The term “Mina,” when encountered as an ethnic designation of enslaved Africans in the Americas in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, has commonly been interpreted as referring to persons brought from the area of the “Gold Coast” (“Costa da Mina” in Portuguese usage), corresponding roughly to modern Ghana, who are further commonly presumed to have been mainly speakers of the Akan languages (Fante, Twi, etc.) dominant on that section of the coast and its immediate hinterland. In a recently published paper, however, Gwendolyn Hall has questioned this conventional interpretation, and suggested instead that most of those called “Mina” in the Americas were actually from the “Slave Coast” to the east (modern southeastern Ghana, Togo, and Bénin), and hence speakers of the languages nowadays generally termed “Gbe” (though formerly more commonly “Ewe”), including Ewe, Adja, and Fon. Given the numerical strength of the “Mina” presence in the Americas, as Hall rightly notes, this revision would substantially alter our understanding of ethnic formation in the Americas.
In further discussion of these issues, this paper considers in greater detail than was possible in Hall's treatment: first, the application of the name “Mina” in European usage on the West African coast itself, and second, the range of meanings attached to it in the Americas. This separation of African and American data, it should be stressed, is adopted only for convenience of exposition, since it is very likely that ethnic terminology on the two sides of the Atlantic in fact evolved in a process of mutual interaction. In particular, the settlement of large numbers of returned exslaves from Brazil on the Slave Coast from the 1830s onwards very probably fed Brazilian usage back into west Africa, as I have argued earlier with respect to the use of the name “Nago” as a generic term for the Yoruba-speaking peoples.