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Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana

Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807-1956

Gareth Austin
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 614
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81sz4
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  • Book Info
    Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana
    Book Description:

    This is a study of the changing rules and relationships within which natural, human and man-made resources were mobilized for production during the development of an agricultural export economy in Asante, a major West African kingdom which became, by 1945

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-636-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Gareth Austin
  6. NOTE ON NAMES
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Maps
    (pp. xxi-xxiii)
  8. NOTE ON THE MAPS
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)
  9. 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book examines the changing relationships through which resources were mobilised for production during the development of an agricultural export economy. The process entailed a transformation in the breadth and intensity of land use: a transition from a sparsely-populated rural economy within which cultivable land was allowed generous fallow time or was not cultivated at all, to a steadily more populous, much more commercial agriculture in which little tillable space escaped cultivation altogether, in which rotation cycles had become ever shorter, and much land was under permanent cropping. This trajectory is characteristic of the modern economic history of tropical Africa....

  10. Part I. Context and Concepts

    • 2 THEORIES AND DEBATES: SOME TOOLS FOR THINKING ABOUT THE HISTORY OF PROPERTY AND MARKETS IN ASANTE AND BEYOND
      (pp. 23-33)

      The first chapter introduced the conceptual framework of this study, defining key terms and identifying general theoretical and historiographical reference-points. Some readers will be content to proceed directly to Chapter 3. Others, however, will find a brief elaboration of certain aspects of the conceptual framework necessary, either for an introductory (if necessarily compressed) exposition or to clarify definitions.

      Two particular sets of ideas have fed the debate on the history of property and markets in factors of production in Africa and elsewhere. The general controversy about the dynamics of, and constraints upon, economic development in African history turns to a...

    • 3 ASANTE, 1807–1956: THE STATE, OUTPUT AND RESOURCES
      (pp. 34-71)

      This chapter delineates the changing political, economic and ecological settings in which resources were put to work over the period. Section A outlines the political institutions and policies within which Asantes pursued their livelihoods. It describes the structure of government and assesses what the states (precolonial and colonial) claimed to do and what they lacked the power to do. Section B surveys the output of goods and services, from which the demand for factors of production derived. It summarizes the varieties and approximate scale of subsistence and extra-subsistence economic activity. Section C describes the stocks of labour, land and capital....

    • 4 THE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INPUTS AND OUTPUT, 1807–1956
      (pp. 72-96)

      Having considered the changing stocks of the individual factors we can now examine how they were combined. Let us therefore consider the relationship between output and the inputs of the various kinds of resources: the production function (or rather functions, as they changed over the period). Understanding this is necessary for any analysis of factor markets. The chapter is intended to do much more than summarize existing knowledge. Rather, it puts forward several major propositions about production functions in Asante—ideas which are relevant as hypotheses, arguably, for other settings not only in Ghana but in West, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa...

  11. Part II. Social Relations of Production and Trade, 1807-1896:: Absent and Imperfect Factor Markets

    • 5 LAND TENURE, 1807–1896
      (pp. 99-105)

      There is a little-remarked dichotomy in the literature on precolonial or ‘traditional’ land tenure in Asante.¹ The colonial-era ethnography of Rattray and Busia maintained that before colonial rule alienation of land, though legally conceivable, had been rare in the case of mortgage and ‘unknown’ in the case of sale.² This would not surprise an economic historian. In market terms the surplus of the potential commodity could be seen as sufficient reason for the lack of exchange, without necessarily following Rattray and Busia in emphasizing religious constraints.³ The postcolonial historiography, however, has shown that actually a lot of land alienation went...

    • 6 THE MOBILIZATION OF LABOUR, 1807–1896
      (pp. 106-127)

      Contrary to the conceited assumption that the social organization of our industrial societies is uniquely complex, it is arguable that the social organization of labour in—for example—nineteenth-century Asante was more complicated still. This is epitomized by the difficulty of separating familial from extra-familial sources of labour, or non-market from market ones. Slaves originated outside the family, indeed usually from outside the society, but over successive generations their descendants were treated increasingly as junior kin. Pawns were extra-familial workers to the master who received them; but in serving as pawns these individuals were usually fulfilling an obligation to their own matrikin,...

    • APPENDIX: NINETEENTH-CENTURY SLAVE PRICES
      (pp. 128-134)
    • 7 CAPITAL AND CREDIT, 1807–1896
      (pp. 135-152)

      In the nineteenth century the Akan language distinguished between money as such (sika) and capital. The main word for capital was dwetiri, defined in Christaller’s 1881 Akan dictionary as ‘a capital or stock of money to begin trade with; a fund employed in business or any undertaking’.¹ Sika-tan meant ‘capital, principal (capital), stock.’² J. H. Nketia has noted that tan meant fruitful, so that sika-tan meant invested sum³—a route which conveys the economist’s understanding of capital very precisely. It is possible that Christaller, in compiling what was the first Twi dictionary, himself stretched the meanings of words to try to...

  12. Part III. Slavery as Hobson’s Choice:: An Analysis of the Interaction of Markets and Coercion in Asante’s Era of ‘Legitimate Commerce’, 1807–1896

    • 8 FACTOR MARKETS WITHOUT FREE LABOUR: THE NIEBOER HYPOTHESIS AND ASANTE SLAVERY AND PAWNSHIP, 1807–1896
      (pp. 155-170)

      We have seen that slavery, slave trading and pawning were widespread in nineteenth-century Asante society and provided major inputs into the whole range of directly productive activities. This chapter analyses the causes, nature and results of this pattern of interaction between coercion and market forces in the acquisition and use of resources. Besides tackling a crucial aspect of the particular history of Asante social relations of production, this discussion is intended as a case-study in a wide-ranging controversy on which general positions have been strongly stated but which have been remarkably short on systematic empirical investigation. It includes the first...

    • 9 GENDER AND KINSHIP ASPECTS OF THE SOCIAL RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION, 1807–1896
      (pp. 171-180)

      The most basic part of the social organization of labour in the nineteenth century was the respective roles of the free members of the same household: this was ‘basic’ in that it applied whether or not they had slaves or pawns in addition. Accordingly, Section A considers the consequences for investment and the accumulation of wealth of the particular division of labour between free spouses that characterized nineteenth-century Asante, and asks why the conjugal family was the basic unit of work in this otherwise predominantly matrilineal setting. Section B examines how slavery and pawning related to men’s strategies within the...

    • 10 EXPLOITATION AND WELFARE: CLASS AND ‘SOCIAL EFFICIENCY’ IMPLICATIONS OF THE PROPERTY RIGHTS REGIME, 1807–1896
      (pp. 181-202)

      This chapter explores the implications of the pattern of rights and markets in productive resources for the economic and demographic strategies of individuals—differentiated as they were by rank. Slavery and pawning, as the major means of acquiring extra-familial resources, were crucial to the prospects of demographic and economic accumulation by commoners, and were important also for the wealth of chiefs. Section A relates commoners’ and chiefs’ acquisition and use of slaves and pawns to their respective patterns of demographic and economic accumulation. Section B reviews the evidence about the degrees and forms of accommodation, resistance and conflict involved in the...

  13. Part IV. The Decline of Coercion in the Factor Markets of Colonial Asante:: Cocoa and the Ending of Slavery, Pawnship and Corvée, 1896–c.1950

    • [Part IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 203-204)

      Having argued that in the nineteenth century labour and capital markets depended for their existence upon coercion, in the social form of various categories of property rights over people, in the next three chapters I examine the transition to a situation in which factor markets could and did operate largely through economic imperatives and incentives. The ending of slavery and pawning occurred under colonial rule and during the growth of export agriculture. In this the Asante experience much neglected in the literature¹ has many parallels with other parts of West Africa and beyond. This part has three aims, each significant...

    • 11 WHY WAS PROHIBITION SO LONG DELAYED? THE NATURE AND MOTIVES OF THE GRADUALISM OF THE BRITISH ‘MEN ON THE SPOT’
      (pp. 205-214)

      For students of the relationship between rhetoric and action the most striking fact about colonial policy on slavery in West Africa is that the administrations in the various colonies mostly took years before implementing the commitments of their respective empires to end slavery and human pawning within their borders—on the face of it, bearing out the scepticism of dependency theory about imperialism as a promoter of ‘modern’ capitalist relations of production.¹ When British forces occupied Asante in January 1896 slave-owning had already been illegal in the British colonies in the West Indies and South Africa since 1834. In India and...

    • 12 THE DECLINE OF COERCED LABOUR AND PROPERTY IN PERSONS IN PRACTICE: CHANGE FROM ABOVE AND FROM BELOW IN COLONIAL ASANTE, 1896–1950
      (pp. 215-235)

      Even when slavery and human pawning were banned, they were far from extinguished. This chapter considers how far and how fast slavery and pawning declined in practice, following the early suppression of the slave trade (and thus of imports of new captives) and of panyarring, the practice of seizing hostages to enforce repayment of outstanding debts. The evidence indicates that emancipation owed much to the initiative of slaves themselves, and their kin. It also shows that slavery and pawning lasted long enough to be important sources of labour in early Asante cocoa-farming. The same applies to the Asante form of...

    • 13 COCOA AND THE ENDING OF LABOUR COERCION, C.1900–C.1950
      (pp. 236-250)

      This chapter examines the hypothesis that the demise of previously widespread property rights in people was the result, not only of changes in law and its implementation, but also in the economy. In the period of ‘abolition’ in Asante, as in the Gold Coast before it, the principal economic change was the adoption and spread of cocoa-farming.

      That cocoa began to be adopted before slavery was made effectively illegal makes it interesting to examine the ending of Asante slavery as a possible case of induced institutional innovation. Can it be explained as a response to a shift in relative factor...

  14. Part V. Social Relations of Production and Trade, 1908–1956:: Towards Integrated Factor Markets?

    • 14 LAND TENURE: WHAT KIND OF TRANSFORMATION UNDER CASH-CROPPING AND COLONIAL RULE?
      (pp. 253-277)

      This chapter examines the changes and continuities in the tenure of land itself, and of the rents obtained by the ultimate owners of land from its users. Section A considers a fundamental issue of colonial rule in Africa: the extent to which land was appropriated for European use. In Asante this was a potential transformation that, despite some initial facilitation by the colonial government, did not occur and was then—retrospectively, in effect—ruled out by the government. I compare the colonial government’s policies regarding land alienation to Europeans and, on the other hand, to non-Asante Africans. Section B traces a crucial...

    • 15 CAPITAL AND CREDIT: LOCKING FARMS TO CREDIT
      (pp. 278-303)

      The widespread planting of cocoa trees created a stock of fixed capital with no parallel in the previous history of Asante. Issues of ownership arose, especially in the contexts of divorce settlements and inheritance. As far as the supply of working capital and consumption credit was concerned there were three fundamental, and related, qualitative changes during the colonial period.

      The first was a transition from lending on people to lending on the crops and farms of the new agricultural export sector. In Part IV we examined one side of this, the decline of human pawning. Though, as we saw, that...

    • 16 FREE LABOUR: FAMILY WORKERS, THE SPREAD OF WAGE CONTRACTS, AND THE RISE OF SHARECROPPING
      (pp. 304-322)

      The purpose of this chapter is to document and clarify the variety of ways in which labour was put to work in the cocoa economy after the prohibition of slavery and pawning. The first three sections consider the importance of non-market inputs: from the farmer and from his or her spouse (a matter to be related to the gender distribution of farm ownership); from children; and from the cooperative work (nnɔboa) group. We then consider the origins of a wage labour market in rural Asante, initially in carrying and on the mines, c.1900–c.1920; describe the spread of regular wage labour,...

  15. Part VI. Freedom and Forest Rent, 1908–1956

    • [Part VI. Introduction]
      (pp. 323-324)

      This part seeks to explain the trends and patterns identified in Part Five and to explore their implications. The basic process in the making of a cocoa-based economy was the application of labour to land to create fixed capital. The organization of each of the next two chapters, on land and capital, follows the stages of the tree-farm cycle: from establishment, through maturity, to the consequences of the longevity of cocoa trees. In doing so, we examine the emergence of a recognisably contemporary ‘lessdeveloped’ economy, and reflect on the problems involved for participants and observers. These include the long-running controversy...

    • 17 LAND IN A TREE-FARM ECONOMY
      (pp. 325-355)

      Section A reflects on access to land for cocoa: why permission to plant it was generally granted easily and cheaply; why—in contrast—the extension of cocoa cultivation was banned c.1939–46; and how far the rules on access, and their effects and their changes, can be understood in the framework of the rational-choice theory of the evolution of land tenure. Section B analyses the institution of rent charged on bearing cocoa farms. Section C examines the colonial policy debate, and the continuing scholarly argument, over the economic case for the establishment of more sharply defined individual rights in land. In this context,...

    • 18 CAPITAL IN A TREE-FARM ECONOMY
      (pp. 356-400)

      This chapter begins by trying to explain how the making of cocoa farms was financed, considering the rapidity of the expansion and the long gestation of this kind of investment. Section B analyses the working capital requirements of bearing farms and the capacity of such farms to attract credit in the form of advances for forthcoming crops. It goes on to examine the question of usury and efficiency in the market for short-term agricultural credit. The following pair of sections explore the implications of the longevity of cocoa trees, as opposed to annual crops. Section C considers the effects of...

    • 19 FREE LABOUR: WHY THE NEWLY-EMERGED REGULAR WAGE CONTRACTS WERE ECLIPSED BY SHARECROPPING
      (pp. 401-430)

      Two key questions arise about the emergence of free labour. One is why regular hired—voluntary—labour developed at all. This basic question for Sub-Saharan labour history¹ is particularly stark for Asante, given the argument of Chapter 8 that the nineteenth-century labour market there depended for its very existence upon an element of coercion. The other question, which applies also to the other major cocoa-growing countries in West Africa, is why the rise of wage labour turned out to be so halting. In particular, why was the spread of regular (six-month, annual or permanent) wage contracts followed by their replacement with sharecropping...

  16. 20 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 431-454)

    This final chapter summarises and integrates the preceding discussion (Section A), then considers the implications for students of African history and social science theory (Section B).

    This section briefly recalls the major contextual changes over the period and then restates the main argument within a broadly narrative structure.

    1807–1956 was a period of profound changes in the size and form of the demands for the products of the soil, agricultural and mineral; in the ways in which those demands were met; and in the identity, structure, resources, ideology and behaviour of the state.

    The Asante rural economy expanded greatly in...

  17. ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THE NOTES
    (pp. 455-455)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 456-546)
  19. LIST OF REFERENCES
    (pp. 547-573)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 574-590)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 591-591)