Pageant of Ghana
Pageant of Ghana
To the outside world the Gold Coast was, from the time of its discovery by the Portuguese in 1471 down to the nineteenth century, literally a line of coast whose hinterland was supposed to be rich in gold. Europeans from many different countries, keeping close to their forts along the shore, did not know at first-hand that the thick bush near the sea changed into dense forest about twenty miles inland, though they heard about it from African traders. There was no knowledge at all of the vast arid grassland beyond the forest, stretching for hundreds of miles until it merged into the Sahara desert, nor of the fertile hills that lay inland, east of the river Volta, the only considerable waterway on the coast. White traders recognized that tribal and linguistic differences were slight among the many states of the western and central parts of the coastal belt, whereas the people in and east of Accra had their own distinctive language and customs. The villages where Europeans built their forts were for the most part appendages of larger inland towns, the capitals of states, many of them fragmentary though a few extended over fairly wide areas. Some of these states can still be identified today by name and general location.
The people of the forest were known collectively as Akans until they were distinguished, towards the end of the seventeenth century, by the names of their states, such as Ashanti, Denkera, Akim, and Akwamu. Their language was very similar to that of the majority of coast-dwellers, but apart from the reputation the Akans enjoyed as astute traders, and the assumption that gold was to be found in their territory, nothing came to light about the interior before the beginning of the nineteenth century. The modern Northern Territories, whose inhabitants are very different in language, culture, and organization from their southern neighbours, have been revealed only in the last eighty years.
Unfortunately no first-hand accounts have survived of the earliest Portuguese activities on the Gold Coast so that it has been necessary to draw upon later writers whose versions are colourful if not altogether authentic. The Portuguese historian John de Barros, whose account of the discovery of Mina (as the . . .