Re-Evaluating the ‘Colonization’ of Akyem Abuakwa

Amoako Atta, the Basel Mission, and the Gold Coast Courts, 1867–1887

Trevor R. Getz

Colonialism looms large in Ghanaian history, yet it remains unclear what constitutes the moment of ‘colonization’. In 1986, Tom McCaskie labeled the period barrier between pre-colonial and colonial history in modern Ghana an intellectual ‘deadzone’1, yet for the coastal micro-politics and for Asante, at least, studies of the transition from sovereign state to colony have since proliferated. However, the complex process by which several large sovereign interior states became constituent regions of the Gold Coast Protectorate, and later the Gold Coast Colony, is still not clearly understood. In contrast to the coastal states, the relationship between Britain and interior states such as the paramouncy of Akyem Abuakwa continued after the 1873–4 war against Asante continued to be one of alliance, rather than subjugation. Nor, unlike for Asante, were there any decisive battles to usher them into the colonial fold. Instead, the period immediately preceding full-scale occupation tended to be characterized by the spread of Christianity, questions of land tenure, struggles over judicial responsibility, and disagreements over anti-Asante strategy, suddenly punctuated by brief but violent events.

Perhaps one of the most compelling case studies of these complex issues is Robert Addo-Fening’s Akyem Abuakwa 1700–1943. In exploring the gradual subjugation of the independent Akan polity of Akyem Abuakwa to the British Gold Coast administration, Addo-Fening highlights the roles of Okyeman2 indigenous bodies and agents of the Basel Mission in driving the changing relationship between the British administrators and the Paramount Chief of Akyem Abuakwa during this period—Okyenhene3 Amoako Atta I.

However, there is an additional aspect that needs to be considered in the narrative of Akyem Abuakwa’s subjegation: the role of legal issues and institutions. As Lauren Benton has pointed out in her recent comparative work on the relationship between law and colonialism, in the process of occupation, “contests over cultural and religious boundaries and their representations in law become struggles over the nature and structure of political authority.”4 Akyem Abuakwa, at least, lost its sovereignty not through force or treaty, but through the transfer of legal authority, bit by bit, from the politico-religious personages and institutions of the Okyeman state to the British colonial administration in Accra and its representatives.

The State of Akyem Abuakwa

Akyem Abuakwa was an independent polity occupying roughly its current position by about 1630.5 As a clan, its founders had migrated from the present-day region of Adanse to escape the growing pressure of neighbouring expansionist states. The resulting polity, as it underwent a transition from the politics of migration to the politics of settlement, encompassed a diversity of identities other than that of the ruling Asona clan. Not only non-Akyem Akan groups, but also ethnic minorities such as Ga and Ewe-speaking farmers became attached to the state, especially after the Akyem victory over Akwamu in 1730, in which Akyem Abuakwa absorbed a number of separate Akwamu settlements.6 Throughout Akyem history, the position of outsiders and their loyalty to the state would be somewhat ambiguous.

Nevertheless, a sense of Akyemfoo (sing. Okyeni), or the ‘Akyem people’, was, as Richard Rathbone has ably demonstrated, building throughout the nineteenth century. By the accession of Amoako Atta to the stool7 in 1867, the state was bound together by a political and spiritual authority which resided chiefly in the person of the Okyenhene and in the major state rituals at which local rulers “reaffirmed their allegiance to Akyem Abuakwa’s royal” at the capital of Kyebi.8

The state’s convoluted history of migration and conflict built a complex and rather unique system of support for the Okyenhene. The constant threat of invasion by the Asante, and the accompanying threat of disloyalty from non-Akyem populations, led in the mid-eighteenth century to the formation of a national asafo, or ready-force, called the amantoomiensa, composed of the militias of the eight villages closest to the state capital of Kyebi.

Socially, the amantoomiensa formed a conservative and loyal corps upon which the Okyenhene could call in times of need. Within the power structure, the leaders of this militia took their place alongside the five division-heads of the various provinces of the state and the Ankobea, or executive council of the court and royal family. Politically, the amantoomiensa claimed to speak for the citizenry of the state and thus assumed control of a number of important rituals.9

Together, the three institutions of government assisted the Okyenhene in his exercise of power over the realm. Each also played an important role in religious and customary practices, and each wielded some legal jurisdiction. His authority was circumscribed by these bodies, the Okyenhene must have been highly aware that his religious, judicial, and political legitimacy, as well as his economic well-being, was dependent upon these various bodies, and as such one of Amoako Atta’s principal and continuing tasks was to retain their loyalty.

The British administration’s acceptance of the sovereignty of these bodies over the Okyeman state was by no means compromised by the Asante war of 1873–1874, and the subsequent treaty of protection. Despite having taken control of Dutch establishments on the coast in 1872, thereby eliminating their last European rival and inadvertently provoking a war with Asante, the British had no interest in undertaking an expansion into the interior. Instead, policy following the establishment of the Gold Coast Protectorate in 1874 was clearly aimed at keeping trade flowing from the interior while maintaining a low cost of administration. This is reflected not only in the Acts of Protectorate, but also in the implementation of the Indian Model of slave emancipation which eliminated the need for expensive enforcement actions.10 As late as 1888, at the conclusion of the events covered in this article, the Governor of the Gold Coast would express the opinion that the limits of the colony ranged no further than a limited number of coastal settlements.11

In the wake of the declaration of the Protectorate, the British administrators on the coast saw interior states such as Akyem Abuakwa not only as allies in the continuing conflict against Asante, but as potentially profitable trading partners, and there was little motivation at this early date for the political and economic disruption which inevitably accompanied colonial conquest. Such disruption, coupled with the expense of an invasion, would have dislocated the fragile but fundamental economic equation which kept the British investment on the Gold Coast profitable. The result was an arrangement which foreshadowed the policies of indirect rule of later years, and one in which the interior states remained fundamentally independent.

From their perspective, the Akyem saw the British as allies in their long war with the Asante, and after the battle of Akantamansu in 1826 were “predisposed … towards a British connection.”12 They were one of the few allied states to pay the British poll tax faithfully in the 1850s, and were firm allies in the Asante war of 1873–1874. Nevertheless, certain areas of friction were arising between Europeans and Akyemfoo in the Akyem state in the 1870s. These European were not traders or colonial representatives, but missionaries.


The Basel Missionary Society, really the third principal set of actors in this story, had been invited onto the Gold Coast by the Danish administrator of Accra in 1826, the first missionaries arriving two years later.13 Almost immediately, the BMS expanded beyond the ostensibly ‘Europeanized’ coastal zone into the interior, establishing congregations first in Krobo and Akuapem, and in 1852 in Akyem Abuakwa. John Parker has argued that the Basel Missionaries’ goals were “shaped by the doctrines of Württemburg pietism, which stressed the ideal of self-contained rural communities of “scholar farmers” and that hence the Mission “distrusted what it considered to be the morally corrupting urban milieu of Accra.” The result was that the Methodists failed to build a large congregation among the Euro-African urban trading elite of Accra.14

By contrast, the BMS was initially welcomed by then-Okyenhene Atta Panin (1835–1859), and enjoyed good relations with his successor Atta Obuom (1859–1867). Nor did the felicity of the relationship seem likely to change under Amoako Atta, who had attended the Kyebi Mission school and who, shortly after his accession, reputedly denied a request by an indigenous cleric to close the Christian school down.15 Amoako Atta appreciated the church’s role in education, and so long as they recruited only the outcasts of society—common slaves, the elderly and infirm, and immigrants—he saw them as no threat. A congregation of such individuals, however, was unlikely to catch the imagination of the community as a whole, and by 1868 the missionaries were frustrated at their lack of progress.

According to Addo-Fening, at this time the mission made a conscious decision to begin recruiting royal slaves as well as members of the court. To Atta, this represented a clear breach of his unwritten agreement with the mission. The religious conversion of officials threatened their political loyalty, so intrinsic to the coherence of the state, as well as removing their ability to carry out their ritual roles. Equally importantly, for resolution of these early conflicts the mission turned to the British authorities, threatening at one point to haul the Okyenhene before the Governor16, thus bringing into question for the first time the Okyenehene’s judicial authority within his own territory The missionaries similarly threatened to decry the amantoomiensa leadership to the administration, since this body were both Atta’s most militant supporters and the missionaries’ greatest antagonists.

The struggle between the mission and the royal court intensified following the establishment of the Protectorate in 1874, centering upon the complex issue of the emancipation of the Protectorate’s slaves. The Basel missionaries had long had a policy of opposing slavery, and had independently introduced a policy in 1863 which forced their congregation to allowed their slaves to purchase their freedom17, as well as rejecting several important slave-owning converts.18 On the other hand, the British administration on the coast was less than zealous about publicizing the emancipation edicts, which in any case made no provision for enforcement.19 For the Okyenhene and his principal chiefs, the lack of enforcement was fortuitous, as much of their capital, power, and status were tied up in their ownership of slave. Intriguingly, the emancipation edicts, while not immediately causing a major economic or social transformation for the Gold Coast generally20 have been posited as having had a significant impact on Akyem Abuakwa. Most significantly, Gerald McSheffrey argued in 1983 that there were mass self-liberation by slaves in Akyem generally and Kyebi specifically in 1874–5.21

McSheffrey’s arguments are based largely on Basel Missionary sources, which point to at least “100 slaves” leaving their masters in Kyebi in early 187522, and the principal author of these reports is an African Reverend named David Asante. Asante was related to the royal family of neighbouring Akuapem, and thus by consanguine links to Atta himself. Yet Asante had, upon his appointment to the Kyebi station in 1874, immediately antagonized the Okyenhene. Not only did he “g[i]ve wide publicity to the Slave Emancipation ordinances”, but also apparently concentrated on encouraging royal slaves to leave Atta’s service and even succeeded, by 1876, in baptizing several royal retainers.23

There were several levels to Asante’s motivation in embarrassing the king. In the first place, his father had been killed during a civil conflict in Akuapem24, and Asante clearly harboured a grudge against the extended Akuapem-Akyem royal family. On a political level, however, Peter Haenger has successfully demonstrated that Asante understood more clearly than his European coreligionists that religion and political power went hand-in-hand in Akyem Abuakwa. Asante therefore saw the undermining of Atta’s authority as the solution to the missionary’s recruitment problems, and subsequently set himself up as a patron of Christians and royal slaves.25 In order to gain resources for this struggle, Asante and his fellow field missionaries thus bombarded their headquarters in Basel with reports of massive slave exoduses in Akyem Abuakwa.

However, these reports seem to be simple propaganda. There is strikingly little evidence that Akyem’s slave population liberated themselves, although this will always be something of an open question since the British administration lacked a District Commissioner in the area. Still, Governor Strahan was able to report, in March 1875, that emancipation had not disturbed “public tranquility.”26

The absence of a DC in Akyem Abuakwa, and the lack of British sources of the interior at this time in general, is indicative of the administration’s policy of consciously limited their interference outside of the coastal zone. After the expense of the 1873–1874 war, colonial purse strings were closely guarded, and the British had little motivation for intervening in events in the interior.

The conflict between David Asante and Atta would, however, in the long run force the British to intervene in affairs in Akyem Abuakwa. After enduring several years of goading, on 20 September 1877 the Okyenhene exiled Asante from his state. Asante refused to leave, and two nights later a combined party of ‘youngmen’ and ‘palace servants’ led by the chief of Osenase town marched to the mission house to expel him.27 In the ensuing melee, the wife of a deacon was, depending on whom you believe, either ‘severely beat[en]’ or ‘touched’.28 David Asante, fleeing the scene, thus lodged a complaint with Governor Frceling in Accra against the Okyenhene for ‘unlawful banishment’ and against several other individuals for assault. As a result, Freeling summoned both the missionary party and the Okyenhene to appear before him.

At this point, Atta had every right to refuse the Governor’s summons. The colonial administration had no legal basis for jurisdiction in Akyem Abuakwa, nor would they until the extension of the Native Jurisdiction Ordinance in 1899.29 However, after some delay for consideration and following a succession of more strident letters from Accra, Atta made the tactical mistake of submitting himself to Freeling’s authority, and left for Accra in late November 1877.

At first, he seemed vindicated in his agreement to appear before the Accra court. In an exceptionally long hearing, Justice David Chalmers dismissed the charges against the Okyenhene and blasted David Asante for provoking the September riot. Governor Freeling followed up this opinion with a letter to the missionary society’s regional headquarters stating that if Asante returned to Kyebi, Atta would have the right to deal with him as he saw fit.30 On the other hand, three of Atta’s courtiers were found guilty and were all sentenced to 60 days hard labor. More importantly, by submitting himself to the Governor’s authority, Atta had created a dangerous precedent.

Overconfident of the administration’s support, Atta felt free to engage in a series of harassments of Christian communities within Akyem Abuakwa in 1878 and 1879, at least one of which culminated in the burning of a meeting-house.31 However, the administration’s attitude towards Atta was changing. The major issue here was not the internal question of slavery, which might be safely ignored, but instead Atta’s provocation of the Asante state. To the people of Akyem Abuakwa, the 1873–1874 war had been but one chapter in a century-old conflict. In 1875 and 1879 Atta had threatened to invade Asante, and in 1877 he refused to cooperate with Freeling’s orders not to arm refugees fleeing Asante.32 In these actions he was supported by a range of allied Ga chiefs in Accra. Freeling and his successor Ussher, on the other hand, saw the Asante issue as at least temporarily closed, and Atta’s brinkmanship as threatening the peace and prosperity of the Protectorate.33

It was these actions that earned forced the administration to take steps to remove Atta from power. However, while the motivation behind the subsequent actions was purely political, Ussher employed a convenient subterfuge to provide a moral substantiation for the indictment of such an important ally. It appears that he actively persuaded a missionary named Buck to manufacture evidence, between July and October 1879, that Atta was actively engaged in trading slaves.34 Thus Ussher felt he could present a potent mix of ethical and pragmatic justifications for Atta’s arrest, reporting to the Colonial office that it would serve as an excellent “example” to “deter… other native princes from deliberately breaking the law, oppressing their people, and defying the government.”35

Such accusations of slave holding and trading against recalcitrant chiefs were, it now appears, a frequently used tool in the British arsenal of control. In 1858, the paramount chief of the Yilo Krobo had faced just such an accusation in what Louis Wilson has shown to be an affair having nothing to do with slavery.36 Similarly, the paramount chief of Wassaw had been exiled for slave dealing in 1876.37 Admittedly, it was the administration’s policy to deal with slave trade much more proactively than simple slave owning, which was seen as relatively benign.38 Yet clearly, the accusation of slave trading was as much a political as a judicial tool.

The BMS enthusiastically provided the witnesses for the prosecution, including important Christians who had a grudge against the King. Atta, however, wisely chose to have his case heard by a jury which included prominent Ga and Euro-African citizens of Accra. In his cross examination, he established a history of bad blood between the chief witness, Christian gyaasehene Joseph Bosompem, and himself, carefully calculated to impress the jury with the disloyalty of this divisional chief. Although the presiding justice seems to have missed the significance of his line of questioning, it clearly shocked the jurors, who formed a negative opinion of both Bosompen and fellow Christian Emanuel Yaw Boakye, who was a key witness on the charge of ‘slave dealing by receiving a pawn’. As a result, Atta was cleared on charges of slave-dealing and pawning, to Governor Ussher’s anguish.39 He was, however, found guilty of one count of ‘malicious arson’, and subsequently sentenced to imprisonment in Lagos for five years.

Atta’s exile left the state headless, a fact quickly exploited by the BMS, who used the years 1880–1886 to increase their membership, establish new stations and schools, and effectively set up a semi-independent state in eastern Akyem Abuakwa completely free from of Okyeman judicial authority. From their principal outposts, and especially from the eastern town of Begoro, the missionaries offered “immunity from jurisdiction of the traditional Akyem courts” and flouted both Atta’s laws and traditional custom, most importantly by sanctioning the seduction of several of Atta’s wives.40

Yet Atta returned in 1885 with a determination to prevail in his conflict with the church and with a great deal of support from many of his constituents.41 Moreover, he had reason to believe that Governor W. A. G. Young and Lt. Governor Brandford Griffith, who had subsequently taken over the reins of the administration, were interested in a peaceful, negotiated resolution in Akyem Abuakwa. In fact, the two administrators clearly believed that both the political situation in Akyem and commerce to the coast were deteriorating in the King’s absence, and saw Atta’s return as a pragmatic decision.42 Thus Atta saw little harm in acceding to Griffith’s insistence that he swear to “obey and faithfully carry out the wishes of the Governor in governing the country.”43 Having received the pledge and assured himself that the Ankobea and other bodies wished the King to return, Griffith therefore dispatched the Okyenhene to Kyebi with an escort commanded by Assistant Colonial Secretary Charles D. Turton, a 25-year veteran of the coast.44

Yet the re-installation itself was marred by a question, posed by the convert Emmanuel Yaw Boakye, as to whether Atta planned to re-introduce taboos, nnabone, against working on certain days. The Christian community felt that they should be excluded from the nnabone, an act which would have given them a significant commercial advantage. The amantoomiensa, especially, were outraged by this effrontery. But for Turton’s presence, the meeting might have erupted into open conflict. Instead of taking warning, however, Turton was lulled by the promises of both the King and the missionaries to co-exist peacefully. In fact, soon after Turton’s departure, the unrepentant Atta did reinstate the nnabone, and this issue quickly became the flash point of the conflict.45 As tempers rose, the Okyenhene seems to have been prodded to provoke the Christians by traditional authorities, especially okomfoo priests and leaders of the amantoomiensa. In 1885, Emmanuel Yaw Boakye was expelled from a new station at Asuom, in reply to which the missionaries sent a delgation to Accra to call for the prosecution of his harassers, despite some attempts at reconciliation by Atta.46

The steadily rising tensions climaxed on 16 December 1886, when, in the midst of a durba, the King announced that thieves had stolen a number of valuables from the state treasury. With suspicious speed, several Christians were rounded up and interrogated. These suspects further implicated a number of important members of the Christian community, and the result was a series of rather serious riots starting in Kyebi and radiating outwards. The leaders appear to have largely been members of the court and the amantoomiensa, and the major points of conflict were in the towns that furnished the amantoomiensa such as Apapam and Tete.47

The major difference between this conflict and the previous one was that the two sides clearly recognized the growing (if reluctant) authority of the British administration. Both Atta and Reverend Mohr were quick to submit their version of events, the missionary in a series of letters pleading for intervention,48 the King in a 19 December justification of the arrest of both the thieves and Mohr’s party.49

The administration did not implicitly accept the missionary’s alarmist despatches. In an Executive Council Meeting called for the 20th of December, the Queen’s Advocate W. H. Quayle Jones argued that the Christians were not in any “immediate danger”, and received the concurrence of his fellow councilors. A decision was thus taken to dispatch to the region a small party under a Euro-African officer, Jacob Simons, to call down both parties to Accra to resolve the dispute.50

The solution satisfied no one. The amantoomiensa met secretly and dispatched men to the coast to buy ammunition,51 while Atta, fearing another bout of deportation, refused to come down to the coast. Meanwhile, the Basel missionaries would demand the protection of the Hausa Constabulary well into 1887.52

Atta, however, saw no real role for the administration in what he saw as a conflict between the Akyemfoo and the Basel missionaries, and dispatched an emissary to take that message to Governor Griffith. Rather than one of his own people, Atta turned to a citizen of Accra—George F. Cleland. The Ga chiefs of Accra had traditionally had a role as middlemen between the British and the interior chiefs, and had collaborated with Atta in supplying anti-Asante insurgents in the late 1870s. Cleland specifically was an important political broker. As well as being an important educated Euro-African trader, Cleland was also a relative of an important Accra stool, had fought in the 1873–4 war, and had served the administration as Justice of the Peace in 1874.53 Cleland approached the Governor in mid-January, stating that Atta had written to him for advice, but was told in no uncertain terms that Atta must come down to Accra or the administration would resort to “other measures”. To back up this threat, Griffith dispatched still further troops into the interior to reinforce Simons.54

The Governor, however, clearly hoped for a compromise that would not necessitate full intervention. Thus he appointed Cleland to a commission to look into the disturbances. The other commissioners included Metcalf Sunter, a Clerk in Holy Orders and thus likely to be sympathetic to the Basel missionaries, and the Quccn’s Advocate, W. H. Quayle Jones.55

Mollified, Atta on 8 January 1887 reluctantly began his journey to Accra, accompanied by a large body of amantoomiensa.56 However, soon after arriving in Accra he fell ill with pncumonia. By late January, word of his illness had spread and an estimated 4500 Akyemfoo came down to Accra. Upon the request of the Governor, the colony’s chief medical officer prescribed medication and ordered his room closed against the cold. His escort, however, preferred to open windows and allow him to bathe. A compromise solution was not effective, and on 2 February 1887, Atta died before the commission could meet.57


The Governor immediately grasped the implications of Atta’s death. The show of force by the amantoomiensa bode ill for any peaceful resolution. Indeed, a second outbreak of rioting within Akyem Abuakwa broke out as news of the Okyenhene’s death reached the population. Several mission stations were surrounded, and the Christian communities of several towns asked to leave.58 The orders in this action appear to have come from the Ankobea, and especially the State Linguist Ajeman.

Although the Governor first asked Cleland again to advise Ajeman to quell these riots,59 by mid-March he had ordered a strong constabulary force into western and central Kyebi.60 The subsequent public enquiry held by Assistant Inspector Brennan of the Constabulary even more firmly established the administration’s judicial jurisdiction in the region, imposing a fine and a large bond upon the state. Inconsistently, despite finding that the BMS were partly to blame for the December 1886 and February 1887 riots, Brennan imposed no fine upon them.61 Yet clearly the BMS had developed something of a reputation as being ‘unreliable’, as one officer posted in Akyem admitted to Assistant Secretary Turton in a private letter.62 Thus the administration did subsequently accede to the demands of the Ankobea and their spokesman Ajeman that Mohr, whom the Akyemfoo generally blamed for Atta’s death, be withdrawn from the region.63 In a letter remarkably similar to the one Freeling had written about David Asante eight years before, Assistant Colonial Secretary suggested to the Basel Mission’s guiding committee that Mohr be “transferred to another station” and insisted that the missionaries henceforth respect the “lawfully constituted native authorities.”64

Yet even this insistence marked something of a transformation. In 1874, it had been clear that the legitimacy of the Akyem government resided in indigenous bodies with sovereign legal authority. But in 1887, despite recognizing the Ankobea as ‘lawfully constituted’, the British administration had in effect expropriated the authority of appointing and replacing even the Okyenhene. How did this transfer of power occur? The British had obtained no legal claim over Akyem Abuakwa as no indigenous body had ceded sovereignty to them. Moreover, until the imposition of a small force of Hausa Constabulary positioned after the riots of December 1886, the British had never intervened militarily in Akyem affairs. Indeed, even the constabulary despatched under Simons and Captain Douglas to fetch Atta to Accra in January 1887 did not constitute a significant military threat.65 Instead, the de facto shift of authority was largely played out in judicial arenas.

Thus we have the striking progression of court cases throughout this period which had established British authority. Whereas in 1874, the colonial administration had refused to be drawn into the Basel missionary’s allegations of slave abuse in Kyebi, just three years later Governor Freeling had been willing to call the Okyenhene to the coast to explain his actions. By 1879, Governor Ussher had no compunction against trying Atta himself and then exiling him. The final step in the expansion of British judicial authority was the hearing following Atta’s death in early 1887, in which a mere Assistant Inspector imposed a fine on the entire state.66 Thus despite valiant attempts to ward off intervention, the period of Atta’s reign saw the slow demise of Akyem sovereignty.

The process by which this happened is complex. The British did not actively seek to interfere, but were instead driven by political imperatives. The need to stabilize the Asante border led them to remove Atta in 1880, but the resulting disruption to Akyem Abuakwa’s economic growth led them to reinstate him in 1885. Similarly, while the administration clearly could not allow threats to white missionaries and riots to go unheeded in December 1886, their response was a commission of inquiry, and a constabulary force was again sent to Kyebi after Atta’s death in February of the next year.

Underlying these actions was the political and religious battle for dominance between the traditional authorities, represented by the amantoomiensa and the linguist Adjeman, and the Basel Missionaries, led by Asante and later Mohr. Although the Okyenhene welcomed the advantages, such as schooling, brought by the missionaries, he could not countenance their efforts to win away his political props—whether royal slaves or officials. While skirmishes between these two groups for the ‘soul’ of the Akyemfoo were fought in the villages and towns of Akyem Abuakwa, the conflict reached its culmination in the formal courts and informal hearings of the British administration.

To cope with the milieu of the colonial judicial system, the two sides adopted divergent strategies. Atta and the traditional political bodies of Okyeman continued to believe that their best hope lay in acting through a number of Ga middlemen in Accra with ties to both the Akyemfoo elite and the British. James Cleland stands out, but equally important was the largely Euro-Ga jury which acquitted Atta of slave trading in 1880. The Ga elite had traditionally been the brokers of previous important palavers between the interior states and the British. In fact, during the 1873 war against Asante, Atta had resisted the attempts of British Captain Glover to circumvent the Accra chiefs’ role as middlemen and meet directly with the Okyenhene.67 Atta’s continued reliance upon the Ga leaders of Accra reflects his belief that his relationship with the Governor remained that of two sovereign authorities throughout his reign. That this strategy ultimately failed reflects a growing policy of intervention the part of the British administration into local affairs, perhaps exacerbated by the move of the colonial capital eastwards to Accra in 1876.

The Basel Missionaries, on the other hand, having never successfully built a constituency among the elite class of Accra, appealed directly to the Governor. Although they stressed the support of the Christian population of Akyem, their appeals were phrased to remind the administration of the link between the three C’s of colonialism—Christianity with civilization and commerce. Always underlying was the implied threat of bad publicity for the administration back in Europe.

Yet such tactics were not enough to convince successive Governors to give the Basel missionaries a free hand. Because the British administration of the Gold Coast would continue to rely on indigenous elites—and specifically traditional authorities—as agents of indirect rule, they could not allow their alienation. While the BMS and other missionaries would become increasingly successful in winning converts, the spirit of Akyemfoo would survive and indeed would be revived in the early 20th century under Nana Sir Ofori Atta. Eventually, the majority of ahenfo would find a middle ground, obtaining exemptions from conflicting traditional and Christian practices and reconciling their beliefs and their duties.68 Yet while able to forge a religious compromise, after 1886 the rulers of Akyem Abuakwa were forced to admit that legal jurisdiction and political authority were increasingly devolving into the hands of the British administration. This, then, was the moment of ‘colonization’. Once the Okyeman legal system had been superceded, the colonial authorities were able to gradually transform their perceptions of the Akyemfoo from allies to subordinate subjects. Amoako Atta’s immediate successor would still be chosen by Akyemfoo through indigenous institutions, but would be forced to take an oath accepting that he was under “British Laws”.69 No longer sovereign, they would face gradually stronger and more formal control from Accra, eventually witnessing their state amalgamated into the Eastern Province of the Gold Coast Colony.


  • 1. McCaskie, Thomas, “Accumulation, Wealth and Belief in Asante History II: The Twentieth Century”, Africa 56 (1), 1986, pp.3–23.

  • 2. The state of Akyem Abuakwa

  • 3. Paramount chief, or ‘king’.

  • 4. Benton, Laura, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002.

  • 5. Addo-Fening, Robert, Akyem Abuakwa 1700–1943, from Ofori Panin to Sir Ofori Atta, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, 1997, p.2. Addo-Fening, R., ‘The “Akim” or “Achim” in the seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century historical contexts: who were they?’, Research Review (new series), 1988, 4 (2), pp.6–7.

  • 6. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, p.7.

  • 7. Throne or crown.

  • 8. Rathbone, Richard, “Defining Kyenfo—The Construction of Citizenship in Akyem Abuakwa, Ghana, 1700–1939” Africa, 66 (4), 1996, p.510.

  • 9. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, pp.13–15.

  • 10. Getz, Trevor, “The Case for Africans: The Role of Slaves and Masters in Emancipation on the Gold Coast, 1874–1900” Slavery and Abolition, 21, 2000.

  • 11. National Archives of Ghana (hereafter NAG) ADM 12/3/2, Griffith to Knutsford, 14 June 1888.

  • 12. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, p.35.

  • 13. Kwamena-Poh, MA, Government and Politics in the Akuapem State 1730–1850, Longman Group. London, 1973, pp.112–113.

  • 14. Parker, John, Making the Town: Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra, Heinemann, Portsmouth, 2000, pp.156–157.

  • 15. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, p.57.

  • 16. Eisenschmid’s report, 30 October 1868, P. Jenkins, op. cit., pp.538–539.

  • 17. Parliamentary Papers (hereafter PP) 1865, V, (412), Report from the Committee on the West Coast of Africa, Evidence of Rev. Elias Shrenk, 1865.

  • 18. A number of “heads of families” were rejected for baptism because they refused to put aside their slaves and their wives—monogamy being the other major hurdle to conversion for wealthy individuals. BMS D-1.16, Zimmerman, 28 September 1864, Odumase; D-1.19b, Zimmerman, 16 February 1867, Odumase; D-1.22a, Zimmerman, 30 March 1870, Odumase.

  • 19. Getz, Trevor, “The Case for Africans: The Role of Slaves and Masters in Emancipation on the Gold Coast, 1874–1900” Slavery and Abolition, 2000 (21), pp. 128–145.

  • 20. A point which has been refought several times, most recently in a series of articles by myself and Kwabena Oparc-Akurang Parry in Slavery & Abolition and The Ghana Studies Journal.

  • 21. McSheffrey, Gerald, “Slavery, Indentured Servitude, Legitimate Trade, and the Impact of Abolition in the Gold Coast, 1874–1910: A Reappraisal”, Journal of African History, 1983 (24), pp.349–368.

  • 22. Jenkins Basel Mission Society Abstracts, Asante, Mohr and Werner to the Basel Mission Slave Emancipation Committee, 26 June 1875, Kyebi.

  • 23. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, pp. 63–64

  • 24. Reindorf, C., The History of the Gold Coast and Asante, Basel Mission Book Depot, Basel, 1887, pp.315–316.

  • 25. Haenger, Peter, Slaves and Slave Holders on the Gold Coast: Towards an Understanding of Social Bondage in West Africa, ed. by J. J. Shaffer and Paul Lovejoy, P. Schlettwein, Basel, Switzerland, 2000, pp.133–137.

  • 26. Public Record Office (hereafter PRO) CO 96/115, Strahan to Carnarvon, 26 March 1875, Cape Coast.

  • 27. NAG SCT 2/4/12, David Asante v. Crown Prince etc, 17 December 1877.

  • 28. Mrs. Nathaniel Date. See NAG ADM 1/9/2, Freeling to Amoako Atta, 27 September 1877, Accra, enclosure. Original testimony in NAG SCT 2/4/12 David Asante v. Crown Prince etc., 17 December 1887.

  • 29. NAG ADM 11/1/1096, Attorney-General to Colonial Secretary, 7 April 1899.

  • 30. NAG ADM 1/9/2, Freeling to the Local Committee of the BMS.16 January 1878, Accra.

  • 31. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, pp.68–69, Rathbone, Murder and Politics, p.24.

  • 32. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, p. 69; Agbodeka, Francis, African Politics and British Policy in the Gold Coast 1868–1900, Northwestern Press, Evanston, 1971, p.108.

  • 33. Freeling left office on 13 May 1878 and was replaced by Charles Cameron Lees, who served as Lt. Governor for just over a year before being replaced by Herbert Taylor Ussher in June 1879.

  • 34. Buck’s report for the year 1879, 30/31 December 1879, Buck’s Letter to Basel, 2 March 1880, Addo-Fening, op.cit..

  • 35. PRO CO 96/130, Ussher to Hicks-Beach, 12 February 1880, Christiansborg.

  • 36. Wilson, Louis, The Krobo People of Ghana to 1892, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1991, p.101.

  • 37. NAG SCT 5/4/18, Regina v. King Enimil Quow, Cape Coast JA Court, 23 February 1876.

  • 38. Dumett, Raymond and Marion Johnson, “Britain and the Suppression of Slavery in the Gold Coast Colony, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories”, in Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts, eds., The End of Slavery in Africa, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1988.

  • 39. NAG SCT 2/5/1, Regina v. Atta (two cases), Accra Divisional Court, 4 May 1880. PRO CO 96/131, Ussher to Minister, 25 May 1880, Elmina.

  • 40. See Addo-Fening Akyem Abuakwa 76–78, Rathbone, Richard, Murder and Politics in Colonial Ghana, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1993, p.24.

  • 41. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Installation of King Amoarqua Atta of Akim.

  • 42. Turton gives such evidence firsthand. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Installation of King Amoarqua Atta of Akim.

  • 43. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Installation of King Amoarqua Atta of Akim, encl. 1, Colonial Secretary to C. D. Turton, 24 February 1885, Christiansborg.

  • 44. Colonial Office List, 1887.

  • 45. Basel Mission, Heidenbote, No. 6, June 1886, p.44. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, op. cit.

  • 46. Addo-Fening, Akyem Abuakwa, pp.82–83. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, F. Ofori to Rev. Mohr, 9 September 1886, Aburi.

  • 47. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Mohr to Acting Colonial Secretary, 17 December 1886, Apedjah. Also NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Reverend Mohr and Others to Governor Griffiths, 15 December, 1886. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Rough notes of interview between Governor and Mr. Rottman and Mr. Mohr, 10 February 1887, Christiansborg.

  • 48. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Mohr to Acting Colonial Secretary, 16 and 17 December 1886, Apedjah.

  • 49. NAG ADM 11/1/13, Amoako Atta to Governor Griffiths, 19 December 1886, Kyebi.

  • 50. PRO CO 96/179, Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 16 January 1886, Christiansborg.

  • 51. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, DC Saltpon to Colonial Secretary, 10 January, 1887.

  • 52. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Steiner to Governor, 9 February 1887; Mohr to Governor, 11 February 1887, Rottman to Assistant Colonial Secretary, 13 February 1887; etc.

  • 53. NAG ADM 1/12/3, Chief Magistrate Marshall to Lt. Colonel Johston, April 9, 1874, Accra. Cleland was indicted in NAG SCT 2/4/4, Regina v. Sarah Smith, Accra Supreme/Divisional Court, 20 May 1868.

  • 54. PRO CO 96/179, Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 16 January 1887, Christiansborg.

  • 55. PRO CO 96/179, Griffith to Quayle Jones, Cleland, and Sunter, 20 January 1887, Christiansborg.

  • 56. PRO CO 96/179, Griffith to Minister Stanhope, 28 January 1887, Christiansborg.

  • 57. PRO CO 96/180, Griffith to Minister Stanhope, 2 February 1887, Christiansborg.

  • 58. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, telegrams, Eisenschmidt, Aburi, to Mohr, Christiansborg, received 11 February 1887; Lethbridge, Aburi to Griffith Christiansborg, received 13 February 1887 (two).

  • 59. NAG ADM 11/1/3, Cleland to Ajemang Linguist, Jamestown, 11 February 1887.

  • 60. See NAG ADM 11/1/1094 Simons to Griffith, 19 March 1887, Eastern Akim.

  • 61. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Brennan’s Report, 8 April 1887.

  • 62. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Lethbridge to Turton, 22 February 1887, Begoro.

  • 63. NAG ADM 11/1/3, Chiefs to Governor, 3 March 1887, Kyebi; also see NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Simons to Griffith, 19 March 1887, Kyebi.

  • 64. NAG ADM 11/1/1094, Turton to Reverend P. Stenier, BMS, 11 April 1887.

  • 65. This expedition eventually numbered over 100 ‘Hausas’ under Simons, Douglas and Lethbridge. This minor force then ‘escorted’ the King and 2300 adherents to the coast, probably largely drawn from loyal asafo. An estimated 207 carried ‘long Dane guns’. The Hausa forces were never heavily armed or exceptionally well trained, and the King obviously still had recourse to a large body of often fanatically loyal armed men as well as his household and those of loyal chiefs. Clearly, Simons’ main weapon was the force of authority, not strength of arms. When Lethbridge arrived in February 1887 to impose a fine upon the state, his force was even smaller—1 officer, 56 men and 32 carriers.

  • 66. Nor is Akyem Abuakwa’s experience unique. Recent scholarship has highlighted the role of judicial processes in regions as dissimilar as urban Accra and rural Asante. See Parker, Making the Town, and Allman, Jean and Victoria Tashjian, I Will Not Eat Stone, Heinemann, Portsmouth, 2000.

  • 67. Parker, Making the Town, p.69.

  • 68. Interview with Okyeama Kwabena Ampofo, Chief Linguist/State Secretary. Translated by Pa Yaw (Solomon) Taawia, 21 July, 2001, Kyehi.

  • 69. NAG ADM 11/1/1097, Lethbridge to Colonial Secretary, 6 November 1887.