Kola Is God's Gift: Agricultural Production, Export Initiatives and the Kola Industry in Asante and the Gold Coast C. 1820-1950

Article excerpt

Edmund Abaka. Kola Is God's Gift: Agricultural Production, Export Initiatives and the Kola Industry in Asante and the Gold Coast c. 1820-1950. Athens: Ohio University Press/Oxford: James Currey/Accra: Woeli Publishing, 2005. xv + 173 pp. Maps. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. $44.95. Cloth. $24.95. Paper.

The kola nut has been a major commodity in West African markets for many centuries, beginning long before its distinct taste provided inspiration for several soft drinks. The nuts are considered a mild stimulant, an important reason the common folk chewed it at naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and other social occasions. For the wealthy, kola constituted a luxury and served as a sign of their hospitality and affluence. In the nineteenth century, a vast interlocking grid of commercial networks in the forest and savanna regions facilitated the exchange of large amounts of kola. States that emerged in the forest regions derived revenue from kolarelated activities, while individuals earned their income from engaging in its production and trade. Edmund Abaka's Kola Is God's Gift gives us an account of the Asante-Gold Coast aspect of the kola industry-the expansion of its production, trade, and consumption-between 1820 and 1950.

In the introduction, Abaka proposes to examine the "transformation of kola nuts from an uncultivated indigenous tree to a major cash crop during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries" (1). Throughout the book he reminds us that the history of kola, like that of other psychoactive substances, is a complicated subject, all the more so because it exists at the crossroads of several disciplines: agricultural history, botany and pharmacology, anthropology, economic development, nutrition, and labor history, to say nothing of Asante-Gold Coast cultural studies and political economy. As Abaka says, "kola has multiple histories." He raises the reader's expectations when he promises in the next sentence that his study will explain "some of the changing patterns in consumerism of kola and kola products in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America..." (3). This is a bit misleading, however, since this book is not a comprehensive account of the place of kola outside of Africa.

Chapter 2 deals with kola's agronomy: the varieties of kola, soils where it thrives, and its propagation, crop yields, methods of harvest, and preservation techniques. In chapter 3 the author successfully debunks what he calls the "wild tree crop theory," a persistent myth that Africans made no conscious effort in the expansion of the tree crop. Kola's dispersion, Abaka argues, was a deliberate act. He offers a critique of the theory of nature, favoring a story of culture in which the Asante state and traders expanded production in response to increasing demand from the Muslim areas of West Africa and emergent markets in Brazil, Europe, and North America. …