To Wassa Fiase for Gold: Rethinking Colonial Rule, El Dorado, Antislavery, and Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast (Ghana), 1874-1895

By Akurang-Parry, Kwabena O. | History In Africa, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

To Wassa Fiase for Gold: Rethinking Colonial Rule, El Dorado, Antislavery, and Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast (Ghana), 1874-1895


Akurang-Parry, Kwabena O., History In Africa


I

In a recent book, El Dorado in West Africa, Raymond E. Duinetr examines the history of gold-mining in Wassa Fiasc in the Western Province of the Gold Coast during the last three decades of the nineteenth century.1 Among other thematic preoccupations, Diimett argues that until the late 189Os the British colonial authorities did very little to encourage capitalist gold-mining in Wassa Fiase,2 Resurrecting the ghost of local crisis, he argues that the colonial intervention in Wassa Fiase was due to king Enimil Kwao's ineptitude, structural conflict inherent in chieftaincy, and problems of African rulers' territorial jurisdictions.

Dumett also asserts that it was a forceful London-based antislavcry lobby1 and Governor George Strahan's tactlessness that drove the colonial state to intervene in Wassa Fiase.4 Although Britain was at the center stage of the unprecedented global conunodification of gold in the late nineteenth century,5 Dumett evokes serendipity as the cause of the British colonial intervention in the gold-rich Wassa Fiase. Overall, his explication of the aims and processes of colonial rule in Wassa Fiase is couched in theses of an "unpredictable course" and "a government policy (more rather a nonpolicy) [sic] riddled with vacillation and half measures . . ."6

The first part of the present study reviews the literature, while the second section, based on new official sources and newspaper accounts, gives additional insights into Enimil Kwao's slave-dealing trial and his consequent exile to Lagos, hence reevaluates the objectives of the colonial state and the Colonial Office. The study complements the work of Francis Agbodeka and Paul Rosenblum, who have respectively argued that colonial rule in Wassa Fiase paved the way for capitalist gold-mining.7 More important, the study disputes Dumett's conclusions regarding colonial rule in Wassa Fiase and colonial policies toward Enimil Kwao. I argue that local crisis, the role of the London-based antislavery lobby, and the impetuosity of Governor Strahan do not adequately explain the colonial intervention in Wassa Fiase. I show that colonial rule in Wassa Fiase was systematic, aimed at supporting capitalist gold-mining ventures from the early 188Os, and not from the late 189Os, as Dumett asserts.8 Indeed, the focal point of contention should be the degree of the colonial state's success in harnessing gold-mining from the inception of colonial rule, rather than as Dumett states, its objection to gold-mining until Joseph Chamberlain's economic policies in the late 189Os.

II

Like other states in the southern Gold Coast, Wassa Fiase was an independent polity that came under formal British colonial rule in 1874-75.' From about 1874 to the end of the century, Wassa Fiase was subjected to both European and African gold-rush, but Dumett explains that, as "the last quarter of the nineteenth century unfolded the European presence became stronger."1" The period of the gold rush and the publicity given to it coincided with the reign of Enimil Kwao." From 1878 to 1895, about 35 gold-mining and concession companies registered to operate in Wassa Fiase.12 Cresting on the wave of popular support, Hnimil Kwao refused to rescind the independence of Wassa Fiase to colonial rule, leading to the Wassa Fiases" protracted resistance from 1875 to Cfl.l890.13

Roscnblum has argued that in order to maximize colonial rule and capitalist development of the Wassa goldfields, the colonial state used nebulous antislavery policies to weaken Enimil Kwao's hold on his state.H Mediating the economic interpretation, Francis Agbodeka shows that the exile of Enimil Kwao to Lagos was the main reason for the Wassa Fiases' resistance to colonial rule." Overall, the respective perspectives of Rosenblum and Agbodeka are selective ones, penetrating on some issues, but uninformative on others. Neither adequately analyzes the problem with Enimil Kwao's payment of the fine for slave-dealing and its implications, the politics of exile, and the roles of the Colonial Office and successive colonial governments. …

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