Slave Owners of West Africa: Decision Making in the Age of Abolition

By Sandra E. Greene | Go to book overview

Introduction

A FOREIGN POWER extends its rule over the community in which you live. What would you do? How would you respond? Resistance? But in what form and for how long? Acceptance of and adaptation to the new status quo? But what does that entail? Cautious optimism when that foreign power states it will rectify long-standing grievances? Wariness because of the possibility of unfulfilled promises? These are the questions that West Africans faced in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. By the end of World War One, most everyone in the entire region found themselves colonized by either France, Britain, Germany, or Portugal. And with colonization came the imposition of laws that impacted the very structures that had governed their lives. Local political institutions and practices were altered or abolished; communities found themselves governed by individuals who were often imposed upon them, individuals who would have not been considered even remotely legitimate in such positions in the past. Certain cultural practices suddenly became illegal. European missionaries who had operated in the area only with the permission of a community’s leaders, were now perceived as not only proselytizers of a new religion, but individuals whose activities—no matter how objectionable—had the backing of an imperial power that too often took little notice of local concerns. At the same time, novel opportunities emerged. Those who had felt oppressed by the very order that others sought to defend—some women, young people, strangers, and the enslaved—assessed and at times embraced the changes that the new order introduced. Innumerable studies have documented how West Africans responded to the early years of colonial rule. They offered, individually and collectively, simultaneously and in sequence, resistance, accommodation, manipulation of the new institutions imposed, withdrawal from the colonial orbit of control, and engagement to take full advantage of the opportunities associated with colonialism.1 Of particular concern here is how West Africans responded to one particular aspect of colonial rule: the abolition of slavery.


On Responses to Colonial Abolition: Former Slaves
and Former Masters

Prior to colonization, West Africans of every social status had long expressed sentiments that recognized the cruelty associated with slavery and the slave trade. Such sentiments are evident in the songs, proverbs, and life histories that have

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Slave Owners of West Africa: Decision Making in the Age of Abolition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amegashie Afeku of Keta- Priest, Political Advisor, Businessman, Slave Owner 13
  • 2 - Nyaho Tamakloe of Anlo- Of Chieftaincy and Slavery, of Politics and the Personal 31
  • 3 - Noah Yawo of Ho-Kpenoe- The Faith Journey of a Slave Owner 54
  • 4 - Concluding Thoughts 84
  • Notes 89
  • Bibliography 107
  • Index 121
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