Cameron Duodu concludes his series on Prof Adu Boahen's demolition of English historical "authorities" on the history of Ghana. A son of the soil had spoken. No one who wanted to study Ghana's past seriously relied upon the British historians after that.
It will be recalled from my earlier articles that I told the story of how a young Adu Boahen, only seven years after returning to the University of Ghana from his PhD studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, was able, very boldly, to confront the members of the historical establishment of Great Britain, at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, at a lecture in 1966 and inform them - in so many words - that the three British historians they all relied upon as "authorities" on the history of Ghana, had been very poor indeed at their job.
Now, such exercises are frowned upon in the academic world as "hatchet jobs" and they are not to be undertaken lightly, as they can ruin one's academic career. Boahen knew this very well, yet under the chairmanship of the professor who had taught him at SOAS. Roland Oliver, a Briton like those Boahen was demolishing, he went about his business with careless abandon. It is an unparalleled example of academic courage and sheer brilliance. Even if Oliver did not agree with Boahen's approach, he would have awarded him full marks for his fortitude.
Any scholar or reader who asked for a general survey of the history of Ghana (Boahen pointed out), was almost always referred to these historians and their works: W. V. Claridge and his book, A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti (first published as far back as 1915 and reprinted by Frank Cass in 1964). The second was the History of the Gold Coast by W. E. F. Ward written in 1940 and published in 1948, with a new edition published in 1958 under the title A History of Ghana. The third was a very brief study by Prof J. D Fage, under the title Ghana, An Historical Interpretation, which was published in 1961.
The works of these "authorities" on Ghanaian history were unsatisfactory, Boahen said, because they had, on the one hand, been too concerned about what the Europeans who first came to trade m the "Gold Coast" in the 15th century did - their activities, their interactions with one another as well as with the Ghanaians they encountered. On the other hand, they had shown too little concern with what was on the ground when the Europeans arrived.
Boahen then waded into the historians for misleading their readers even on such relatively easy-to-ascertain matters as the way the Asante kingdom was built up into the powerful entity that it became. He was especially scathing about the dates the historians had given as marking the reigns of the various kings who guided Asante into glory.
Boahen conceded that the later period of Ghanaian history, especially the 18th century, had been dealt with in much greater detail and in a more balanced way by the three "authorities". But even here, he had to reveal that the 18th century was also the period in which recent research had revealed what he called "gross abuses of fact as well as inaccurate interpretation" by the erstwhile "authorities".
Boahen declared: "Owing partly to their Euro-centred approach and partly to the fact that they all relied mainly on published accounts of the 19th century, particularly those by Bowdich, Dupuis, Cruickshank and Ellis, Claridge, Ward and Fage have not only got most of their facts wrong but have left many questions either wrongly answered or unanswered altogether. In the first place, recent research based tin 18th century unpublished material not only in Enghsh but also in Dutch and Danish has revealed that all the dares given tor the reigns of the 18th century kings of Asante are wrong.
"Osei Tutu didd not die in 1731 but 1717; Opoku Ware did not come to the throne in 1731 but in 1720 and he died in 1750 and not in 1742; Kusi Obodum reigned from 1750 to 1765 and not from 1742 to 1752; Osei Kwadwo came to the throne neither in 1753 (Claridge) nor 1752 (Ward) nor 1770 (Reindorf) but in 1764 and he reigned for 13 years and not 28 or 11 years and so on.
"No satisfactory, or at least complete solution has been given to the problem of the rise of the Asante Empire. Some historians have seen it solely as the effect of the Atlantic slave trade while others have attributed it to the activities of Osei Tutu.
"The rise of the Asante Empire seems to me to be due first to the economic forces operating not only on the coast as Claridge. Ward and even Fage tend to imply, but also operating in the north as [Ivor] Wilks has pointed out [in his book, Asante In The Nineteenth Century]; secondly to the political conditions in the forest region (namely the existence of numerous states and tiny principalities within about 30 miles radius of Kumasi, and their oppression by the Denkyira people); thirdly to the social organisation, particularly the matrilineal clan system of the Akan peoples - a factor which [none of the three historians] has ... taken into account, and finally to what Metcalfe has correctly described as the 'state-building genius' not only of Osei Tutu (as Metcalfe himself thinks) but also of [Osei Tutu's] immediate predecessor, Obiri Yeboah and [Osei Tutu's] immediate successor, Opoku Ware."
Boahen continued; "In view of the revision of the dates for the various reigns, it seems that our ideas about the rate of expansion of the Asante Empire, and of the roles of Osei Tutu and Opoku Ware in this, need revision. It is clear that the conversion of the essentially Oyoko confederated stares into the Asante Empire was the work of Opoku Ware rather than Osei Tutu...
"How was this empire governed? Here again almost all the three historians are silent on the central system of administration, while Claridge's view, dutifully adopted by Ward, 'that though the Asantes could conquer, they could not govern, in fact they never made any serious attempt to do so', needs drastic revision.
"Not only did Osei Tutu and especially, Opoku Ware, evolve some system of provincial administration, namely the 'Adamfo' system described by [the anthropologist [R.S.] Rattray, but the rulers after them, especially Osei Kwadwo (1764-1777) and Osei Bonsu (1801-1824) did introduce such fundamental changes in this system by their appointment of resident district and regional commissioners in the provinces, and by their abolition of most of the hereditary stools at the centre, that we are now beginning to talk even of a 'Kwadwoan Revolution' in government." )i.e. a revolution in governance spearheaded by Asantehene Osei Kwadwo.)
Boahen pointed out further that though both Claridge and Ward paid a great deal of attention to the Asante wars, neither of the two discussed the military organisation of the Asante - the square formation of the van, the rear, the left and the right.
"Finally, the view prevalent among all these historians, that the Fante and the Asante had never before come into contact nor fought each other until [some time in the 19th century] was wholly inaccurate. Envoys started going to and fro between the two peoples from the second decade of the 18th, while the Asante attacks on the coastal states began at the same time.
"In 1712, 1714-15, 1721-22 and 1726-27 the [Asantes] attacked and conquered Nzima and Aowin; in 1742 they defeated Akyem and the Ga, and an Asante contingent actually entered Accra in that year, and finally, in 1765, the Asante invaded the Fante and camped in Abusa. [So] the Asante drive to the coast began during the first two decades of the 18th and not in the 19th century.
"By 1750," said Adu Boahen "the Asante had conquered all the states of modern Ghana, except the Fante, whose rise and expansion have so far not been really dealt with, and the period between 1750 and 1807 was marked by a fascinating political chess game between these two states with the Asante tributary states such as Wasa, Twifo, Denkyira, Assin and Akyem as the main pawns - a game hitherto totally ignored by all [he aforementioned] historians.
"The motive for the Asante drive to the coast was not only economic, as most historians tend to think, but also political - that of ensuring the expansion and survival of their Empire by obtaining a regular supply of ammunition."
Turning his attention to developments in northern Ghana in the 18th century, Adu Boahen revealed that all that could be gathered from the existing history books, was that the states of Dagomba, Gonja and Krachi, were all conquered by Asante and reduced to tributary states. But recent studies have shown that these states did, in fact -- in Adu's view - "benefit from the Asante period of rule."
It was during the 18th century that Islam was accepted as an official "cult" both in Dagomba, Mamprussi and even in Mossi, and the rulers of all these states busily engaged themselves in working out a modus vivendi between their subjects and the growing Islamic communities.
"It seems clear that Islamic culture and influence also began to percolate to Asante during this century - an aspect of Asante history totally ignored by virtually all historians of Ghana, and that the Muslim communities in Kumasi grew steadily large and influential, as is evident from the accounts of Bowdich and Dupuis.
"Commercially, the 18th century was the golden age of Salaga in particular, and eastern Gonja, Dagomba and north-eastern Asante in general, mainly because of their trade with the Hausa states and Bornu."
How had the 19th century history of Ghana been treated by the three "authorities"?, Boahen wondered. This century was clearly the main concern of Claridge and Ward. The main themes these historians dealt with were the Anglo-Asante wars and the steady growth of British jurisdiction and rule in Ghana.
Claridge discussed the causes of each of the Asante-coastal wars and gave details about each of the campaigns, the outcome and consequences. Indeed Claridge devoted the first 193 pages of [his] second volume to the Anglo-Asante war of 1874 alone! Ward, on the other hand, did not appear to do more than merely summarise Claridge.
In Boahen's opinion: "There is little to quarrel with here, as far as the facts go, or even with the analyses of the causes of each of the wars. The sins here are generally those of emphasis, omission and interpretation.
"In the first place, looked at from within, the main theme of 19th century history of Ghana is not the growth of British rule, but rather, the final expansion and fall of the Asante Empire. Secondly, Claridge (almost totally) and Ward (to a very considerable extent) ignored the social and economic developments that took place in that century - the change from the slave trade to 'legitimate' trade; the intensified activities of missionary societies; the firm establishment of Western education; the beginnings of the cocoa and mining industries and the rapid increase in the membership of the working class, the middle class and the educated elite. The 19th century history of Ghana, as it exists, is essentially political and diplomatic history."
Boahen charged that although both Claridge and Ward went into the causes of each of the Anglo-Asante wars, they failed to bring out the tundamemal issues at stake. "I see the Anglo-Asante wars as essentially the outcome ot three basic factors. The first was the determination of the Asante to maintain the integrity of their empire, and this meant to them, first, the suppression of all rebellions in [the empire] and the maintenance of direct access to the coast via Elmina, Accra and Apollonia (Nzima) with a view to ensuring a constant supply of firearms, mainly (in the 19th century) for defensive purposes.
"The second factor was the determination of the vassal states of Asante to regain their independence, coupled with the 'insolent' attitude of the Fante and their refusal to admit the fact that they had been conquered and annexed by the Asante.
"The third factor was the determination of the British, up to about 1880, to prevent the domination of the southern and coastal districts by the Asante, and to establish peace and order- the necessary prerequisites for the development of legitimate trade and missionary activities; and after 1880, the rise of the new imperialism in Europe and the anxiety of the British to forestall the French and the Germans [from conquering] Asante and the north.
"Finally, it seems Claridge and Ward and to some extent Fage, misunderstood the real nature of the opposition of [the Fante kings] Aggrey and Tsiboe to British rule; the origins and nature of the Fante Confederation: and the Aborigines Rights' Protection Society. All these were reactions to the steady growth of British jurisdiction and rule and were 19th century manifestations of Ghanaian nationalism, whose roots, as [David] Kimble has shown [in his book, A Political History of Ghana. The Rise of Gold Coast Nationalism, 1850-1928] are to be found in that century and not in the second half of the 20th ceniury."
Boahen contended that probably the most inadequately dealt with period of Ghanaian history was the colonial period, the period between 1900 and 1957, which both Ward and Fage covered. Though both authors did describe the facilities for education and health that were provided by the colonial government, they did not assess these facilities in the light of the needs of the population of the country.
For example, what was the ratio of hospital beds to population, or the percentage of children of school going age that were actually at school by 1950? "The answers will shock all of you," Boahen told his august audience.
Moreover, neither Ward nor Fage properly addressed himself to the question of what really took place in the economic field. Was it economic development or exploitation?
Boahen stated: "Considering the fact that the lucrative mining industry was an exclusively European preserve, that the European - mainly British - trading companies controlled the fixing of the prices tor imported goods, as well as that tor the raw materials, including cocoa, produced by the Ghanaians themselves until after the Second World War; that there was no tax on profits and only ridiculous fees were paid for timber and mining concessions; and that no attempts were made to diversity the economy of the country or promote industrialisation, we are beginning to describe the colonial period as the period of economic exploitation rather than of economic development.
"Most historians," Boahen explained, "also give the impression that all Ghanaians were totally satisfied with their lot under the colonial regime, except the educated elite, who felt frustrated because, according to one or them, from the Bond [of 1844] and especially after 1865 onwards, they had been led to think of Britain in the light of a guardian who would relinquish her trusteeship as soon as 'her ward was educated and prosperous enough to stand in the world on its own feet'.
"All would have been well still, they argue, had the frustration of the elite not been 'reinforced by a new and much more explosive frustration, it not quite of the masses, of a vast new class of individuals emancipated or seeking emancipation, from the leading strings of the traditional communal order of society'.
Other historians, on the other hand, saw the whole development after the second World War as a steady and 'gentlemanly' affair, moving - especially after 1948 - with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy towards independence, an inevitability fully guaranteed by what they termed 'the happy understanding' that developed between [prime minister] Kwame Nkrumah and the governor of the country, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke.
"I do not think either Ward or Fage uses the term 'nationalism' in connection with their treatment of the period ot the struggle for - or, as they see it - the movement towards independence. [But] the attainment of independence was not the result of the activities of the frustrated educated elite, nor of the new class of clerks, storekeepers, mechanics, cocoa farmers, school teachers wishing to emancipate themselves from the so-called leading strings of traditional communal order of society.
"It was rather the outcome of the frustration of almost all classes of Ghanaians, educated and uneducated, with the colonial regime, for its failure to fulfil their aspirations in the social and political fields; to end the exploitation of the natural and mineral resources of the country by expatriate firms; and to promote the overall economic development of the country."
Boahen continued: "It was this frustration that generated a feeling of nationalism, a force that was mainly responsible for the overthrow of colonial rule. It the educated elite were in the foretront in this practical expression of this general sense of frustration, it was partly because they were more conscious of, and more sensitive to, the iniquities and shortcomings of the colonial regime, and partly because they knew the techniques of political agitation and were best equipped to express the needs and aspirations of the people in a language that the colonial power would understand."
In what must have seemed to his British audience to be a slap in the face, insofar as it so flagrantly contradicted their own rather self-congratulatory and complacent view of their country's relationship with its West African colonies, Boahen affirmed: "No! - self-government was not given to Ghana or to most British West African countries on a Westminster platter, as it was given to the French West African countries on a de Gaullean platter. It was fought for. To sum up then, the history of Ghana in the period before the end of the 15th century has been grossly misrepresented."
A son of the soil had spoken. No-one who wanted to study Ghana's past seriously could rely upon these early British historians any longer after that.
Copyright International Communications Nov 2006
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