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The Politics of Chieftaincy

The Politics of Chieftaincy: Authority and Property in Colonial Ghana, 1920-1950

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Chieftaincy
    Book Description:

    Established as the commercial and administrative capital of the Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana) in the late nineteenth century, the city of Accra experienced profound societal changes throughout the twentieth century. The Politics of Chieftaincy examines the disputes over authority and property during the peak decades of British colonial rule. Between 1920 and 1950, colonization, commercialization, and urbanization sparked and sharpened a range of controversies. The removal of chiefs from office, succession disputes, and litigation resulting from land alienation and urban development became commonplace. An intriguing dynamic unfolded as colonial rule intersected with grassroots politics: although chieftaincy disputes and litigation were powerful sites of conflict and disruption, they also became spaces for local people to negotiate the sociopolitical and economic changes of the period. Sackeyfio-Lenoch demonstrates how these disputes opened new arenas for Accra's residents to engage in dialogue about the efficacy of chieftaincy and the meaning of property and its alienation during colonial rule. Accra exerted dominance in the region by virtue of its location and status; its history provides us with an important case study for understanding urban and colonial processes in Africa during the first half of the twentieth century. Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch is Assistant Professor of African History at Dartmouth College.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-857-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Introduction: Contesting Space and Authority in a Colonial Capital
    (pp. 1-22)

    In November 1873 Henry Morton Stanley, as a special correspondent for theNew York Heraldtraveling in West Africa, arrived via ship at the Gold Coast. The view ashore was of a linear beach, supported by a mud terrace that stretched for many miles to the right and left. Behind it spread Accra, divided into two main districts, James Town and Ussher Town. Accra was dotted with whitewashed houses that rose above clay-brown huts on the edge of the terrace that overlooked the beach. Wide verandas and spacious grounds marked the houses of wealthy merchants, providing an air of exclusivity...

  7. 1 Situating Ga Institutions in the European Colonial Milieu
    (pp. 23-39)

    The Ga peoples who inhabited Accra and the surrounding area when Henry Morton Stanley arrived in 1873 were not the first residents of the region, and they did not originate from one single ethnic enclave with a homogeneous set of traditions. Rather, various Ga-speaking immigrants emerged from eastern areas of the interior Gold Coast and settled in family or other groups among the aboriginal Kpeshi peoples of the southern coastal region beginning in the fifteenth century, arriving in different areas at different times.¹ Over time the Ga gradually achieved demographic, linguistic, and political ascendancy over the neighboring Guang-speaking peoples.² As...

  8. 2 Land Legislation, Commodification, and Effects in Accra
    (pp. 40-71)

    From its outset European contact with the Gold Coast and its interior areas was commercial and stimulated the commodification of land. European traders paid rent to local authorities for the sites of their trading stations, and the exploitation of minerals, in particular the gold rush of the late nineteenth century, made it clear that land had acquired exchange value. Moreover, the introduction of cash crops such as cocoa meant that farmers and other individuals wanted assurances of returns over longer periods, providing an impetus for landownership and alienation. Shortages of land stimulated the “macro-movements of farmers” into central Akan and...

  9. 3 Negotiating Chieftaincy, the Ga Stool, and Colonial Intervention
    (pp. 72-93)

    The dramatic shifts and increasing tensions in land affairs explored in the previous chapter intersected with an equally contested arena of Ga political life in colonial Accra: chiefly authority. Relations of authority in the chieftaincy system were recast because chiefs had already entered into the uncertain terrain of indirect rule that compromised their role and actions within their communities. During the late 1910s and 1920s, Ga authorities appropriated destoolment practices—the political and ritual removal of a chief from a sacred stool for breaking oaths made to constituents—to question the nature and power of chiefly authority. This period constituted...

  10. 4 Succession Disputes, the Ga State Council, and the Future of Chieftaincy
    (pp. 94-125)

    Given the patterns of change and the entrenchment of colonial rule occurring in Accra, succession disputes became more acute in town politics. Much like destoolments, succession disputes were dynamic sites in which authority holders negotiated political change in colonial Accra. These disputes entailed conflicting interpretations of who the rightful successor to a chieftaincy stool should be, disagreements about custom and tradition, jurisdictional questions, and contested versions of ancestral and hereditary rights to political office. Moreover, claimants continually contested the status, ritual authority, lines of descent, and hierarchies of each stool. Because the rules surrounding succession resulted in multiple norms and...

  11. 5 Contesting Property in Accra and Its Periurban Locales
    (pp. 126-166)

    As we saw in chapter 2, land became the subject of severe contestation from the 1890s onward. By the 1940s and early 1950s, these contestations continued but became more intense with the wave of litigation. These disputes are particularly valuable because they help us understand the variety of beliefs involved, perhaps in a manner that the evidence in chapter 2 does not allow us to see. During this period Accra experienced a wave of litigation as a consequence of the rapidly changing patterns of land control and the sharp rise in land values in urban Accra. These disputes involved litigants...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-174)

    Today most visitors arrive at Accra’s shores by plane to find a bustling city with more than four million residents. A building boom of high-rise buildings and new residential communities marks the city. Growing population densities with residents from all over Africa and the world; vibrant cultural, educational, and economic facilities; and the expansion of roads and motorways are all features of Accra’s development as a modern African city. This expansion means a continued need for land from indigenous Ga communities. Ga chiefs, family members, individuals, and other “traditional” authorities have benefited from selling land and receiving government compensation for...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-212)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-242)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)