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History of GaMashie to 1824: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh

                      HISTORY OF THE GA MASHI TO 1824
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)[1] 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,[2] continued a long guerrilla campaign against the Akwamu, defeating and driving them to Fanti.[3] Eventually Ashangmo retired with all the Gá from Labadi down to Ningo to Little Popo.[4]
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[5] speaks of Accra, Labadi, Ningo, etc, emphasising that they were separate kingdoms.[6] 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 enlarged 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.”[7] This appears to cast doubt on the scale of the defeat suffered by the hands at the hands of the Akwamu; for as Barbot observed it was a mere village which was overrun by the Akwamu. On the other hand, as already observed the other Gá-Dangme towns has reverted to a state of independence.
Other writers seem to place heavy emphasis on the seizure of Christiansborg Castle by Asameni as evidence of Akwamu power in Accra, ignoring altogether the role of the Gá chiefs in planning and authorising the seizure. Asameni was merely an agent of the Gá king. In the words of Barbot:
“The Danish fort at Acra…was possessed by the Portugueses …the Danes redeemed it…and so possess’d it till the year 1693, when the Blacks surpriz’d it in the following manner, expelling the Danes and keeping possession of it for some time…This misfortune of the Danes was occasion’d by the death of several of their garrison, and they having done some insults to the king of Acra, that prince studied revenge, and observing the Danes had much confidence in one Assemmi, a Black who having a great interest in that country…he ingaged him to contrive how to surprize the fortress.”[8]
Asameni, son of an Akwamu man and Labadi woman, subsequently deceived the Danes into permitting him and a number of Accra and Akwamu men to enter the fort with the ostensible view to purchasing fire-arms. Having loaded the fire-arms Asameni and his men overcame the Danish soldiers and administrators. Afterwards “the king of Acra and the Blacks intirely stript it, and took a booty of above seven thousand pounds sterling: the fort was given over to the treacherous Assemmi who garrison’d it with his own Blacks…trading with all the European ships that came thither.”[9] This seizure of an European fort, often regarded as an isolated instance in Black Africa, appears to have been a re-play of the earlier destruction by the Gás of the Portuguese fort which existed in Accra between 1500 and 1578.[10]

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 (Aprag in European sources)[11] 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. Barbot reported seeing “many hares, rabbits and Guinea fowl”[12] as well as antelopes and pigeons at Accra.[13] The interior of Accra was traversed by a number of inland routes which brought substantial trade; 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)[14] 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.”[15]
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 mpregnable, invincible. The Twis had triumphed over all other tribes, but there seemed a charmed circle in which the Gás moved and had their being.”[16]
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.”[17]
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.[18] 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.[19] 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”[20] 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.[21]
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.[22] Reindorf refers to the preparation of lime by the people of Tema and Accra;[23] but Wilks emphasises that the Akwapims “were forced to carry lime from Accra to Kumase, to whiten the house of Osei [the Asante monarch].”[24] This may have been in consideration of annual presents sent by Asante kings to their Accra counter-parts.[25]
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.”[26] 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.”[27]
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.[28]
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.[29] 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.[30] As Gá-Asante relations did not entail a change in the ownership of Gá 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 listed the Gá among the conquered states of Asante.[31] Boahen appears to support his thesis of Asante overlordship of Accra by stating that Osei Kwadwo posted three district commissioners to Accra in 1776.[32] However, this startling proposition is never substantiated; certainly the notion of “district commissioners” has never existed in indigenous 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”.[33] 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.[34] 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,[35] 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.[36] 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.[37] 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 Mantse Ankrah family of Dadebannaa and a direct descendant of Mantse Ankrah himself,[38] 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.”[39] 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.”[40] 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.[41] Robertson has noted that the extent of political control over “provinces” was ill-defined even to the Asante government.[42]
It appears upon close reading that Bowdich’s work does not warrant the importance that has been attached to the work in establishing the geographical extent of the Asante kingdom.[43] There is no suggestion anywhere in Bowdich that the “nine great paths [routes] leading from Coomassie” show the geographical extent of Asante; he merely describes his account as a description of the travels of strangers [Moors] and natives in Kumasi.[44] Several groups along the routes are described as independent. For instance, Ningo is described as a republic;[45] as is Keta.[46] and Bowdich includes parts of the Niger basin, Hausaland and even Lagos in his account of the routes.[47] Finally, part of Bowdich’s evidence, collected from children, can hardly be described as reliable.[48]
Clearly, from the above, it is untenable to maintain that Accra was part of the Asante kingdom; that claim has no basis in fact. Morrison has claimed that “Greater Asante comprised “[T]hose who joined and/or were conquered later.”[49] The Ga had neither joined the Asante kingdom or been conquered by the Asante. What is more, all informants, including traditional authorities, unanimously rejected the idea of Asante suzerainty over Accra. There is certainly, nothing in Gá culture today to suggest the sort of influence that many of the above writers would have us believe the Asante exercised over Accra. Parker’s description of the Gá as “subject” people who since the late seventeenth century had never actually been conquered[50] encapsulates the general depiction of the Gá in current historiography. Although never actually defeated by any power, the Gá have become the victims of the tendency of historians to construct paper empires out of isolated historical facts. It is to be hoped that the foregoing critique and exposition puts paid to that tendency, at least, in so far as it relates to Accra.
    [3]Ibid. p. 24. See also Ward 1935, p. 24.
    [4]Not ibid because of Ward citation = check Ibid. p. 25.
    [5]Barbot 1732, pp. 430-453.
    [6]Ibid. pp. 430 and 437.
    [7]Ibid. p. 436.
    [9]Ibid. p. 437.
    [10]Ward 1935, p. 97.
    [11]See e.g. Barbot 1732, p. 442.
    [12]Ibid. p. 434.
    [13]Ibid. pp. 471 and 477.
    [14]Reindorf 1895, p. 63. See also Amartey 1991, p. 21.
    [15]Reindorf 1895, p. 64. According to Tilleman the Gá regarded the Akwamu as “uncouth farmers” and refused to take part in their military campaigns. See Tilleman 1670, pp. 105 and 107.
    [16]Attoh-Ahuma 1971, p. 49.
    [17]Ibid. p. 50.
    [18]Reindorf 1895, p. 77.
    [19]The role of the Gá in the defeat of the Akwamu appears not to have been appreciated by certain historians. See, e.g., Ward 19 …?, p. 97-101 which fails to mention the crucial military and other role of the Gá in the defeat and expulsion of the Akwamu. Equally, Boahen only mentions Akyem, Kwahu and Agona as comprising the allied forces which invaded and successfully defeated the Akwamu in 1730. See Boahen 1966, p. 69. But see Odamtten 1978, p. 93.
    [20]Reindorf 1895, p. 84.
    [21]Ibid. pp. 84 and 95. To prove that whatever “jurisdiction” the Akyem had over the coast was short-lived, Reindorf (p. 95) argues that they were compensated by obtaining the pay-notes. If this was the case, then the Akyem never had any jurisdiction over the coast since they obtained the pay-notes even before the war commenced. Cf. Quaye 1980, p. 217: “There is no evidence that Akyem had governors to supervise the Gá towns. In fact, the Akyem leaders did not even visit the Gá coast.”
    [22]Reindorf 1895, pp. 176-178; and W.W. Claridge, A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti, London 1964, p. 385. See also A.B. Ellis, A History of the Gold Coast of West Africa, London 1893 (1971 edition), p. 149; and Reindorf 1895, p. 176 where reference is made to an “ancient league” between Accra and Kumasi. The characterisation of Gá-Asante relationship as an alliance is also to be found in T.A. Osae, S.N. Nwabara and A.T.O. Adunsi, A Short History of West Africa, New York 1973; and R.B. Edgerton, The Fall of the Asante Empire, New York 19…, 82.
    [23]Ibid. p. 177.
    [24]Ibid. p. 135.
    [25]Reindorf 1895, p. 177.
    [26]Quaye 1980, p. 239.
    [27]Ibid. p. 236.
    [28]Cf. Wilks 1957, p. 104 documenting payments in gold made by the Gá in 1646 to the Akwamu in order to allow merchants at Larteh to pass through to Accra.
    [29]Parker 1995.
    [30]See Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, Edinburgh 1986, pp. 466 and 1303: Feudal system – the system by which vassals held lands from lords-superior on condition of military service; suzerain – feudal lord: supreme or paramount ruler: a state having supremacy over another.
    [31]A.A. Boahen, Topics in West African History, London 1966, p. 77. Boahen elaborates his views further in the article “Politics in Ghana, 1800-1874”, in J.F.A. Ajayi and M. Crowder, History of West Africa, Vol. II London 1974, pp. 167-169 esp. p. 169 where a map shows the Asante “empire” as being larger than the size of modern Ghana and as incoporating Accra. See also, J.B. Webster & A.A. Boahen, The Revolutionary Years – West Africa since 1800, London 1967, pp. 121-123; and A.A. Boahen, Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, London 1974, pp. 14-15. Fynn has followed Boahen in maintaining the claim of Asante overlordship over the Gá. See J.K. Fynn, Asante and its Neighbours 1700-1807, London 1971, pp. 71 and 75. However, Fynn appears to contradict himself when he stated: “Unfortunately, the Asante did not appoint administrators to govern the newly-won provinces.”
    [32]Ibid. p. 78. As Boahen’s doctoral thesis, British Penetration of the Sahara and Western Sudan, Unpublished University of London PhD thesis 1959 deals with an entirely different subject, it appears that his assertions in regard to the extent of the Asante kingdom have never seriously been subjected to rigorous scholarly analysis.
    [33]I. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, London 1975, p. 126.
    [35]On the question of the property rights over native kingdoms arising out of the notes, see F. Agbodeka London 1971, p. 45 who maintains that although the Asantehene referred to Elmina as his property, this does not prove ownership. Agbodeka further cites (ibid) a seminar by Dr K.Y Daaku showing that the “Elmina Note” and the liability of £9,000.00 allegedly inherited from Denkyira also had no foundation. See further, L.W. Yarak, Asante and the Dutch, Oxford 1990. p. 138 on differences over the payment of kostgeld (ground rent) in regard to the European notion of “rent” and the Asante idea of “tribute”.
    [36]Wilks 1975, p. 132.
    [37]Interview with James Amartey, Dr Sackey Quarcoopome and other descendants of Sackey Akumia and members of the Adjiri Mon household of Adansi, Jamestown.
    [38]See Aryeh v. Ankrah (1957) 1 W.A.L.R, 107, PC; Aryeh v. Dawuda (19550 W.A.C.A.   ; and Captan v. Ankrah (1944 ….) p. where J.K.Q. Aryeh, the father of the present writer is described as a direct descendant of Manche
    [39]Ibid. p. 45 where Bowdich’s map is reproduced with “amended topography” to include Accra.
    [40]Ibid. pp. 44-45.
    [41]K. Arhin, “The Structures of Greater Asante (1700-1824)”, The Journal of African History, Vol VIII 1967.
    [42]G.A. Robertson, Notes on Africa, London 1819 reproduced in Wilks 1975, p. 117. Wilks himself alludes (p. 53) to the failure of Asante to formulate terms of incorporation fully acceptable to people in the “provinces”.
    [43]See in detail T.E. Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, London 1966, originally published in 1819.
    [44]Ibid. p. 161.
    [45]Ibid. p. 219.
    [46]Ibid. p. 221.
    [47]Ibid. pp. 186-213 and 224-226.
    [48]Ibid. p. 161.
    [49]M.K.C. Morrison, Ethnicity and Political Integration: The Case of Ashanti, Ghana, Syracuse 1982, p. 41.
    [50]Parker 1995, p. 347.

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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