Kola is God's Gift: Agricultural Production, Export Initiatives and the Kola Industry of Ashante and the Gold Coast c. 1820-1950. By Edmund Abaka. Western African Studies. Athens: Ohio University Press; Oxford: James Curry; Accra: Woeli Publishing Services, 2005. Pp. xv, 173; map, figure, and tables. $44.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.
Abaka has written a slim but very erudite book focusing on the production of kola nuts in the Ashanti region and its export northwards, toward the Volta basin, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book includes a chapter on kola trade along the Atlantic coast, and a section on the volume of kola exports to Brazil in the middle of the nineteenth century. The author argues that the Asante developed the kola from an uncultivated local tree to a major cash crop, promoting plantations, and organizing its external trade.
The kola trade illustrates some the unexpected features of the economic history of West Africa that are also reshaping our understanding of its cultural past. The Asante hardly used the kola themselves, which remains true today, and this is also the case with many farming populations living along the trade routes of the interior. The nuts were packed for the long haul to reach their consumer destination in the north, especially among the Muslims of the Sahel, the number of which greatly swelled during the nineteenth century. Abaka notes that this lead to an expansion of the transregional kola market, an additional corrective to the misconception that the intensification of the Atlantic trade resulted in the withering of the interior north-south trade links of West Africa. Another outlet for the kola nut was the medicinal market of the Middle East and Europe (from which we inherited the Cola drinks that became emblematic of modernity), although this aspect of the precolonial "legitimate trade" pales in the literature compared to discussion of the larger volume of palm oil exports from West Africa to Europe.
In the first chapter Abaka discusses kola's significance as food and drug in West Africa, and the role it plays in local communities. In the second chapter he outlines the historical geography of the kola-producing zone, the botany of the plant, kola farming techniques and their development. The third chapter presents a discussion of the diffusion of kola farming from its cradle to other parts of the Gold Coast, areas west of the Volta River, and even parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. …