualified interest in the subject-matter of the transfer, only that interest may be transferred.
An individual has no power to transfer ancestral or family property; this can only be done by properly accredited persons acting on behalf of the family or group concerned. It is always necessary, in a strictly traditional transfer, to publicise the transaction.
In order to avoid expensive litigation and the future loss of the transferee’s rights, it is always essential that the following be observed as part of a transfer.
- There must be witnesses to the transfer;
- There transfer must involve a clear change of ownership, with clear and appropriate words being used to express this fully;
- The subject matter of the transfer should be put into the custody or possession of the transferee; if neither or either of this is not possible, the heirs, successors and family of the transferor must be informed that a transfer of the property had been effected;
- If the transfer is effected by a stool the transferee must provide drinks to mark the occasion; and
- The transferee must completely perform his part of the bargain to make the transfer complete. If, for instance, he or she fails to pay the final instalment of the purchase price the transfer would not be regarded as complete, and the transferor would be at liberty to enter into a separate transaction to sell the same property.
- Where ancestral or collective property had been partitioned, the holders of title to the individual parts may transfer such title to purchasers.
The actual land transfer ceremony performed on the plot to be transferred is known as shikpon yibaafo or zigba yibapom (Dangme). The parties meet on the land in the presence of witnesses from either side, particularly neighbours of the vendor. The parties kneel on their right knees and each passes a coin wrapped in dry palm leaf under their left knees. A drink is poured and the leaf is cut in two pieces by the parties, and the coins thrown to the ground; a sheep may then be slaughtered to complete the process. After that the land is deemed to have passed to the purchaser.
Procedure in the King’s court
It is clear from the foregoing that Gá-Dangme society was regulated by a complex body of legal rules. Such rules had of course to be overseen by the traditional political authorities. Matters of marriage and succession were largely left in the hands of the various households and heads of family. The quarter chief, and ultimately, the King exercised appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the family heads and the lower political authorities. The King’s appellate jurisdiction served to clarify and crystallise Gá-Dangme customary law, ensuring uniformity between the rules administered by the various towns and quarters. In other cases, especially serious matters, the King’s court exercised original jurisdiction.
To invoke the jurisdiction of the King’s court, a litigator or aggrieved person attended the King’s court and established that they either had a matter serious enough to be put before the court or stated that the matter was on appeal from a lower court. The defendant or respondent was summoned by the despatch of the standard of office of one of the King’s officials. During the trial much emphasis was put on direct evidence (okadi) and witnesses (odasefoi). The facts were carefully re-constructed; if the matter was considered a household conflict (shia-sane) in which the head of family had erred, then in the past, the King’s councillors discreetly advised him on how the matter should have been handled.
The Prophets and the influence of religion
As was shown in chapter Gá-Dangme society was originally a theocracy in which the fore-telling priests exercised enormous authority. Naturally, a number of prophets have in Gá-Dangme history come to be associated with important events; above all, considerable authority and sanctity came to be attached to the Word of the high priest or prophet. In this way a number of distinguished prophets and high priests of forceful personality and high moral standing have acquired a special place in the social history of the Gá-Dangme. Boi Tono, Borketey Larweh, Lomoko, Ayitey Cobblah, Numo Ogbarmey, Numo Yaotey and Numo Tete form a unique line of prophets whose works and utterances may be said to constitute a veritable theology of Gá-Dangme religion.
Like their Old Testament counterparts, the Gá-Dangme prophets were concerned about the social and moral condition of their people; and sought to enforce a severe moral ethic as a way of ensuring religious purity based on the codes of Ayi Kushi. The slave trade, wars, famines and moral deacy provided the background for the careers of the more remarkable priests.
The human misery which attended the slave trade became a favourite theme for the religious hierarchy. Dealings at the local Salaga slave market (Akpee shika or “money galore”) so drew the ire of the the of the predecessors of Numo Ayitey Cobblah that they took to regularly chastising the powerful slave merchants. Sakumo tsoshishi, Naiwe and Korlewe became places of refuge for freed slaves. Once an escaped slave made his way to any of those sanctuaries he was considered to have completely regained his or her liberty; and to have become a naturalised citizen.
Boi Tono had himself been concerned about the possible decadent effects of slavery on Gá-Dangme society; as a result, he increasingly admonished the political authorities to show more sympathy for the poor and the enslaved. On the whole Boi Tono successfully cautioned the Gá-Dangme against participation in the bloody wars through which slaves were procured. So highly was Boi Tono regarded that in 1734 the Dutch assumed that he was the king of Accra; indeed, the Amugiwe sub-house of the Gá ruling house is said to have been established by Boi Tono and his descendants.
He was said to have adverted by prayer a terrible famine that stalked the land shortly before his death, thus saving the Gá-Dangme from a scourge which had devastated the hinterland. Boi Tono also repeatedly appealed directly to individuals not to follow the iniquitous and murderous ways of foreign tribes, and to reject foreign gods. The reward for observing the commands of Ayi Kushi, he counselled, was prosperity for the individual and his descendants. Much of the exhortation of Boi Tono seemed to have been adumbrated by Borketey Larweh.
From the shrine of Gbobu-ku (Gbobu’s forest) in Nungua, Borketey Larweh had time and again demonstrated the high personal qualities and moral standards expected of the Gá-Dangme prophet. Said to be of part-Gá, part-Ningo origin, Borketey Larweh denounced the slave dealers and sought to create a society of austere religious followers devoted entirely to worship and abstinence.
Gbobu-ko for sometime became the leading religious shrine of the Gá-Dangme; from its luxuriant aklabatsa (surrounding forest) a new moral light shone across the Accra plains, emphasising the age-old moral values of the Gá-Dangme and establishing Nungua as a rival new religious centre. Such was the authority Borketey Larweh and his successors that to this day the priests of Gbobu-ko and the leading religious figures of Nungua are consulted before the appointment of a new Gá Manche and other leading personages of Accra.
However, the task using religious influence to further the political unity of the Gá-Dangme fell to Lomoko who rose admirably to the call of duty, and in King Tackie Kome I provided the Gá-Dangme with perhaps their finest king and military leader. Realising the dire need for a leader of stature and charisma to lead the Gá-Dangme in war, Lomoko summoned the various political and military chiefs to the shrine of the war deity at Sakumotsoshishi; and there, seeing that the various sides were deeply split, prayed and asked the Almighty to appoint a leader of his own choosing in the sight of all the people.
As the people waited in awe a deep sound, as though of rushing waters, proceeded out of the temple and Tackie Kome I was announced as the leader who was to lead the Gá-Dangme into the Katamanso war. The nickname of Tackie Kome I is Abia or Abia-suma meaning “he who has been sent or annointed.” The choice of Tackie Kome therefore fully fits into the Gá-Dangme scheme as dzielor.
Numo Ogbarmey continued the priestly tradition of intervention in political affairs, but also appeared to have realised the similarities between Gá religion and the teachings of Moses. Realising the weakening position of traditional religion in relation to Christianity, Numo Ogbarmey converted to Christianity and took the name of Paul Mensah.
According to descendants of the old wulomo he finally realised that there was no intrinsic difference between Gá-Dangme traditional religion and the religion of the Old Testament. It is claimed that it was Numo Ogbarmey who first drew the attention of the Gá-Dangme to parallels between their religion and Judaism; it is further claimed that he had attempted to reclaim the office of Sakumo Wulomo in order to ensure a full alignment of the two religions.
2.2 History of the Gá Mashi up to 1862
The death of Okaikoi marked the end of the Ayawaso period; many Gá retired to Anecho or Little Popo (also known by the Gá as Tóng) in present-day Togo, but the bulk of the population resettled or joined kinsmen along the coastal strip. At any rate, increasing trade with Europeans had rendered the coast or Little Accra more attractive than Ayawaso. Prince Ashangmo, the son of the king’s brother Okai Yái, continued a long guerrilla campaign against the Akwamu, driving them to Fanti. Eventually Ashangmo retired with all the Gá from Labadi down to Ningo to Little Popo.
Thus, the death of Okaikoi marked the beginning of a long period of uncertainty in Gá-Dangme history. The period immediately following the death of Okaikoi has generally been assumed to be one in which Gá-Dangme power waned completely; however, a more critical assessment reveals the reversion of the Gá-Dangme states to the condition of principalities. Barbot, in his Letter 10 speaks of Accra, Labadi, Ningo, etc, emphasising that they were separate kingdoms.
Barbot further suggests that even within Accra, Jamestown was quite a separate political entity from Ussher Town: “The village of Soko (Jamestown) situated under this fortress is also much enlarg’d ever since, by a large number of families of the neighbouring village Little Acra, under the Dutch fort, who have settled at the former, after the devastations of the Aquamboes at the latter.”
As we have suggested, the death of Okaikoi split the Gá-Dangme tribes along territorial and political lines, being forced into co-operative action for the defence of the realm only in rare cases; the confederation of Gá-Dangme states had disintegrated. At Little Accra, the original seven quarters of Ayawaso were re-established as principalities under the authority of various princes tracing their ancestry to the Ayi Kushi dynasty.
Thus the seven quarters of Asere, Abola, Gbese, Sempe, Otublohum and Akumajay started off as houses of Ayawaso princes around which various family-trees started to cohere. Even in the case of Ngleshie, founded by Wetse Kojo, the connection with the original house of Ayi Kushi was established through his son and successor, Nii Kofi Akrashie whose mother was an Asere princess.
Little Accra (the present site of Gá Mashi) was a well-chosen strategic coastal location, overlooking the high cliffs of the neighbouring bay of Ablá beach into which European vessels sailed with merchandise which fed the trans-Atlantic trade. The interior, although poorly watered, had a plentiful supply of small game and could produce sufficient grain to sustain the population; it was also traversed by a number of inland routes that brought substantial trade to Accra; other Gá-Dangme townships were within easy reach by sea. This location, wafted by the gentle sea-breezes and at the turn of the year, by the harsh harmattan, was to become the setting for the development of the major Gá-Dangme institutions for the next three centuries and over. At Little Accra or Gá Mashi, the Ayawaso dynasty was re-established by Nii Ayi (1680-1700) who founded the House of Tungmawe within the principality of Abola, and continued to fight the Akwamu. Although certain historians are of the view that the Akwamu created a kingdom which included Accra, some controversy exists on the subject.
For one thing, the battle against the Akwamu commenced by Ashangmo, continued for a long time; and for another, the historical evidence suggests chaos rather than orderly government under the Akwamus. Reindorf recorded: “Dissensions, man-stealing and plunder were prevalent during those days among the people of Agona, Akrong or Gomoa, Akwamu and Akra.”
Regarding Gá affairs in this uncertain period and their dogged resistance, Attoh-Ahuma wrote:
“The Twi nation moved Heaven and earth to exterminate the numerically insignificant Gá tribe, but without avail they had exhausted the arts of warfare -strategy, tactics, flank movements, frontal attacks, manoeuvres of all kinds, and yet Accra remained impregnable, invincible. The Twis had triumphed over all other tribes, but there seemed a charmed circle in which the Gás moved and had their being.”
It needs emphasising that subduing the Gás was made doubly difficult by the devolution of power to the Gá towns following the death of Okaikoi. It has already been shown that substantial numbers of the Gá of Little Accra had re-settled in Ngleshi and Anecho. Even more significantly, Labadi, Ningo and other Adangme towns administered their own affairs independently. Attoh-Ahuma noted, “True, the Akwamoos defeated Accra at last, but the fact was due to enormously superior numbers and other considerations; but even then they retired in martial order and in strict accordance with the principles of warfare.”
As in so many Biblical episodes, Gá traditions attribute military reversals within this period to the idea of impurity brought on by deviations from the paths of righteousness. It has already been noted that King Okaikoi was betrayed by his generals; the act of desertion was regarded as stemming originally from the introduction into Ayawaso of foreign religious concepts together with their pantheon of gods and goddesses. The decline of Gá fortunes and the exile of so many people were therefore seen as divine chastisement necessary for the restoration of the true Gá-Dangme theocratic state.
The reign of Ayikuma Teiko (1700-1733) saw real efforts to break the power of the Akwamu; the king pawned two relatives, Prince Ayai or Tete Ahene Akwa and Okaidsha as security for quantities of arms and ammunition. When in 1733 the Akwamu laid sieged on Accra, the king finally pledged the royal necklace and the golden crown of King Okaikoi as well as the pay-notes to the forts and other presents to the Akyem for assistance from chiefs Ba Kwante, Frimpong Manso and Owusu in driving out the enemy. The combined forces of Accra, Akyem and Akwapim ultimately drove the Akwamu across the volta, their power forever broken and their nation destroyed.
It is important to note that the pledging of the pay-notes and assistance in the war against Akwamu gave the Akyem no control over the Gá-Dangme; although Reindorf states that they had “a sort of jurisdiction on the coast” this appears to relate largely to the activities of their own citizens. Indeed, in the year that the Akwamu were expelled the Dutch acknowledged Laté Boi or Boi Tono as the king of the coast.
As the evidence for Akyem suzereignty over the Gá appears unreliable or even unfounded, it follows that the argument that the Asante gained overlordship over the Gá through the 1742 defeat of the Akyem is untenable. There should have been no argument over this as both Reindorf and Claridge characterise Gá-Asante relations as an alliance; Reindorf in particular emphasises at length that the Gá had never been under the domination of Asante.
Reindorf refers to the preparation of lime by the people of Tema and Accra; but Wilks emphasises that the Akwapims “were forced to carry lime from Accra to Kumase, to whiten the house of Osei [the Asante monarch].” This may have been in consideration of annual presents sent by Asante kings to their Accra counter- parts.
However, Quaye suggests that: “By their submission to the Asante, the Gá had acknowledged the supremacy of Asante without actually facing them in war. From then on, Asante became the new suzerain of the Gá.”
Quaye’s conclusion is as strange as it is untenable. She specifies the act of submission thus:
“On 9th April, 1742 information reached Accra that the great and first servant of the Asante King, with two other “vaandragers and five thousand muskets” had reached Akwamu. The Gá had the foresight to send an embassy to this Asante general. This saved the Gá from ravages of the Asante army … In response to the embassy the Asante General sent a messenger with the assertion that the Asante had no quarrel with the Gá, but nevertheless, they expected the latter to pay 17 bendas in order to avert a possible war on them.”
On the assumption that the above is factually correct as to what transpired between the Gá ambassadors and the Asante war leader, it nevertheless contains no evidence of submission of the Gá. It was normal for states to contribute to the war efforts of allies; this in no way creates suzerainty between the states involved. There is, therefore, no evidence in the above of the incorporation of the Gá into the Asante polity; what is obvious in the forecited passage is the considerable diplomatic skills of the Gá who were primarily concerned to keep the trade routes open.
Equally, Asante possession of the Notes to the Accra forts does not necessarily prove overlordship. As has been already observed the Notes were pledged to the Akyem. Even today pledging (ahoba) is a widely used device to raise finance and/or secure assistance. If the Asante acquired the Notes through conquest of the Akyem and started to receive payment on the strength of the Notes from Europeans, this merely amounts to an acknowledgement of the enforceability of the traditional pledge.
Nevertheless, Quaye assumes that Accra had become a province of Asante. Quaye’s conclusion, although unwarranted and contrary to Reindorf’s account, has been followed by a number of historians, notably Parker. At any rate, the concept of suzerainty, used to express the relationship between the Gá and the Asante appears inappropriate. Suzerainty is a feudal European notion denoting the relationship between tenant and overlord.
As Gá-Asante relations did not entail a change in Gá ownership of their own lands the Asante could hardly be described as “suzerains” of the Gá. On the contrary since Gá domination of Akwamu involved the allocation of Gá lands to the Akwamu, the Gá may appropriately be described as suzerains of the Akwamu.
Quaye’s own position reflects the long-standing claims of Boahen who has even listed the Gá among the conquered states of Asante. Boahen appears to support his thesis of Asante overlordship of Accra by stating that Osei Kwadwo posted three district commissioners to Accra in 1776. However, this startling proposition is never substantiated; certainly the notion of “district commissioners” has never existed in indegenous Ghanaian notions – in fact, there is no local equivalent of the word.
Wilks has followed Boahen and got himself into considerable difficulty in sustaining the claim that Accra was part of the Asante “empire”. For example, although contribution of soldiers to the Asante army is alleged to be part of vassaldom, Wilks omits the Gá from the list of provinces required to contribute soldiers to the Asante national army upon demand.
Further, Wilks does not seem to notice that the collection of rent on coastal forts on the basis of Notes is no proof of overlordship, and goes on to offer the view that the presence of Asante amradofo (wrongly interpreted as civil administrators) in Accra shows Asante domination of Accra. Amrado (Gá amralo) is derived from the Portuguese word for admiral. The early Portuguese captains and admirals also served as ambassadors for the king of Portugal; they never established any form of civil administration on the Gold Coast; nor does the word amralo, as employed in Ghanaian vernacular, connote any reference to indigenous administration. The term is always reserved for officials of the European nation-state.
Sacki Acomia or Sackey Akumia who is specified by Wilks as one of the “district commissioners” was in fact a Gá from the Adansi quarter of Jamestown. As is obvious, Sackey is not an Asante name; therefore whatever work Sackey Akumia might have carried out on behalf of the Asante was strictly in the nature of agency and not as an Asante commissioner. As a member of the Manche Ankrah family of Dadebannaa and a direct descendant of Manche Ankrah himself, the present writer can testify to the fact that Twumasi Ankrah, another of the named individuals, was no Asante.
As Accra remained an important port, many states in the hinterland and from other Gá-Dangmes had their own ambassadors in the town; the presence of Asantes should make no difference to this scenario. As is still the case today in Ghanaian towns, such individuals had power over people from their own towns and could adjudicate issues in which oaths of their states had been sworn. This does not suggest that such representatives have any powers over the indigenous peoples.
The claims of Wilks seem to be based partly on a map drawn by Bowdich showing the “boundary of Asante authority.” Bowdich’s definition of “authority” remains unclear; and his method was to question various Asantes familiar with a number of “great-roads” as to where each left Asante territory. Thus of Route 1 Bowdich remarked: “I could not find any Ashantee who had travelled beyond this river, which is the Northern line of their authority.”
It remains unclear why the Asantehene should apparently have authority wherever Asantes travelled. If Bowdich’s map is to have any authority of its own, it has to be established that active political authority was being exercised in all places included in the map. Clearly, this is not the case. Nevertheless, Arhin has introduced the term “Greater Asante” to describe peripheral areas on the Bowdich’s map. Robertson has noted that the extent of political control over “provinces” was ill-defined even to the Asante government.