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asafo company:

urban clan & cult -


the invention of chieftaincy, customary
law & other colonial mischiefs

Union Jack CEOs


Clan, Cult and Culture
misChief & Modernity
on modernity & pax britannica,
on corruption & bankruptcy of
clan rites and customs - the chief as agent
of foreign interest - the erstwhile clan elder
and the clan dispersed.

chief (n.)

c. 1300, "head, leader, captain; the principal or most


important part of anything;" from Old French chief
"leader, ruler, head" of something, "capital city" (10c.,
Modern French chef), from Vulgar Latin *capum, from
Latin caput "head," also "leader, chief person; summit;
capital city" (see capitulum). Meaning "head of a clan" is
from 1570s; later extended to American Indian tribes.
Commander-in-chief attested from 1660s.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=chief

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The Ashanti is constantly preoccupied with the thought that the ancestors are watching him;
that when he joins them one day, they will demand an account of his life from him. This preoccupation
serves to regulate his daily life and behaviour, while the thought is a very potent
sanction to morality.
Gareth Austin, 'No elders were present':
Commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-96

how close the Ashantis conceive the bond to be that


exists between the living and their dead kinsmen".
Gareth Austin, 'No elders were present':
Commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-96

As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative


of the clan's ancestral spirits, and as such functions as a religious
as well as a political leader. In former times he was,
in addition, a military leader.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
The Christian Executioner:
Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
The positions of stool occupant (ohene: chief) and abusua panyin
are not always separate and once a chief is enstooled, the post of abusua panyin
sometimes goes to him, but the stool occupant supersedes everyone else.

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
The southern part of the Gold Coast is comprised of approximately
one hundred native states, varying in population from two thousand to
over two hundred thousand. The basic unit in Akan social and political structure
is the matrilineal clan or abusua. These clans, which vary in size from thirty
to several hundred adults, theoretically or actually trace their ancestry back to
a common ancestress. The abusua observes collective responsibility,
owns land in common, and participates as a group in religious ritual.

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in the majority of villages, the person who has power today is the asafuakye,
not the odikro (chief). In some villages, the odikro is not informed what his youngmen
have done or intend to do. This metamorphosis has taken place in the last year or so.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

No one really knew what had existed in the past. Nor did aspirants
for office have to face well-established rulers, who could have challenged
their novel interpretations of how traditional institutions were
supposed to function and who were their
proper representatives.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

In some cases, as among the gerontocratic Ga people of the


southeastern part of the colony, the position of chieftainship was virtually
created by the government. Traditionally, the affairs of the Ga had been
under the control of a council of elders, but the British elevated
a priest to the position of paramount chief.
James B. Christensen

Tradition and Modernity


Stunningly the reemergence of traditional leaders is increasingly being held as "the panacea for the achievement of
decentralized, pluralistic democratic cultures and the strengthening of civil society" (Obario 2002: 4) and are further
idealized as "a romantic category of legitimate popular local leader" (Ribot 2002: 52). While the critical thrust of the
findings of the study on which this paper is based demonstrates that traditional leaders have the potential to play a
midwife role in the efforts to domesticate and customize the reforms to the exigencies of local conditions, the
underlying argument of this article is that their ill material circumstances render them overwhelmingly easy targets
for politicians bent on satisfying their own strategic political considerations thereby entrenching the upward rather
than the downward pattern of accountability which is the hallmark of the twin processes of democratization and
decentralization. Understanding the implications of decentralization policy reforms therefore requires a detailed
understanding of the actors being created, supported and empowered in the resulting political landscape and their
relationship to both the central state and the local population. The main challenge though is that the legal and
technical logics of reform processes do not neatly fit in the diverse logics of local politics which almost always takes
on a rhythm of its own. Who are Chiefs?

Traditional Leaders in Malawi


Two questions are quite pertinent here.
Who are chiefs and where does their authority and legitimacy come from?

These are extremely difficult questions to address mainly because of the variegated experiences the institution of
chieftaincy has been subjected to in the last hundred years or so across the African continent. Both colonial and
postcolonial regimes have in different ways, and for various strategic considerations, mutated the shape and form of
customary authorities. The tendency for colonial authorities was to replace non-compliant and rebellious chiefs with

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handpicked loyalists regardless of their status in their respective communities in a bid to facilitate the processes of
subjection and domination. In the postcolonial regimes, changes have included either the introduction of
appointment or election systems for chiefs. Chiefs are appointed by the government or elected on a competitive
basis by members of a community. In extreme cases, the chieftaincy has either been suspended or abolished
altogether. These changes are however in stark contrast with the nature of chieftaincy as practiced in the pre-colonial
era where it traces its roots. Chiefs almost exclusively derived their authority and legitimacy either as descendants of
a great ruling ancestor or on the basis of membership in a particular ruling family (Karlstrom 1996, O'Laughlin
2000, Ribot 2002).
Tradition and Modernity:
The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga

Youth Participation
in Local and National Development in Ghana: 1620-2013
it is now firmly established that it was common practice as far back
as the 1620s to have youth associations usually called the asafo taking active part
in national development planning. Admittedly, there were more formal arrangements
for youth associations among the southern Akans and especially
among the Fantis of the coastal areas.
Ransford Edward Van Gyampo - Franklin Obeng-Odoom

As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of


the clan's ancestral spirits, and as such functions as a religious
as well as a political leader.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

in the majority of villages, the person who has power today is the asafuakye,
not the odikro (chief). In some villages, the odikro is not informed what his youngmen
have done or intend to do. This metamorphosis has taken place in the last year or so.
Anshan Li

Following the Pax Britannica, and the implementation of indirect rule,


the chiefs were accorded more authority than they formerly had, and the role of the commoner
in government was largely overlooked. Many other changes occurred in the social
structure of the Akan from the adoption of Western religious and economic concepts.
African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and
Democratic Processes - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

Due to his closeness to the omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests
were more closely allied to the royal elite than to his clansmen and might advise a course
of action not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan was not easily disenfranchised,
and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.

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African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

An inquiry into the origin and development of a Ghanaian institution


The political and administrative role of the asafo is seen in the composition of the state councils of maritime towns,
for it includes the heads of various companies (supifo) as well as the supreme head of all companies (tufohen); and,
in places like Cape Coast and Elmina, certain companies are associated with setting in motion the process of electing
and installing a new paramount chief. We have not mentioned the military role of the asafo in our summary of its
contemporary activities because, today, a traditional state (3man) no longer has the power to wage war, either
offensive or defensive, having lost it with the advent of the Pax Britannica, and, therefore, asafo companies can have
no opportunity of participating in a fight involving the whole 3man. In the past, however, fighting on behalf of the
community was the most important function of the asafo. A semblance of the military role of the asafo can still be
seen in an individual unit's occasional involvement in inter-company fights and disputes. The fights now occur only
seldom and are of a comparatively minor nature, but they used to be one of the most characteristic features of the
system.
An inquiry into the origin and development of a Ghanaian institution
Ansu K. Datta R. Porter

Asafo and Destoolment


in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li
to compare its main functions before and after the establishment of colonial rule. The asafo among the Akan
used to be a military force. In the precolonial period, wars between states were frequent. To obtain greater
mobilization and to provide for an effective supervision in wartime, all the male members in the state, town, or
village were organized into fighting groups.

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
Moreover, the African soon came to realize that the district commissioner, though theoretically an "advisor," was the
actual ruler. While the primary concern here is with the impact of a foreign political ideology, important agents of
change have been the religious and economic concepts of the white man. they are of paramount interest in
considering the present status of the clans and chief in the social structure.
James B. Christensen

Asafo and Destoolment


J. M. Sarbah and Casely Hayford described the military spirit of the asafo and its operation during early times. The
asafo either fought against other states or were responsible for the peace of their own state. The commander of asafo
companies had to be brave and able to provide some ammunition. Though the Pax Britannica rendered the military
function redundant, the military origin of the asafo was always stressed. During annual festivals, the asafo
performed before the chief in order to show their strength and loyalty. The asafo played an important role in the
rituals associated with installation or deposition of a chief. They were also involved in other religious activities. The
asafo was important on account of its religious power to affect people's status in the next world by honoring them at
the funeral. Being responsible for fetching the dead body and carrying it to the town, the asafo also performed at the
funeral, drinking and dancing, accompanied by asafo songs.

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The asafo also filled a wide range of social functions ranging from cooperative groups providing labor for public
works, to local units called upon in cases of emergency, which formed part of their routine duties.
the asafo their role in the traditional political structure. Having a recognized and effective way to express their
opinion, asafo members had a say not only in the election of the chief, but also in all matters affecting the state.
Without their approval, a candidate could not be elected as chief. The asafo leader was officially recognized as
representative of the commoners; elders would consider any representations he had made to them.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

Without their approval, a candidate could not be elected as chief.


The asafo leader was officially recognized as representative of the commoners;
elders would consider any representations he had made to them.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
Due to his closeness to the omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests were more closely allied to the royal
elite than to his clansmen and might advise a course of action not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan
was not easily disenfranchised, and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.
Among the coastal Akan, when the commoners believed their chiefs were not affording them adequate
representation, they could make their wishes known through the officers of the military companies, patrilineal
groupings from which the chiefs were excluded.

Ashanti, it was through the elected leader of the "young men," or mmerante, that the commoners could speak if they
were not in agreement with the omanhene and his advisors. As long as a chief acted in accordance with customary
law with respect to his personal conduct and the duties of his office, he enjoyed the support of the state. However, if
he deviated sufficiently to dissatisfy the people, he ran the risk of "destoolment," or removal from office, with the
alternative choice of abdication. In such a society the support of the people was essential, for without their
cooperation, both religious and financial, the chief could not fulfill his obligations to the stool and the ancestors.
Also, the people need not accept as a chief a man they do not favor. Thus with the power to choose or remove a
chief in the hands of the people, a wise leader did not go counter to their wishes if he wanted to retain his position.

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51

Nevertheless, a pronounced change occurred in the position of the chief. Formerly, the income of a chief was
obtained from stool land worked by slaves, from people who traded for him, from the gifts of subjects, court fines,
market tax, and special assessments. With British control, the chiefs became salaried. All court fines and taxes went
into the treasury for the use of the state. Slavery, declared illegal, reduced the number of people who worked for the
stool. In some aspects the authority of the paramount chiefs was increased, but often they lost prestige and the
respect of their people. This was due in large part to the fact that decisions were made by the chiefs in consultation
with the British, and the latter supported the chiefs in carrying them out. Thus, instead of the people having a voice
in their own government as formerly, they would be told by their chiefs what had been decided for them. While this
considerably increased the influence of the chief in some spheres, it resulted in the loss of popular support for many
of them.

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James B. Christensen

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
An outstanding feature of Akan social structure is the authority and prestige accorded to age. Their proverb, "One
does not pluck the feathers from a fowl before showing it to an elder," meaning that individuals or groups should
never reach a decision or take action without consulting their elders, may be classified as a governing principle of
Akan culture. Wisdom is believed to be a concomitant of age, and young people taking active part in politics against
the advice of their elders has been one of the radical deviations from tradition.

Following the Pax Britannica, the British governed the Gold Coast by "indirect rule." This system, developed in
northern Nigeria by Lord Lugard, utilized the existing political system of the African, and customary law was
allowed to prevail as long as it was not repugnant to British concepts of morality and justice.

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51

Elaborate entertainment of chiefs on occasion was part of the government's policy, a practice that did not escape the
people. This led to the accusation that the chiefs were the "tools of the European," and were accepting bribes to carry
out the wishes of the white man. Even when bribery was not suspected or charged, many of the people felt that since
the chiefs were dependent on the British for recognition of their position, they were too willing to acquiesce in the
demands of the European.
James B. Christensen

A colonial official pointed out in 1887: The Colonial Government


while destroying the power of the chiefs has left the company organization intact;
and the captains of the companies now arrogate to themselves an independence
and freedom from restraint which formed no part of the original scheme.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

The same belief inspired the demonstration after Welman's enquiry effectively
rejected the asafo's claim to a constitutional role within Accra. Furious at British intervention
in what they regarded as an asafo affair, they asked the Colonial Office how "strangers" could understand
customary procedure better than they, particularly as the Ga had no "rules and regulations" governing destoolment.
The Accra government, they charged, in language bound to alarm Whitehall, was destroying "native institutions."
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescu

I use the term commoners to designate persons not holding a formalized


political office as chief, lineage elder, and/or member of a traditional council.

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The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

Youth Participation
in Local and National Development in Ghana: 1620-2013
it is now firmly established that it was common practice as far back
as the 1620s to have youth associations usually called the asafo taking active part
in national development planning. Admittedly, there were more formal arrangements
for youth associations among the southern Akans and especially
among the Fantis of the coastal areas.
Ransford Edward Van Gyampo - Franklin Obeng-Odoom

In peace time the asafo functioned mainly as a collective for sports and entertainment,
and for the mobilization of young men for hunting and communal labor. Authority disseminated
from above; in 1927 the Omanhene Akuamoah Boaten compared the organization to the "feudal system in England
under the Normans." In accordance with the general Akan constitutional model, the Kwahu commoners were
supposed to play the role of sleeping partners in political affairs. Candidates to chiefly office were nominated
by the royal family, elected by the council of elders, and then presented to the people, whose consent
was required to make the election valid.
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

The Ashanti is constantly preoccupied with the thought that the ancestors are watching him;
that when he joins them one day, they will demand an account of his life from him. This preoccupation
serves to regulate his daily life and behaviour, while the thought is a very potent
sanction to morality.
Gareth Austin, 'No elders were present':
Commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-96

I use the term commoners to designate persons not holding a formalized


political office as chief, lineage elder, and/or member of a traditional council.
In British administrative correspondence it appears as an equivalent to young men,
a direct translation of the Twi word mmerante. Commoners were, and are here,
often referred to collectively as asafo.
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

A Kwahu correspondent to the Gold Coast Leader complained that


"all the present chiefs hold their posts mechanically, fearing the populace and
expecting every moment a destoolment, so that aristocracy is giving way
to democracy." Addow, "Notes on Kwahu."
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:

8
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

It is a Kyenku of no asafo, It comprises the rabble of Kwahu, Commoners of the town and villages headed by
desperados known as asafoakyes the word itself gave [sic] you an idea of their origin Akan and Ga instead of Stool
Captains. They are quite independent of the natural rulers, have their own oaths . . . and their object is mainly to
make laws for their Chiefs and oppose the Native Jurisdiction Ordinance of 1883 and the new Native Administration
Ordinance of 1927.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

Contestants in the colonial courts of the early twentieth century took Reindorfs History hostage and invoked
historical arguments particular selective representations of the past - to serve their purpose. Thus the History
became an authority, and customary law was invented and a very static perception of history (that predominates in
popular view up to today) got the upper hand, as some representations of the past prevailed and were enshrined in
colonial legislation and authoritative traditions which bore little relationship to past realities. Reindorfs History is
not the truth or a representation of the way things had been before, and we would do Reindorf wrong with
abusing his work for nationalistic or other political purposes.
Examining text sediments - C.C. Reindorfs history
of the Gold Coast and Asante -
Heinz Hauser-Renner

With historical hindsight it has been easy to accept the inevitability of progress,
to see the chieftaincy as a doomed institution which made sense in the context of high colonialism,
but had to go when colonialism itself, for whatever reason, came to an end. Such assumptions,
however, continue to beg a number of questions.
Decolonization, the Colonial State,
And Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Croo

The same belief inspired the demonstration after Welman's enquiry effectively
rejected the asafo's claim to a constitutional role within Accra. Furious at British intervention
in what they regarded as an asafo affair, they asked the Colonial Office how "strangers" could understand
customary procedure better than they, particularly as the Ga had no "rules and regulations" governing destoolment.
The Accra government, they charged, in language bound to alarm Whitehall, was destroying "native institutions."
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescu

I use the term commoners to designate persons not holding a formalized


political office as chief, lineage elder, and/or member of a traditional council.
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

Asafo and Destoolment

9
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900 1953
Anshan Li
The elders were antagonistic not towards the "well-being of their state,"
as the report suggested, but towards the chief, "a government creature, a quasi-official."
It was really their passive resistance against the colonial establishment.

The economic opportunities affected everybody, and individuals now became less concerned about the state's affairs
than ever before. The elders were no exception. But more important, the colonial government destroyed the
democratic features of traditional institutions. Now the elders had less say since the chief, backed by the
government, was very little concerned about their advice. No initiative was left for them, only the choice between
support the chief, and thus the government's decision, or being indifferent. The elders were antagonistic not towards
the "well-being of their state," as the report suggested, but towards the chief, "a government creature, a quasi-
official." It was really their passive resistance against the colonial establishment. This left a political vacuum,
making it possible for the asafo to play a more active political role.

The Elders remarked that "One cannot be a chief without subjects.


If we support the Headchief we shall be alone. The whole of the youngmen
refuse to serve the Headchief and we support them.

Regarding a destoolment that occurred at Bekwai, the commissioner in charge of the investigation reported: In the
case of Bekwai, for instance, the "youngmen," that is to say the lower classes, those who were not Elders,
complained that they were not consulted in the choice of the Headchief, that they did not respect him in Bekwai
itself, or when he visited the villages, and to a man they refused to serve him. The Elders remarked that "One cannot
be a chief without subjects. If we support the Headchief we shall be alone. The whole of the youngmen refuse to
serve the Headchief and we support them.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900 1953
Anshan Li

In peace time the asafo functioned mainly as a collective for sports and entertainment,
and for the mobilization of young men for hunting and communal labor. Authority disseminated
from above; in 1927 the Omanhene Akuamoah Boaten compared the organization to the "feudal system in England
under the Normans." In accordance with the general Akan constitutional model, the Kwahu commoners were
supposed to play the role of sleeping partners in political affairs. Candidates to chiefly office were nominated
by the royal family, elected by the council of elders, and then presented to the people, whose consent
was required to make the election valid.
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking
Rather than seeing a continuity between the precolonial past and colonial present, Ranger has argued that
"customary law, customary land-rights and customary political structures were in fact all invented by colonial
codification ... [as part of] a conscious determination on the part of colonial authorities to 'reestablish' order and
security and a sense of community by means of defining and enforcing 'tradition'" (1983, 249-50). Colonial officials,
Ranger points out, could not have done this "without a great deal of African participation" (1983, 252). More

10
importantly, "codified and reified custom" allowed those who were in positions of dominance to assert or increase
their control (Ranger 1983, 254).
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
In some aspects the authority of the paramount chiefs was increased, but often they lost prestige and the respect of
their people. This was due in large part to the fact that decisions were made by the chiefs in consultation with the
British, and the latter supported the chiefs in carrying them out. Thus, instead of the people having a voice in their
own government as formerly, they would be told by their chiefs what had been decided for them. While this
considerably increased the influence of the chief in some spheres, it resulted in the loss of popular support for many
of them.

In a sense, it will be a perpetuation of indirect rule. In summary, there is a large element of democracy in the
indigenous culture of the southern half of the Gold Coast which gave the commoner a voice in his own government.
Customary law provided a system of checks and balances whereby the chiefs could not become autocrats. Following
the Pax Britannica, and the implementation of indirect rule, the chiefs were accorded more authority than they
formerly had, and the role of the commoner in government was largely overlooked.

A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture


- Abraham Akrong
A dual system of authority under one political system the authority of the colonial government on the one hand,
and the authority of the chief and his elders, on the other. However, beneath this dual system of authority was an
economic motif. The colonizers recognition of the power of the chief was, to a larger extent, economically
motivated.
As Rathbone has again noted, the indigenous rulers of the society, especially in what was then called Gold Coast
(now Ghana), were seen as the centres of economic power controlling, as they claimed to do, access to land and the
people who worked on that land. It is interesting to add that the use of the chief by the colonizers was motivated by
the fact that he was seen as an effective means of tax and other revenue collection and exploitation by the colonizers.
The colonial encounter, however, brought about the limitation of the chiefs power which resulted in constant
confrontation with the local subjects and the colonial powers. The colonial intervention dispossessed the chief of
some sanctions which hitherto had been his sole preserve.

Asafo and chieftaincy were the two new politico-military institutions necessary
for the emerging centralised socio-political organisations which settlement on the coast
imposed on the Ga. Asafo on the other hand, meant
the integration of a standing army with their peculiar belief system, ritual, cults and ceremonies
into the migration socio-political organisation led by clan priest-leaders under the guidance of the clan gods.
Integration and Adaptation:
A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture
- Abraham Akrong

what the colony's Acting Queen's Advocate, William Brandford Griffith Junior, described as the "tottering and
uncertain power of the chiefs" would shortly vanish from all over the colony, and "we shall rule through the District
Commissioners as on the coast." Reflecting back on this period for the entire coastal area, an editor of the Accra
newspaper, The Gold Coast Independent, maintained that particularly amongst "eligibles" who were educated or
Christianized, "when vacancies occurred on stools ... [they] turned their backs on their rightful heritage and fled as if

11
for their lives from their native town or states ... rather than assume or succeed to the dignities of such positions" (23
April 1932).
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Asafo and Destoolment


in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900 1953
Anshan Li
In 1919, a report was sent to the governor claiming that
there was "a marked tendency on the part of the asafo to usurp powers
it was never intended they should possess," and that the young men were trying to
"destroy the existing form of power."

A local newspaper predicted that, "The time is coming when a


Chief once installed will sit firmly on the neck of the people, like the old man of the sea,
and rule them in his own way without any lawful means of getting rid of him."
A colonial official pointed out in 1887: The Colonial Government
while destroying the power of the chiefs has left the company organization intact;
and the captains of the companies now arrogate to themselves an independence
and freedom from restraint which formed no part of the original scheme.

owing to its ignorance of the traditional system, the colonial government accepted the chief as an autocrat who
enjoyed absolute power, taking no notice of the democratic features of indigenous system. The role of the asafo
company in power structure was disregarded and their nornal participation in state affairs became less and less
possible.

Later, when the government noticed the clash between the asafo and the chief, it consciously supported the chief in
order to follow the principles of indirect rule and to strengthen local administration. This new condition caused by
the colonial rule had a psychological impact on both common people and the chief. To meet this challenge, the
asafo, with its traditional tendency to balance political power, took the lead to protect commoners' interests. ... it was
common for the asafo to destool unpopular chiefs. Thus the situation became paradoxical.

A chiefs authority over his people increased, while at the same time it became less legitimate and less acceptable.
This seemingly contradictory situation resulted from two circumstances: the weakening of the traditional checks
from his people and elders, and the military backing by the govemment. A chief now cared much more about the
favor of the government than the support of his people. If the elders' indifference could be regarded as a passive
resistance, the asafo's posture was more active and initiative. The asafo leaders seemed to take it as their
responsibility to represent the commoners and to guard their interests. Also, they were quite confident of their
legitimate right. In an interview with the secretary for native affairs, one of the asafo leaders in Accra stated the
following theory of the constitution: The Stool of Accra belongs to the asafoatsemei and Manbii (townspeople). The
Mantse is merely a caretaker. A Mantse reigns, but never rules. A Mantse is not responsible for the actions of his
people. If his people ask him to do a thing, he has only to do it This theory seems to be true, for the chief can only
decide matters on which his people have agreed, as is clearly shown in the oath and ceremony in his election. In
those areas where the asafo company gained power, their function in local politics was no longer questioned. In
Akyem Abuakwa, the asafo's constitutional role was no longer a subject of debate in 1932. It was settled during the

12
earlier risings against the chiefs when Paramount Chief Ofori Atta and the state council failed to deny the young
men the right to organize for independent political action. Finally, the asafo leaders gained the right to sit on the
councils of the divisional chiefs as representatives of the commoners. They even learned how to use modern legal
means in destoolment.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

Perempeh II became the first Asantehene under British colonial rule


and created of several new stools, including the Nkabmu and Nkabmu
Kyeame Stools. The Confederacy councils second session included
the abolition of all nkwankwaahene (young men leader) positions.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos:
Akan Societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Kwasi Konadu
When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

... cultural heritage is fine, the chiefs in their gold ... [and] their palanquins, their dances
and all that is fine, and their festivals and their durbars are picturesque and you people come and take pictures, but -
well, to what extent does it move the people forward? [...] Chieftaincy is part of the culture of Ghana but [laughs] ...
if it were to be cancelled, would the country not go on? Supposing outsiders who come to see [the chiefs] sit in
durbar no longer are interested, then [chieftaincy] is useless'.
Prof. Anquandah, Ghana's principal archaeologist
- Chairman of the national committee working on the cultural policy of Ghana.
Katharina Schramm

Perempeh returned in 1924 as a private citizen and, in 1926, he became Kumasehene (a hitherto unknown title). He
was supported by the conservative Kumase officeholders, who sought their historic power, as well as the radicals
who sought a liberal regime through a breaking or elimination of the power of chiefs from a man now
civilized and Christianized.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos:
Akan Societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Kwasi Konadu

Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio


Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.
Chouin argues that cross-ethnic region-wide associations are neglected by research on ruling groups, and that
change from matrilinear to patrilinear succession in Eguafo, NW of Elmina, occurred through such groups. The 17th
century wars led kings to give their sons the leadership and appoint them, rather than their sister's sons, as
successors, under the influence of rival brothers and French missionaries as princely educators. This century saw the
takeover of the Nsona from the Anona clan and transmission of the stool to their sons.

13
Contestants in the colonial courts of the early twentieth century took Reindorfs History hostage and invoked
historical arguments particular selective representations of the past - to serve their purpose. Thus the History
became an authority, and customary law was invented and a very static perception of history (that predominates in
popular view up to today) got the upper hand, as some representations of the past prevailed and were enshrined in
colonial legislation and authoritative traditions which bore little relationship to past realities. Reindorfs History is
not the truth or a representation of the way things had been before, and we would do Reindorf wrong with
abusing his work for nationalistic or other political purposes.
Examining text sediments - C.C. Reindorfs history
of the Gold Coast and Asante -
Heinz Hauser-Renner
chiefly power was the best and, almost certainly, the only guarantee of what the British
deemed to be law and order. The idea behind all this incorporation was to also make sure that
native institutions and sensitivities were being respected and minimally interfered with.
The said move introduced a dual system of authority under one political system the authority
of the colonial government on the one hand, and the authority of the chief and his elders,
on the other. However, beneath this dual system of authority was an economic motif.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah
As Akrong reports, [T]he status of the chief as a
sacred personality or a de jure ancestor implies that anytime his actions contradict
the norms and values that regulate his office he ipso facto ceases to be a chief and must
be destooled. Thus the ultimate sanction given to the chief for his disregard of the constant
advice of these enlightened ones, Nananom Mpanyinfo, is destoolement. It is for
this reason that destoolment charges mostly center on issues of either
flouting the taboos of the ancestors or the immorality of the chief.

an ambivalent situation not only to the chief but even to the colonial government. It has already been established
in this discussion that the presence of the colonial powers created a dual form of authority: the ethnopolitical leaders
of the land and colonial administration. It has also been demonstrated that the activities of the colonizers undercut
the authority of chief to the extent that his people with time became only nominal subjects.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

Although the asafo emerged initially in the Colony's coastal towns, three of four studies of it analyze the asafo in
rural areas. There, the asafo took action against corrupt chiefs and attempted to establish its constitutional role in the
process of enstoolment and destoolment and its right to council seats for commoner representatives.
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescu

In some cases, as among the gerontocratic Ga people of the


southeastern part of the colony, the position of chieftainship was virtually
created by the government. Traditionally, the affairs of the Ga had been
under the control of a council of elders, but the British elevated

14
a priest to the position of paramount chief.
James B. Christensen

The Ashanti is constantly preoccupied with the thought that the ancestors are watching him;
that when he joins them one day, they will demand an account of his life from him. This preoccupation
serves to regulate his daily life and behaviour, while the thought is a very potent
sanction to morality.
Gareth Austin, 'No elders were present':
Commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-96
I use the term commoners to designate persons not holding a formalized
political office as chief, lineage elder, and/or member of a traditional council.
In British administrative correspondence it appears as an equivalent to young men,
a direct translation of the Twi word mmerante. Commoners were, and are here,
often referred to collectively as asafo.
The Asafo of Kwahu, Ghana:
A mass movement for local reform under colonial rule
Jarle Simensen

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
Natural Rulers and the National Psyche
Beyond the colonial inheritance and the provisions of the current constitution,
the question has been frequently asked: How come that in a secular and centralized state
such as Ghana, chiefs continue to refer to their kingdoms, their lands and their subjects
without any reaction from government? The answer to this question lies in
the national psyche.

at the Rodger Club, an alliance proved impossible. According to Welman,


"the sensitiveness of some of the half-educated and un-educated among the asafoatsemei
appears to have been jarred by the sight of these superior people reading their Petition
together and laughing". (Gold Coast 1926).

The asafo, wrote its captains, "are fighting for their primordial rights."
British observers recognised the asafo's role but strongly disapproved, fearing
that the affair was "being used to drive home the unsound principle that government
by the people means blind obedience by their 'ruler' to the will of a mass meeting"
(West Africa 13 December 1924).
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

The first persons who were taught akomfodze


i.e. things pertaining to akom by mbowatsia or nkaatsia (dwarfs) was an obombofo (hunter) and his son.
Aggrey writes: The dwarfs, through the intercession of various deities, were able to empower the priests/priestesses
to victory in many ways. In times of need as well as during war the people would consult the priests/priestesses.
Therefore in times of distress everybody made it an imperative to partake in this religious practice through which
consolation from the Creator could be derived.

15
It is evident that religion became a focal point of unity especially in times of war when the stability and life of the
community were threatened. It was through this united action to avert conflicts and to secure the prosperity of the
community that consolidated the people into a united force of asafo with religion or akomfodze as their backbone.
An exhibition of the religious origins of asafo is also seen in the indispensable role that religion plays in their
organization and activities. Every asafo has a priest/ priestess (komfo) whose duty is to propitiate the gods of the
company and provide protective medicine (edur) for the men.
Asafo and Christianity: Conflicts and Prospects
Brigid M. Sackey

Report on the Eastern Province for the year 1930


- Asafos (who are known as the "young men" of Kwahu) have formed themselves
into an organised body and have members in nearly every town in this district. Its policy
seems to be a consistent opposition to established authority. The "opposition to established
authority" was characterized by an increasing number of destoolments. The asafo risings
in 1915-1918 in Akyem Abuakwa shared the same feature.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

the small Gold Coast elite to which the merchants belonged were crucial agents that supported the construction of
the colonial structures, but that once it was erected, they got pushed out to its periphery. The period from the 1850s,
then, was marked by their struggles for re-entry; failing which they launched a series of attacks on the colonial
administration. To do this, however, they needed to portray themselves as agents and representatives of the Gold
Coast population, necessitating a variety of alliances. By the late 1940s, the decline of colonial authority was
underway and a political class had arisen, eclipsing these earlier actors. However, the structure of the state, and what
courses of actions were politically possible or permissible had already been shaped by the actions of the merchants
and the various actors they allied with (Meredith 2006).
Collusion, Collaboration/Cooperation and Conflict:
How Indigenous Gold Coast Merchants Shaped State Formation
in the Gold Coast, 1850-1950
Kofi Takyi Asante

Asafo and Christianity: Conflicts and Prospects


It is evident that religion became a focal point of unity especially in times of war when the stability and life of the
community were threatened. It was through this united action to avert conflicts and to secure the prosperity of the
community that consolidated the people into a united force of asafo with religion or akomfodze as their backbone.
An exhibition of the religious origins of asafo is also seen in the indispensable role that religion plays in their
organization and activities. Every asafo has a priest/ priestess (komfo) whose duty is to propitiate the gods of the
company and provide protective medicine (edur) for the men.

The ahenpa asafo of Abakrampa has its own bosom (deity) which is the asafo okyen (drum) itself called Ekyen
Kweku, with its own komfo. However, since there has not been any successor to the late komfo, the oman komfo
performs for the asafo. Again, the intertwined relationship between the asafo and the oman becomes evident. There
is also the belief that other asafo insignia such as stool and abaa (whip) are themselves abosom and thus can get
people possessed and make them their akomfo. The okomfo always moves with the asekanmba wing of the asafo
who lead and pave the way for the company in all endeavors.
Brigid M. Sackey

16
Asafo and Destoolment
The omanhene, who was finally destooled in 1932 by the asafo, described the condition in Kwahu when he asked
Ofori Atta I, the paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa, for help in his political difflculties: Kwahu asafo is something
entirely different from all other asafos in all Akan, Twi and Fanti States of the Gold Coast.... The asafo in Kwahu is a
thing quite different from the old constitutional asafos, It is a Kyenku of no asafo, It comprises the rabble of Kwahu,
Commoners of the town and villages headed by desperados known as asafoakyes the word itself gave [sic] you an
idea of their origin Akan and Ga instead of Stool Captains. They are quite independent of the natural rulers, have
their own oaths . . . and their object is mainly to make laws for their Chiefs and oppose the Native Jurisdiction
Ordinance of 1883 and the new Native Administration Ordinance of 1927.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

Several matrilineages together comprise a matriclan (Abusua), the members


of which claim descent from a common remote ancestress, observe taboos against
eating a particular animal, fish, or bird, and practice clan exogamy
in the selection of marriage partners.
Ritual and Social Change: A Ghanaian Example
Robert W. Wyllie
We are the people:
Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
Natural Rulers and the National Psyche
Beyond the colonial inheritance and the provisions of the current
constitution, the question has been frequently asked: How come that
in a secular and centralized state such as Ghana, chiefs continue to refer
to their kingdoms, their lands and their subjects without any
reaction from government? The answer to this question lies
in the national psyche.

The landlessness of the state makes it vulnerable to the dictates of chiefs.


Government often pleads with chiefs to release lands for development. Although
this is often done, the feeling that the state must depend on chiefs for land for
development projects gives the latter some leverage.

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

The Sacred Nature


of the Akan Chief and its Implications

17
The introduction of modern ways of doing things modeled in the western culture made it possible for the chiefs
subjects to defy his authority and also made the citizens appear only as nominal subjects of the chief. Evidence of
this is seen in the transformation of asafo group as a warrior organization to a resistant movement the core agents
for collective political resistance in the Akanland.

Traditionally, the Akan chief is the political leader of the Akan group. Because the political and the religious realms
are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chiefs political authority is religion. A chief is a sacred
entity. He is the representative of the ancestors of the land who are considered, among other spiritual forces, as
the moral law-givers of the society.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
Seth Tweneboah

The landlessness of the state makes it vulnerable to the dictates


of chiefs. Government often pleads with chiefs to release lands for development.
We are the people:
Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.

The basic unit in Akan social and political structure is


the matrilineal clan or abusua. These clans, which vary in size from thirty
to several hundred adults, theoretically or actually trace their ancestry back to
a common ancestress. The abusua observes collective responsibility,
owns land in common, and participates as a group in religious ritual.
James B. Christensen

As Akrong observes, the blood relations that exist between the chief and the departed ancestors qualifies him to be
the rightful person to intercede for the people. The relation also qualifies him to represent the people at the court of
the ancestors as the priest of the people who can solicit the blessing of the ancestors. The filial bond and the direct
blood relation between the chief and the royal ancestors gives the chief an exclusive privilege and advantage over all
other spiritual functionaries of the land; to easily solicit the blessing and intercession for his people.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

"the invention of tradition" - Rather than seeing a continuity


between the precolonial past and colonial present, Ranger has argued that
"customary law, customary land-rights and customary political structures
.. . were in fact all invented by colonial codification ... [as part of] a conscious
determination on the part of colonial authorities to 'reestablish' order and
security and a sense of community by means of defining
and enforcing 'tradition'"
Roger S. Gocking

James B. Christensen
The southern part of the Gold Coast is comprised of approximately
one hundred native states, varying in population from two thousand to
over two hundred thousand. The basic unit in Akan social and

18
political structure is the matrilineal clan or abusua.

The aura of sacrality associated with the chief is embedded in the historicity of the
chiefly office which is linked to the ancestors of the land whose stool the chief occupies.
Traditional Akan chieftaincy institution is mostly based on the kingship system. Under this, the
head of the family who is also the leader of the community is said to have derived his position
from the link between the living and the departed ancestors who are also
themselves the founders of the kingship group.
The Sacred Nature of
the Akan Chief and its Implications

Traditionally, the Akan chief is the political leader of the Akan group. Because the political and the religious realms
are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chiefs political authority is religion. A chief is a sacred
entity. He sits on a throne or stool that has been sat upon by chiefs who have passed away and this stool links him
with the spirits of the departed upon whom the welfare of the community depends. ... He is the representative of the
ancestors of the land who are considered, among other spiritual forces, as the moral law-givers of the society.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

understanding change in the political structure.


All members of matrilineage believe themselves related through descent from
a common ancestress, and it is in this large grouping that the individual Akan traditionally
found his security. From the clan he secures land to farm, inherits property matrilineally
(from a uterine brother or his mother's brother), obtains aid in case of difficulty or debt,
cooperates in the worship of the ancestors, and last but not least, receives a
proper burial and funeral so important to everyone. Collective
responsibility characterizes the relationship between members
of the same lineage.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
The Sacred Nature
of the Akan Chief and its Implications
challenging the chief amounts
to challenging the ancestors of the land.
a treasonable offence.

The introduction of modern ways of doing things modeled in the western culture made it possible for the chiefs
subjects to defy his authority and also made the citizens appear only as nominal subjects of the chief. Evidence of
this is seen in the transformation of asafo group as a warrior organization to a resistant movement the core agents
for collective political resistance in the Akanland.

In the political philosophy of the colonizers, Rathbone concluded, chiefly power was the best and, almost certainly,
the only guarantee of what the British deemed to be law and order. The idea behind all this incorporation was to
also make sure that native institutions and sensitivities were being respected and minimally interfered with. The
said move introduced a dual system of authority under one political system the authority of the colonial

19
government on the one hand, and the authority of the chief and his elders, on the other. However, beneath this dual
system of authority was an economic motif. The colonizers recognition of the power of the chief was, to a larger
extent, economically motivated. As Rathbone has again noted, the indigenous rulers of the society, especially in
what was then called Gold Coast (now Ghana), were seen as the centres of economic power controlling, as they
claimed to do, access to land and the people who worked on that land. It is interesting to add that the use of the
chief by the colonizers was motivated by the fact that he was seen as an effective means of tax and other revenue
collection and exploitation by the colonizers.
The Sacred Nature
of the Akan Chief and its Implications

The colonial encounter, however, brought about the limitation of


the chiefs power which resulted in constant confrontation with the local subjects
and the colonial powers. The colonial intervention dispossessed the chief of
some sanctions which hitherto had been his sole preserve.
A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture
- Abraham Akrong

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast


Roger S. Gocking
More recent scholarship has nevertheless sought to shift the focus back to the transforming nature of colonial rule,
not only on "customary" political structures, but on what Terence Ranger (1983) has characterized as "the invention
of tradition" in general. Rather than seeing a continuity between the precolonial past and colonial present, Ranger
has argued that "customary law, customary land-rights and customary political structures were in fact all invented
by colonial codification ... [as part of] a conscious determination on the part of colonial authorities to 'reestablish'
order and security and a sense of community by means of defining and enforcing 'tradition'" (1983, 249-50).
Colonial officials, Ranger points out, could not have done this "without a great deal of African participation" (1983,
More importantly, "codified and reified custom" allowed those who were in positions of dominance to assert or
increase their control (Ranger 1983, 254).
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Elaborate entertainment of chiefs on occasion


was part of the government's policy, a practice that did not escape the people.
This led to the accusation that the chiefs were the "tools of the European,"
and were accepting bribes to carry out the wishes of the white man.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
The aura of sacrality associated with the chief is embedded in the historicity of the
chiefly office which is linked to the ancestors of the land whose stool the chief occupies.
Traditional Akan chieftaincy institution is mostly based on the kingship system. Under this, the
head of the family who is also the leader of the community is said to have derived his position
from the link between the living and the departed ancestors who are also
themselves the founders of the kingship group.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
Seth Tweneboah

20
The Asafohen held consultation with the Supi and gave out orders
to the rank and file. The lesser officers included the kyerema (drummer),
frankaakitanyi (flagbearer), asikanbahen, bombaa (whipper)
and the asafo komfo (priest/ priestess).
Kwaku Nti

In some cases, as among the gerontocratic Ga people of the


southeastern part of the colony, the position of chieftainship was virtually
created by the government. Traditionally, the affairs of the Ga had been
under the control of a council of elders, but the British elevated
a priest to the position of paramount chief.
James B. Christensen

In the colonial era, the authorities were in the habit of referring to


traditional authorities as natural rulers. This reference obviously denoted some sense
of artificiality and illegitimacy of colonial governance. However, what is interesting
is that long after colonial rule, contemporary political functionaries in Ghana still refer to traditional authorities as
natural rulers or at least behave towards them as such. The implication of this is that our political functionaries do
not see themselves as such even when they have been duly elected into office through democratic processes and
backed by a constitution which is supposedly
the sovereign will of the people.
We are the people:
Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.

Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio


Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.
Chouin argues that cross-ethnic region-wide associations are neglected by research on ruling groups, and that
change from matrilinear to patrilinear succession in Eguafo, NW of Elmina, occurred through such groups. The 17th
century wars led kings to give their sons the leadership and appoint them, rather than their sister's sons, as
successors, under the influence of rival brothers and French missionaries as princely educators. This century saw the
takeover of the Nsona from the Anona clan and transmission of the stool to their sons.

Although the asafo emerged initially in the Colony's coastal towns, three of four studies of it analyze the asafo in
rural areas. There, the asafo took action against corrupt chiefs and attempted to establish its constitutional role in the
process of enstoolment and destoolment and its right to council seats for commoner representatives.
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

an ambivalent situation not only to the chief but even to the colonial government. It has already been established
in this discussion that the presence of the colonial powers created a dual form of authority: the ethnopolitical leaders
of the land and colonial administration. It has also been demonstrated that the activities of the colonizers undercut
the authority of chief to the extent that his people with time became only nominal subjects.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

21
Elders used this invented tradition to dominate the rural means
of production in the face of challenges from young men. Men, in general,
did so to maintain economic and social control over women; paramount chiefs and
ruling aristocracies to maintain and extend their control over their subjects;
while indigenous populations appealed to tradition in order to prevent migrants
who settled among them from achieving political or
economic rights.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Roger S. Gocking

Traditionally, the Akan chief is the political leader of the Akan group. Because the political and the religious realms
are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chiefs political authority is religion. A chief is a sacred
entity. He sits on a throne or stool that has been sat upon by chiefs who have passed away and this stool links him
with the spirits of the departed upon whom the welfare of the community depends. A chief then is a mediating point
of the material and spiritual universe. His office is a sacred one. One can thus, argue that in the sacred office of the
chief, there is a fusion of ideology and practice ideologically, the chief is believed to be the repository of the
sacred values of the society. He is the representative of the ancestors of the land who are considered, among other
spiritual forces, as the moral law-givers of the society.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

Asafo and Destoolment


in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li
owing to its ignorance of the traditional system, the colonial government accepted the chief as an autocrat who
enjoyed absolute power, taking no notice of the democratic features of indigenous system. The role of the asafo
company in power structure was disregarded and their nornal participation in state affairs became less and less
possible.

Later, when the government noticed the clash between the asafo and the chief, it consciously supported the chief in
order to follow the principles of indirect rule and to strengthen local administration. This new condition caused by
the colonial rule had a psychological impact on both common people and the chief. To meet this challenge, the
asafo, with its traditional tendency to balance political power, took the lead to protect commoners' interests. ... it was
common for the asafo to destool unpopular chiefs. Thus the situation became paradoxical.

On the one hand, chiefs felt quite secure under the protection of British rule. On the other hand, since destoolment
was unpredictable and meant total loss of power, the chiefs also had a sense of insecure possession of authority. A
vicious circle thus developed: fear of losing privileges led to an excessive use of power at hand; and more abuse of
power usually meant more destoolments.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

22
Through a number of such studies, Henige has focused on the historiographical value of the oral and written
"traditions" that various contenders for such offices advanced to justify their claims to office in this highly
politicized environment. More recent scholarship has nevertheless sought to shift the focus back to the transforming
nature of colonial rule, not only on "customary" political structures, but on what Terence Ranger (1983) has
characterized as "the invention of tradition" in general. Rather than seeing a continuity between the precolonial past
and colonial present, Ranger has argued that "customary law, customary land-rights and customary political
structures .. . were in fact all invented by colonial codification ... [as part of] a conscious determination on the part of
colonial authorities to 'reestablish' order and security and a sense of community by means of defining and enforcing
'tradition'" (1983, 249-50). Colonial officials, Ranger points out, could not have done this "without a great deal of
African participation" (1983, 252). More importantly, "codified and reified custom" allowed those who were in
positions of dominance to assert or increase their control (Ranger 1983, 254).

Elders used this invented tradition to dominate the rural means of production in the face of challenges from young
men. Men, in general, did so to maintain economic and social control over women; paramount chiefs and ruling
aristocracies to maintain and extend their control over their subjects; while indigenous populations appealed to
tradition in order to prevent migrants who settled among them from achieving political or economic rights. Not
surprisingly, however, Ranger and the others who stress the role of invented tradition in the colonial order have
concentrated on areas where colonial rule was rapidly imposed, and which were in a state of profound 1994
upheaval because of slave raiding and wars of conquest. Social disorganization provided colonial administrators
with the opportunties to invent traditions and then create an order that suited imperial needs.

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

The aura of sacrality associated with the chief is embedded in the historicity of the
chiefly office which is linked to the ancestors of the land whose stool the chief occupies.
Traditional Akan chieftaincy institution is mostly based on the kingship system. Under this, the
head of the family who is also the leader of the community is said to have derived his position
from the link between the living and the departed ancestors who are also
themselves the founders of the kingship group.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
Seth Tweneboah

The demise of the chieftaincy has, therefore, been seen as inextricably linked to
this process of decolonization, not simply because it preceded decolonization chronologically, but because it was an
integral part of the reforms which determined the political form of independence-the socalled 'Westminster model'.
With historical hindsight it has been easy to accept the inevitability of progress, to see the chieftaincy as a doomed
institution which made sense in the context of high colonialism, but had to go when colonialism itself, for whatever
reason, came to an end. Such assumptions, however, continue to beg a number of questions.
Decolonization, the Colonial State,
And Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook

The asafo, wrote its captains, "are fighting for their primordial rights."
British observers recognised the asafo's role but strongly disapproved, fearing
that the affair was "being used to drive home the unsound principle that government
by the people means blind obedience by their 'ruler' to the will of a mass meeting"

23
(West Africa 13 December 1924).
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

During the 1890s, opportunities for asafo leaders increased,


as colonial officials came increasingly to depend on native authority figures
in the seaboard towns. Those, however, who had some Western education,
stood most to benefit, as they could communicate far better with British
officials and carry out their wishes.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

The administration of the Oman is based upon the operation of a number of political units, both traditional and
modern. In the villages, the matrilineage head is generally responsible for settling disputes among members and for
representing them in dealing with members of other matrilineages. In the town, however, these tasks are more often
performed by officers of the Asafo companies.
Ritual and Social Change: A Ghanaian Example
Robert W. Wyllie

the asafo's involvement which moulded the disparate elements of


the Accra crowd into a highly effective opposition movement. Although the asafo
emerged initially in the Colony's coastal towns, in rural areas. There, the asafo took
action against corrupt chiefs and attempted to establish its constitutional role in
the process of enstoolment and destoolment and its right to council seats for
commoner representatives.
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

As a well-organized group, the asafo had its own hierarchical


structures of organization with its own bylaws. Indeed, the asafo was a well-structured military organization
that had its own flag, song, drums, horns, caps, emblems and its own post, the rallying place of the company, where
all its paraphernalia were kept. This, without a doubt, was the asafo that existed
in pre-western educational era.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
Seth Tweneboah

The Asafo, fundamentally, was a traditional military institution which represented the main means of organized
defense in time of war or attack. Considering its defensive connotation, it is reasonable to suggest that the Asafo idea
is as old as organized warfare. By and large, the origins of this institution and its development as an organized body
has come to be associated with the Fante.
Among the Fante, the Asafo played an important part in the social and political life. All towns and villages in the
Fante area had one or more such Asafo units which were also referred to as "Companies". The Asafo was a

24
patrilineal organization. A child belonged to the father's company. And being a fundamentally military or para-
military organization, men, and particularly young men, were most prominent. Thus, in some documents and works
the Asafo were referred to as "young men", " mbrantse " or "hotheads". However, women and the elderly men also
formed an important part. The term "young men" was used to distinguish them from the ruling class.
The Role of Alcohol in the 1905 conflict between the anaafo and ntsin
Asafo Companies of Cape Coast
Kwaku Nti

The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition


to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue
According to M. J. Field (1940, 168), the Ga copied the system from the Fanti before the beginning of the nineteenth
century. A system of organising the men of a town or coastal city state for military purposes, young men joined their
father's company as soon as they could use a gun. An elaborate hierarchy of military officers led the asafo, and each
company zealously maintained and protected its flags and drums and enthusiastically sang and danced to its
particular songs. The seven quarters of Accra each supported their own companies, organised as age-grades,
commanded by three asafoatsemei, or captains, who answered, in turn, to a sipi and an akwason, who headed all the
companies within a particular quarter. The companies of all quarters came under the akwasontse, the supreme
military commander for the whole of Accra.

Traditionally, a chief in a Ghanaian community is the political leader of the ethno-tribal group. Because the political
and the religious landscape are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chiefs political authority is
religion. Among the Akan of Ghana, a chief is a sacred person. He sits on a throne or stool that has been used by
previous chiefs. The stool links a chief with the spirits of the departed chiefs upon whom the welfare of the
community depends. The Akan chief then is the intermediary between the material and spiritual universe.
Traditionally, according to Rattray, Busia, Sarpong, Kwesi Yankah, etc, challenging the chief amounts to challenging
the ancestors of the land. Challenging the chief has, over the years, been considered a treasonable offence.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

Perempeh II became the first Asantehene under British colonial rule


and created of several new stools, including the Nkabmu and Nkabmu
Kyeame Stools. The Confederacy councils second session included
the abolition of all nkwankwaahene (young men leader) positions.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos:

25
Akan Societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Kwasi Konadu

Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio


Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.
Outside pressures like wars, conquerors, long-distance trade and slavery were also absent; land occupation occurred
late, divisions between "ruled and ruling" were weak and spirito-religious symbols of supremacy like stools, drums,
state festivals inexistent. The history of opposing concepts of "unity" (nkabomu) and "progress" (nkosoo) in
Ashanti, synonyms for the pro-war and the peace party, is traced by Wilks. Ashanti Councils preserved an "old
constitution and debated issues often in opposition to royal absolutism. After the 1874 war "activists" (akwankwaa
or kwasafo) from the Gold Coast forced "progress" and Kofi Kakari's abdication. In 1883, the "youngmen" who
called for Mensa Bonsu's resignation wanted open road" policies. But again later Asantehenes supported "unity".
Agyeman Prempeh was elected in view of peace, unity and economic progress through trade, but was exiled in 1896
and replaced by "progress"' proponents in the councils. The youngmen agitated against these substitute chiefs, and in
1924 Prempeh was permitted to return as Kumasihene.
Andreas MASSING

Traditional leaders derive their claims to legitimacy, authority and,


indeed, sovereignty from their pre-colonial roots while the contemporary African state
is a creation of, and a successor to, the imposed colonial state. On the contrary, the supporters of
traditional leadership institutions contend that these institutions can neither be simply legislated
out of existence nor merely be relegated to being part of a traditional
social sphere distinct from the modern world of civil society.
Tradition and Modernity:
The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga

As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of the clan's ancestral spirits,
and as such functions as a religious as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition,
a military leader. Due to his closeness to the omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests
were more closely allied to the royal elite than to his clansmen and might advise a course of action
not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan was not easily disenfranchised,
and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

Tradition and Modernity:


The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga
Chiefs almost exclusively derived their authority and legitimacy either as descendants of a great ruling ancestor or
on the basis of membership in a particular ruling family (Karlstrom 1996, O'Laughlin 2000, Ribot 2002). But the
alterations regarding the basis of claims to chieftaincy masterminded by colonial and postcolonial regimes
notwithstanding, the right to chieftaincy on the basis of descent has persisted,

26
Traditional leaders are at the heart of custom and culture in the sense that they play a prominent role in efforts to
preserve them. They are variously described as "guardians of traditional norms, values and practices This means
that a traditional leader cannot exist without a distinct territory and a socio-political organization over which he
exercises governance, power, authority and influence.

The village is the most common unit of social aggregation where traditional leaders operate. Typical villages usually
have about 100 to 2,000 people organizing various aspects of their livelihoods such as agriculture, woodlands and
fisheries under the leadership of a village chief. These chiefs have the status of an administrative magistrate
presiding over customary, civil and even commercial disputes. Often their judgments are much more respected and
so tend to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation among family members, clan members and even between
clans (Lule 1995).
Tradition and Modernity
Blessings Chinsinga

Contestants in the colonial courts of the early twentieth century took Reindorfs History hostage and invoked
historical arguments particular selective representations of the past - to serve their purpose. Thus the History
became an authority, and customary law was invented and a very static perception of history (that predominates in
popular view up to today) got the upper hand, as some representations of the past prevailed and were enshrined in
colonial legislation and authoritative traditions which bore little relationship to past realities. Reindorfs History is
not the truth or a representation of the way things had been before, and we would do Reindorf wrong with
abusing his work for nationalistic or other political purposes.
Examining text sediments - C.C. Reindorfs history
of the Gold Coast and Asante -
Heinz Hauser-Renner

African Political Systems - 1950-51


James B. Christensen
The proposed system of local government will still have the paramount chief as the titular head, with elected
officials making up the rest of the controlling body. Due to the large number of villages and hamlets that make up
every native state, the chiefs and elders at the head of such small settlements will undoubtedly remain as the medium
through which the central and local government will rule. In a sense, it will be a perpetuation of indirect rule. In
summary, there is a large element of democracy in the indigenous culture of the southern half of the Gold Coast
which gave the commoner a voice in his own government. Customary law provided a system of checks and balances
whereby the chiefs could not become autocrats. Following the Pax Britannica, and the implementation of indirect
rule, the chiefs were accorded more authority than they formerly had, and the role of the commoner in government
was largely overlooked.

a reinterpretation of the relationship between the colonial state


and chieftaincy in the Gold Coast, looking in particular at the interaction
between land law, class formation and the structure of indirect rule. The demise of the chieftaincy has,
therefore, been seen as inextricably linked to this process of decolonization, not simply because it preceded
decolonization chronologically, but because it was an integral part of the reforms which determined
the political form of independence-the socalled 'Westminster model'. With historical hindsight it has been
easy to accept the inevitability of progress, to see the chieftaincy as a doomed institution which
made sense in the context of high colonialism, but had to go when colonialism itself, for whatever reason,
came to an end. Such assumptions, however, continue to beg a number of questions.

27
Decolonization, the Colonial State,
And Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
The Land Question
In Ghana, land ownership is complex. Generally, however, there are (a) stool lands invested in chiefs; (b) family
lands belonging to clans or maximal lineages; (c) private lands belonging to individuals; and (d) state lands usually
expropriated from any or all of the above through an executive instrument. Compensation may be paid when such
lands are acquired. In theory then the state has no land in Ghana. The landlessness of the state makes it vulnerable
to the dictates of chiefs. Government often pleads with chiefs to release lands for development. Although this is
often done, the feeling that the state must depend on chiefs for land for development projects gives the latter some
leverage.
The contestation over land and other natural resources gives prominence to chiefs who claim the right to fight for
or represent the interest of their people.

Natural Rulers and the National Psyche


Beyond the colonial inheritance and the provisions of the current constitution, the question has been frequently
asked: How come that in a secular and centralized state such as Ghana, chiefs continue to refer to their kingdoms,
their lands and their subjects without any reaction from government? The answer to this question lies in the
national psyche.

In the colonial era, the authorities were in the habit of referring to traditional authorities as natural rulers. This
reference obviously denoted some sense of artificiality and illegitimacy of colonial governance. However, what is
interesting is that long after colonial rule, contemporary political functionaries in Ghana still refer to traditional
authorities as natural rulers or at least behave towards them as such. The implication of this is that our political
functionaries do not see themselves as such even when they have been duly elected into office through democratic
processes and backed by a constitution which is supposedly the sovereign will of the people. Does this not betray a
sense of artificiality and illegitimacy or both in the psyche of Ghanas post-colonial rulers? It may be argued that in
the psyche of modern political functionaries and the generality of Ghanaians, there is something untraditional
about the so-called democratic processes that usher politicians into elective positions:

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
Thomas McCaskie stated in 1995 that the intellectual history of Basel Mission enterprise on the Gold Coast is as
long in possibility as it is short of investigators. It is high time that Carl Christian Reindorfs History of the Gold
Coast and Asante finds a special place in West African historiography. Unfortunately Reindorfs History has also
been the victim of much abuse in the past. During the colonial period Africans and Europeans acting out of beliefs
and interests of their own used historical arguments as a weapon in conflicts over resources, labor, and authority.

Contestants in the colonial courts of the early twentieth century took Reindorfs History hostage and invoked
historical arguments - particular selective representations of the past - to serve their purpose. Thus the History
became an authority, and customary law was invented and a very static perception of history (that predominates in
popular view up to today) got the upper hand, as some representations of the past prevailed and were enshrined in
colonial legislation and authoritative traditions which bore little relationship to past realities. Reindorfs History is
not the truth or a representation of the way things had been before, and we would do Reindorf wrong with
abusing his work for nationalistic or other political purposes. Historical knowledge relies heavily on the available

28
source material, fact and source selection and interpretation procedures, and with the change of time and of
perspective historians are prone to shift the emphases and alter their methods and theoretical models to interpret the
past.
Examining text sediments - C.C. Reindorfs history
of the Gold Coast and Asante -
Heinz Hauser-Renner

Governmental policy in the Gold Coast indicates that,


though the British may have known of the democratic nature of the indigenous
political structure, in actual practice the commoners were accorded very little voice
in government. In some cases, as among the gerontocratic Ga people of the southeastern part
of the colony, the position of chieftainship was virtually created by the government.
Indirect Rule and Democratic Processes - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

... cultural heritage is fine, the chiefs in their gold ... [and] their palanquins, their dances
and all that is fine, and their festivals and their durbars are picturesque and you people come and take pictures, but -
well, to what extent does it move the people forward? [...] Chieftaincy is part of the culture of Ghana but [laughs] ...
if it were to be cancelled, would the country not go on? Supposing outsiders who come to see [the chiefs] sit in
durbar no longer are interested, then [chieftaincy] is useless'.
Prof. Anquandah, Ghana's principal archaeologist - Chairman of the national
committee working on a new document for the cultural policy of Ghana. Senses of Authenticity
Katharina Schramm,
Chieftaincy and the Politics
of Heritage in Ghana

Chouin argues that cross-ethnic region-wide associations are neglected by research on ruling groups, and that
change from matrilinear to patrilinear succession in Eguafo, NW of Elmina, occurred through such groups. The 17th
century wars led kings to give their sons the leadership and appoint them, rather than their sister's sons, as
successors, under the influence of rival brothers and French missionaries as princely educators. This century saw the
takeover of the Nsona from the Anona clan and transmission of the stool to their sons.
Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio
Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.

Tradition and Modernity:


The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga
Traditional leaders are at the heart of custom and culture in the sense that they play a prominent role in efforts to
preserve them. They are variously described as "guardians of traditional norms, values and practices that are
respected in particular communities from generation to generation - and as such [they] are an important channel
through which social and cultural change can be realized" (Senjonyo 2004: 2); "actors and embodiment of
customary decision making institutions" (Blom 2002: 109); and "a socio-political expression of local African social
organizations which is based on lineage and quite key to the continuity of societies" (Soiri 2002: 8). As a social-
political expression of local African social organizations, chieftaincy entails power and influence which incumbents
wield over a distinct territorial unit occupied by a largely homogenous people sharing more or less a common

29
culture, social values and aspirations. This means that a traditional leader cannot exist without a distinct territory and
a socio-political organization over which he exercises governance, power, authority and influence.

The village is the most common unit of social aggregation where traditional leaders operate. Typical villages usually
have about 100 to 2000 people organizing various aspects of their livelihoods such as agriculture, woodlands and
fisheries under the leadership of a village chief. These chiefs have the status of an administrative magistrate
presiding over customary, civil and even commercial disputes. Often their judgments are much more respected and
so tend to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation among family members, clan members and even between
clans (Lule 1995).
Traditional Leadership,
Democracy and Decentralization
Whether or not traditional leadership is compatible or incompatible with democracy and decentralization is intensely
debated. In this debate two schools of thought can be broadly distinguished. The first school of thought perceives
traditional institutions as being incompatible with democratization and decentralization whilst the second school of
thought argues for co-existence of some kind since traditional leadership institutions are an important part of the
historical heritage of local communities and cannot therefore just be wished out of existence (Ray 1996, Blom 2002,
Ntsebeza 2003). The critics of traditional leadership institutions argue that traditional authority is an anachronism
that should not have survived the twentieth century let alone exist in the twenty first. Traditional leaders are thus
characterized as leftovers from a time that is swiftly fading away.

The thrust of the discourse against traditional leadership institutions hinges on Mamdani's thesis of the bifurcated
state. The colonial state according to Mamdani (1996) was bifurcated because it had different modes of rule for
urban citizens and rural subjects. In his view therefore nothing less than dismantling the bifurcated state would
ensure complete democratization of developing countries, and consequently, facilitate the potential success of
decentralization policy reforms since only then can both rural and urban areas enjoy a common citizenship. This
would be impossible to achieve if traditional leadership institutions remain intact since this would mean the
continuity of a "series of binary opposites such as rights and custom, representation and participation, centralization
and decentralization, civil society and community" (Ntsebeza 2003: 56).

Traditional institutions are thus seen as instruments of social oppression entirely devoid of progress especially in
such areas as political organization, women's rights, social mobility and economic rights. Customary institutions are
further criticized as being undemocratic principally on the grounds that the right to choose one's representatives is a
fundamental and basic human right in contemporary democracies. This is the case because chieftaincy is more or
less "a caste in which only birth members can postulate to the role of chiefs" (Ribot 2002: 69). A traditional leader in
South Africa captures these sentiments even more crisply. He points out that "Traditional leaders such as myself rise
to power through birthright; my father was a king, and I am his heir. Elected officials on the other hand get their
authority by means of a popular vote" (Molotlegi 2002: 1). The issue here therefore is that as long as chieftaincy is
based on heredity and ascription then it is inherently undemocratic.
Tradition and Modernity:
The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga

As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative


of the clan's ancestral spirits, and as such functions as a religious
as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition, a military leader.

African Political Systems - 1950-51


James B. Christensen

30
Each native state, or oman, is composed of a number of these clans and the land they own. At the head of each
native state was the paramount chief, or omanhene, chosen from a clan designated as the royal family. It was the
privilege of this particular abusua to supply the leader of the state.
There are several chiefs, or ohen, in each state, a chief being a person who occupies an ancestral stool. A "stool" in
the Gold Coast may be equated with the European concept of the throne, with the stool of the omanhene being
supreme to all others in the state. As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of the clan's ancestral
spirits, and as such functions as a religious as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition, a
military leader.

A system of checks and balances was present in the political structure that ensured the commoner a voice in his
government. The paramount chief was required to consult his advisors on all matters of state, and each councilor in
turn would meet with the elders of his own lineage to obtain their opinion. The elders in turn were to voice the
wishes of the people they represented. Major issues would be discussed at a meeting of the entire state, where any
person, commoner or chief, could state his views. It was not a matter of voting and letting the majority rule on such
occasions, but rather issues would be discussed until a course of action was agreed upon.

Due to his closeness to the omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests were more closely allied to the royal
elite than to his clansmen and might advise a course of action not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan
was not easily disenfranchised, and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

The possibility of rural residents having the freedom to choose which institutions or individuals should rule is
automatically excluded. The major concern is that ascendancy to chieftaincy on the basis of ascription makes
incumbents hardly accountable to their subjects, and as such, empowering or working with them may not serve the
efficiency, equity or development aims so often strongly idealized by somewhat nave decentralization advocates
(Ribot 2002, Ntsebeza 2003). The argument is that working with or empowering chiefs may simply amount to the
continued encapsulation of individuals within communities through the administratively driven empowerment of
customary decision makers to represent local people (Mamdani 1996).

The hallmark of this school of thought therefore is that traditional and modern forms of leadership cannot co-exist
because they draw their legitimacy from two distinct sources. Traditional leaders derive their claims to legitimacy,
authority and, indeed, sovereignty from their pre-colonial roots while the contemporary African state is a creation of,
and a successor to, the imposed colonial state. On the contrary, the supporters of traditional leadership institutions
contend that these institutions can neither be simply legislated out of existence nor merely be relegated to being part
of a traditional social sphere distinct from the modern world of civil society..

Tradition and Modernity:


The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi

The major thrust of the argument of this school of thought is that traditional leadership institutions are not static and
frozen in time. Like all aspects of culture and tradition, it is argued that the institution of traditional leaders grows
and adapts itself to the changing values and aspirations of its people since it does not exist in a vacuum. It is the
ordinary people who condition it and reshape it to be constantly relevant. The values of democracy, participation,
respect for human rights, mutuality and cooperation with others all influence the nature and functioning of the
institution of traditional leaders in the contemporary society.

31
In order to appreciate the relevance of chieftainship, Owusu (1997) and Blom (2002) for instance argue that it is
extremely vital to understand how it is based on customary village institutions involving general norms and ideas
about leadership. They contend that a ruler's subjects are fully aware of the duties he owes to them as they are of the
duties they owe to him and are able to exert pressure to make him discharge these duties. In some cases, according
to Moto (1998), a chief may in fact, by popular will, be stripped of his chieftaincy if his behaviour is not that
expected of a chief and associated with the office. In this sense the power of chieftaincy largely rests with the chief's
subjects and should a chief not live and lead as expected, the subjects have the mandate to ask for their removal.

Chieftaincy is therefore widely perceived as an embodiment of virtues of political accountability, transparency,


service and probity. It is further argued that traditional leaders play a very critical role in the livelihoods of their
subjects in the sense that: l) they inspire and motivate their people for development in every aspect; 2) advocate
cooperative action; and 3) extols the commitment and total involvement of all members of a community in forming
and implementing policies for overall community welfare. They are able to achieve these goals because "their word
is much respected, their praise is much appreciated, and their example is emulated" (Lule 1995: 18). Lule (1995) in
fact argues that the institution of traditional leaders being part and parcel of the cultural heritage of African people is
an essential part of their fundamental right to culture. Once the people who are affected by it freely choose to have
it, it can therefore not be legislated out of existence simply because it is incompatible with democratization and
decentralization.
Tradition and Modernity:
Blessings Chinsinga

African Political Systems - 1950-51


James B. Christensen
The effect of Western ideologies on the matrilineal clan, the key to the Akan social system, is also significant for
understanding change in the political structure. All members of matrilineage believe themselves related through
descent from a common ancestress, and it is in this large grouping that the individual Akan traditionally found his
security. From the clan he secures land to farm, inherits property matrilineally (from a uterine brother or his mother's
brother), obtains aid in case of difficulty or debt, cooperates in the worship of the ancestors, and last but not least,
receives a proper burial and funeral so important to everyone. Collective responsibility characterizes the relationship
between members of the same lineage.
The influence of Christianity on the position of the chief, noted above, has had a similar effect on clan solidarity,
since the latter is also based on ancestral worship. Christianity, with its accent on patrilineal descent, has brought
about considerable dissatisfaction with matrilineal inheritance and the avunculate, striking at the very core of lineage
unity.

James B. Christensen
In 1947 a political party, the United Gold Coast Convention,
was formed, a group which played an important part in the riots of 1948.
These disturbances, which left over twenty-five dead and over two
hundred wounded in Accra and other towns, were a turning point
in Gold Coast politics.

James B. Christensen
Governmental policy in the Gold Coast indicates that, though the British may have known of the democratic nature
of the indigenous political structure, in actual practice the commoners were accorded very little voice in
government. In some cases, as among the gerontocratic Ga people of the southeastern part of the colony, the position

32
of chieftainship was virtually created by the government. Traditionally, the affairs of the Ga had been under the
control of a council of elders, but the British elevated a priest to the position of paramount chief.
In retrospect, such a move could be due to one of two causes. First, it may have been an attempt to simplify
administration by issuing directives through one person, in which case it is not in accordance with the theory of
indirect rule; or it could have been motivated by the mistaken belief that the Africans, since they were a nonliterate
people, should "naturally" have a chief who ruled them.

Indirect rule was to aid the cultural self-determination of the African, and also prepare them for eventual self-
government. Education, primarily under the auspices of the various Christian denominations, with government
financial support, was encouraged. This led to the development of an African elite, many of whom obtained training
in England and the United States. However, little provision was made to absorb the educated African into the
government, either on the local level or in the central government. It is interesting to compare the French and British
policy in West Africa in this matter. The French, under their policy of direct rule, aim for assimilation of the African
into French culture and attempt to utilize the educated, French-speaking native to promote their program. The
British have unintentionallly been more successful in creating this African elite than have the French, whose policy
is aimed in this direction. The failure of the British to accord this very verbal group a role in government was
undoubtedly a major factor in the rise of nationalism in the Gold Coast.

The criticisms leveled by this educated group at the governmental system were many, but their complaints of the
political aspects can be stated briefly. First, there was not sufficient Africanization of the civil service and the
African people were not consulted concerning formulation of policy. Secondly, with the exception of the paramount
chiefs, a large majority of the chiefs and elders were illiterate, and thus incompetent to manage the affairs of the
people in modern times. In the same vein, they accused the chiefs of catering to the British to retain their positions,
and claimed the chiefs were being used by the British to suppress and delay the political development of the area.
Thirdly, the educated commoner, who was best qualified to serve, or to learn how to serve, had no role in
government.

A new constitution in 1946 did little to change conditions, since the power remained in the hands of the Europeans.
In 1947 a political party, the United Gold Coast Convention, was formed, a group which played an important part in
the riots of 1948. These disturbances, which left over twenty-five dead and over two hundred wounded in Accra and
other towns, were a turning point in Gold Coast politics. The complaints leading to the riots were many, having their
origin in unemployment, high prices, trading discrimination, cutting out of diseased cocoa trees, and general
dissatisfaction with the government, to name a few.
James B. Christensen

... cultural heritage is fine, the chiefs in their gold ... [and] their palanquins, their dances
and all that is fine, and their festivals and their durbars are picturesque and you people come and take pictures, but -
well, to what extent does it move the people forward? [...] Chieftaincy is part of the culture of Ghana but [laughs] ...
if it were to be cancelled, would the country not go on? Supposing outsiders who come to see [the chiefs] sit in
durbar no longer are interested, then [chieftaincy] is useless'.
Prof. Anquandah, Ghana's principal archaeologist
- Chairman of the national committee working on the cultural policy of Ghana.
Katharina Schramm

First, however, I want to examine Nkrumah's position towards the institution of chieftaincy in more detail. The
attitude of the Ghanaian state towards chieftaincy was by no means unambiguous. Some of the chiefs had been

33
deeply immersed in colonial patterns of governance. Therefore, the new elites - Western-educated and urbanised,
often alienated from rural or 'traditional' life - condemned the institution of chieftaincy as a reactionary force and
attempted to significantly reduce its political influence.
Katharina Schramm,
Chieftaincy and the Politics
of Heritage in Ghana

The paramount chief was required to consult his advisors on all matters of state, and each councilor in turn would
meet with the elders of his own lineage to obtain their opinion. The elders in turn were to voice the wishes of the
people they represented. Major issues would be discussed at a meeting of the entire state, where any person,
commoner or chief, could state his views. It was not a matter of voting and letting the majority rule on such
occasions, but rather issues would be discussed until a course of action was agreed upon. Due to his closeness to the
omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests were more closely allied to the royal elite than to his clansmen
and might advise a course of action not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan was not easily
disenfranchised, and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

Among the coastal Akan, when the commoners believed their chiefs were not affording them adequate
representation, they could make their wishes known through the officers of the military companies, patrilineal
groupings from which the chiefs were excluded. In Ashanti, it was through the elected leader of the "young men," or
mmerante, that the commoners could speak if they were not in agreement with the omanhene and his advisors. As
long as a chief acted in accordance with customary law with respect to his personal conduct and the duties of his
office, he enjoyed the support of the state. However, if he deviated sufficiently to dissatisfy the people, he ran the
risk of "destoolment," or removal from office, with the alternative choice of abdication.

Decolonization, the Colonial State,


And Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook
a reinterpretation of the relationship between the colonial state and chieftaincy in the Gold Coast, looking in
particular at the interaction between land law, class formation and the structure of indirect rule. The need for such a
reinterpretation is prompted by the implausibility (in my view) of much of the very large standard literature on the
subject, when viewed from the perspective of the decolonization period of the 1950s.

During the 1950s, the colonial chieftaincy in the British African colonies was abandoned by colonial governments,
together with the structure of administration known as 'indirect rule'. The change was ostensibly part of a
programme of devolution of power to a new elite of 'educated' Africans, either elected to local or central government
bodies, or recruited into an Africanized administration. By the end of the decade beginning with the Gold Coast in
1957 local self-government by these new groups formed the basis for a new policy of granting sovereign
independence to all of the colonial territories, large or small. The demise of the chieftaincy has, therefore, been seen
as inextricably linked to this process of decolonization, not simply because it preceded decolonization
chronologically, but because it was an integral part of the reforms which determined the political form of
independence-the socalled 'Westminster model'. With historical hindsight it has been easy to accept the inevitability
of progress, to see the chieftaincy as a doomed institution which made sense in the context of high colonialism, but
had to go when colonialism itself, for whatever reason, came to an end. Such assumptions, however, continue to beg
a number of questions.

34
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
It appears inevitable, however, that the chief as a political figure is on the wane in the Gold Coast, but the transition
will not be made rapidly. The proposed system of local government will still have the paramount chief as the titular
head, with elected officials making up the rest of the controlling body. Due to the large number of villages and
hamlets that make up every native state, the chiefs and elders at the head of such small settlements will undoubtedly
remain as the medium through which the central and local government will rule. In a sense, it will be a perpetuation
of indirect rule. In summary, there is a large element of democracy in the indigenous culture of the southern half of
the Gold Coast which gave the commoner a voice in his own government. Customary law provided a system of
checks and balances whereby the chiefs could not become autocrats.
Following the Pax Britannica, and the implementation of indirect rule, the chiefs were accorded more authority than
they formerly had, and the role of the commoner in government was largely overlooked. Many other changes
occurred in the social structure of the Akan from the adoption of Western religious and economic concepts. The new
constitution, which grants the African a government by elected representatives, was enthusiastically received by the
voting population.
The movement appears to doom the chiefs in regard to political authority, and their function in the future will
probably be primarily religious in nature. It is still too early to ascertain the full impact of the new form of
government on the present form of native political and social system, but further pronounced changes may be
expected as elected officials have replaced chiefs as the governing body on the local level.

Perempeh II became the first Asantehene under British colonial rule


and created of several new stools, including the Nkabmu and Nkabmu Kyeame Stools.
The Confederacy councils second session included the abolition of all
nkwankwaahene (young men leader) positions.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos
Kwasi Konadu

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio


Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.
Outside pressures like wars, conquerors, long-distance trade and slavery were also absent; land occupation occurred
late, divisions between "ruled and ruling" were weak and spirito-religious symbols of supremacy like stools, drums,
state festivals inexistent. Still the new political leaders of Ivory Coast used the myth of Warebo supremacy to
legitimize Baoule hegemony despite the reality of equal lineages. The history of opposing concepts of "unity"
(nkabomu) and "progress" (nkosoo) in Ashanti, synonyms for the pro-war and the peace party, is traced by Wilks.
Ashanti Councils preserved an "old constitution and debated issues often in opposition to royal absolutism. After
the 1874 war "activists" (akwankwaa or kwasafo) from the Gold Coast forced "progress" and Kofi Kakari's
abdication.

35
In 1883, the "youngmen" who called for Mensa Bonsu's resignation wanted "open road" policies. But again later
Asantehenes supported "unity". Agyeman Prempeh was elected in view of peace, unity and economic progress
through trade, but was exiled in 1896 and replaced by "progress"' pro- ponents in the councils. The youngmen
agitated against these substitute chiefs, and in 1924 Prempeh was permitted to return as Kumasihene.
Andreas MASSING

A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture


- Abraham Akrong
According to Richard Rathbone, the colonial government, overwhelmed by the command
and influence the chief wielded, concluded that they could only rule the Gold Coast effectively with the assistance
of the countrys traditional rulers.
In the political philosophy of the colonizers, Rathbone concluded, chiefly power was the best and, almost certainly,
the only guarantee of what the British deemed to be law and order. The idea behind all this
incorporation was to also make sure that native institutions and sensitivities were being respected and minimally
interfered with. The said move introduced a dual system of authority under one political system the authority of
the colonial government on the one hand, and the authority of the chief and his elders, on the other. However,
beneath this dual system of authority was an economic motif. The colonizers recognition of the power of the chief
was, to a larger extent, economically motivated.
As Rathbone has again noted, the indigenous rulers of the society, especially in what was then called Gold Coast
(now Ghana), were seen as the centres of economic power controlling, as they claimed to do, access to land and the
people who worked on that land. It is interesting to add that the use of the chief by the colonizers was motivated by
the fact that he was seen as an effective means of tax and other revenue collection and exploitation by the colonizers.
The colonial encounter, however, brought about the limitation of the chiefs power which resulted in constant
confrontation with the local subjects and the colonial powers. The colonial intervention dispossessed the chief of
some sanctions which hitherto had been his sole preserve.

Asafo and chieftaincy were the two new politico-military institutions necessary
for the emerging centralised socio-political organisations which settlement on the coast
imposed on the Ga. Asafo on the other hand, meant
the integration of a standing army with their peculiar belief system, ritual, cults and ceremonies
into the migration socio-political organisation led by clan priest-leaders under the guidance of the clan gods.
Integration and Adaptation:
A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture
- Abraham Akrong

The aura of sacrality associated with the chief is embedded in the historicity of the
chiefly office which is linked to the ancestors of the land whose stool the chief occupies.
Traditional Akan chieftaincy institution is mostly based on the kingship system. Under this, the
head of the family who is also the leader of the community is said to have derived his position
from the link between the living and the departed ancestors who are also
themselves the founders of the kingship group.
The Sacred Nature of
the Akan Chief and its Implications
Seth Tweneboah

The limitation of such powers, to a larger extend, gave uncensored powers to the common people
who were able to challenge the chiefs authority. For example, according to Rathbone, within a

36
period of twelve years, between 1904 and 1926, over 109 destoolment cases were recorded in
Akanlands alone, something that was less heard of previously.
Again, a defiant and anti-colonial chief was, on several occasions, humiliated before his
subjects. The colonial rulers also extended their control over the judicial and other powers which
the chief had previously enjoyed. The encounter opened new challenges to the power and the
sacred nature of the chief. If the fascination with the tribal chief which led to the decision to rule
through the indigenous is a curse, then the second most important curse brought about by the
colonial intervention was the resulting challenges of chiefly power within the tribe.

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
Beyond the colonial inheritance and the provisions of the current constitution, the question has been frequently
asked: How come that in a secular and centralized state such as Ghana, chiefs continue to refer to their kingdoms,
their lands and their subjects without any reaction from government? The answer to this question lies in the
national psyche.

In the colonial era, the authorities were in the habit of referring to traditional authorities as natural rulers. This
reference obviously denoted some sense of artificiality and illegitimacy of colonial governance. However, what is
interesting is that long after colonial rule, contemporary political functionaries in Ghana still refer to traditional
authorities as natural rulers or at least behave towards them as such. The implication of this is that our political
functionaries do not see themselves as such even when they have been duly elected into office through democratic
processes and backed by a constitution which is supposedly the sovereign will of the people. Does this not betray a
sense of artificiality and illegitimacy or both in the psyche of Ghanas post-colonial rulers? It may be argued that in
the psyche of modern political functionaries and the generality of Ghanaians, there is something untraditional
about the so-called democratic processes that usher politicians into elective positions: the bulwark of democratic
governance periodic elections and viable political parties are clearly not features of traditional societies in
Ghana. In that regard, it is not only the elected politicians who covertly and overtly contest the legitimacy of their
positions but also the ordinary people.

The Land Question


In Ghana, land ownership is complex. Generally, however, there are (a) stool lands invested in chiefs; (b) family
lands belonging to clans or maximal lineages; (c) private lands belonging to individuals; and (d) state lands usually
expropriated from any or all of the above through an executive instrument. Compensation may be paid when such
lands are acquired. In theory then the state has no land in Ghana. The landlessness of the state makes it vulnerable
to the dictates of chiefs. Government often pleads with chiefs to release lands for development. Although this is
often done, the feeling that the state must depend on chiefs for land for development projects gives the latter some
leverage.
The contestation over land and other natural resources gives prominence to chiefs who claim the right to fight for
or represent the interest of their people.
We are the people:
Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.

challenging the chief amounts


to challenging the ancestors of the land.
a treasonable offence.
Seth Tweneboah

37
Tradition and Modernity:
The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Traditional leaders are at the heart of custom and culture in the sense that they play a prominent role in efforts to
preserve them. They are variously described as "guardians of traditional norms, values and practices that are
respected in particular communities from generation to generation - and as such [they] are an important channel
through which social and cultural change can be realized" (Senjonyo 2004: 2); "actors and embodiment of
customary decision making institutions" (Blom 2002: 109); and "a socio-political expression of local African social
organizations which is based on lineage and quite key to the continuity of societies" (Soiri 2002: 8). As a social-
political expression of local African social organizations, chieftaincy entails power and influence which incumbents
wield over a distinct territorial unit occupied by a largely homogenous people sharing more or less a common
culture, social values and aspirations. This means that a traditional leader cannot exist without a distinct territory and
a socio-political organization over which he exercises governance, power, authority and influence.

The village is the most common unit of social aggregation where traditional leaders operate. Typical villages usually
have about 100 to 2000 people organizing various aspects of their livelihoods such as agriculture, woodlands and
fisheries under the leadership of a village chief. These chiefs have the status of an administrative magistrate
presiding over customary, civil and even commercial disputes.
Tradition and Modernity:
Blessings Chinsinga

The 1967 Chiefs' Act propagated after independence in 1964 spelt out their role as "aides to the central government
particularly in the field of security, law and order" (Baker 1995: 59). They thus became deeply enmeshed into the
one party administrative apparatus as handmaidens of the District Commissioner in his task of peace, law and order
enforcement. They had to cooperate with the party, the District Commissioners, and security forces to ensure peace
and calm. Chiefs who engendered any semblance of trouble and disloyalty were swiftly dethroned. However despite
these fundamental political, economic and social changes, traditional leadership institutions have demonstrated
unprecedented resilience, and as demonstrated below, continue to influence political processes and determine
opportunities and constraints for democratic development within the framework of the decentralization policy
reforms.
The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi
Blessings Chinsinga

'Self-government' meant finding new collaborating elites who would, by accepting voluntarily a new form of
association with Britain, help to preserve the British connection. The doctrine of viability was crucial to this policy,
combining social welfare elements (particularly education) with a programme of economic development geared as
far as possible to individual territories.

Decolonization, the Colonial State,


and Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook

It then becomes quite plausible to argue, even without the benefit of archival data, that by the late 1950s the British
political elite had decided that empire was finished. And it was only in this later period that the belief that political
developments could be controlled through judicious reforms and timely concessions a belief at the heart of 1940s
policy-making came to be seen as naively optimistic. What the British themselves meant by 'self government' is at
the heart of the current debate. The evidence now being presented by historians shows that 1940s policies were, at

38
the very least, ambiguous. Questions concerning the significance of British economic plans for the colonies, the role
of colonial dollar earnings, the priority assigned to 'viability' in social and economic terms and the degree to which
the rhetoric of self-government concealed as much as it revealed about imperial intentions cannot be disposed of by
proving that there was no neo-colonial conspiracy to fix up a 'false independence'.

the upheavals of the 1940s were important in causing certain responses by colonial governments, but they did not
necessarily have much to do with the nationalist elites, and do not in themselves explain the decision to abandon
attempting to reform the chieftaincy.

Some of the weaknesses and contradictions in the chiefs' position had always been recognized by colonial officials,
and the solution was, by the 1940s, thought to lie in making the chieftaincy a more fully integrated part of the state
machinery. Such a development was bound to emphasize and deepen-the chiefs', and hence the state's, lack of an
organic connection with emerging socio- economic mercantilist structures in the countryside.
Decolonization, the Colonial State,
and Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook

In Akan political culture,


the stool represents the soul or spirit of the community.
Asafo and Destoolment
Anshan Li

As Akrong reports, [T]he status of the chief as a


sacred personality or a de jure ancestor implies that anytime his actions contradict
the norms and values that regulate his office he ipso facto ceases to be a chief and must
be destooled. Thus the ultimate sanction given to the chief for his disregard of the constant
advice of these enlightened ones, Nananom Mpanyinfo, is destoolement. It is for
this reason that destoolment charges mostly center on issues of either
flouting the taboos of the ancestors or the immorality of the chief.
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

Following the Pax Britannica, and the implementation of indirect rule,


the chiefs were accorded more authority than they formerly had, and the role of
the commoner in government was largely overlooked. Many other changes occurred
in the social structure of the Akan from the adoption of Western religious
and economic concepts.

The explanation for the demise of the chieftaincy,


they say, is to be found in London.
Decolonization, the Colonial State,
and Chieftaincy in the Gold Coast
Richard C. Crook

Western education and an understanding of the emerging colonial order replaced trading links with Europeans as the
new criteria for political success, but this meant that in the southern Gold Coast Colony, when indirect rule became
the government's official policy, neither colonial administrators nor chiefs were in a position to monopolize the

39
invention of "tradition." how indirect rule policies fueled competition for office in what the government
described as the "native state" on the part of people who had limited claims to legitimacy.

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

A long history of interaction with Europeans gave rise to what Margaret Priestly (1969) and Kwame Daaku (1970)
have described as "Afro-European" communities. Its members were able to take advantage of their links to African
society, and at the same time to manipulate and to modify its institutions to suit their own purposes. These
"entrepreneurs and early state builders," as Henige (1977) has characterized them, established the precedent for their
successors in the twentieth century. Western education and an understanding of the emerging colonial order replaced
trading links with Europeans as the new criteria for political success, but this meant that in the southern Gold Coast
Colony, when indirect rule became the government's official policy, neither colonial administrators nor chiefs were
in a position to monopolize the invention of "tradition." how indirect rule policies fueled competition for office in
what the government described as the "native state" on the part of people who had limited claims to legitimacy.

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.

Chieftaincy in the Colonial Era


The advent of British colonial rule heralded by the Bond of 1844 signed between some coastal chiefs of the Gold
Coast (now Ghana) and Britain began the process of the truncation of the traditional powers of chieftaincy and the
gradual incorporation of chiefs into the colonial mode of governance through what came to be commonly known as
the Indirect Rule. Traditional authority proved so useful in colonial policy of Indirect Rule that where colonial
authorities found no chiefs as in acephalous societies, they created them (Arhin 2001; Harvey 1966). Chiefs became
the main agents of indirect rule in the Gold Coast and the Native courts were to be the extension of this
administration (Acquah, 2006)

African Political Systems - 1950-51


There are several chiefs, or ohen, in each state, a chief being a person who occupies an ancestral stool. A "stool" in
the Gold Coast may be equated with the European concept of the throne, with the stool of the omanhene being
supreme to all others in the state. As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of the clan's ancestral
spirits, and as such functions as a religious as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition, a
military leader.

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
James B. Christensen

Each native state, or oman, is composed of a number of these clans and the land they own. At the head of each
native state was the paramount chief, or omanhene, chosen from a clan designated as the royal family. It was the
privilege of this particular abusua to supply the leader of the state.
There are several chiefs, or ohen, in each state, a chief being a person who occupies an ancestral stool. A "stool" in
the Gold Coast may be equated with the European concept of the throne, with the stool of the omanhene being

40
supreme to all others in the state. As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of the clan's ancestral
spirits, and as such functions as a religious as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition, a
military leader.

Assisting the paramount chief in affairs of state were the "queen mother," who was chosen from the royal family,
and the chiefs and elders of the state. Since the omanhene was the military as well as the political and religious head,
the clans were further divided into sections or divisions on the basis of the positions occupied on the battlefield. At
the head of each of these divisions was a sectional or divisional chief who was a close advisor of the paramount
chief. Though the chiefs, and particularly the omanhene, were accorded a great deal of authority under the
customary law of the Akan, they were by no means autocrats.

A system of checks and balances was present in the political structure that ensured the commoner a voice in his
government. The paramount chief was required to consult his advisors on all matters of state, and each councilor in
turn would meet with the elders of his own lineage to obtain their opinion. The elders in turn were to voice the
wishes of the people they represented. Major issues would be discussed at a meeting of the entire state, where any
person, commoner or chief, could state his views. It was not a matter of voting and letting the majority rule on such
occasions, but rather issues would be discussed until a course of action was agreed upon. Due to his closeness to the
omanhene, a clan chief occasionally felt his interests were more closely allied to the royal elite than to his clansmen
and might advise a course of action not favored by his followers. But the individual Akan was not easily
disenfranchised, and the social structure provided specific opportunities for him to voice dissent.

Among the coastal Akan, when the commoners believed their chiefs were not affording them adequate
representation, they could make their wishes known through the officers of the military companies, patrilineal
groupings from which the chiefs were excluded. In Ashanti, it was through the elected leader of the "young men," or
mmerante, that the commoners could speak if they were not in agreement with the omanhene and his advisors. As
long as a chief acted in accordance with customary law with respect to his personal conduct and the duties of his
office, he enjoyed the support of the state. However, if he deviated sufficiently to dissatisfy the people, he ran the
risk of "destoolment," or removal from office, with the alternative choice of abdication. In such a society the support
of the people was essential, for without their cooperation, both religious and financial, the chief could not fulfill his
obligations to the stool and the ancestors. Also, the people need not accept as a chief a man they do not favor. Thus
with the power to choose or remove a chief in the hands of the people, a wise leader did not go counter to their
wishes if he wanted to retain his position.

African Political Systems - 1950-51


James B. Christensen

An outstanding feature of Akan social structure is the authority and prestige accorded to age. Their proverb, "One
does not pluck the feathers from a fowl before showing it to an elder," meaning that individuals or groups should
never reach a decision or take action without consulting their elders, may be classified as a governing principle of
Akan culture. Wisdom is believed to be a concomitant of age, and young people taking active part in politics against
the advice of their elders has been one of the radical deviations from tradition. Following the Pax Britannica, the
British governed the Gold Coast by "indirect rule." This system, developed in northern Nigeria by Lord Lugard,
utilized the existing political system of the African, and customary law was allowed to prevail as long as it was not
repugnant to British concepts of morality and justice. Nevertheless, a pronounced change occurred in the position of
the chief.

Formerly, the income of a chief was obtained from stool land worked by slaves, from people who traded for him,
from the gifts of subjects, court fines, market tax, and special assessments. With British control, the chiefs became
salaried. All court fines and taxes went into the treasury for the use of the state. Slavery, declared illegal, reduced the

41
number of people who worked for the stool. In some aspects the authority of the paramount chiefs was increased,
but often they lost prestige and the respect of their people. This was due in large part to the fact that decisions were
made by the chiefs in consultation with the British, and the latter supported the chiefs in carrying them out. Thus,
instead of the people having a voice in their own government as formerly, they would be told by their chiefs what
had been decided for them. While this considerably increased the influence of the chief in some spheres, it resulted
in the loss of popular support for many of them.

Elaborate entertainment of chiefs on occasion was part of the government's policy, a practice that did not escape the
people. This led to the accusation that the chiefs were the "tools of the European," and were accepting bribes to carry
out the wishes of the white man. Even when bribery was not suspected or charged, many of the people felt that since
the chiefs were dependent on the British for recognition of their position, they were too willing to acquiesce in the
demands of the European. Moreover, the African soon came to realize that the district commissioner, though
theoretically an "advisor," was the actual ruler. While the primary concern here is with the impact of a foreign
political ideology, important agents of change have been the religious and economic concepts of the white man.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
Perempeh II became the first Asantehene under British colonial rule
and created of several new stools, including the Nkabmu and Nkabmu
Kyeame Stools. The Confederacy councils second session included
the abolition of all nkwankwaahene (young men leader) positions.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos:
Akan Societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Kwasi Konad
Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio
Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa
Outside pressures like wars, conquerors, long-distance trade and slavery were also absent; land occupation occurred
late, divisions between "ruled and ruling" were weak and spirito-religious symbols of supremacy like stools, drums,
state festivals inexistent. The history of opposing concepts of "unity" (nkabomu) and "progress" (nkosoo) in
Ashanti, synonyms for the pro-war and the peace party, is traced by Wilks. Ashanti Councils preserved an "old
constitution and debated issues often in opposition to royal absolutism. After the 1874 war "activists" (akwankwaa
or kwasafo) from the Gold Coast forced "progress" and Kofi Kakari's abdication. In 1883, the "youngmen" who
called for Mensa Bonsu's resignation wanted open road" policies. But again later Asantehenes supported "unity".
Agyeman Prempeh was elected in view of peace, unity and economic progress through trade, but was exiled in 1896
and replaced by "progress"' proponents in the councils. The youngmen agitated against these substitute chiefs, and in
1924 Prempeh was permitted to return as Kumasihene.
Andreas MASSING

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

42
Perempeh returned in 1924 as a private citizen and, in 1926, he became Kumasehene (a hitherto unknown title). He
was supported by the conservative Kumase officeholders, who sought their historic power, as well as the radicals
who sought a liberal regime through a breaking or elimination of the power of chiefs from a man now
civilized and Christianized. Perempeh died in May 1931 and was succeeded by Osei Agyeman Perempeh II as
Kumasehene, and at the restoration of the Asante Confederacy in 1935, Perempeh II became the first Asantehene
under British colonial rule and created of several new stools, including the Nkabmu and Nkabmu Kyeame Stools.
The Confederacy councils second session included the abolition of all nkwankwaahene (young men leader)
positions.
Euro-African Commerce and Social Chaos:
Akan Societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Kwasi Konadu

Asafo and Destoolment


Anshan Li
He suggested the inland people were probably
"taking over the customs of the coastal towns, where
destoolments were much more frequent.'

In 1930 the nkwankwaa in Asante were outraged by the news that


Kumasihene Nana Prempe I and his chiefs were considering a law requiring that
a percentage of a deceased person's property be given to the Kumasihene and his chiefs.
In a letter to the chief commissioner, the nkwankwaa reminded him of the case of
Mensa Bonsu in 1883, whose overthrow was caused by a similar measure.
Following the chief commissioner's advice,
Nana Prempe I dropped the issue.

The asafo, wrote its captains, "are fighting for their primordial rights."
British observers recognised the asafo's role but strongly disapproved, fearing
that the affair was "being used to drive home the unsound principle that government
by the people means blind obedience by their 'ruler' to the will of a mass meeting"
(West Africa 13 December 1924).
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

The mode of integration of Asafo beliefs and practices of mainly Fante and Akwamu origins into Ga socio-political,
military and cultic system was a slow process of adaptation and assimilation. This dialectical process significantly
affected both the Ga cultic system and rituals, and the ceremonies of the incoming Fante and Akwamu Asafo war
gods. This mutual transformation process produced the synthesis which one can today describe as Ga Asafo
religious culture in La, Osu and other Ga groups.
The precise relationship between chieftaincy and Asafo war culture however varies among the different Ga
groups. For the Ga chieftaincy meant a new political institution that had to be integrated into the existing priest-led
theocratic government. Asafo on the other hand, meant the integration of a standing army with their peculiar belief
system, ritual, cults and ceremonies into the migration socio-political organisation led by clan priest-leaders under
the guidance of the clan gods. The transition from the migration type clan militia warfare to the new Asafo standing
army style in a central state under the chief required significant socio-political and cultural adjustments and

43
accommodation. The process of adjustments and accommodation produced different levels of tensions and conflicts,
and sometimes new synthesis.
Integration and Adaptation:
A Case Study of La and Osu Asafo Religious Culture
Abraham Akrong

As early as 1908, the secretary for native affairs warned that "the chiefs have been losing influence of late owing to
the growth of the 'Companies'...." When a destoolment occurred in Begoro in 1908, the provincial commissioner
said, "Destoolments are very rare still, but much more frequent than they were." He suggested the inland people
were probably "taking over the customs of the coastal towns, where destoolments were much more frequent.' The
colonial report of 1918 disclosed that there had been "an unusual number of depositions," when the destoolment of
no fewer than sixteen chiefs was confirmed in the year. The governor complained in 1922 that "Elections and
destoolments were unfortunately frequent among the Omanhin [paramount chiefs] and Ohin [chiefs]." During the
first quarter of the present century, the asafo company had pursued its political activities without much interference.
According to a 1924 colonial report, the nkwankwaa in Asante had enjoyed a "feeling of independence and safety
which gives vent to criticism of their elders, and a desire when dissatisfied to take the law into their own hands."
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li

the destoolments were mainly launched by the Asafo company,


an indigenous organization that represented the interests of the common people.
the mechanism of asafo and its linkage with destoolment. the colonial government
destroyed democratic features of traditional chieftaincy and made it less possible
for the commoners to participate in local politics.

Asafo and Destoolment


in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li
This measure caused protest from nkwankwaa elements in the southern districts of Asante. The Kumasi nkwankwaa
led the campaign against the asantehene by uniting both the ahiafo (the "poor") and the asikafo ("men of gold, or
"rich men"). They carried out a successful coup and Mensa Bonsu was destooled in early March 1883. Under
colonial rule several changes occurred regarding the grounds for destoolment. Abuse of power such as
collaborating with the government in the application of certain ordinances without consulting his people. In addition,
since bribery was increasing, both in legal cases and in the election of chiefs, acceptance of bribery also became a
ground for destoolment.

Initially, the best opportunities for such advancement in the traditional order lay in the asafos, or "companies" as
they were called in English.

No one really knew what had existed in the past. Nor did aspirants
for office have to face well-established rulers, who could have challenged
their novel interpretations of how traditional institutions were supposed to function
and who were their proper representatives.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

44
Asafo and Destoolment
This interpretation, however, seems to be only part of the story.
Stories that focus on the chiefs or on educated Africans cannot explain a
widespread political phenomenon: under colonial rule chiefs were frequently
deposed by commoners, or "young men," organized as asafo companies.

A local newspaper predicted that,


"The time is coming when a Chief once installed will sit firmly
on the neck of the people, like the old man of the sea, and rule them
in his own way without any lawful means of getting rid of him.
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900 1953
Anshan Li

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

In addition, the emergence of what British officials described as


a "class of educated natives" played an important role in undermining
the power of Omanhens, Mantses, and other authority figures of the native state,
or traditional order, by seeking to use native institutions in their opposition
to British policies that they believed ran counter to local interests.

Even after the British replaced such forces with European and West Indian troops later in the century, the asafos
officers continued to have important roles in recruiting porters to carry munitions for campaigns in the interior. The
result was an enhancement of the asafos leaders' importance - especially its commander-in-chief, the tufuhen -
relative to the chiefs, who often acquired obstructionist reputations.

In these places, however, those who sought to benefit from this change in colonial policy could take advantage of
the attenuated condition of the native order to convince officials of their legitimacy and manipulate traditional
institutions to suit their own purposes. No one really knew what had existed in the past. Nor did aspirants for office
have to face well-established rulers, who could have challenged their novel interpretations of how traditional
institutions were supposed to function and who were their proper representatives. Initially, the best opportunities for
such advancement in the traditional order lay in the asafos, or "companies" as they were called in English.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Roger S. Gocking

Ranger has argued that "customary law, customary land-rights


and customary political structures were in fact all invented by colonial codification
... [as part of] a conscious determination on the part of colonial authorities to 'reestablish'
order and security and a sense of community by means of defining and enforcing
'tradition'" (1983, 249-50). Colonial officials, Ranger points out, could not
have done this "without a great deal of African participation" (1983, 252).
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

45
The asafo company therefore took on the responsibility
of guarding their interests and became the main instrument
for mass political action in the southern Ghana.

Finally, the government's policy of promoting direct rule


as much as possible seemed designed to undermine traditional authority
all over the colony. the "tottering and uncertain power of the chiefs"
would shortly vanish from all over the colony, and "we shall rule
through the District Commissioners as on the coast."
In Akan political culture, the stool represents the soul or spirit
of the community. Every state has a stool. In abstract sense, the stool
is the symbol of authority of a chief, thus "enstoolment," the installation of
a chief, and "destoolment," the deposition of a chief.
Asafo and Destoolment
Anshan Li

As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of


the clan's ancestral spirits, and as such functions as a religious
as well as a political leader.
African Political Systems - 1950-51
James B. Christensen
Asafo and Destoolment
in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Anshan Li
Destoolment was widespread in colonial southern Ghana between 1900 and the early 1950s, as a traditional means
to check a chiefs violation of the oath of office. Considering the changes in the position of traditional leaders and the
policy of indirect rule, it is not surprising that the destoolments were mainly launched by the Asafo company, an
indigenous organization that represented the interests of the common people. In this article, the phenomenon will be
studied comprehensively, with emphasis on the mechanism of asafo and its linkage with destoolment.
that the colonial government destroyed democratic features of traditional chieftaincy and made it less possible for
the commoners to participate in local politics. The asafo company therefore took on the responsibility of guarding
their interests and became the main instrument for mass political action in the southern Ghana.
Asafo: Its Features and Functions
Among the Akan people, the warrior organization known as asafo (osa, war, fo, people) is found in almost every
town or village. This system has also been introduced to the Ga, the Krobo, the Guan, and some other ethnic groups.
J. D. De Graft Johnson, a colonial officer who was a Fante himself, once described the system: Asafu is primarily a
warrior organization and is the name given to all male adults banded together for any purpose, particularly war. In its
wider sense it is a socio-politico-miitary organization embracing both men and women, including stool-holders or
persons holding positions.... In its narrower sense the Asafu connotes the third estate, or common people, which
socially goes by the nomenclature of Kwasafu, sometimes also described or referred to, politically, as mbrantsie, or
"young men" to distinguish them from the mpanyinfu, chiefs and elders.
In Akan political culture, the stool represents the soul or spirit of the community. Every state has a stool. In abstract
sense, the stool is the symbol of authority of a chief, thus "enstoolment," the installation of a chief, and
"destoolment," the deposition of a chief.
Asafo and Destoolment
Anshan Li

46
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking
Not surprisingly, more recent studies of the impact of the colonial policy of indirect rule on the "traditional"
institutions of the native state display almost as wide a range of differing opinions as existed during the interwar
years. Many have tended to agree in principle with the Western educated elite's criticisms of the disruptive nature of
indirect rule on the institutions of the native state.

David Kimble (1963, 130), in his detailed study of the rise of Ghanaian nationalism, sees the policy of indirect rule
as having contributed to upsetting the relationship between the chief and subjects, but at the same time underscores
the importance of the expanding economy in undermining these relationships as well. Robert Stone, from his study
of rural politics in the Central Province, concludes that the colonial government's indirect rule policies generated
bitter struggles, which were a predictable and legitimate reaction from Africans who resented their indigenous
institutions being "rendered unrecognizable" (1975, 219).

Alan Cawson, meanwhile, has challenged the assumption that the "growth of modern institutions ... served to
weaken the importance of traditional ties" (1975, 4), and instead argues that the links between the precolonial past
and the traditional order of the twentieth century remained strong. He views the disputes that paralysed the
functioning of the native state in Cape Coast during the 1930S as representing local opposition to the colonial
government's "bizarre effort to impose on the local community a set of rules derived from an ideal type of Akan
state."

Jarle Simensen, who has focused on the rural environment of Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast Akyem Abuakwa, even
more strongly emphasizes the "basic continuity of Ghanaian politics both in time and space" (1975, 32).

Undoubtedly the most provocative challenge to the assumption of a fundamental difference between the precolonial
and colonial past has come from David Henige, who has suggested that "on balance (the] qualitative effects [of
colonial rule on Akan political life] have been exaggerated" (1975, 300). Particularly in reference to Akan principles
of succession, Henige has maintained "that while there was a change in some of the ground rules and a more formal
atmosphere prevailed, there was a more important and fundamental strain of continuity between the pre-colonial
past and the colonial period" (1975, 298). Henige, however, makes no attempt "to assess the impact of colonial rule"
on Akan political institutions with any "specificity," as he himself acknowledges. Indeed, in investigating the
"variegated succession practices among the Akan stools in this century," he restricts himself primarily to the
"mechanics of succession to high political office among the Akan (1975, 286, 300).

Elders used this invented tradition to dominate the rural means


of production in the face of challenges from young men. Men, in general,
did so to maintain economic and social control over women; paramount chiefs and
ruling aristocracies to maintain and extend their control over their subjects;
while indigenous populations appealed to tradition in order to prevent migrants
who settled among them from achieving political or
economic rights
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Through a number of such studies, Henige has focused on the historiographical value of the oral and written
"traditions" that various contenders for such offices advanced to justify their claims to office in this highly
politicized environment. More recent scholarship has nevertheless sought to shift the focus back to the transforming

47
nature of colonial rule, not only on "customary" political structures, but on what Terence Ranger (1983) has
characterized as "the invention of tradition" in general. Rather than seeing a continuity between the precolonial past
and colonial present, Ranger has argued that "customary law, customary land-rights and customary political
structures were in fact all invented by colonial codification ... [as part of] a conscious determination on the part of
colonial authorities to 'reestablish' order and security and a sense of community by means of defining and enforcing
'tradition'" (1983, 249-50). Colonial officials, Ranger points out, could not have done this "without a great deal of
African participation" (1983, 252). More importantly, "codified and reified custom" allowed those who were in
positions of dominance to assert or increase their control (Ranger 1983, 254).
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Elders used this invented tradition to dominate the rural means of production in the face of challenges from young
men. Men, in general, did so to maintain economic and social control over women; paramount chiefs and ruling
aristocracies to maintain and extend their control over their subjects; while indigenous populations appealed to
tradition in order to prevent migrants who settled among them from achieving political or economic rights. Not
surprisingly, however, Ranger and the others who stress the role of invented tradition in the colonial order have
concentrated on areas where colonial rule was rapidly imposed, and which were in a state of profound 1994
upheaval because of slave raiding and wars of conquest. Social disorganization provided colonial administrators
with the opportunties to invent traditions and then create an order that suited imperial needs.

In the late nineteenth century, by contrast, when the British were imposing colonial rule on the Gold Coast's coastal
area, the area of Henige's research, "state crystallization" was much further advanced than in East or Southern
Africa, the region on which Ranger has focused. The Asante empire in the interior was an obvious indication of this,
but as James Sanders (1980, 280) has indicated, Fante states were also "crystallizing" in the littoral, an activity that
contributed to a far-ranging process of "Akanization" in this area. Thus, despite a lack of both political and social
homeostasis, a much greater degree of cultural homogeneity existed than was the case, for example, in Nyasaland
and Northern Rhodesia, where Martin Chanock (1985) has taken Ranger's insights furthest with his investigations of
the invention of customary law. In addition, colonial rule in the Gold Coast came much more gradually.
A long history of interaction with Europeans gave rise to what Margaret Priestly (1969) and Kwame Daaku (1970)
have described as "Afro-European" communities. Its members were able to take advantage of their links to African
society, and at the same time to manipulate and to modify its institutions to suit their own purposes. These
"entrepreneurs and early state builders," as Henige (1977) has characterized them, established the precedent for their
successors in the twentieth century. Western education and an understanding of the emerging colonial order replaced
trading links with Europeans as the new criteria for political success, but this meant that in the southern Gold Coast
Colony, when indirect rule became the government's official policy, neither colonial administrators nor chiefs were
in a position to monopolize the invention of "tradition." This article will attempt to show how indirect rule policies
fueled competition for office in what the government described as the "native state" on the part of people who had
limited claims to legitimacy. This competition was as unanticipated as the variegated succession principles that were
the inevitable by-product of the disputes that followed.

Cape Coast, where the long history of contact between Africa and Europe stamped most sharply the contrast
between the traditional and the western. The resulting wealth of information from newspapers and colonial records
makes such a prosopograhical approach possible. Lawrence Stone (1971, 68) has already demonstrated how
collective biographies contribute to disproving earlier ideologically based interpretations of the seventeenth century
Puritan Revolution in England. Using biographical information about lesser known actors on the colonial stage, we
can similarly "sift truth from falsehood," appreciating the transforming impact of what Andrew Roberts (199o) has
described as "the colonial moment."

48
Institutional Discontinuity
To begin unravelling Henige's (1967, 164) continuity in change conundrum, we need, first, to recognize the
substantial degree of institutional discontinuity between, on the one hand, what William Bosman, a Dutch slave
trader, who spent fourteen years on the coast, depicted as the "confused and perplexed" political life of the coastal
areas in the eighteenth century and, on the other hand, twentieth century indirect rule.

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Finally, the government's policy of promoting direct rule


as much as possible seemed designed to undermine traditional authority
all over the colony. the "tottering and uncertain power of the chiefs"
would shortly vanish from all over the colony, and "we shall rule
through the District Commissioners as on the coast."

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the authority of local rulers in the coastal areas began to decline
substantially. The collapse of the Royal African Company in 1750 and the breakup of its monopoly in the Gold
Coast made it possible for increasing numbers of independent European merchants to trade in this area. Their
presence made it harder for African entrepreneurs to achieve economic and political importance. But even more
significantly, in the nineteenth century, British authority began to increase in many of the coastal settlements, as
these locations became important centers of resistance to Asante coastward expansion. The British government
invariably had to acquire more administrative and judicial control in order to organize military expeditions to
counter this threat.
Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:
Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Brodie Cruickshank, a British merchant, who wrote about his long period of residence on the coast from 1834 to
1852, recognized how much this "supervision" had tended to lessen "the consequence of the chiefs". In addition, the
emergence of what British officials described as a "class of educated natives" played an important role in
undermining the power of Omanhens, Mantses, and other authority figures of the native state, or traditional order, as
it came to be described. The former sometimes challenged the authority of already weakened traditional rulers. More
ironically, at times they also contributed to the decline in traditional authority, by seeking to use native institutions in
their opposition to British policies that they believed ran counter to local interests. The struggles that followed
invariably resulted in further weakening what little effectiveness such institutions possessed.

Finally, the government's policy of promoting direct rule as much as possible seemed designed to undermine
traditional authority all over the colony. Indeed, it seemed self-evident to many colonial officials that within a short
space of time, the remnants of what the colony's Acting Queen's Advocate, William Brandford Griffith Junior,
described as the "tottering and uncertain power of the chiefs" would shortly vanish from all over the colony, and "we
shall rule through the District Commissioners as on the coast." Uncontrolled outbursts of internecine rioting in the
coastal towns during 1994 the last decades of the nineteenth century were one indication of the lack of influence
native authority figures in these locations possessed (Johnson 1972). The long interregnums in the history of
individual stools during this period were evidence of how much the native order had lost its attractiveness.

49
Reflecting back on this period for the entire coastal area, an editor of the Accra newspaper, The Gold Coast
Independent, maintained that particularly amongst "eligibles" who were educated or Christianized, "when vacancies
occurred on stools ... [they] turned their backs on their rightful heritage and fled as if for their lives from their native
town or states ... rather than assume or succeed to the dignities of such positions" (23 April 1932).

At the turn of the century, however, a gradual volte-face occurred, as colonial policy shifted in favor of indirect rule
for even what the government called the "civilized" towns on the coast. Officials came to realize that they needed
the cooperation of the native order even in these locations. In order to carry out the rudimentary, sanitary measures
that these increasingly larger towns required, the British depended on the cooperation of some local authority
figures.

In these places, however, those who sought to benefit from this change in colonial policy could take advantage of
the attenuated condition of the native order to convince officials of their legitimacy and manipulate traditional
institutions to suit their own purposes. No one really knew what had existed in the past. Nor did aspirants for office
have to face well-established rulers, who could have challenged their novel interpretations of how traditional
institutions were supposed to function and who were their proper representatives.

Indirect Rule in the Gold Coast:


Competition for Office and the Invention of Tradition
Roger S. Gocking

Initially, the best opportunities for such advancement in the traditional order lay in the asafos, or "companies" as
they were called in English. These institutions, which in precolonial times had provided for the community's
defense, survived the imposition of British rule far better than the chiefly order (Ellis 1887, 280). In the militarily
volatile climate of the nineteenth century, created by the ever present threat of war with the Asante, local forces
played vital roles in British campaigns against this enemy. Even after the British replaced such forces with European
and West Indian troops later in the century, the asafos officers continued to have important roles in recruiting porters
to carry munitions for campaigns in the interior. The result was an enhancement of the asafos leaders' importance -
especially its commander-in-chief, the tufuhen - relative to the chiefs, who often acquired obstructionist reputations.
Roger S. Gocking

The asafo, wrote its captains, "are fighting for their primordial rights."
British observers recognised the asafo's role but strongly disapproved, fearing
that the affair was "being used to drive home the unsound principle that government
by the people means blind obedience by their 'ruler' to the will of a mass meeting"
(West Africa 13 December 1924).
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

Asafo and Destoolment


in Colonial Southern Ghana, 1900-1953
Although the government claimed many times that the content and operation of the traditional political system
should remain intact, yet there was an inherent dilemma in their intention and practice. By promoting certain chiefs
and punishing others, the government had already breached the mechanism of the very structure they wanted to
keep. The sacred notion of chiefly power was weakened and a chief was regarded as a mere mouthpiece of the

50
governor or a local administrator, rather than as a paramount leader of his people. The image problem worsened by
the abuse of chiefly power. A more important change occurred in the chiefly power and the institutional channels
through which the authority was exercised. Except for the loss of power to wage war or to inflict capital punishment,
chiefs now enjoyed a more secure authority within the colonial administration.

A chiefs authority over his people increased, while at the same time it became less legitimate and less acceptable.
This seemingly contradictory situation resulted from two circumstances: the weakening of the traditional checks
from his people and elders, and the military backing by the govemment. A chief now cared much more about the
favor of the government than the support of his people. If the elders' indifference could be regarded as a passive
resistance, the asafo's posture was more active and initiative. The asafo leaders seemed to take it as their
responsibility to represent the commoners and to guard their interests. Also, they were quite confident of their
legitimate right. In an interview with the secretary for native affairs, one of the asafo leaders in Accra stated the
following theory of the constitution: The Stool of Accra belongs to the asafoatsemei and Manbii (townspeople). The
Mantse is merely a caretaker. A Mantse reigns, but never rules. A Mantse is not responsible for the actions of his
people. If his people ask him to do a thing, he has only to do it This theory seems to be true, for the chief can only
decide matters on which his people have agreed, as is clearly shown in the oath and ceremony in his election. In
those areas where the asafo company gained power, their function in local politics was no longer questioned. In
Akyem Abuakwa, the asafo's constitutional role was no longer a subject of debate in 1932. It was settled during the
earlier risings against the chiefs when Paramount Chief Ofori Atta and the state council failed to deny the young
men the right to organize for independent political action. Finally, the asafo leaders gained the right to sit on the
councils of the divisional chiefs as representatives of the commoners. They even learned how to use modern legal
means in destoolment.

In Kwahu, the paramount chief had to compromise to some extent by encouraging the wing chiefs to bring their
asafo leaders to the state council meetings, where they had the opportunities of advising them in matters before the
council. These asafo leaders even refused to sit with their chiefs and tried to speak for themselves and to vote as
though they were equal with the council members. -Anshan Li

African Political Systems: Indirect Rule and


Democratic Processes - 1950-51
There are several chiefs, or ohen, in each state, a chief being a person who occupies an ancestral stool. A "stool" in
the Gold Coast may be equated with the European concept of the throne, with the stool of the omanhene being
supreme to all others in the state. As a stool occupant, a chief is the earthly representative of the clan's ancestral
spirits, and as such functions as a religious as well as a political leader. In former times he was, in addition, a
military leader. - James B. Christensen

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert

Akan Worlds - Identity and Power in West Africa.

51
Arhin traces the precolonial political and social integration of Akan groups into the Ashanti ruling estate (oman)
which consisted of a bureaucracy, service-bearers (gyasefo) of the royal house- hold, and a military organization
(asafo), as instruments of the Asantehene's supreme will rather than guarantees of common welfare. The gyasefo
held appointments with fixed service conditions thereby differing from mere servants, and the royal household was
almost synonymous with government. Gyasefo also received appointments to other Akan groups with territorial
expansion. Akan government therefore was not democratic but exercised through a hierarchy of unequal status
groups: stool-owning lineages, gyase (court personnel), younger lineages, co-opted foreigners and slaves.

The history of opposing concepts of "unity" (nkabomu) and "progress" (nkosoo) in Ashanti, synonyms for the pro-
war and the peace party, is traced by Wilks. Ashanti Councils preserved an "old constitution" and debated issues
often in opposition to royal absolutism. After the 1874 war "activists" (akwankwaa or kwasafo) from the Gold Coast
forced "progress" and Kofi Kakari's abdication. In 1883, the "youngmen" who called for Mensa Bonsu's resignation
wanted "open road" policies. But again later Asantehenes supported "unity". Agyeman Prempeh was elected in view
of peace, unity and economic progress through trade, but was exiled in 1896 and replaced by "progress"' pro-
ponents in the councils. The youngmen agitated against these substitute chiefs, and in 1924 Prempeh was permitted
to return as Kumasihene. - Andreas MASSING
Valsecchi, Pierluigi & Viti, Fabio

Tradition and Modernity:


The Struggle for Political Space at t Local Level in Malawi
Two questions are quite pertinent here. Who are chiefs and where does their authority and legitimacy come from?
These are extremely difficult questions to address mainly because of the variegated experiences the institution of
chieftaincy has been subjected to in the last hundred years or so across the African continent. Both colonial and
postcolonial regimes have in different ways, and for various strategic considerations, mutated the shape and form of
customary authorities. The tendency for colonial authorities was to replace non-compliant and rebellious chiefs with
handpicked loyalists regardless of their status in their respective communities in a bid to facilitate the processes of
subjection and domination. In the postcolonial regimes, changes have included either the introduction of
appointment or election systems for chiefs. Chiefs are appointed by the government or elected on a competitive
basis by members of a community. In extreme cases, the chieftaincy has either been suspended or abolished
altogether. These changes are however in stark contrast with the nature of chieftaincy as practiced in the pre-colonial
era where it traces its roots.

Chiefs almost exclusively derived their authority and legitimacy either as descendants of a great ruling ancestor or
on the basis of membership in a particular ruling family (Karlstrom 1996, O'Laughlin 2000, Ribot 2002). But the
alterations regarding the basis of claims to chieftaincy masterminded by colonial and postcolonial regimes
notwithstanding, the right to chieftaincy on the basis of descent has persisted,

Traditional leaders are at the heart of custom and culture in the sense that they play a prominent role in efforts to
preserve them. They are variously described as "guardians of traditional norms, values and practices This means
that a traditional leader cannot exist without a distinct territory and a socio-political organization over which he
exercises governance, power, authority and influence.

The village is the most common unit of social aggregation where traditional leaders operate. Typical villages usually
have about 100 to 2,000 people organizing various aspects of their livelihoods such as agriculture, woodlands and
fisheries under the leadership of a village chief. These chiefs have the status of an administrative magistrate
presiding over customary, civil and even commercial disputes. Often their judgments are much more respected and
so tend to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation among family members, clan members and even between
clans (Lule 1995).

52
Traditional Leadership,
Democracy and Decentralization

Customary institutions are further criticized as being undemocratic principally on the grounds that the right to
choose one's representatives is a fundamental and basic human right in contemporary democracies. This is the case
because chieftaincy is more or less "a caste in which only birth members can postulate to the role of chiefs" (Ribot
2002: 69). A traditional leader in South Africa captures these sentiments even more crisply. He points out that
"Traditional leaders such as myself rise to power through birthright; my father was a king, and I am his heir. Elected
officials on the other hand get their authority by means of a popular vote" (Molotlegi 2002: 1). The issue here
therefore is that as long as chieftaincy is based on heredity and ascription then it is inherently undemocratic. The
possibility of rural residents having the freedom to choose which institutions orindividuals should rule is
automatically excluded. The major concern is that ascendancy to chieftaincy on the basis of ascription makes
incumbents hardly accountable to their subjects, and as such, empowering or working with them may not serve the
efficiency, equity or development aims so often strongly idealized by somewhat nave decentralization advocates
(Ribot 2002, Ntsebeza 2003). In order to appreciate the relevance of chieftainship, Owusu (1997) and Blom
(2002) for instance argue that it is extremely vital to understand how it is based on customary village institutions
involving general norms and ideas about leadership. They contend that a ruler's subjects are fully aware of the duties
he owes to them as they are of the duties they owe to him and are able to exert pressure to make him discharge these
duties.

The Struggle for Political Space at the Local Level in Malawi


Blessings Chinsinga

Chieftaincy in the Pre-colonial Era


The fundamental role of a chief was and still is the protection of his people, ensuring orderly development of his
community and holding in trust the communities commonwealth. In the traditional arrangement therefore, chiefs
were land owners, army generals, law makers and enforcers, judges and the moral epitome of their communities.

Traditional authority proved so useful in colonial policy of Indirect Rule that where colonial authorities found no
chiefs as in acephalous societies, they created them (Arhin 2001; Harvey 1966). Chiefs became the main agents of
indirect rule in the Gold Coast and the Native courts were to be the extension of this administration (Acquah, 2006)

In 1904, the Chieftaincy Ordinance which succeeded the 1883 Ordinance made the Governor and not the people, the
final arbiter of the validity of an election or destoolment of a chief. Under colonial rule, in spite of their
incorporation into the colonial judicial system, chiefs were not only divested of many of their traditional powers but
in some cases, some were destooled for obstructing the conveyance of colonial justice arrangements. The chiefs
hung unto their diminished status into the post-colonial era.

We are the people:


Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.
Chiefs in the Post-colonial Era
Natural Rulers and the National Psyche
Beyond the colonial inheritance and the provisions of the current constitution, the question has been frequently
asked: How come that in a secular and centralized state such as Ghana, chiefs continue to refer to their kingdoms,
their lands and their subjects without any reaction from government? The answer to this question lies in the
national psyche.

53
We are the people:
Ghanaian chiefs and the politics of contestation.

The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications


for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah
The Akan chieftaincy institution has been a struggling institution since the advent of colonial invaders in the
fifteenth century. Although the chieftaincy institution occupies an important religio-political place of the society,
today, the office seems to be irrelevant to some people. From the period of colonialism to the present era, the
institution has been battling with a host of factors colonialism, modernity, globalization and religious pluralism,
among others for its survival. These forces have undermined the basis of the sacrality and authority of the chief.

According to Richard Rathbone, the colonial government, overwhelmed by the command and influence the chief
wielded, concluded that they could only rule the Gold Coast effectively with the assistance of the countrys
traditional rulers.

In the political philosophy of the colonizers, Rathbone concluded, chiefly power was the best and, almost certainly,
the only guarantee of what the British deemed to be law and order. The idea behind all this incorporation was to
also make sure that native institutions and sensitivities were being respected and minimally interfered with. The
said move introduced a dual system of authority under one political system the authority of the colonial
government on the one hand, and the authority of the chief and his elders, on the other. However, beneath this dual
system of authority was an economic motif. The colonizers recognition of the power of the chief was, to a larger
extent, economically motivated. As Rathbone has again noted, the indigenous rulers of the society, especially in
what was then called Gold Coast (now Ghana), were seen as the centres of economic power controlling, as they
claimed to do, access to land and the people who worked on that land. It is interesting to add that the use of the
chief by the colonizers was motivated by the fact that he was seen as an effective means of tax and other revenue
collection and exploitation by the colonizers.

The colonial encounter, however, brought about the limitation of the chiefs power which resulted in constant
confrontation with the local subjects and the colonial powers. The colonial intervention dispossessed the chief of
some sanctions which hitherto had been his sole preserve.

The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications


for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

The limitation of such powers, to a larger extend, gave uncensored powers to the common people who were able to
challenge the chiefs authority. For example, according to Rathbone, within a period of twelve years, between 1904
and 1926, over 109 destoolment cases were recorded in Akanlands alone, something that was less heard of
previously.

Again, a defiant and anti-colonial chief was, on several occasions, humiliated before his subjects. The colonial rulers
also extended their control over the judicial and other powers which the chief had previously enjoyed. The encounter
opened new challenges to the power and the sacred nature of the chief. If the fascination with the tribal chief which
led to the decision to rule through the indigenous is a curse, then the second most important curse brought about by
the colonial intervention was the resulting challenges of chiefly power within the tribe.

Traditionally, the Akan chief is the political leader of the Akan group. Because the political and the religious realms
are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chiefs political authority is religion. A chief is a sacred

54
entity. He sits on a throne or stool that has been sat upon by chiefs who have passed away and this stool links him
with the spirits of the departed upon whom the welfare of the community depends. A chief then is a mediating point
of the material and spiritual universe. His office is a sacred one. One can thus, argue that in the sacred office of the
chief, there is a fusion of ideology and practice ideologically, the chief is believed to be the repository of the
sacred values of the society. He is the representative of the ancestors of the land who are considered, among other
spiritual forces, as the moral law-givers of the society.

When a chief is installed ('enstooled'), he is made one with his ancestors, given a new name, and a sheep is
slaughtered over his feet. This blood, a symbol of rebirth, cleanses the person (de adwira no), symbolically separates
him (de atew ne ho) from his former secular person, and makes him sacred (woaye kronkron). This traditional act,
which symbolizes the transition of an ordinary person into a black stool occupant, is said by the Presbyterian Church
to be a 'fetish' rite which defines the incumbent chief as 'unfaithful to Christ'; it thus debars him from attending Holy
Communion.
The Christian Executioner: Christianity and Chieftaincy as Rivals
Michelle Gilbert
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

The Akan stool, the seat of power and authority, carved from an ordinary wood does not remain a mere wooden
stool. Once it is attached to a religious signification, its reality is transformed or to borrow Eliades word, transmuted
into a mystical reality. Indeed, the manifestation of the sacred in an object does not constitute idolatry. It is not the
sacred object per se but rather the object points to a reality beyond itself.

As has been argued earlier, though briefly, the Akan chief is held in high esteem not because he is a chief but
because the position he occupies is a sacred position. He is the glue that attaches the people to the ancestral
traditions of the land. Hence, his office is a combination of the mystical and religious position. The office is the
sacred repository of several centuries of Akan philosophical wisdom, religious values and socio-political worldview.
It is the embodiment of prosaic and sacred activities of the society. The metaphoric representation of the chiefs
personality has been likened to some of the mystical titles within world religions. assumed. It is a title that
legitimizes his status as a de jure ancestor, who has the mandate of the ancestors to rule the people on their
behalf

by virtue of their age, they are too experienced to be challenged. Their old age gives them the privilege of being
closer to the ancestors, whose actions and activities are unchallengeable. The best, and perhaps the clearest
explanation of this is given by van der Geest. Akan elderly people, according to Geest, are ancestors in spe. They
hope to be remembered as honorable ancestors after their death and therefore attempt to behave accordingly during
their old age.

Throughout this study the spiritual nature of the chief has been emphasized. It has been established that the
chieftaincy institution itself is a religious institution and spiritual duty. The chief, it has been shown, is the
intermediary between the living and the dead. He is the one who occupies the stool of his ancestors.

As Akrong observes, the blood relations that exist between the chief and the departed ancestors qualifies him to be
the rightful person to intercede for the people. The relation also qualifies him to represent the people at the court of
the ancestors as the priest of the people who can solicit the blessing of the ancestors. The filial bond and the direct
blood relation between the chief and the royal ancestors gives the chief an exclusive privilege and advantage over all
other spiritual functionaries of the land; to easily solicit the blessing and intercession for his people.

55
The Sacred Nature of the Akan Chief and its Implications
for Tradition, Modernity and Religious Human Rights in Ghana
Seth Tweneboah

The asafo, wrote its captains, "are fighting for their primordial rights."
British observers recognised the asafo's role but strongly disapproved, fearing
that the affair was "being used to drive home the unsound principle that government
by the people means blind obedience by their 'ruler' to the will of a mass meeting"
(West Africa 13 December 1924).
The Accra Crowd, the Asafo, and the Opposition
to the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, 1924 - 25
Dominic Fortescue

56