Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante

Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante

Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante

Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante

Excerpt

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were ones of momentous change in Europe. Out of the crises of feudalism arose the new nationstates. By the end of the period labor had taken precedence over bullion in the market, and the capitalist "world-system" had been born. An ancient Mediterranean economy was giving way to a modern Atlantic one. The same centuries were also ones of momentous change in West Africa. Old systems not unlike the feudalisms of medieval Europe were falling apart. Mali went into decline in the fifteenth century, and Songhay rose and fell in the sixteenth. They were replaced by new polities, which were in time to show some of the features of the nation-state: Oyo, Dahomey, Asante, and the rest. The political economy changes. The precise diagnosis may elude us, but the symptoms are apparent. Status is derived from wealth as well as birth, and networks of credit and debt as well as of kinship become important in maintaining the social fabric. Everything -- even people -- acquires a transactional value, and the slave trade becomes the commercial triumph and the moral shame of Europe and West Africa alike.

In the fifteenth century the two subcontinents were inextricably linked within the Mediterranean economy, by virtue of the gold trade. In the course of the seventeenth century they became inextricably linked within the Atlantic economy, by virtue of the slave trade. There is, in all of this, a Great Debate still to be pursued. This essay is offered as a contribution to that debate. It explores the ways in which the Wangara of the Western Sudan, the Akan of the Guinea Coast, and the Portuguese of the Atlantic shores of Europe became locked into a system of production that signalled, for those who could see the writing on the wall, something of the nature of the impending changes.

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