THE STORY OF ELMINA
KNOW THE ORIGIN OF TOWNS
By: Kwame Ampene
(Founder of the Guan Historical Society)
EARLY SETTLEMENT AND HISTORY: ELMINA, the district capital of Komenda-Abirem District Assembly, is situated on the narrow peninsula between the Benya lagoon and the sea.
In the 1480’s, this ancient settlement was known to the Portuguese as “the village of two parts”, because the little River Benya, which skirts the north-eastern walls of the castle, formed the boundary between the states of Edina and Fetu, and there was a Fetu settlement on its eastern bank. (qv. J.D. Fage, ‘GHANA – A Historical Interpretation’, 1958, p.43).
The Edina people emphatically deny that they are Fante, and only acknowledge an ancient relations with the Ancient Guan Kingdom of Aguafo, based upon the tradition that the putative founder of Edina, KwaAmankwa, the eldest son of the king of Aguafo, while on hunting expedition, discovered the Benya River and established a fishing settlement close to it. There is therefore, sufficient evidence for us to identify the Edina as a separate ethnic group among the Fante. The Rev. G. Acquaah asserts that “the chief towns of the Guan were Efutu, Aguafo, Kromantse and Edina” (See: OGUAA ABAN 1946, p.10). Also according to Henige, “Eguafo, Jabi (late Shama), Abrem, Fetu, Edina and Asebu are recognized by the Fante themselves as non-Fante states” (in Chronology of Oral Tradition’, 1974, p.148).
The clearest difference today between the Edina and the Fante is that position of Omanhen is inherited according to a system of patrilineal succession, and not regarded as the right of any particular patrilineage descendant of a former Omanhen and a member of the Enyampa Asafo. Family criteria are next, in that he must be a member of Agona or Nsona family. The four exogamous matrilineal clans in Edina are Anona, Asona, Twidan and Ebiradze. As a result there is no ‘abusua’ which can be designated as a ‘Royal Family’. Finally, there is only one royal stool for Edina Amanhen, because each Omanhene does not have his own Stool which would be ‘blackened’ upon his death. Succession became unpredictable and the tenure of the headship of the Edina state unstable. Nearly every Edinahene in the 19th century was destooled.
On the other hand, the general population is that of matrilineal descent within their own families Stool heads are selected according to the mother’s line, and property is usually inherited according to the female line.
However, tradition assets that succession was at one time matrilineal, but that during the reign of Ampon Dziadool, a controversy over the disposition of the State Treasury arose between Ampon and the Oman. His sons, however, warned him of the impending danger. He was able to settle the controversy amicably; but because his family abandoned him to his enemies, he decreed that henceforth only the sons of an Omanhene may succeed the father.
Edina had a political structure which was different in many ways from that which exists in other Fante States. Prior to 1872, there were no Divisional Chiefs in Edina. The wards were dominated, not by lineages, but by Asafo company members. Both men and women were patrilineally recruited. The ten Asafo companies;
(Source: ‘Who are The Elmina’? by H.M. Feigberg in Ghana Notes and Queries, No.11, 1970, p.20).
Early in 1942, Don diogo d’ Azambuja and his well-equipped party of sailors, soldiers and artisans arrived on the shores of Edina. A meeting between him and the local people was scheduled for February 20, 1482. Since the State of Aguafo incorporated the land mass of Edina, on such an important occasion it was the king of Aguafo who received d’Azanbuja. Typical regalia like the wooden stools, drums, horns, robes and military accoutrements were on display. During the memorable encounter between both parties, d’Azambuja spoke at length about the King of Portugal’s love for the souls of the local people, and concluded by saying: “should the king accept and receive baptism, the King of Portugal would regard him as a friend and a brother in the faith of Christ, and would help in all his needs”. Only at the end of the long speech did d’Azambuja declare his intention of building a fortress. But with sound reasoning the King tried to evade the answer and said”: “Friends who met occasionally remained better friends that if they were close neighbours………………………..”.
Nevertheless, the great castle of Sao Jorge da Mina, still the most impressive architectural monument on the coast, was built on a rocky little peninsula adjacent to the local settlement of Edina as difficulties were smoothened with presents (vide: ‘The voyage of Cadamosta’ p.119. Quoted in History of Christianity in Ghana’ by H.W. Debrunner, p.17-18).
Modern historians more or less agree that by 1482, there were not yet any Fante on the coast. So how come that in 1482 “the chief of Elmina” suddenly had a supposedly Fante name, “Kwamina Ansah” interpreted from the Portuguese word Caramanca? Somehow it doesn’t fit. In a 17th century booklet written for Louise XIV we find the description of these earliest contacts of d’Azambuja with not only Caramanca, but also “another Mansa” This is quite interesting because Mansa is also a sort of Mande or Arabic title for ‘traders’. So developed this more modern idea that actually the spelling of ‘Caramanca’ in Portuguese was perhaps a bit misleading, that it was really KARA MANSA – a Mansa named Kara who negotiated with d’ Azambuja.
THIS would make the early history of Elmina much clear and much clearer and much understandable, because there is also this confusion about the origin of the Elmina, people would say, means ‘the mine’, but that would be A Mina. In Arabic, on the other hand, we have E1 Mina meaning the port’ and that does make sense; this became corrupted into ELMINA (and not A-Mine). Moreover the gold mines are but a considerable distance form the port.
In the Portuguese period the goods received in exchange for gold, ivory and slaves were brightly coloured cloths, striped cloth, old linen, beads, sheets, kettles, brass and copper pots, pans and bracelets. Old clothes and linen were especially in demand.
The Portuguese occupied the Castle from 1482-1637 when the Dutch were able to expel them from the Castle. (See Dr. Albert von Danysg’s report on Castles and Forts of Ghana as a collective Historical Monument’ presented at a lecture organized by the American Women’s Association of Ghana, 1974).
In the opening years of the 18th century, the expansionist Asante kingdom used Edina as their main trading centre. The special relations with Elmina began with the Asante capture of the NOTE for rent or goodwill money from the Denkyira in Mid -1701. Since the Edina would not give their friendship and alliance with the Asante, the Fante intensified their attacks on the Edina (See: ‘Oguaa Aban’ op. cit.p. 28). The Anglo-Asante peace talks of 1827 broke down because of the refusal of the Fante to make peace with the Edina, at which time Edina had reached the apogee of its prestige and prosperity. In 18th and 19th Centuries the Dutch cemented the alliance with Asante through the periodic exchange of presents which enriched Asante material culture. The Dutch also made artisans available to the Asante kings when they sought to build new palaces.
In the 19th century the indigenous citizens of Edina consisted of the paramount ruler, the Asafo companies, as well as the Edina Principal Merchants. Another community comprised the offspring of Dutch men and women of Edina. Some encouragement was given to intermarriages in order to strengthen stranger-host relations. The third community consisted of Asante traders and officials who became permanent residents after 1807. Their functions included brokerage between Edina and Kumase, and facilitating diplomatic contacts with the Asante court. These groups were linked by mutual interest in the promotion of local, regional and international trade and a web of kinship and a finalities resulting from intermarriages between the indigenes and the immigrant settles. Finally, the Asante and the people of Edina put up fierce resistance to the English take-over of Dutch possessions in the then Gold Coast in 1869-1872. The resistance led to the invasion of the cost, the bombardment of Edina by the
English and the detention and exile of the Omanhen of Edina, Nana Kobena Lgyan, a martyr to creeping on the 11th June, 1873.
(Additional sources: ‘The Cape Coast and Elmina Handbook’ – Seminar at the LAS, Legon, in collaboration with the Department of Education, UCC, held on March 23-26, 1995. Also Public Record and Archives Administration Depart, Accra, ‘The Ten Asafo Companies to the Colonial Secretary’, June 1, 1915’ ADM11/1111).
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