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The Emergence of Capitalist Relations in South Asante Cocoa-Farming, C. 1916–331


The notion of capitalist relations in Ghanaian cocoa-farming is familiar, yet their development has been relatively little studied. In Amansie district, Asante, capitalist relations of production developed as a result rather than as a cause of the cocoa ‘take-off’, c. 1900–16. This paper examines their emergence, which occurred largely during the subsequent period of much slower growth and generally lower prices. The introduction and spread of regular wage-labour, the widening and deepening burden of rent on ‘stranger’ cocoa farms, the proliferation of ‘advances’, and the introduction of farm mortgaging are described, together with the accompanying decline of slavery, pawning, and other non-wage forms of labour. Colonial officials ineffectually deplored the growth of money-lending and, to a lesser extent, that of wage-labour. From the mid-1930s, however, the tendency towards greater separation of labour from control of the farm was partly reversed by a new insistence by northern labourers on the replacement of annual wage contracts by a managerial form of share-cropping. This demand was sustained against the opposition of farmowners and despite persistent unemployment, an achievement made possible by the migrants continued foothold in subsistence agriculture in their home areas. This case of migrant labourers successfully challenging the extension of wage relations raises questions concerning the relationships between commercial agriculture and ‘precapitalist’ social relations of production in Africa generally.

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2 The usefulness of this and other definitions of capitalism in understanding nineteenth and early twentieth century Asante rural history is examined in Austin G., ‘Rural capitalism and the growth of cocoa-farming in South Ashanti, to 1924 (Ph.D. thesis, Birmingham University, 1984) (hereafter ‘Growth’).

3 The Migrant Cocoa-Farmers of Southern Ghana (Cambridge, 1963), and related studies.

4 Representatively: Rhodie Sam, ‘The Gold Coast cocoa hold-up of 1930–1931’, Trans. Hist. Soc. Ghana, IX (1968), 105–38;Southall Roger J., ‘Cadbury on the Gold Coast', 1907–1938: the dilemma of the “model firm” in a colonial economy’ (Ph.D. thesis, Birmingham University, 1975); and Miles John, ‘Cocoa marketing in the Gold Coast and the African producer, 1929–1939 – with special reference to the hold-up movements’ (Ph.D. thesis, London University, 1977). Exceptions are: Gunnarson Christer, The Gold Coast Cocoa Industry, 1900–1939 (Lund 1978), which is limited by being based solely on sources available in Britain; and the aggregative view of factor inputs, output and income in Teal Francis John, ‘Growth, comparative advantage and the economic effects of government. A case study of Ghana’ (Ph.D. thesis, London University, 1984).

5 Britain Great (Colonial Office), Report of the Commission on the Marketing of West African Cocoa (London, 1938), 1924;Beckett W. H., Akokoaso (London, 1944).

6 The pioneering work in this area has been Nicholas Van Hear's study of northern Ghanaian labourers, which emphasises their part in making their own history: ‘Northern labour and the development of capitalist agriculture in Ghana’ (Ph.D. thesis, Birmingham University, 1982).

7 The following three paragraphs summarise Austin, ‘Growth’, 379, 428, 452–69.

8 NAGK D4B, J. C. Muir to Assistant CCA, ‘Memorandum: tribute paid by farmers’, 28 January, 1933.

9 Migrant Cocoa-Farmers, 3. For Amansie, see Austin, ‘Growth’, Ch. 10.

10 The Amansie cocoa ‘take-off’ entailed higher productivity, rather than representing a vent for the products of surplus productive capacity (ibid., Ch. II).

11 Field M. J., ‘The agricultural system of the Manya-Krobo of the Gold Coast’, Africa, XIV, 2 (1943), 5465;Hill, Migrant Cocoa-Farmers.

12 Tudhope W. D. T., ‘Enquiry into the Gold Coast Cocoa Industry’, Interim Report, Gold Coast Sessional Paper No. II of 1918–1919, 6.

13 Hill, Migrant Cocoa-Farmers, 83n (cf. 90), 187–9. The emphasis is Hill's.

14 See Austin, ‘Growth’, 227, 385–90.

15 NAGK D2168.

16 Gold Coast Government, Annual Report on Ashanti (1921) 6; NAGK Dz,68, ‘Report on Bekwai & Obuasi District’ by Smellie T. J. S., Assistant Superintendent of Agriculture (n.d… tour October – November 1921).

17 For example, European firms were offering 8/6d. per 60 lb. load in Kumasi at the end of 1930 (NAGK D4, ‘Report on Meetings with Chiefs and Farmers in Kumasi, Ashanti Akim, Mampong and Bekwai Districts’, by T. Hunter, Acting Provincial Superintendent of Agriculture [end, in Hunter to CCA, 30 December 1930]). The average annual price recorded for Kumasi agricultural station produce had not been below 17/- since 1924, when it was 9/-. The stations's cocoa ‘always received a small premium’ (NAGK D2907, ‘Average Price of Cocoa from 1913 to 1930’, Hunter to CCA, 27 August 1930), so 9/- for it probably implied about 8/6d. for the armer.

18 I discuss aspects of the 1930 hold-up in a separate paper, ‘Capitalists and chiefs in the cocoa hold-ups in South Asante, 1927–1938’ (forthcoming).

19 NAGK D133, 13 January and 19 March 1931; Bekwai District File 39, ‘Native Tribunal Ohene of Essumeja’, Return of Civil Cases for Feb. 1931, and DC to Asuminiahene, 31 March 1931; SCT 204/86, Bekwai Civil Record Book, 630.

20 NAGA ADM 46/4/I, Bekwaj Criminal Record Book, 463, 717–22.

21 NAGK Bekwai file 26, Kofi Buachie to DC, 1 March 1926, and Ya[a] Aduwa to DC, 15 March 1926.

22 Interviews with: Messrs. Osei P. and Owusu J. W. in Bekwai, 14 May 1980;Mr K. Addai and others in Asikaso, 26 August 1982;Nana Kweku Agyeampong and Nana Kofi Edu No. 1, in Asuminia, 5 May 1980.

23 Wage-labourers in this period were identified as northerners, explicitly or implicitly, in the Asuminia and Asikaso interviews cited above, and in interviews with: Peter Osei and others, Sanfo, 8 May 1980;Nana Kojo Appiah Darko II, Manso Nkwanta, 23 July 1980. Mossis and Gyamans were variously specified, while Mr. J. Oduro Mensah (interviewed in Bekwai, 1 May 1980) employed a Mamprussi at Manso-Abiram in the early 1930s.

24 This is the only reference I have come across to a woman farm wage-labourer in this period, whereas such workers are often explicitly or implicitly described as male.

25 Share-cropping only became frequent in Amansie later.

26 Interview with Nana Owusu Sekyere, Chief Linguist, and Mr Kwesi Kaabi, in Kokofu, 12 May 1980; interviews in Nkwanta Manso, 23 July 1980; and in Asikaso, 26 August 1982 (cf. Sanfo interview, 8 May 1980).

27 Austin, ‘Growth’, 382–2.

28 Colonial policy on Asante slavery and pawning, and the initial effects of the 1908 proclamation, are discussed in ibid. 471–503, 507–12.

29 NAGK SCT 205/260, 7; NAGK D133, 3 October 1930.

30 Pawning continued until the 2950s in a limited form (e.g. repaying a debt by giving a niece in marriage to the creditor). On the position of descendants of slaves in recent times, see Perbi Akosua A., ‘Domestic Slavery in Asante, 1800–1920’ (MA thesis, University of Ghana, 1978), 228–35; and Poku K., ‘Traditional roles and people of slave origin in modern Ashanti — a few impressions’, Ghana j. of Sociol., V (1969), 34–8.

31 The DC intervened to stop the payments since slavery was illegal: NAGK Bekwai File 39, Asuminiahene and elders to DC, 26 November 1931, DC to Asuminiahene, 9 December 1931.

32 NAGK Bekwai File 634, ‘Handing-Over Notes’ of Captain O. F. Ross Acting DC, Obuasi, 22 September 1924.

33 Interview, Bekwai, 30 August 1980.

34 Austin, ‘Growth’, 507–10 (cf. Perbi, ‘Domestic Slavery’, 233–28, 234–5).

35 Interview with Mr Kojo Asiedu, Huntado, 11 July 1980. See also Bekwai File 86.

36 Yaw Buachie III interview, Bekwai.

37 Computed from Beckett, Akokoaso, 60.

38 For example, interview with Nana Frema II (and Nana Adu Darkoh II), Jacobu, September 1980.

39 Beckett, Akokoaso, 60.

40 Austin, ‘Growth’, 309, 457.

41 Mate Kole, Konor of Manya-Krobo, said in 1907: ‘our people…do us no service as in olden time’ (Economic History of the Gold Coast 1874–1914: Select Documents, originally compiled by H. J. Bevin and extended by R. Addo-Fening, stencilled, Department of History, University of Ghana, Legon (1981), 268, Criticism by Mate Kole of Native Jurisdiction Bill 1906). In igiz he said that this was because the time was absorbed in government road and sanitation schemes (ibid. 264, extract from Legislative Council Minutes of 28 October 1912). Not that anyone's whole time was thus occupied: rather, presumably, subjects were only prepared to devote a given amount of time to state labour of any sort: if the government occupied that time, the stool was the loser. In that sense, they put their own work before that of the stool.

42 NAGK Bekwai File 77, Assuowinhene to DC, 18 March 1939.

43 Muir J. C., ‘Survey of cacao areas—Western Province, Ashanti’, Bull. Depart. Agriculture, Gold Coast, XXII (1930), 61.

44 NAGA ADM 46/5/I, 17 February 1917.

45 NAGK Bekwai File 634, Ross's ‘Handing-Over Notes’, 1924.

46 NAGA ADM 46/5/I, 24 June 1917; ADM 46/5/2, 23 May 1927; NAGK D4B, Manso Nkwantahene to DC, 29 February 1933.

47 NAGA ADM 46/5/I, 14 June, 16 July 1917; ADM 53/5/I, 10 January 1918.

48 The original reduction was in 1910, to a tenth; Austin, ‘Growth’, 470–71.

49 NAGK D886 (cf. NAGA ADM 53/5/I, 15 August 1918, 18 March 1919).

50 Annual Report on Ashanti (1921), 6–7; NAGK D4B, Memorandum by J. C.Muir, i/c Ashanti Division, Department of Agriculture, to Assistant CCA, 28 January 1933.

51 NAGK D886.

52 NAGK D4B: Muir's memo. of 28 January 1933; Acting DC to Assistant CCA, 25 March 1933, enclosing replies from chiefs of Bekwai, Denyase, Kokofu and Manso Nkwanta (Amanhene — sg. omanhene —: divisional chiefs).

53 NAGA ADM 46/5/2, zi April 1927.

54 NAGK D4B, Acting DC Asante-Akyem to Assistant CCA, 31 March 1933.

55 NAGA ADM 46/5/2, 16 February and 30 July 1927.

56 Writ of fieri facias: court order requiring the sale of property to meet a debt.

57 NAGK D4B, Manso Nkwantahene to DC, 29 February 1933.

58 NAGK Bekwai File 70, Sanderson to CCA, 17 August 1935.

59 This became clear when the rate of planting rose in the late 19408 and early 1950s, ntailing new ‘stranger’ farms in Amansie, and also a wave of farm-establishment by ‘Amansies’ and other eastern Asantes in less densely cultivated areas to the west, e.g. Ahafo and Sefwi-Wiawso (Austin, ‘Growth’, 319).

60 Kyerematen A. A. Y., Inter-State Boundary Litigation in Ashanti (Leiden, n.d.), 102–4.

61 NAGA ADM 46/5/2, 12 and 24 February (cf. II and 12 March, 12 August, 2 and 18 September).

62 Tudhope, ‘Enquiry’, Final Report, Gold Coast Sessional Paper No. IV of 1918–1919, 27.

63 The Gold Coast Farmer, February 1934, 134, ‘Farm Debt and Mortgages’.

64 House Rhodes, Oxford: Papers of John Holt and Company (Liverpool) Limited, MSS Afr. s825, File 536 (ii), statement of evidence by Yebuah, end, in Holts to Cocoa Commission, Kumasi, 16 March 1938.

65 NAGK D4B, C. L. Devin, Commonwealth Trust Ltd., to Assistant CCA, Kumasi, 27 May 1933.

66 NAGK D4, Hunter, Acting Provincial Superintendent of Agriculture, to Plants and Produce Inspectorate, Kumasi, 24. December 1929.

67 NAGK D4B, Factor's Report, end, in W. R. Danby, UAC, to Assistant CCA, 18 May 1933.

68 NAGK D4B, Walker to Assistant CCA, 19 June 1933.

69 NAGK D4B: DC Obuasi to Assistant CCA, 2 June 1933;Dickinson J. R., DC Mampon (and ex-DC Obuasi), to Assistant CCA, 31 May 1933.

70 NAGK D4B, Dickinson to Asst. CCA, 31 May 1933.

71 Interview with Nana Osei Kofi, ex-Amoafohene, and other elders, Amoafo, 6 May 1980.

72 NAGK D4B, Acting DC Kumasi to Assistant CCA, 26 May 1933, and DC Sunyani Assistant CCA, 18 May 1933.

73 NAGK Bekwai File g, Kobena Kankeri, Asuminiahene to DC, 1 January 1930; Kwabena Kramo to DC, 13 January 1930.

74 The general debate between orthodox Marxist and Dependency views of the possibility of capitalist development under colonial rule has been given new impetus by Warren Bill, Imperialism: pioneer of capitalism (London 1982: ed. and introduced by Sender John).Geoffrey Kay argued that the colonial government discouraged the Ghanaian cocoa industry in order to obstruct the development of an indigenous capitalist class (‘Introduction’ to The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana (Cambridge, 1972)).

75 Austin, ‘Growth’, 486–8.

76 Muir, ‘Survey of Cacao Areas’, 1930, 61; Rhodes House, Oxford; MSS. Afr. s.1105, ‘Memorandum on the Payment of Cocoa Tribute by Strangers on Stool Lands’, by Hay E. L. (cf. Cardinall A. W., In Ashanti and Beyond, New York, 1971 (1st ed. 1927), 278). However, qualified support of wage-labour was expressed by one agricultural officer: University of Birmingham Library, The Cadbury Papers, No. 289/248, Hunter T., ‘The Economics of the Cacao Industry’ (19291930).

77 NAGK D4, Hunter to Plants and Produce Inspectorate, 24 December 1929; D4B, 1933 correspondence between Commissioners in Asante, beginning with CCA to Assistant CCA, 10 May.

78 NAGK Bekwai File 118, Sinclair to CCA, 7 April 1940.

79 NAGK D133, 12 February and II, 12 March 1930.

80 NAGK Bekwai File 35, Inspector of Plants and Produce, Bekwai, to DC, 18 May 1933;Shephard C. Y., Report on the Economics of Peasant Agriculture in the Gold Coast (Accra, 1936) 26–7 (cf. D4, Hunter to Superintendent, 24 December 1929). Also, in 1933 courts were empowered to reduce ‘excessive’ interest rates (NAGK Bekwai File 35, Acting DC to all tribunals in the District, 4 July 1933). The co-operative programme was given its main official momentum in the 1930–1931 crop year (see Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for 1930–1931), though in the 1929–30 season there was already one co-operative society in Amansie, in the village of Pekyi, supervised by the Department from Kumasi (NAGA ADM 46/5/9, 370).

81 NAGA ADM 46/5/9, 370.

82 NAGK D133, 24 February 1930.

83 NAGK D4B, Kwabena Fori, quoted in DC Obuasi to Assistant CCA, 30 June 1933.

84 NAGK D4B, Acting DC Kumasi to Assistant CCA, 26 May 1933.

85 At least in Asante-Akyem (Austin, ‘Growth’, 380).

86 NAGA ADM 53/5//I, 25, 35, and 29 April 1919; NAGK Obuasi District File 147.

87 NAGK Bekwai File 66 ‘Notes taken at a Meeting in the Cadbury Hall’, Kumasi, December 1937, Mamponhene's speech.

88 Ibid.; speech of Kojo Broni, Head Farmer of Asante. A pioneering account of labourers struggle with farmowners in Ghanaian cocoa-farming generally, 1930–1945, is given by Van Hear, ‘Northern Labour’, 332–3, 345–6, 352, 60–66.

89 Share-croppers had been commonly employed earlier in cocoa-farming in the Gold Coast Colony, especially by Akuapim farmers. In contrast to the Asante case discussed here, it was used primarily as an employer' device to save capital. The newly employed labourer would be entitled to all the crop he plucked from the owner's existing farm, on condition he assisted the owner to establish new ones. As the yield of the original farm increased, the labourer's share would be reduced: to a third, and perhaps later to a (smaller) fixed sum per load (nkotokuano). (Hill, Migrant Cocoa-Farmers, 188: cf. her The Gold Coast Cocoa Farmer (London, 1956), 11–12, 15–16). See also Sutton Inez, ‘Labour in commercial agriculture in Ghana in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’, J. Afr. Hist. XXIV (1983), 472–3.

90 Interviews in 1980 in: Asuminia, 5 May; Manso Nkwanta, 23 July; Sanfo, 8 May; and with Opanyin Kwasi Owusu and Mary Kwusu, in Morontuo, 24 July.

91 NAGK Bekwai File 86.

92 Arhin Kwame (ed.), The Minutes of the Ashanti Farmers Association Limited 1934–1936 (Legon, 1978), 66.

93 Asantehene's Record Office, Kumasi: CF89, Labour Officer, Timber & Cocoa Survey to Secretary, Ashanti Confederacy Council, 28 November 1946.

94 CF89, ‘Analysis of investigations made during period October 1946– March 1947’.

95 Quoted in NAGA CSO 0001/SF52, Minute by Ag. Commissioner of Labour to Colonial Secretary, Accra 22 November 1946.

96 Asantehene's Record Office: CF89, Labour Officer to Ashanti Confederacy Council, 28 November 1946.

97 Asuminia interview, 5 May 1980.

98 Sanfo interview, 8 May 1980. In Morontuo an old farmer said that if you got annual labourers, abusa was unnecessary (interview, 24 July 1980). It was surely no coincidence that, as Van Hear has shown, attempts by Asante and other cocoa-farmers and middlemen to recruit directly in the north increased in the mid-1930s, and continued during the war despite government restriction (‘Northern Labour’, 135–43, 152–4, 156, 161–2). Some employers were clearly dissatisfied with the terms which ‘spontaneous’ migrants were prepared to accept, and sought to bypass them.

99 Asantahene's Record Office: CF89, Labour Officer to Ashanti Confederacy Council, 28 November 1946.

100 NAGA CSO 0001/5F52 (cf. Asuminia interview, 5 May 1980).

101 Van Hear, ‘Northern Labour’, 133, 147, 156–9, 161–2. The proliferation of abusa contracts was of course sustained into the end-of-war boom.

102 Compare Van Hear, ‘Northern Labour’, 118–9. There was no direct taxatioil in the Northern Territories until Native Authorities were authorised to collect a poll tax in 1936. The presence of workers from French colonies was probably partly the result of the consumer attraction of cash income, but it was also partly the outcome of a combination of coercion and of vigorous resistance. They needed money to pay poll tax to the French authorities, but had chosen to enter Ghana to avoid forced labour (Asiwaju A. I., ‘Migrations as revolt: the example of the Ivory Coast and the Upper Volta before 1945J. Afr. Hist. XIV (1976), 577–94).

103 The published evidence is summarised in Iliffe John, The emergence of African Capitalism (London, 1983), 26–7. An interpretation of abusa is offered by Robertson A. R., ‘Abusa: the structural history of an economic contract’, J. Development Stud., XVIII (1982), 447–78.

104 Chauveau Jean-Pierre et Richard Jacques, ‘Une “périphérie recentrée”: à propos d'un systéme local d'économie de plantation en Côte d'Ivoire’, Cahiers d'Études Africaines, LXVIII (1977), 485524:Rougerie G., ‘Les pays Agni du sud-est de la Côte d'Ivoire forestiére’, Études Éburnéennes, vi (1957).

105 Papers Cadbury, 289/245, Hunter to J. Cadbury, 29 March 1938.

106 Meillassoux Claude, ‘From reproduction to production: a Marxist approach economic anthropology’, Economy and Society, I (1972), 102–3, and Bernstein Henry, ‘Notes on capital and peasantry’, Rev. Afr. Political Economy, X (1978), 72.

107 Arrighi G., ‘Labour supplies in historical perspective: a study of the proletarianization of the African peasantry in Rhodesia’, J. Development Stud. IV (1970), 197234;Palmer Robin and Parsons Neil (eds.), The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (London, 1977), especially Legassick Martin, ‘Gold, Agriculture, and Secondary Industry in South Africa, 1885–1970: From Periphery to Sub-Metropole as a Forced Labour System’; Bundy Colin, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry (London, 1979).

108 Clarence-Smith Gervase and Moorsom Richard, ‘Underdevelopment and class formation in Ovamboland, 1844–1917’, in Palmer and Parsons, Roots, 107;Kimble Judy, ‘Labour migration in Basutoland, c. 180–1885’, in Shula Marks and Richard Rathbone, Industrialisation and Social Change in South Africa (Harlow, 1982), 119–41;Harries Patrick, ‘Kinship, ideology and the nature of pre-colonial labour migration: labour migration from the Delagoa Bay hinterland to South Africa, up to 1985’, in Marks and Rathbone, op. cit. 142–66;Beinart William, The Political Economy of Pondoland 1800–1930 (Cambridge, 1982).

109 Cf. Governor Guggisberg's statement in 1920: “during the last two or three years, the NTs [Northern Territories] native has not rushed blindly into work in the South. He wants to know where he is going and what he is going to do. In fact, he has learnt to pick and choose, and to know his own value in the labour world’” (Guggisberg's emphasis. Quoted in Thomas Roger G., ‘Forced labour in British West Africa: the case of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast 1906–27’, J Afr. Hist. xiv (1978), 93).

110 Cf. Van Hear, ‘Northern Labour’, 10–11.

111 Robert H. Bates usefully compares African cocoa-farmers in Ghana with European settlers in Kenya in terms of their market position and ability to induce favourable intervention by the colonial government (‘Pressure groups, public policy, and agricultural development: a study of divergent outcomes’, in Bates, Essays on the Political Economy of Rural Africa (Cambridge, 1983), 6191).

112 The beginnings of the process are remarked in NAGA CSO 000 I/SF52, Minute by Ag. Commissioner of Labour to Colonial Secretary, Accra, 22 November 1946.

1 This article is part of a continuing study of rural capitalism in south Asante, c. 1817–c. 1980, the first stage of which was financed by the UK Social Science Research Council, through the Birmingham University Economic History Department's Quota Award, 1978–81. It was supervised by Professor Tony Hopkins. The article was drafted while I was teaching at the University of Ghana. For their comments on the drafts, I am grateful to two colleagues at the University of Ghana, Professors Kwame Arhin and Adu Boahen, as well as to the editors of this Journal. The following abbreviations are used: DC for District Commissioner (of Bekwai, now Amansie, unless otherwise stated); CCA for Chief Commissioner of Ashanti; NAGK for National Archives of Ghana, Kumasi; NAGA for National Archives of Ghana, Accra.

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