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Ghana - Pre-Colonial History

The region of modern Ghana has been inhabited for several thousand years. The Gold Coast was a part of the western division of the great empire of the Emperor of Benin, which extended from Benin up to the river Gambia, and that it was governed by kings appointed by the Emperor. The eastern division of his empire is said by Rbmer to have extended twice as far as that of the western. Such an extensive and large empire could not be established but by a powerful king like the Pharaohs. In those ancient times there must have been a way for trade between Egypt and this coast.

The traditional accounts of the natives of the Gold Coast which seem to confirm and prove statements concerning the empire of Benin. The first instance is, that the kings of Lagos were formerly appointed from Benin. The second instance is the following tradition which is generally and universally believed among our people. The ancestors of the tribes of Akra, Late, Obutu and Mowure are said to have immigrated from the sea; they arrived on the coast one tribe after another.

These migrations resulted in part from the formation and disintegration of a series of large states in the western Sudan (the region north of modern Ghana drained by the Niger River). Prominent among these Sudanic states was the Soninke kingdom of Ghana. Strictly speaking, "ghana" was the title of the king, but the Arabs, who left records of the kingdom, applied the term to the king, the capital, and the state. The ninth-century Arab writer, Al Yaqubi, described ancient Ghana as one of the three most organized states in the region (the others being Gao and Kanem in the central Sudan). Its rulers were renowned for their wealth in gold, the opulence of their courts, and their warrior-hunting skills. They were also masters of the trade in gold, which drew North African merchants to the western Sudan. The military achievements of these and later western Sudanic rulers and their control over the region's gold mines constituted the nexus of their historical relations with merchants and rulers of North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Ghana succumbed to attacks by its neighbors in the eleventh century, but its name and reputation endured. In 1957 when the leaders of the former British colony of the Gold Coast sought an appropriate name for their newly independent state—the first black African nation to gain its independence from colonial rule—they named their new country after ancient Ghana. The choice was more than merely symbolic because modern Ghana, like its namesake, was equally famed for its wealth and trade in gold.

Little is known of Ghana's early inhabitants before the sixteenth century. By then, however, the major population groups were on the scene and in their present locales. More than 100 separate ethnic groups are found in Ghana today, a number of which are immigrant groups from neighboring countries. By the end of the sixteenth century, most ethnic groups constituting the modern Ghanaian population had settled in their present locations.

The best-known of the indigenous states of Ghana is without doubt Asante, a term that applies to both people and state. Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, this Akan-based society began to expand from the area around Kumasi, its capital, allying with or subduing neighboring Akan states such as Denkyira and Akwapim. Eventually, Asante incorporated non- Akan peoples and kingdoms, including Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprusi, into an empire that encompassed much of modern Ghana and parts of neighboring Cote d'lvoire. Along a network of roads radiating from Kumasi flowed communications, tribute, and, above all, gold, over which the Asante held a monopoly.

Gold is found in several regions of West Africa, including the headwaters of the Niger River and the forest zone of modern Ghana. The West African gold trade was well-established in antiquity, and it helped tie the peoples of Ghana into a trans- Saharan commercial network that stretched from the West African forest zone across the Sahara to ports on the Mediterranean. Aside from providing material benefits, trade seems to have been one of the major factors in state formation in Ghana.

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Page last modified: 15-03-2017 18:21:43 ZULU