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“Abina and the Important Men” by Getz and Clarke Essay

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2022

When the British arrived at the Gold Coast in 19th century, the African reacted differently with some turning hostile while others welcomed them. Those who collaborated with the British were influenced by self-interests such as advancing their control over other local communities. Some allied with the British to protect their thriving palm oil trade, which largely relied on forced labor as illustrated in Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke’s book. The historiographical book Abina and the Important Men follows the story of a Ghanian woman, Abina, seeking freedom from slavery through the British justice. At the heart of the book is the court case, which paints a vivid picture of how the various African people interacted with the British on the colonial Gold Coast in the 1870s. Majority of the African actors collaborated with the British rule to safeguard their interests by fighting against the resisting interindividuals and supporting enslavement of women, as depicted in Abina and the Important Men.

Admittedly, other than the Ashanti, who resisted the British rule by engaging them in war, the majority of their African counterparts readily collaborated with the colonial power. The collaborators allied with the British to advance their self-interest in defeating the neighboring tribes whom they perceived to be long-term rivals. When the Ashanti attempted to counter the British control between 1873 and 1873, they were defeated mainly since other rival tribes supported the British (Getz & Clarke 1). In return, the British paid the collaborators and helped them continue dominating the region. For instance, after the defeat, the Ashanti were driven several miles away from the coast. The chiefs who led their tribes to fight alongside the British were equally rewarded with monetary tokens by the colonialists (Getz & Clarke 18). Therefore, the motivation for collaboration for Africans was purely for personal gains.

Similarly, individuals such as Thomas Aminassah, Jonathan Dawson, Quamina Eddo, and Nana Ampofa, famously referred to as the important men, supported slavery for personal reasons. Most of the individuals above-mentioned were worried that Abina’s case would affect them. These elites understood that if Magistrate Melton had given a verdict in favor of Abina, their sources of livelihood would be at risk. The members of the important men group were slave-owners, palm oil traders, or officials of the British administrations. That means all important men and the British depended on slavery as it was the backbone of the economy of the protectorate. The taxes from the trade paid the salary for all the colonial officials, while palm oil farming depended on slave labor entirely. Hence, during the hearing of the case, the important men advised the magistrate to overlook Abina’s claims to protect their sources of wealth. As a result, Abina did not get justice as the magistrate rule in favor of Quamina Eddo, the slave owner.

However, Abina’s case is crucial for understanding various aspects of 19th-century imperialism in Africa. The first and most notable factor is the untold stories of the oppressed during colonial Africa. Abina’s case represent millions of challenges various groups of Africans faced at the hands of colonialists. While all the important men who formed the jury were concerned about the case’s verdict for fear of affecting their economic ventures, for Abina, the case was deep and personal (Getz & Clarke 58). Notably, the case study is a reflection of the unwritten mistreatment women, mainly the enslaved, faced. While the British appear to have been against slavery, they supported it for fear of annoying the slave owners, who were the major drivers of the economy. As a result, the British courts denied justice to the most genuine victims while impressing the perpetrators. Thus, Abina’s story is significant as a case study of how the colonialists and African elites suppressed the voices of slaves and the oppressed.

Additionally, Abina’s case is an essential lesson for understanding genderism during the colonial period in Africa. While gender appeared to be a minor issue for the imperialists, it was central to their advancement. Abina’s story clearly depicts the existence of colonial paternalism during 19th-century imperialism in Africa. When Abina asked whether the jury comprised people with the same status as her, the response was, “to be a jury member, you must speak English well, you must own land or have money, and above all, you must be a man” (Getz & Clarke 57). In addition, the desirable slaves were women and children since they could easily be threatened into submission. Both the Africans and the British viewed women as second-class citizens whose role was limited to caregiving, farm labor, and house chores. Leadership positions were strictly held by men who despised women and denied them the chance to pursue their passions. Therefore, the story is vital in understanding genderism in colonial Africa.

In short, many African people embraced the British colonial rule mainly for their benefit, such as financial rewards and helped in fighting rivals. While some of the tribes tried to resist the colonial powers, others collaborated as a way of revenging and subduing their rivals. Chiefs and other African elites colluded with the colonialists for personal economic gains since most of them engaged in the palm oil and slave trade. Nevertheless, Abina’s story is significant in depicting the untold experiences of the oppressed individuals during colonialism. In addition, the case shows the impacts of genderism in the 19th-century imperialism in Africa.

Reference

Getz, T. R., & Clarke, L. (2016). Abina and the important men: A graphic history. Oxford University Press.

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