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Opinions of Friday, 30 March 2007

Columnist: Afrifa, Akwasi

Ashantis still practice slavery -article

Ashantis still practice slavery according to Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosopher at Princeton University in an article which appeared in the New York Times Magazine dated March 18 section 6, and titled “ A Slow Emancipation”. Basically, the article is about the 200th anniversary of Britain’s ban on the North Atlantic slave trade.

It is well known that Britain advocated for the abolition of slavery mainly because of the cruelty and inhumane treatment of slaves but not for the practice of slavery itself.

The same can be said of American Abolitionists. These points Mr. Appiah rightly lay out in his article.

Now what worries Mr. Appiah, and rightly so, is the fact that slavery would have continued in the Americas and the British empire if it wasn’t for the abusive system of slavery. This form of “kindly” slavery is what M r.Appiah claims exist in Ashanti land.

According to Mr. Appiah, he is a descendant of one Chief Akroma-Ampim, an Ashanti general who settled at Nyaduom about two centuries ago with his war captives; a land given by the then

Otumfuo as a reward for Akroma-ampim’s exploits on the battle field.

Growing up, Mr Appiah’s writes, his father regularly received gifts from the people of Nyadoum because his father was a descendent of Akroma-Apim. Also, the people often asked his father to settle disputes among them; something that his father did but reluctantly, always persuading them to settle their own affairs since “they longer belonged to him”.

Mr.Appiah writes that slave descendants still exist in one form or another, and in different capacities in Ashanti society. “There are still slave descendants who work in the households of prosperous Ashantis without remuneration”. He continues, “In principle, they are free to leave whenever they choose. In practice, they often have nowhere to go.

Never having been paid, they have no savings. Often they have a very basic education, so their only skill is domestic work, a market in which there is a great deal of competition”.

Mr. Appiah, Ashanti’s involvement in slavery is well documented and they do not deny it.

However, you are unforgivably wrong in your assessment of Ashanti culture. None can dispute your family experience but one can only say that unless your father was the sitting King of Nyaduom, there is no way the people would have refer disputes and send gifts simply because he was a descendent of Akroma-Ampim. Although your father could have been the only true and legitimate descendant left.

It is true that small villages and Kings or Chief often send gifts and dispute referrals to third parties but only because Ashanti society is very decentralized (or very federalized). Disputes referral are very essential and it is encouraged because Ashantis believe it is the only way to ensure impartiality and justice. It is like a case going through Circuit courts then Appeals court and then finally, to the Supreme court; which is exactly what Ashanti Kings are, judges. The father is the king of the household and thus the judge. So is the “king” who is the father of the land. Tributes and gifts are very much encouraged as acknowledgments and appreciation because fathers, as well as kings are not paid for their services. . Arbitration, therefore is the core of Ashanti society. In fact, it is the essence that belies Ashanti culture.

The assertion that “slaves descendants” still works in “prosperous Ashanti households” is preposterous. The majority of us grow up in small villages where small scale farming is the only option. Not that farming is not a noble occupation but the diversity of human aims dictates that some of us have different aspirations. And in most cases the only way out is to be offered services in “prosperous” Ashanti or Ghanaian households in exchange for room and board and a basic education. (Something that Mr. Appiah so readily berated). Monetary gains might not be the payment but in most cases, “servants” acquire skills in trading, tailoring, commercial driving and various machine repair work often sponsored by their hosts. In an economy where most university graduates find themselves without jobs after school, these skills becomes very beneficial. But if this condition is what Philosopher Appiah refers to us slavery, then half the world is still in slavery.

It is noble that Mr. Appiah should remind the world of this upcoming anniversary but please stick to Ashanti cultural facts. I will recommend that the next time he visits Kumasi, Mr. Appiah must be subpoenaed by Manhyia Palace but not to stand in judgement, but to be lectured on aspects of Ashanti culture.



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