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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2008

Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham


Small-scale societies, like Avatime in eastern Ghana, established, maintained and developed themselves in a range of ways, in spaces between large, centralized states, in West Africa in the precolonial era. This essay demonstrates the inclusivity and initiative (in terms of both economic entrepreneurship and bricolage) of this small group before its effective destruction by Asante in about 1870, and looks at the ways in which Avatime was reconstructed in the last third of the nineteenth century. In addition, issues of ethnicity and identity are broadly addressed, comparing Avatime's inclusivity with tropes of difference discussed in recent studies of small-scale societies in this journal.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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1 Hawthorne, Walter, ‘Nourishing a stateless society during the slave trade: the rise of Balanta paddy-rice production in Guinea-Bissau’, Journal of African History, 42 (2001), 124Google ScholarPubMed; Hubbell, Andrew, ‘A view of the slave trade from the margin: Souroudougou in the late nineteenth-century slave trade of the Niger Bend’, Journal of African History, 42 (2001), 2547Google Scholar; Searing, James F., ‘No kings, no lords, no slaves: ethnicity and religion among the Sereer-Safèn of Western Bawol, 1700–1914’, Journal of African History, 43 (2002), 407–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 I acknowledge the comments of one reader in emphasizing the inadequacy of the tropes of ‘centralization’ and/or ‘statehood’, but this is not my major focus.

3 Another inadequate term.

4 Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (eds.), Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology (Durham NC, 1997).

5 Diedrich Westermann and M. A. Bryan, The Languages of West Africa (London, 1952); M. E. Kropp-Dakubu and K. C. Ford, ‘The Central-Togo languages’, in M. E. Kropp-Dakubu (ed.), The Languages of Ghana (London, 1988), 118–54.

6 I have worked in Avatime since 1973 – in particular, Amedzofe. I collected genealogies from Amedzofe, oral histories throughout the group, and worked in archives in Accra, Ho, Kew, Oxford and Bremen. I was also given access to Amedzofe Church records and several family diaries.

7 I. G. Wilks, Akwamu 1640–1750. A Study of the Rise and Fall of a West African Empire (Trondheim, 2001).

8 See Francis Agbodeka (ed.), A Handbook of Eweland, vol. I: The Ewes of Southeastern Ghana (Accra, 1997); Kodzo Gavua (ed.), A Handbook of Eweland, vol. II: The Northern Ewes in Ghana (Accra, 2000).

9 Jakob Spieth, Die Ewe-Stämme: Material zur Kunde des Ewe-Volkes in Deutsch-Togo (Berlin, 1906); Regional Archives, Ho, Ser. C. 2073 (Rattray's account of the ethnic groups in the area), 1915–16; Ghana National Archives (GNA; now PRAAD), Accra, Adm. 39/1/235, ‘A History of the Avatime people’; ‘History of Avatime’, written in Eυe by G. K. Onuti (Hoffman), from an oral account by Biribi Abaye, given on 18 Oct. 1957, translated by G. K. Anku and written in English in Jan. 1974. Lynne Brydon, Fieldnotes, 1973/4, VI, 8–18.

10 Brydon, Fieldnotes, ‘History of Avatime’; PRAAD, ‘History of the Avatime people’.

11 The existence of a Baya people is attested to by the clustering of words in the language that contain the root ‘ya’.

12 Brydon, ‘History of Avatime’ (Sromanife's story, written down at Dzokpe, 2 April 1923, by R. Kwami, S. R. Adosu and B. A. Kuwonu, translated and written in English as above, n. 9).

13 Thus recognizing the site as ‘human’ space.

14 Brydon, ‘History of Avatime’ (from an oral account by Biribi Abaye, given on 18 Oct. 1957, recorded, translated and written in English as above, n. 9).

16 Sprigge, Robert S., ‘Eweland's Adangbe’, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, 10 (1969), 87128Google Scholar.

17 Heinrich Klöse, Togo unter deutscher Flagge: Reisebilder und Betrachtungen (Berlin, 1899); Lynne Brydon, ‘Petty power politics: colonial rule in Togoland, 1890–1935’ (unpublished MS).

18 I. G. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order (Cambridge, 1975), 700.

19 C. W. Welman, The Native States of the Gold Coast: History and Constitution: I Peki (London, 1969) (reprint of 1924 edn.); Marion Johnson, ‘Asante east of the Volta’, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, 8 (1965), 33–59; Wilks, Asante; Barbara Ward, ‘The social organisation of the Ewe-speaking people’ (MA thesis, University of London, 1949).

20 Welman, Peki; Rattray, Ho, 1915–16.

21 Ward, ‘Ewe-speaking people’; David Brown, personal communication, c. 1978; David Brown, ‘Politics in the Kpandu area of Ghana, 1925–1969: a study of the influence of central government and national politics upon local factional competition’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1977); David Brown, ‘Anglo-German rivalry and Krepi politics, 1886–1894’, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, 15 (1974), 201–16.

22 Ward, ‘Ewe-speaking people’.

23 Claude-Hélène Perrot and Albert van Dantzig, Marie-Joseph Bonnat et les Ashanti: journal (1869–1874) (Paris, 1994); Peter Bühler, ‘The Volta region of Ghana: economic change in Togoland, 1850–1914’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of California, San Diego, 1975).

24 See, for example, Johnson; ‘Asante’; Johnson, M., ‘M. Bonnat on the Volta’, Ghana Notes and Queries, 10 (1968), 417Google Scholar; Spieth, Jakob, ‘Einleitung, (Aus dem Schutzgebiete Togo: Die politische Vergangenheit des westlichen Togo-Gebietes, Premierlieutenant Herold)' (‘Introduction to Herold: the political background to the territory of western Togo’’, Mitteilungen aus dem deutschen Schutzgebieten, 4 (1892), 113–27Google Scholar.

25 Bühler, ‘Volta region’.

26 For example, Johnson, ‘Asante’; Perrot and van Dantzig, Bonnat; Bühler, ‘Volta region’; Peter Haenger, Slaves and Slave Holders on the Gold Coast: Towards an Understanding of Social Bondage in West Africa, ed. J. J. Shaffer and Paul E. Lovejoy (Switzerland, 2000).

27 Ray A. Kea, ‘Plantations and labour in the south-east Gold Coast from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century’, in Robin Law (ed.), From Slave Trade to ‘Legitimate’ Commerce: The Commercial Transition in Nineteenth Century West Africa (Cambridge, 1995), 119–43.

28 Ibid.; see also Helmuth Stoecker, ‘The historical background’, in Helmuth Stoecker (ed.), German Imperialism in Africa: From the Beginnings until the Second World War (London, 1986), 11–20.

29 Piet Thøning, Kørt Over de Danske Besiddelser i Guinea, forfattet paa stedet af P Thøning i 1802, Køngelig Bibliothek, Copenhagen, 1802 (1838).

30 Bühler, ‘Volta region’.

32 Ibid., citing Spieth's description of the Matse people as being ‘very dependent’ on trade, both local and long-distance. Spieth, Ewe-Stämme.

33 Bühler, ‘Volta region’.

34 See H. Debrunner, A Church between Colonial Powers: A History of the Church in Togo (London, 1965).

35 Werner Ustorf, Bremen Missionaries in Togo and Ghana: 1847–1900 (Legon, 2002); Perrot and van Dantzig, Bonnat.

36 Marie-Joseph Bonnat, who shared the Basel Missionaries Ramseyer and Kühne's (and Frau Ramseyer's) captivity in Kumase. Perrot and van Dantzig, Bonnat.

37 Johnson, ‘Asante’; Donna. J. E. Maier, ‘Asante war aims in the 1869 invasion of Ewe’, in Enid Schildkrout (ed.), The Golden Stool: Studies of the Asante Center and Periphery (New York, 1987), 232–44; see also Basel, D-1,21 (Anum No. 6 [Asiedu]), a first-hand account by a freed slave, Christian Asiedu, of the taking of Anum and the early part of the Asante campaign.

38 Johnson, ‘Asante’.

39 Ibid., but see also Wilks, Asante.

40 D. J. E. Maier, ‘Military acquisition of slaves in Asante’, in David Henige and T. C. McCaskie (eds.), West African Economic and Social History (Madison, 1990), 119–32.

41 Kropp-Dakubu and Ford, ‘Central-Togo’; Carola Lentz and Paul Nugent (eds.), Ethnicity in Ghana: The Limits of Invention (Basingstoke, 1999); M. B. K. Darkoh, ‘A note on the peopling of the forest hills of Ghana’, Ghana Notes and Queries, 11 (1970), 8–13; Lynne Brydon, ‘Making sense of change: Avatime lives and livings through the twentieth century’ (working title) (forthcoming).

42 Johnson, ‘Asante’; Maier, ‘Asante war’; Brydon, ‘Making sense’, ch. 2.

43 W. E. F. Ward, A History of Ghana (rev. 4th ed., London, 1967), 265.

44 Welman, Peki, 14.

45 GNA, Accra, Adm. 39/1/235.

46 See Wilks, Asante, 499: ‘During the week commencing 2 September 1871, the Gyaasewahene Adu Bofo's troops were received and reviewed in the capital’. See also Welman, Peki.

47 Johnson, ‘Asante’, 51; Haenger, Slaves.

48 Johnson, ‘Asante’.

49 According to Ustorf, Bremen Missionaries, 154: the reference here is ‘Zahn to Josenhans (Basle Inspektor), 12 Aug. 1875; ABM-Schr. 11/4, 21. B1’.

50 Gustav Müller, Geschichte der Ewe-Mission (Bremen, 1904), 163.

51 Johnson, ‘Asante’.

52 Ibid. 55.

53 Spieth, ‘Einleitung’.

54 See, for example, Yves Marguerat (ed.), Le Togo en 1884 selon Hugo Zöller, trans. K. Amegan and A. Ahadzi (Paris and Lomé, 1990) (translation of Hugo Zöller, Das Togoland und die Sklavenküste [Berlin, 1885]).

55 ‘Verschiedenes’, Monatsblatt der Norddeutsche Missionsgesellschaft (hereafter MB), n.s. 1 (April 1876), 60–3.

56 ‘Afatime und Peki’, MB, 6 (1881), 166–72.

57 Müller, Geschichte, 155, states that the 1874 proclamation was not popular in Anlo, and that some ex-slaves were killed if they tried to leave their former masters.

58 Brydon, ‘Making sense’.

59 Genealogies contain further records of such women who may well have been grandparents of the 1970s elders.

60 Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives (Madison, 1977).

61 Haenger, Slave; Müller, Geschichte; McSheffrey, Gerald M., ‘Slavery, indentured servitude, legitimate trade and the impact of abolition in the Gold Coast, 1874–1901: a reappraisal’, Journal of African History, 24 (1983), 349–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Brydon, Fieldnotes, VIII, Dzokpe, interview with Mr. Ameh (12 May 1974), 40; Brydon, ‘Making sense’.

62 Müller, Geschichte, 163. Thanks to Insa Nolte here for help with the nuances of the German text.

63 Bremen Mission Archives, 7/1025 13/3: Station Ho Konferenz-Protokolle 1876/88.

64 Girls were given some literacy training, and training in European domestic skills, by the missionaries' wives.

65 Debrunner, A Church.

66 Jahresbericht der Norddeutsche Missionsgesellschaft (Annual Report of the North German Mission Society) from Missionary Seeger (1890), 10.

67 Brown, ‘Politics’; Brydon, ‘Petty power politics’; Klose, Togo.

68 For general overviews here, see L. H. Gann and Peter Duignan, The Rulers of German Africa 1884–1914 (Stanford, 1977); Arthur J. Knoll, Togo under Imperial Germany 1884–1914. A Case Study in Colonial Rule (Stanford, 1978); and Stoecker (ed.), German Imperialism.

69 Gann and Duignan, Rulers; MB, Vom Reisen (Aus einem Bericht von Missionar Spieth) (Jan.) n.s. 13 (1888), 6–10; MB, Beilage zu No. 6 des Monatsblattes, Aus unserer Arbeit (June) 16 (1889), 59–60; Stephan Weißflog, ‘J. K. Vietor und sein Konzept des Liestungsfähigen Afrikaners’, in W. Ustorf (ed.), Mission im Kontext. Beiträge zur Sozialgeschichte der Norddeutschen Missionsgesellschaft im 19 Jahrhundert, Band 23, Reihe F (Bremen, Bremer Afrika Archiv, Ubersee Museum) (1986), 293–306; Birgit Tell and Heinrich Uwe, ‘Mission und Handel im missionarischen Selbstverständnis und in der konkreten Praxis’, in W. Ustorf (ed.), Mission, 257–92.

70 Amenumey, D. E. K., ‘German administration in southern Togo’, Journal of African History, 10 (1969), 623–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 This involves a formal introduction to oku elders and, through libations, the oku forebears. Lynne Brydon, ‘Status ambiguity in Amedzofe-Avatime: women and men in a changing patrilineal society’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1976).

72 Ibid. 50–3.

73 Brydon, ‘Making sense’. My fieldnotes for June 1973 contain the following entry: ‘Many people in [the Christian area] are descendants of slaves who were freed by the first missionaries. Some associate themselves with a clan area’. Brydon, Fieldnotes, I (18 June 1973), 9.

74 After the First World War the name of the former Bremen Mission Church was changed to the Eυe Presbyterian Church and, after Independence, to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in order to avoid ethnic problems.

75 MB, March (1940), 20.

76 Amedzofe Church records (accessed in June/July 1973).

78 Fieldnotes, XI (8 Aug. 1974), 18 and 16, translated and dictated from Eυe by Kadzi Anku.

79 Ibid. 16.

80 Brydon, ‘Making sense’.

81 Odɔko is an Eυe word for ‘slave’: Odɔkosi means something like ‘in slave hands’ or ‘slave wife’.

83 Lynne Brydon, ‘After slavery, what next? Productive relations in early twentieth century Krepe, and beyond’, in Toyin Falola (ed.), The Changing Worlds of Atlantic Africa: Essays in Honor of Robin Law (forthcoming).

84 Avatime joke about people who do not understand their language: they say people are ‘like logs’, just there and not active, or that people ‘do not eat green-leaf stew’, a very popular dish. Brydon, ‘Making sense’.

85 There is not space here to discuss this but there are ideas and lessons here to take farther. Searing, ‘No kings’, refers to Barth's early work (F. Barth [ed.], Ethnic Groups and Boundaries:The Social Organization of Cultural Difference [Boston, 1969]), but, more recently, see Gupta and Ferguson (eds.), Culture. I proposed an initial version of these ideas in a paper given at the 2001 African Studies Association conference in Houston, ‘Fluidity and fluency in the construction of Eυeme’.

86 Brydon, Lynne, ‘Women chiefs and power in the Volta Region of Ghana’, Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 37–8 (1996), 227–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.