Monday, 20 January 2014

Ghanaian History: The Fanti of Gold Coast (Ghana)



Astley, Thomas, A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol II, London, 1745 (excerpts)

  • Chap. VI    The Inland Countries behind the Gold Coast
    • The inland countries behind the Gold Coast being very slenderly known to Europeans, the Reader is not to expect any satisfactory account of them from the authors.

      . . .  the large kingdom of Akkanez, which encloses most of the others from the north-west, round to the north-east . . . (this is evidently Asante MH)

      All these countries are very rich in gold, as well as those along the coast, which the natives either dig out of the earth, or get at the bottom of their rivers.
      The Akkaneze are famous for the great trade they drive not only along the coast, but inland. . . the gold . . . which they sold was so fine, that to this day the best gold  is . . . called Akkani Chinka, because it was never mixed like that of Dinkira.

      The Akkani blacks are naturally of a turbulent temper, haughty and warlike. . . their usual weapons are an assagaye, or javelin, a buckler, and a simitar.  The Akkaneze mechants carry all the goods they buy on the coast by land on their slaves backs to the markets at . . . inland places.
  • Chap. VII SECT I    Of the Gold Coast Negroes, their Persons, Character and Dress
    • The Gold Coast blacks are generally of a middle stature, well-limbed, and proportioned, with good oval faces, sparkling eyes, small ears, and their eyebrows lofty and thick. Their mouths are not too large. Their teeth are curiously clean, white and well-ranged; and their lips red and fresh. . . They have little beards before they are thirty, and their elderly men wear them pretty long. They are usually broad-shouldered, with large arms, thick hands, long fingers, and long hooked nails, small bellies, long legs, broad large feet, with long toes, strong waists, and little hair on their bodies.  Their skin, though not very black, is always smooth and sleek. . . They are very careful in washing their bodies morning  and evening, and annointing them with palm-oil.  . . . Breaking wind, upwards or downwards, they have in great detestation, and will die sooner than offend that way.

      These negros are for the most part of a quick apprehension, and good memory. In the greatest hurry of business they discover no confusion, yet they are very slothful and idle, so that nothing but necessity makes them industrious. They seem, as to temper, indifferent either to prosperity or adversity. . . They are generally cunning, deceitful, and addicted to theft, as well as given to avarice, flattery, drunkenness, gluttony, and lust.. . . They are very vain and proud in their carriage, and bad paymasters.

      The women of the Gold Coast are straight, of a middle size, and pretty plump, having small, round heads, sparkling eyes, for the most part high noses, somewhat hooked, long curling hair, little mouths, fine, well-set white teeth, full necks, and handsome breasts.

      They are very sharp and witty, extremely talkative, and by Europeans represented as very wanton. . . It is certain they are good house-wives at home . . .They are very fond of their children, frugal in their diet, and tight and cleanly in their persons.

      The negros  . . . are much addicted to women, so that the foul disease is very frequent here; but they think nothing of it.

      . . . they think it no crime to steal from the Dutch; but value themselves on cheating them, considering it as a proof of their skill and ingenuity.

      . . . they have incomparable memories; for, though they can neither read nor write, yet they manage their trade with the greatest exactness; so that you shall see one of them manage four marks of gold for twenty particular persons, each of whom wants five or six different commodities, and perform it without hesitation or mistake.
  • Chap. VII SECT II    Of  their Buildings, Furniture and Diet
    • . . . the inland towns are richer and neater in their buildings

      . . . They are . . .  indifferent and careless in making roads, which are generally rough, and unreasonably winding . . . The houses of the coast negros are generally . . . small and low, looking at a distance like barracks in a camp, except those near some of the European forts, which are larger and more commodious; being at Mina and some other places, two stories high, with several ground-rooms, and some with flat roofs. . . The doorway is usually so low, that a man must stoop double almost to enter. . . The floor is even and smooth, made of red clay; as hard and compact as if laid with stone.

      Some of the chief negros keep two slaves, armed with assagayes, at their chamber-door, like our centries, which are relieved from time to time.

      They eat more fish than flesh, and more pulse than fish. . .  they have a sort of very delicious beans, besides yams, potatos, bananas and other fruits. . . the nobles and better sort feed on poultry, goats flesh, beef and pork. . . they also eat stinking fish, dried in the sun . . .their sauce, for almost every thing, is palm-oil . . .

      The husband commonly eats in his own hut . . . let the world go how it will, they must have brandy in a morning and palm-wine in the afternoon.

      The Mina bread is esteemed the best on the coast, the women there being more expert at making it.

      They make also a sort of biscuit of this dough which will keep three or four months. . . .  this they use to victual their large canoes, which trade to Angola.
  • Chap. VII SECT III    The Marriages and Education of the Negroes
    • Their weddings are attended with little ceremony . . .  the husband promises to love her, and leaves the point of fidelity out . . . the parents of each side make mutual presents. The wedding expenses consists of a little gold, wine, brandy, a sheep for the relations and new cloths for the bride, the husband keeping a very exact account of  what he bestows on her or her friends, that in case she leaves him, he may demand all back again, which they must pay . . . Though every man here marries as many wives as he can keep, yet the number seldom exceeds twenty . . . the more wives and children a man has, the more he is respected. .
  • Chap. VII SECT IV    Amorous Women, Licensed Whores, Salutations
    • A woman caught in adultery is also in great danger of her life, unless the relations pacify the husband with a large sum of money: but she who lied with her husband's slave, is infallibly condemned to death, as well as the slave her paramour. . .

      . . . when they meet abroad in a morning, they salute each other, with great kindness embracing; and joining the two forefingers of the right hand, they snap them off.

      They have not many slaves on the Coast, none but the kings or nobles being permitted to buy or sell any; so that they are allowed only what are necessary for their families, or tilling the ground.

      Their slaves are usually such wretches, as, through poverty, are obliged to sell themselves to the grandees, or nobles (who are the only merchants) to prevent starving. . . If they endeavour to escape, and are retaken, they lose, for the first attempt, one ear, for the second, the other ear; and if they be catched a third time, they sell them, or cut-off their heads, as they please. . . .They generally use their slaves well and seldom correct  them.
  • Chap. VII SECT V    Handicraft Trades, Occupations and Markets
    • The handicraft in which the blacks are most skilled is smithery. . . But their goldsmiths excel their blacksmiths in the performances. . . Besides smiths they have carpenters, thatchers, potters, hatters and weavers.

      The negros are very skilful and industrious in fishing, being brought up to it from their infancy. . .  They frequently fish by night, carrying in one hand lighted torches to see by, and in the other holding a fish spear . . . They catch them with a line, to which are fastened three or four hooks baited with carrion.  Their lines they make of bark, three or four fathom long. . . In October and November , they generally fish with nets made of bark, and about twenty fathoms long. . .

      The largest (canoes) are forty foot long, six broad and three deep . . . and carry eight, rarely twelve, tons of goods besides the crew. . . . The Mina blacks who are the worst (sic! most?) skilful in managing these large canoas, venture in them all round the Bight of Guinea, and even to the coast of Angola.  They navigate them with sails, and man them with twelve or eighteen hands, according to their size.  Their war canoas commonly carry fifty or sixty men, besides ammunition and provision for fifteen days, if required.
 Their Diversions, Dancing and Music

  • It is an immemorial custom, for the greater part of the inhabitants of a town or village to meet together every evening at the market place to dance, sing, and make merry for an hour or two before bedtime. They meet usually about sunset, their music consisting  of horn-blowers, or trumpeters, drummers, fluters and the like. . .

    The men and women, who compose the dance divide into couples opposite to each other and, forming a general dance, fall into many wild, ridiculous postures, advancing, and retreating, leaping, stamping on the ground, bowing their heads as they pass to each other . . . moving slowly or fast, tossing their fans. . .

Their Diseases, Physicians and Remedies
  • However unwholsome the Country is to Europeans, the natives are troubled with few diseases.

    . . .  the too common use of punch, so much in vogue with the English Guineans, which undoubtedly carries many off. . .

    . . . the chief medicines here in  use, are first, and above all, lemon, or lime juice; malghetta, or grana paradisi, or cardamoms; the roots, branches and gums of trees; about thirty several sorts of green herbs, impregnated with an extraordinary sanative virtue. . . there are amongst the negros both doctors and surgeons, who, without learning or degrees, perform cures . . . disguising them so, whenever they apply them to the whites, that it is impossible to discover what they are.
  • 2    Deaths, Burials and Funeral Rites of the Negros
    • As soon as the sick person is expired, they set-up such a dismal crying, lamentation, and squeaking, that the whole town is filled by it . . . the youth . . . pay their last duty of respect to him, by firing several musket shots.

      . . . when a king dies . . . they take care to provide them with servants not only for their journey but also to wait on them in the other world. . . .there is always a good number who are all sacrificed before they are aware of it . . . the king's favourite wives seek to die, in order to . . . accompany their lord to the other world.
  • Chap. VII SECT IX    The Religion of the Negros
  • 1    Of God, the Devil, and the Creation
    • The Coast negros, for the generality, believe in one true God, to whom they attribute the creation of the world , and all things in it. . . . the major part believe man was made by Anansie, a Spider. . . . those who attribute it to God, hold that in the beginning he created black, as well as white men. . . God offered two sort of gifts: gold, and the knowledge of arts, with reading and writing. . . . he gave the blacks the first choice, they chose gold and left the knowledge of letters to the whites. . . . God granted their request; but being incensed at their avarice, decreed they should be slaves to the whites, who should for ever be their masters.

      Others on this coast would persuade you that the first men came out of holes and pits . . .
  • 2    A further Account of their Fetishes
    • But as those, who trust in these fetishes, are often disappointed in their expectations, as well as the devotees of saints and images in the popish countries, does not that open their eyes, and discover the cheat?  Not in the least, since they have found out the very same arguments with the good Catholics to impose on themselves and keep up the delusion: for if any danger or mischief befalls them, or their design on their enemies should miscarry, they believe the fault is entirely in themselves, and not in the fetish: so that whatever happens, the fetish is never wrong. . .
  • 3    Negro Division of Time, Sabbaths and Priests
    • Almost every village has a small appropriated grove, where the governors and chief people frequently repair to make their offerings, either for the public good, or for themselves.  These groves are held sacred . . .
  • Chap. VII SECT VIII    Government among the Guinea-Negros
  • 1    Degrees of People. The Nobility
    • There are five degrees or classes of people among the Guinea blacks. The first are their kings . .  The fifth and last are the slaves, either sold by the relations, taken in war, or become so by poverty . . . however poor they may be in general, yet there are no beggars to be found amongst them.
  • 2    Kings, their State and Families
    • When the palm-wine comes from the inland country they go in the afternoon, slaves and all together, as companions, to the public market place, where they sit down and drink very sociably.

      Some of these slaves have more authority than their masters. For . . . by their own trading they are become masters of some slaves themselves.

    The King's Family, Officers of State and Revenue
    • . . . a marriage between a king's daughter and a slave is not thought at all unsuitable; but is something better than for a king's son to marry a slave; although this daily happens, since it is here an inviolable rule, that the children follow the mother; and, consequently, the children of the former are free, whilst those of the latter are slaves

      When the king rises from bed, his wives stand ready to wash him, and then anoint him with palm-oil.

      The palace of the king of Fetu is the largest on the Gold Coast, having above two hundred rooms

      When a king dies  . . . four slaves take the corpse and bury it in the woods, in a place unknown to any, with all his fetishes, ornaments, arms and household stuff, leaving palm-wine and other necessaries near the grave. After this they return and present themselves before the palace to be killed in order to attend their lord in the other world.
    Their Law Proceedings, Pains and Penalties
    • When the defendant has answered, the plaintiff, in his turn replies, till both sides have been fully heard, and that calmly; neither party being suffered to interrupt the other, on pain of death: which shows the wisdom of their judges, though rude and unpolished

      In Axim, if one negro has any suit against another, he goes loaded with presents of gold and brandy . . . if (the councillors) are incensed against the plaintiff, or have received a larger bribe from his adversary, the justest cause in the world cannot prevail on them to decide in his favour; but if right appear too plainly on his side, to avoid a scandal, they will delay and keep off the trial; obliging the injured person, after tedious solicitations, to wait in hopes of finding juster judges, which, perhaps, does not happen in the compass of his life.

      . . . Thus a law suit is carried on without counsel, or attornies, in a much shorter time, and perhaps with as much justice as where those gentlemen are most employed. In this country they are strangers to tipstaves, bailiffs and other law vermin, who prey on mankind; as well as to attornies, lawyers and such like cattle.
    Their Manner of Fighting and making War and Peace
    • They prepare their arms against the day appointed, and paint their faces with red, white or yellow streaks . . . not forgetting to hand across their shoulders glass beads strung on their fetish strings, as preservatives against danger. . .  On their head they have a cap or helmet of leopard's or crocodle's skin and a belt or apron of the same round their waist, thrust between their legs, covering their nakedness with a final strip of linen, as thinking all further dress an impediment when they fight. In their girdle they carry a poinard, in their left hand a long, broad shield, covering their whole bodies, and in their right three or four darts or assagayes. . . The interior sort are armed with bows and arrows (having quivers made of the skins of beasts filled with them) which they use dexterously.  The slaves or servants beat drums, or have horns or ivory pipes, with which they sound a charge.
    Brown, E. J. P, GOLD COAST AND ASIANTI READER, London, 1929.
    Dwellings.- The Akan tribes built their houses of swish or wattle daubed with clay. The roof consisted of thatch, bamboo, palm leaves or shingles. No eaves gutters were used to collect the water from the roof. The ground floor was generally raised about two or three feet from the ground. These houses generally consisted of one or two small bedrooms and an open parlour facing a quadrangle of several similar houses. The walls and floors were generally painted half-way or throughout with atwuma or ntwuma (red clay). There was hardly any ceiling. The windows and doors were made of bamboo, with sticks attached thereto as latches, by which they were fastened from the inside.

    2. Food. They had three meals a day. The first meal was Apese, which consisted of yam, plantain or bayir, boiled or roasted in the fire, and served with a preparation of tomatoes or garden eggs, okroes and pepper, in palm oil, with salt sprinkled thereon, or some such kind of meal. In modern times it consists of Mpampa (gruel), made of Maize or Indian corn, Tue (Maize porridge) or Dokun (Kankey), served with dried, smoked or salted fish. The last named meal, taken morning or evening, is known in the coast towns as Mpusawii (a dry meal). Ewifua, Ewu or Atuku (mealies) was the staple food, the maize or Indian corn being exotic and of later introduction.

    The second meal
    was fufu, a composition of cassava, yam or plantain boiled and pounded dry or moist, flowing in palm oil soup, ground nut soup, or plain soup, to which are added lumps of meat, venison or fish. This is taken in the morning, noon or evening.

    3. The third and last meal was known as Apese in the inland countries, and Mpusawii in the littoral. It consisted of mealies or maize, Kankey with Furoi (a stew of fish, braised meat, or venison). No spoons, forks or knives were used. They all sat round the meal and ate from the same dish or platter, called respectively abuyaa or yaba, kuruwa or kuraba. Their drinks were Nsa-efu (palm wine), Adube-nsa (bamboo wine), Mpeenyiwa (maize beer), Akyiresua-nsa (the date palm wine), and Kubensu (the milk of the coconut). Parched corn  and ground-nuts, or roasted ripe plantain, stewed yam, mankani (coco-yam), cassava, sweet potatoes, in palm oil; ihuw consisting of boiled ripe  plantain mixed with a thick gruel of leavened maize dough boiled together; dumpling of Kankey boiled  with ground-nuts and ripe plantain, etc., and  fruits - were generally eaten during the day. Other kinds of food were, Bese, consisting of boiled ripe palm-nuts with boiled over-ripe plantain pounded  together, Akodaawa, consisting of parched corn and over-ripe plantain ground together; Atafurata, consisting of palm oil soup, boiled together with unleavened rice dough; Dakurabu, consisting of boiled yam cut into several bits in palm oil soup.

    4. Amusements. Their amusements were mostly outdoor, their chief sports being Dewurakonson (leap frog), Ahumadsin sua-sua (wrestling), Dikyi-tsiw (turning somersault), Ampiresi (racing), Abur (swimming) and Mpapar (skipping). Their chief indoor games were the Owar (Mancala board), Dam (draughts) and Ntse Tuw (spinning vegetable marbles on mats). The principal sport of females was Ampe a jumping or hopping sport accompanied by clapping of hands.

    5. Clothing. Our remote ancestors wore a kind of cloth called Kyenkyen which was the cambium layer of a tree, sandals, skin caps called �Atwi-kyew,� and a sort of sleeveless coat known as Batakari which was generally a war dress with a sort of trousers or pantaloon called Ntwontwo, made of cotton or some such material.  At a later period the males wore cloth in the same way as the ancient Greeks wore the Himation, with an underwear called Danta known in English as loin-cloth, and put on a headgear in the form of a fillet. The females also wore the Himation as a skirt, not unlike the Hindu Saree or Sari (called Asi Tam), over an underwear called Nsiasi, which covered the breast with a band or girdle called Toma tied round the waist as a support. In early times our women folk carried their young ones in skin cradles hung at the back at the same time carrying their burden on the head. This was the case especially during the emigration from Takyiman to the Coastland. Now they carry their young at the back, supported by the Ntama or Asi-Tam.

    6. They wore gold, silver and copper ornaments, besides beads. In later times an additional garb, much reduced in length and width, called Ahatar, Akatar or Akatadu, was worn by the better class women, which they draped over the left shoulder like the menfolk, or tied over the breast high up under the arm . . .; they also wore headkerchiefs like fillets round the head, which sometimes covered their coiffure in the form of a toque. The Asianti womenfolk wore their hair short and donned the Himation, (known as Tam or Otam in Mfantsi and Ntama in Akan) almost like the menfolk. The better class Asiantifu and Mfantsifu wore their hair long and combed it from the forehead backward to the crown and from the back of the head and the base of the temples up to the same place, and either tied or untied the crown. This kind of hairdressing is known in the vernacular as Katabaku.

    7. They incised their cheeks, foreheads and sometimes their napes with the distinctive marks of the tribe. The slept on woven fibre mats and pillows filled with the cotton of the Bombax. The rich slept on a bed called Mpikyi, which was a sort of wooden bed about six feet long and three or four feet wide, consisting of sticks fixed into the ground about three feet high, holding running poles of similar length and width, interlaced with rafters, over which was spread a bedding, also stuffed with the cotton of the bombax.

    8. In modern times a considerable amount of improvement in garb has taken place among the womenfolk of this country, In the early part of the 'sixties of the nineteenth century, the Kabasrotu (a corruption of  �cover shoulder�), a sort of loose jumper for the upper part of the body, was introduced by Mr. Robert Johnson Ghartey, afterwards King Ghartey IV. of Winneba, then residing at Nnumabu, and trading on his own account, among the female members of his household, which was copied by the community. A similar change took place at Cape Coast in the 'seventies of the nineteenth century through a Mrs. Mercer, the wife of Mr. W. H. Mercer, a Gambian Mulatto, then in the service of the Colonial Government as surveyor, who dressed her maidservants in the �Kabosrotu,� which was also copied by some of the womenfolk in the Cape Coast community.

    9. After undergoing several improvements it is to-day almost a �finished article� among the young womenfolk, comparing not unfavourably with the dress of their educated sisters. It now incorporates an elaborate Asi-tam (skirt) and long upper coat with loose sleeves, a headkerchief not unlike the European toque, stockings and slippers or shoes, and a handbag. This improvement has been mainly due to the progressive Fanti woman, who is to-day regenerating the other aboriginal inhabitants, as well as the Kroo, Hausa, Wangara and other alien women inhabitants, in this direction.

    10. Religion. They were polytheistic in their religion. They selected for devotional purposes nature objects, such as the sun, moon, living animals, the sea, trees, rocks, rivers and streams, believing that the Abusum (deities) they worshipped inhabited these nature objects. Scraps of parchment tinged with blood, wooden and clay idols and charms bedaubed with palm oil and eggs and other objects, constituted their suman (fetish), which was a false form of worship. They, however, based their chief belief in a Supreme Being, who ruled and pervaded the entire Universe, and whom they called Nyankupon (the Great Friend) or the Only Great One; that is, the Omnipotent and Everlasting God.

    11. Occupation. They manufactured ironware, soap, earthenware, cottons interwoven with silk, sandals and skin caps, mats, hemp, gold, silver and copper ornaments, and other articles of dress. They were mostly husbandmen, and were fond of game and other sylvan pursuits. They also fished in the lakes, rivers and streams in Central Africa, and in the sea after the immigration.

    . They traded largely with the Asiantifu, and also with the upland or northern tribes, known as Sarimfu, in ironware, cattle, country cloths and other commodities, their principal currency being gold, also in kind. In later times cowries were used for small dealings.

    12. The Clan System. Clanship, upon which rests the whole fabric of society among the Fanti peoples, is based upon the belief that between the members of a group of families and certain classes of natural objects, such as animals, birds, fish and plants, certain intimate relations exist.. Such a species of animal, bird or fish is regarded as a totem or common origin of the tribe, for which reason the members do not eat, kill or trap it. On the sale or death of a totem, any member of its representative tribe would buy or bury it with every mark of respect, as would be paid to its human member, or, if captured alive, ransom it with a large sum of money.
    Hutton, William, A voyage to Africa, London, 1821
    83 The natives in this part of Africa are Pagans. It is true they have fetish men or priests, but these ignorant wretches do more harm than good, frequently practising the most shameful excesses upon their still more ignorant and superstitious followers, who are silly enough to have faith in what these priests profess. They appear, however to have some idea of a Supreme Being, whom they call Yaung Coompon; and when they hear thunder they will sometimes remark, that it is Yaung Coompon riding in his carriage. Their usual method of offering sacrifices is to break eggs and leave them on the ground which they consecrate to the Fetish; some tie a piece of string round a stone, and leave it on the public path; others cut out a small wooden image and fasten it to their doors, which they daily worship; and having, on one occasion, inadvertently kicked one of these wooden gods before me, the fetish man demanded a penalty of a bottle of rum for having done so, which he said was necessary to appease the Fetish; but, as I considered it would only encourage these Fetishmen to practise similar impositions upon others, I would not pay the demand, which appeared to give great offence. They have no regular mosques, but little places are erected, sometimes with mud, but more frequently with sticks and leaves, in the form of a small arbour, where they leave eggs, stones, and earthen pots; and in supplicating the Sooman, they make a most dismal noise, calling out upon their father (Majeh), or their mother (Minnah).

    I have already stated, that at Dixcove, in Ahanta, the natives worship the crocodile; at Accra, the hyena, and vultures all over the coast. A gentleman (I believe Mr. F. L. Swanzy) having killed a hyena at Accra, was obliged to pay one piece of cloth and a case of liquor as a penalty. At Dahomey the snake is revered; and a party of Englishmen destroying one of these animals were, in consequence all put to death.

    At some of our settlements on the coast, human sacrifices have frequently been made on the death of a person of distinction. On one occasion, in 1809, when I lived at Commenda, which is twenty miles from Cape Coast, a poor woman was sacrificed to �water the grave,� as it is called; but the manner in which it was done was humane, in comparison with the method which is sometimes practised in torturing the victim. This woman's head was severed from her body, by one blow with a sort of bill, and the executioner was immediately taken upon men's shoulders, and carried round the town in triumph, for not having mangled the body . . .

    This practice of sacrificing human victims, on the death of a person of distinction, is not confined to one part of the coast; it being carried on, at other places, to a much greater extent, and even with more savage barbarity.

    At Ashantee hundreds, sometimes thousands, are sacrificed on the death of a person of distinction, or on the commencement of the yam season.

    . . . But as the introduction of the customs of other countries may not be exactly correct in speaking of those of Fantee, we will now return to our remarks on that country. When a person dies, the corpse is kept for several days, and dressed in a silk or cloth robe and cap; and, being put in an erect posture, the family and friends all assemble round it some of them howling for days and nights in the most dismal manner; but the firing of guns and drinking, on such an occasion, make it appear more like a day of rejoicing than that of' mourning. The gold ornaments and silks of the deceased are put in the coffin and buried with the corpse, in the house of the family.

    89 . . .Polygamy is allowed; and even Europeans shamefully degrade themselves by keeping two or three women at a time. Their method of obtaining these poor girls from their mothers is by giving cloth, liquor, tobacco, and pipes to the amount of 15. or 20. on the day of the marriage, and as long as these girls behave well they receive an allowance of 15s. per month.

    Marriages are not attended with any religious ceremony. The parents or family of the female receive a certain sum, depending on the rank and wealth of the husband, a few pipes and tobacco, and some liquor, with which they make merry: and the bride, being dressed in costly silks, and richly ornamented with gold, parades through the town with her friends for several days, to show herself and make her marriage known. Adultery is punished with slavery; but in general one, two, or three slaves are paid to the injured husband. In this country, as in all others, there is no want of prostitutes.

    The natives are the greatest thieves I ever met with. This is their general character . . .

    . . . Although the Ashantee are great thieves, many of them are industrious, and work hard. They follow the occupations of fishing, trade and agriculture; others are employed by the Europeans in various capacities, such as gold takers, hammock men, canoe-men, messengers, &c. . .

    93 The women work very hard and are generally great slaves to the men; they are extremely cleanly, but I cannot say so much for their delicacy, having seen hundreds of them at a time in a state of nudity, at the sea-side, at Cape Coast, washing themselves, which they do every morning early; after which they use a little oil, to make their skins shine.

    The superior black women and mulattoes dress very modestly. They wear a cloth either of silk or cotton, which they fasten round their waist with a handkerchief, from which is suspended in front a large bunch of silver keys, about thirty two in number . . . The young girls in general are proud of showing their bosoms, but the mulatto women conceal theirs by wearing a linen shirt.

    95 It is difficult to define the religion, laws, and customs of a barbarous people, whose language you are unacquainted with, and who either wilfully evade your questions, or are unable to give you satisfactory answers; but what has already been said, it is hoped, will convey to the reader some idea of the Fantees . . .

    Indian corn, within the last few years; has been cultivated to a great extent. Many vessels have been loaded with it for Madeira and other places, which is strong proof that if the slave trade were once entirely abolished and the attention of the native directed to agricultural pursuits, they would soon become a very superior people. The country would be better cultivated; and the natives civilized. The former is blessed with a fine climate, and the latter with intellectual capacity little inferior to our own.

    The general appearance of the country is beautiful, many parts resembling a gentleman's park; deer, hares, partridges, wild ducks; pigeons, &c. abound; sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry are also plentiful.

    The natives on the coast live commonly upon cankey and fish; the latter they procure in great abundance from the sea, and the former is the black's bread, and is an excellent substitute for European bread when flour is scarce . . .

    Palm wine is drank all over the coast . . . rum, however, is preferred. The natives on the coast, as well as those in the interior, manufacture pots and other vessels, which they cook their victuals in, and make use of in carrying palm oil and water . . .

    As regards the general character of the Fantees, I cannot speak very favourably . .
    Lee, Mrs. R. (Mrs. T. Edward Bowdich), Stories of Strange Lands, London, 1835
    22 . . . the jewels, or rather gold ornaments, form no inconsiderable portion of family property; they descend from mother to daughter; and one woman, on state occasions, will frequently wear many hundred pounds' worth of gold about her person. A very pretty Mustee girl (of the palest shade of colour) came to see me the morning after her marriage, and had on a very fine linen shirt (a covering adopted by all above the black shade), and over that two cloths, one of which had cost sixty pounds. Her fair hair was combed in the form of a cone to the top of her head, and profusely ornamented with golden butterflies and devices; her shirt was fastened in front with four brooches, and a large golden button at the collar and each wrist; manillas encircled her arms half-way up to the elbow, and the most splendid chains were hung across her shoulders; every finger was covered with rings as far as the first joint; her cloth was girt round her hips, and on this girdle hung golden lions and other ornaments; her ankles were also laden, and every toe was decorated like her fingers. The two slaves who followed her into the room were also richly dressed, and each had a bandeau of English guineas round their heads, fastened together with pieces of gold wire. The workmanship of many of these ornaments is exquisite, and they sometimes represent musical instruments, bells, stools, &c., and many are imitated from European patterns . . .

    . . . It is a great piece of finery in a Fantee woman to walk about with an European parasol over her head, and I could never forbear smiling when I met these jetty ladies, shading their complexions as carefully from the sun as if they had been the fairest of blondes.

    24 All the decorations here mentioned are in strict keeping with the fashion of the country; the negro women emulate the Mulatto mode of dressing the hair, and, by dint of pulling, combing, and greasing, they make it tolerably smooth. The European ear-rings are often valued by way of variety; and I once gave the highest pleasure to a native woman, by presenting her with a pair of Mosaic workmanship: they represented the �Forget me not,� in every stage, from the bud to the dying petals; and she repeated my explanation of them, with evident pride at being the sole possessor of such a treasure. The blackening of the eyelids  is borrowed from the Moorish women who always keep a little bodkin-like case full of powdered lead, or antimony near them. The soolah tooth-picks come chiefly from Accra . . . and cause a slightly bitter taste; the rich women are scarcely ever without one, which they keep behind the ear, and they sit on a stool, by the hour together, rubbing their teeth and watching the children play, or directing their slaves in domestic operations. The coquetish little white patterns under the eye, are by no means unpleasing in effect, and are produced by dipping the blocks into liquid chalk, and applying them when wet to the skin. The shea tolu, or vegetable butter, comes from a very large tree, first made known to Europeans by the enterprising Mungo Park who brought a branch of it from Africa in his hat. It bears different names in the various parts of Africa in which it exists; but, in Fantee, as the butter alone is met with, it is called Ashantee grease. . .  It extends over a large portion of the continent, from Jaloff and Houssa to the latitude of the Gaboon, and, perhaps, even further.  It is an excellent article of food when quite fresh, and enters into almost all the dishes of the natives. If potted with salt it becomes rancid, but will otherwise keep its flavour for a long time. It is one of the finest cosmetics possible, and, without some such aid the skins of the negroes, constantly exposed to the sun, would crack and peel off in white scales. White people are always obliged to purchase it for their servants, as, when they omit doing so, such incessant recourse is had to the palm oil intended for the lamps, that, for the sake of their olfactory nerves, they are forced to procure some at any price . . . A servant from Booroom, to the north of Ashantee, told me, that her people bruise the nut, boil it in water till the oil rises to the top and then skim this off, and put it into calabashes to cool and harden. The celebrated French chemist, M. Chevreuil, analyzed it for me, and found it admirably adapted for the manufacture of soap; and from its being inodorous, it would be valuable for the finer sorts. It is highly capable of taking a perfume, as the beauties of Fantee always succeed in giving it the odour they desire.

    26 The line of succession in these Countries passes to the sister's son. Where the morals of females are so lax, as in these barbarous nations, it is argued that no one can feel certain of having one of his own race to succeed him, unless it be the son of a sister, in whom there must be a portion of the blood of the family.

    27 One of the superstitions of Fantee is, that slaves and very poor people, being unable to enter heaven on their own account, wander for ever round the fetish-houses, or religion temples, in a state of happy ease, free from all care and labour.

    The priests are supposed to have the power of working charms, for or against any one whom they please, which are called good or bad fetish, and no threat can be more feared than that of calling down the latter on the head of an offender.

    28 Hibiscus trionum. All the tribe of Malvace� are exquisitely beautiful in this part of Africa; and with these and other flowers, the women, when, at home, frequently deck their hair. A beautiful little black girl who came from a great distance in the interior waited on me, and was always dressed in a blue and white checked cloth, which came no further than just below her knees, that her well-formed legs might be seen, and shaving her head (which is a constant custom among the lower classes) all but one small tuft on the side, she used to stick one of the scarlet flowers of the Poinciana pulcherrima, or Barbadoes pride, in it and thus formed a sort of livery for herself and another attendant about the same age, who delighted in copying the pretty Beeah.

    The average value of an Ounce of gold is about four pounds sterling.

    The poorer classes believe, that to die with or for a great person, secures their entrance into heaven; and many have been known to die voluntarily, in order to be admitted into that paradise from which their poverty and inferior station have banished them.

    There is also a belief, that all the wealth buried with the dead accompanies them to the next world, and that the soul is blessed according to the value of the property it takes with it.

    The nearest relations of a deceased person never sleep inside a house for six weeks after the event.

    This is the usual mourning colour, but higher ranks, and royal personages, wear white cloths, painted with black designs; the dye for which is formed of fowls' blood, and the bark of a tree, of which I have forgotten the name. They spread this cloth on the ground, and, beginning at the top with a feather, they retreat on hands and knees as they fill up the space with the pattern.

    123 The black man or woman can never (generally speaking) be seen to greater advantage than in a sick room, where their patience and gentleness are exemplary, and their touch and step almost imperceptible. . .

    125 These accounts come from those who have marched in the slave kaffle, and even fall short of reality: my little Adua, from Booroom, was not quite so badly treated, for she was soon sold to the Ashantee King, from whom I received her.  She told me, that having met some of her countrymen on her way, she had sent a message to her mother to beg her to forward a ransom; but, added the child, �she no care for me, for she never buy me again
    132 Many have been the efforts, and great the zeal, expended on these poor people, and yet Christianity has made little or no progress in the Western part of Africa . . . It is a subject which has always deeply interested me, and I cannot forbear to offer a few comments concerning it.  We must first grant that these nations have all been, more or less, corrupted by that abominable traffic which was so long a disgrace to civilization. They have seen the worst of the Europeans, and their natural proneness to imitation, added to the idea which has in all ages existed of the superiority of the white man, has led them to adopt the manners of the Slave-traders.  It is a well-established fact, that one bad example will do far more harm than a good one will cause improvement; and, unfortunately, of these examples the very worst have been offered to the Western Negroes, I am sorry to say, even among those charged expressly with the task of enlightening them. I have heard them say, `Parson tell us black man more wicked, he no lub one anoder, and den Parson go home, beat his wife.� Added to this strongly operating cause, there is much mistaken zeal in the well disposed, which leads them to expect too much at once. It is a task of great difficulty even to teach a Negro to read; he quickly copies every thing which requires manual dexterity, he rapidly seizes on the form of every thing he beholds, and sooner learns to write than to read; for the moment he meets with words of a metaphysical nature, he vainly trys to attach a meaning to them. Very excellent people have thought when a Negro, by dint of application, has been enabled to read the Gospel fluently, they have given him an infallible means of conversion; but when we consider that the whole of his previous life has been spent in the gratification of sensual feelings, can it be wondered at that the mind must be prepared before any real impression can be made upon it? In consequence of the rapid mortality which took place at Cape Coast, and which was in after-years diminished by more temperate habits, and skilful medical officers, it was suggested that a coloured man should be educated in England for the chaplaincy. Accordingly, one named Quawquee, aged nineteen was taken from among the canoe-men. In the first place, it was injudicious to choose him from the worst set of men in the community; and, in the next he was too old but he was sent to England, christened, educated at Westminster, and, in a few years, ordained by the then Bishop of London. He returned to Cape Coast as the Rev. Philip Quawquee, and for some years performed the church service in his rooms at the Castle; he married a black woman, himself performing the Christian rites; his life was tolerably moral, and he was supposed to have no fear of death, and even to desire it, and he sent to England for a tombstone, properly inscribed with his name and profession. But the hour arrived which proves us all; and he sent for the old fetishwomen of Cape Coast, who smeared his doorposts with blood and eggs, practised every charm ever invented by African pagans and he died in the midst of their yells and incantations; his greatest consolation being that, according to his request, he should be buried in the spur of the fortress, and every one would see he had been parson Quawquee...
    . . . Another obstacle to conversion has also come under my observation; and it is that of giving a gloomy character to a religion which is to bless mankind. A Wesleyan missionary, with whom I was well acquainted, and who was one of the best men I ever saw had brought his followers into better order than the rest of their brethren; but their gloom and despondency was a melancholy contemplation and the tears and groans which attended their worship either showed they were hypocrites, or that religion was no comfort to them. Could it then be expected to last among a lively, thoughtless people, who had been much happier before Christianity had been offered to them? Certainly not; and one by one they relapsed into their former condition. A question naturally from the contemplation of all the endeavours hitherto made, for out of many there have been some well directed, and others zealously followed. Whether it be yet the time for the civilization of the Negro ? We can scarcely think it, when we see the zealous and kind Sir CharIes McCarthy, the firm, the judicious, and principled Mr. Hope Smith, pass away without having effected any change; when we see yet another, gifted with youth, temperance and judgment full of the acquirements of science and art, of cool courage, and inexhaustible resource in the hour of danger, well versed in the character and languages of the people, placing his most ardent wishes on, and sacrificing every other hope to, the amelioration of the African, carrying the spirit of the Cross into all his actions, when we see him, too, called away at the moment of entering upon, his self-imposed duties, we are, inclined to say the hour of God is not yet come for this benighted world!
    OTHER REFERENCES Arhin, Kwame (ed.) The Cape Coast and Elmina Handbook: Past, present and future, Inst. of African Studies, University of Ghana, 1995. Contains an essay by Kwame Arhin on Cape Coast and Elmina in Historical Perspective.
    Debrunner, Hans. W., A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra 1967.

    Royal African, The. _The Royal African; or, Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamaboe._ London: W. Reeve, c. 1750. 

    An account by a prince from Anomabo who describes the Gold Coast (18th century), his father the chief, how his brother went to France, how he was sold into slavery and then redeemed, and his reception in England as a prince

    1 comment:

    1. The references to slaves I find interesting as in many cases I reads it as "worker". Also the relationship between "slaves" and apparent masters are not in line with what we are familiar with in the transatlantic variant. For example:

      "When the palm-wine comes from the inland country they go in the afternoon, slaves and all together, as companions, to the public market place, where they sit down and drink very sociably.

      Some of these slaves have more authority than their masters. For . . .by their own trading they are become masters of some slaves themselves