Saturday, 20 August 2011

Manganese Mining in Ghana

The Ghana Manganese Company Ltd. in Nsuta, Wassaw, Western Region, first started operations in 1916. This means that the mine is almost 100 years old. The current managing director of the company, Dutchman Jurgen Eijgendaal is keen to record the history of the mine and publish it as a book for the celebration of the 100-year anniversary. Mr. Eijgendaal’s historical interest is not such a strange thing, as he actually holds a master’s degree in history. Last week I spoke with him about the mine and the upcoming anniversary. The story of the mine is compelling. Not only is it one of the oldest producing mines in the world, it also has a further life expectancy of at least another twenty-five years.

The historic character of the mine is still very much present today. In the 1920s the American company Union Carbide was the owner of the mine and management imported a prefabricated house from America for the director. The house, from Arizona hardwood, is still there and currently in use as a guesthouse. The relationship with the workforce is also historically interesting, with some families having been employed by the mine for three generations. And then there is the strong historical relationship between the railway and the port of Takoradi and the mine. It can only be hoped that come 2016, the story of the mine will indeed be told in the projected book and perhaps in other ways too, to give a wider public some insight in this industry which has been and still is of such great importance for Ghana.

Although the manganese mine has no direct Dutch connections, the Western Region, with its large amounts of natural resources, including a great variety of minerals, has a long relationship with the Dutch. With their headquarters in Axim, captured from the Portuguese in 1642, the Dutch were for a long time – since the mid-seventeenth century – the most important and at times only formal European presence in the region. For a short while they had strongholds on the Ankobra River, one at its mouth, one well into the hinterland (see last blog). At times the Dutch also tried their hand at mining themselves, like the effort to commercially mine gold at Dabokrom near Butre in the 1840s. These efforts were never very successful, however.

It was the British Australian mining engineer and colonial official Albert Ernest Kitson who discovered manganese in Ghana in 1915. With the First World War in its second calendar year, Great Britain had a desperate need for all kinds of raw materials to feed the war industry. One of these was manganese, which was used in the production of steel helmets, themselves a new invention in warfare. The discovery of manganese could therefore not have come at a more opportune moment. By 1916 the mine was in full operation, and exporting up to 30,000 tons (imperial) per year. Allegedly a total of five million helmets were produced with the help of Gold Coast manganese. By 1924 the mine exported 200,000 tons of manganese per year. At first these exports went through the old port of Sekondi, after 1927 through the new port of Takoradi, which today is still the natural maritime outlet of the mining industry in the Western Region of Ghana.

Governor Guggisberg, 1920s moderniser of the Gold Coast Colony, was specifically proud of the manganese mining effort at Nsuta, and the contribution to the war effort it made. In 1923 he commissioned the British artist Edith Cheesman to paint thirty-six watercolours of the new colony he was building. The manganese mine at Nsuta was depicted in two of these. The watercolours were used to produce a series of postcards for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and for this purpose explanatory texts were added. Both postcards have been incorporated in this article. The importance of the mine was also acknowledged in later years. In 1948 the mine was depicted on a stamp, which was reissued in the 1952 series of Gold Coast stamps.

Today, manganese is again an important product, especially in the electro-technic industry, for instance in batteries.

Raphael Tuck Oilette Postcards of the Gold Coast, 1924. Artist: Edith Cheesman. Nos. I-4 'A manganese mine in the Gold Coast' and II-2 'Manganese mine, Insuta, Gold Coast', with descriptions.

Conversation with J. Eijgendaal, Managing Director Ghana Manganese Mining Co., Accra 19 August 2011.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Ankobra Gold Route: Common Ghanaian-Dutch Historic and Cultural Heritage in Western Ghana

The Ankobra Gold Route: Common Ghanaian-Dutch Historic and Cultural Heritage in Western Ghana

Within the framework of the Multual Cultural Heritage Policy 2009-2012, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released substantial funds for the project ‘The Ankobra Gold Route: Common Ghanaian-Dutch Historic and Cultural Heritage in Western Ghana ’.

The project is run by a consortium consisting of
- Ricerca & Cooperazione, an Italian development NGO with extensive experience in Ghana (R&C)
- Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB)
- Atlantic World and the Dutch Programme (AWAD)
- Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD)
- University of Pavia (Italy)
- University of Ghana at Legon
- University of Groningen (The Netherlands)

The project builds upon earlier cooperation between the partners in the field of mutual cultural heritage and heritage management in Ghana, going back to 1998. The project size is 344,000 euro, of which about 150,000 euro is funded by the Ministry. The length of the project is eighteen months. In the current Dutch political climate, in which the budget for culture is heavily cut back, the fact that this project was eventually funded may be called a pleasant surprise.

The project focusses on the identification and revitalization of several outstanding objects of mutual cultural heritage of Ghana and the Netherlands in the Western Region of Ghana, more specifically the seventeenth-century forts of Elize Carthago and Ruychaver, both on the Ankobra River, and the importance of these Dutch establishments for local Ghanaian history. The project has a scientific component, in which the history is charted through archaeological, historical, and anthropological research. A second component focusses on development issues, more specifically the social-economic and cultural development of the area, inter alia through sustainable tourism.

The project has three concrete goals: (1) The enhancement of our knowledge of the early Dutch-Ghanaian interaction in the hinterland of Ghana and the conservation of monumental and archaeological remains from that period. (2) The creation of a sustainable historical and cultural touristic route along the Ankobra River into the hinterland, which will link into the already existing ‘Ghanaian – Dutch Historical Path’ along the coast. (3) The promotion of an integrated development plan for the region, based on sustainable management of natural and cultural resources, in close cooperation with local communities.

The project does not have its own website yet, but the site gives a good impression of the region and the work done and to be done.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Two Elmina fishermen

Today I prepared entries I6599 and I6600 to the Gold Coast DataBase, completing another set of 100 individuals. It seemed fitting to pay the two men behind the entry numbers hommage. Not because they are historically significant individuals, but rather because they are ordinary men who represent the Longue Durée of Elmina history.

Through their occupation and their death they are representative of the history of Elmina as a whole, and do they remind us of the economic basis of the town throughout the ages - fishery - and the personal and social perils so closely connected with that industry.

Kwamena Esson and Kudjo Koem were both (canoe) fishermen, the first from the small village of Ampenyi, several kilometres west of Elmina, and the latter from Elmina town. Both drowned off the coast of Elmina, during their work, only a day apart. From the registration in the Dutch death register it is unclear if it concerned two separate incidents, or whether we are dealing with one accident - a capsized canoe? - with both men on board, but the bodies found on two consecutive days.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Axim asks for Western education, 1861

Sometimes, as an historical researcher, one accidentally finds information that sheds a whole new light on questions of development in Africa, but at the same time leaves one baffled. It happened to me this week while trawling through a set of documents compiled by Dutch official P.M.J. Kamerling, about whom I am writing an article. In 1861, Kamerling was the official in charge of the Axim Department of the Dutch possessions on the Gold Coast. At the time, Axim was the most western establishment of the Dutch, and a relatively important place. This was due to regional geopolitical circumstances on the mainland, but also to its position as maritime gateway to the Gold Coast for ships coming from Europe and the Americas, with a safe and sheltered harbour to boot. The operative adjective is ‘relatively’, however. In many respects Axim was not part of the main stream developments that were taking place around Elmina and Cape Coast, and in Accra at the time.

In this respect, the following event is very interesting. In December 1861, the king and chiefs of Axim requested Kamerling to petition the Dutch government at Elmina for a schoolteacher to be sent to Axim. In return they would provide a “spacious school building and a house for the teacher”. Kamerling was impressed by the request, and commented: “When such a request comes from the population itself, it does not need further recommendation”.

What was happening here? Where did this request come from? For the moment it remains a riddle to me. In 1861, the European presence in West Africa was still under pressure. Costs were high, income from exports and imports was low, Africa had not yet become a colonial project, and in the parliaments at Westminster and The Hague voices for the abandonment of the West African possessions ran high. At the same time, developments towards a new type of (colonial) relationship were well under way in Sierra Leone and the hinterland of Lagos (Nigeria). Here the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the early part of the century had led to an ever increasing British involvement and triggered missionary activities by Methodists and Anglicans. By the early 1850s, this missionary movement was fairly widespread, and a debate had started about the role of education in bringing Christianity and civilisation. Not so on the Gold Coast, though, and especially not with the Dutch. They had their ill-designed castle school, with a structurally inadequate supply of schoolteachers, who more often than not were put to work in the administration after their arrival. Already in the 1830s, children from the Euro-African elite of Elmina, were sent to the British school in Cape Coast instead, and by the 1860s, English was the European lingua franca, rather than Dutch.

In short, the Dutch had no tradition of education, and this makes the Axim request all the more curious. On the other hand, that the request was made sheds some light on the cosmopolitan position of the smaller Gold Coast towns in this period, and the importance attached to the modernisation of society along western lines. One has to keep in mind here that to request for western education required a giant leap in thinking in an oral society, where the power of the written word was more often seen as a threat than as an opportunity.

NANL, NBKG 587, letter P.M.J. Kamerling to governor, Axim 20 December 1861.

High-handed colonialism: Nagtglas, Kamerling, and the case of the Axim hammock-bearers

Governor C.J.M. Nagtglas of the Dutch Gold Coast, in office from 1858 to 1862 and again from 1869 to 1871, is generally known as an enlightened colonial ruler, well acquainted with local politics and customs, but also with a realistic view towards the weak position of the Dutch on the Gold Coast in the second half of the nineteenth century. When he was appointed governor, he was already an old hand in the West African service, having arrived in Elmina in 1851 in the rank of assistant, at the rather advanced age of thirty-seven. In later years he became the single most important advisor to the Dutch minister of Colonial Affairs, first on the modernisation and rationalisation of the possessions, and later on with regard to the hand-over to the British. His re-appointment as governor and government commissioner in 1869 confirms this. In the latter period he also advised the minister on the quality of the officials, and possibilities for their advancement once the Dutch Gold Coast possessions were dismantled. His report on P.M.J. Kamerling, years later, in 1872, was rather negative.

From the correspondence of colonial official P.M.J. Kamerling it becomes clear that Nagtglas and Kamerling did not like each other very much. There are also indications that Nagtglas was perhaps not the big colonial thinker many have held him to be. A good illustration of this is what I have called the case of the Axim hammock-bearers. Inquiry – by Nagtglas – and report – by Kamerling – cover less than one page, but speak volumes.

Axim, 14 March 1861. Pieter Kamerling has just arrived in the town, from his post in Butre, to take up his position as commandant of fort St. Anthony and official in charge of the Dutch government in the Axim district. On his arrival he found a letter from governor Nagtglas dated 10 March, inquiring into a problem with hammock-bearers, reported by his predecessor, D.P.H.J. Weijtingh. Since time immemorial, the Dutch government rented canoes, oarsmen, porters, artisans, labourers, and hammock-bearers in the local towns and villages. The local African leadership was responsible for the organisation of this labour supply, which was regulated in a contract, the so-called “Pen en Contract”, between the respective governments. This included wages and costs to be paid by the Dutch. As long as the system existed, the provision of services requested posed problems. In many cases labour or a specialised service was simply not available, in others political or other animosities often prevented a ready compliance.

On this occasion Weijtingh had complained that he could not get any hammock-bearers, presumably for his trip to Elmina at the conclusion of his command at Axim. Weijtingh was also an old hand in Africa, but not a very experienced official. He first arrived on the Gold Coast in 1842, but as a merchant. Only in 1860 was he appointed as “official at the disposal of governor”, a rank below that of assistant. So it might be that Weijtingh did not have the proper diplomatic feeling to handle the situation.

In any case, Nagtglas wrote a high-handed note to Kamerling to look into the matter. In it he requested an official inquiry and report, and, so he stated, if no "definite and sufficient reasons" were given, leading to "a general apology" for what had happened, those responsible should be punished with a fine of 2 ounces in gold (underlining by Nagtglas).

In my studies of Kamerling’s career on the Gold Coast between 1856 and 1865, I found him to be a very conscientious and diplomatic administrator and diplomat, albeit somewhat arrogant in his demeanour. Kamerling’s response to Nagtglas’s questions of 20 March is worth quoting in full. It highlights the mechanism of labour supply, as well as some of the intricacies of colonial rule on the Gold Coast, and the frustrations of a local Dutch commandant.

"The King of Axim had received an order from Mr. Weijtingh to supply 8 hammock-bearers. He in turn ordered Edjefoe Kwamie, Senior Broker, Nabakouw, Quarter Ensign, and Allaban, to supply two men each, to make up 8 with 2 more supplied by the King himself.

Adaban sent 2, and the King himself sent 2 as well, but the King’s men arrived after Mr. Weijtingh had left (the soldiers confirmed this). Edjefoe Kwamie and Nabakouw sent none. Being asked why, they replied that Mr. Weijtingh had ordered the King [to supply the men], not them.

Furthermore, I found out that the King has no influence on the population whatsoever. Thus, in accordance with [the order of the Governor], Edjefoe Kwamie and Nabakouw were fined 2 ounce gold, and incarcerated for it."

Supplying hammock-bearers was obviously not popular and the king chose to spread the burden, by assigning the task to several local leaders. It is interesting to note that Edjefoe Kwamie was not delivering, because in his position as ‘senior broker’, he was the appointed intermediary between the Dutch and local government, courting a special relationship with the Dutch. Kamerling, being the conscientious administrator he was, inquired into the reasons for the refusal. He quickly found out that he had a potential problem of some magnitude, namely a king – his natural opposite number – who had no authority whatsoever. He loyally fined and incarcerated the two culprits as ordered, but the phrasing of the Dutch text echoes his reluctance with the order. Understandably so, as he was the new commandant and needed to build up cordial relations with all people in authority in Axim. Nagtglas had just made this a lot harder for him, after only six days on the job.

Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands, Archives of the Netherlands Possessions on the Coast of Guinea (NBKG), inv. no. 587, Correspondence Axim 1861: Notification and report 20 March 1861.

Friday, 25 February 2011

'Gold Coast Africans in the native village at Wembley'

Some months ago I wrote a blog on Princess Baa of Ashanti and her appearance at the Gold Coast Pavilion of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. The focus was on her demeanour and footwear: an Ashanti princess who clearly indicated she did not want to be in that photo, and her uncommon - though sensible - footwear accompanying her traditional apparel. In that blog I indicated the existence of two other postcards in the same series, Prempeh, son of the late King of Ashanti, and Gold Coast Africans in the Native Village at Wembley, and how the title of the last clinched the essence of the series and indeed the whole British Empire Exhibition. I can now present both these images, and reformulate my analysis of Princess Baa somewhat.

The card titled Gold Coast Africans in the Native Village at Wembley shows a group of Ghanaians dressed in cloth, in what can best be qualified as a semi-static action pose. The first two men visible appear to be dancing towards the camera, and on the far right, a third man seems to be moving out of the frame. The man closest to the camera is partly out of focus, because of his movements. Several others, including a man in uniform, stand still at the left of the picture, apparently looking on. The snapshot quality of the photo is enhanced by the fact that the framing is defective, with heads partly being cut off and a somewhat awkward composition of the group as a whole. Tuck's found the image interesting enough to make it part of a series for sale, however.

Curiously enough, the men looking on wear European footwear, just like Princess Baa, while the dancers wear sandals. It enhances the play-acting quality of the scene: the 'natives' are dressed up for the occasion, to perform a role and mimic their 'traditional habitat', but only up to a point. I think we can safely say that the picture of Princess Baa and her husband was indeed taken in the Gold Coast pavilion, as well as the two other pictures.

The third picture is a portrait of Prempeh, son of the late King of Ashanti, and shows a proud young man in traditional cloth and sandals, without any visible adornments, sitting on a dinner table or kitchen chair, in front of a doorway into one of the exhibition buildings. He looks straight into the lens, and seems well aware of his status and his position. In that sense, this portrait is the exact opposite of that of Princess Baa. The caption and identification of the portrayed man pose some problems. The last king of Asante was Prempeh I, who was ousted and exiled by the British in 1896, eventually ending up in the Seychelles. He was allowed back into the Gold Coast in 1924, reinstated as Kumasihene (king of Kumasi, capital of Asante) in 1926, and died in 1934. His nephew (sister's son) succeeded him as Kumasihene and became Asantehene as Prempeh II. It seems likely that the person portrayed here is this newphew and future Asantehene Prempeh II rather than a son by the same name. However, I am not an expert on Asante dynastic history, and additional information is welcome here.

Postcard info:
Gold Coast Africans in the Native Village in Wembley. Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London. Printed in England.
Prempeh, son of the late king of Ashanti. Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London. Printed in England.

M. Perkins & B. Tonkin, Postcards of the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley 1924 & 1925. West Wickham: Exhibition Study Group, 1994. p. 88-89.