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

By Sandra E. Greene | Go to book overview

3
Noah Yawo of Ho-Kpenoe:
The Faith Journey of a Slave Owner

Anybody who has 8 to 10 sheep is referred to as a rich man. Even if he has only
five sheep, a person is rich, especially if he also has some goats, chicken and
pigs. When he lends 40 marks to somebody, this person becomes his pledge; if
he lends another about 100 marks, this person also becomes his pledge as well.
Such a man is rich…. This type of rich person buys slaves and marries many
wives. When a festival is celebrated, and he wants to show off, he distributes
beautiful clothes among his children, cooks a good meal and makes available a
lot of palm wine for people to drink…. He buys guns and gun powder for his
children and pawns. His bowls are full of cowry-shells. He lives in a spacious
house, and has plantations of yams, maize and cassava. Anyone who can do all
this is a rich man.

        —Jakob Spieth, The Ewe People1

THERE IS NO better description for the man known as Yawo, who came from the village of Ho-Kpenoe in what is now southeastern Ghana. As a well-known businessman and farmer, he was indeed wealthy. He did not have the kinds of assets possessed by Amegashie Afeku or Tamakloe. Still, in 1862, he was known in his community as a well-to-do slave owner.2 Yawo had the financial resources not only to buy men, women, and children at the busy markets in the area, but to marry and maintain three wives. His household included all these individuals, as well as a number of debt pawns, individuals given to him temporarily, to serve as both collateral and as workers, by those to whom he had lent money. He conducted business in his home area, and as far afield as the towns of Agotime and Kpando, about twenty-six and sixty kilometers respectively, from his village of Kpenoe.3 Yet, in 1875, some thirteen years later, Yawo abandoned it all. He divorced two of his wives. He renounced slave ownership and stated publicly that he would acquire no new slaves. In addition, he agreed to free the children of his slaves, and to allow the adults to redeem themselves. In other words, “he gave away … much money.”4 How did someone like Yawo come to make such a momentous decision? What prompted him to abandon everything that he had worked for, to eschew the markers of success that had been defined by his

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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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