Kwasi Konadu

Oral History and Tradition

African History 360Kwasi KonaduComment

At the end of the nineteenth century, a group of elite intellectuals—nationalists, lawyers, pastors—were emerging as both voices for the aspirations of their segment of Gold Coast society and as intermediates between the indigenous populations and the British colonial government. Self-publishing his History of the Gold Coast and Asante in 1889 (with a revised English edition in 1895), Carl Christian Reindorf produced the first general history of the Gold Coast peoples written by an African and using a judicious selection of published and oral sources from “more than two hundred persons of both sexes.” Carl Christian Reindorf (ca. 1834 – 1917) was a Basel Mission pastor and historian. His use of oral history to write African history in the late nineteenth century was unprecedented, as well as his methodology for combining oral sources with available documentary sources. Reindorf’s protracted struggle to publish this work on his own terms and at his own expense, however, testifies to the colonial and even racist context of his times as well as the audience for whom his History was written—his contemporaries, the “educated community” of the Gold Coast colony.

Reindorf, seated left, and his wife, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, June 1914. 

Reindorf, seated left, and his wife, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, June 1914. 


The sole object of this publication [i.e. History of the Gold Coast and Asante] is, to call the attention of all you my friends and countrymen, to the study and collection of our history, and to create a basis for a future more complete history of the Gold Coast. A history is the methodical narration of events in the order in which they successively occurred, exhibiting the origin and progress, the causes and effects, and the auxiliaries and tendencies of that which has occurred in connection with a nation. It is, as it were, the speculum and measure-tape of that nation, showing its true shape and stature. Hence a nation not possessing a history has no true representation of all the stages of its development, whether it is in a state of progress or in a state of retrogression. In the place of a written history, tradition, which from antiquity was a natural source of history, was kept and transmitted regularly by our ancestors to their children in their days. It was not, of course, in uniform theory, but existed and exercised its influence in the physical and mental powers of our people. This important custom of a nation—which our forefathers felt obliged to preserve and transmit from one generation to another, so as to enable us to compare our times with theirs—has, since the dawn of education, been gradually neglected and forgotten. Since then it has been the good fortune of the Gold Coast to possess educated men of powerful mind, who I am sure were well qualified to collect the traditions of their forefathers as a basis for a future history of the Gold Coast. But unfortunately such collections have not been preserved by their successors, but have been left to the memories of the uneducated community. Such a work as writing a history of the Gold Coast would not have been difficult for such of our brethren as the late lamented Rev. William Hansen, and Charles Bannerman, and some others in Fante; they possessed the mental powers which would have enabled them to do it successfully. Unfortunately, however, these lights on the Gold Coast were carried away by death in the prime of life.

A history of the Gold Coast written by a foreigner would most probably not be correct in its statements, he not having the means of acquiring the different traditions in the country and of comparing them with those which he may have gathered from a single individual. Unless a foreigner writes what he witnesses personally, his statements will be comparatively worthless, as it is the case with several accounts of the Gold Coast already published. Hence it is most desirable that a history of the Gold Coast and its people should be written by one who has not only studied, but has had the privilege of initiation into the history of its former inhabitants and writes with true native patriotism.

It is no egotism when I say I have had the privilege of being initiated into, and also possessing a love for, the history of my country. My ancestors on the father’s and mother’s side belonged to the families of national officiating high priests in Akra [Nkran/Accra] and Christiansborg. And I should have become a priest either of Nai at Akra or Klote at Christiansborg, if I had not been born a mulatto and become a Christian. My worthy grandmother Okako Asase, as in duty bound to her children and grandchildren, used to relate the traditions of the country to her people when they sat around her in the evenings. My education and calling separated me from home, and prevented me from completing the series of these lessons in native tradition. However, in 1860 I felt a craving to spend some days with her, so as to complete it; but she died whilst I was absent from home in Krobo as a catechist. Four years later Rev. Fr. Aldinger asked me to collect traditions for him; but the old lady was dead, and the old people, though possessing a vast store of tradition, refrained from imparting it; so I obtained very little for him. This treatment of the then old people stirred up a greater desire in me to use all available means in my power to collect traditions. From more than two hundred persons of both sexes I obtained what knowledge of the subject I now possess. These traditions I have carefully compared in order to arrive at the truth. The result I now humbly present to the public, to whom I have to suggest a few remarks. If a nation’s history is the nation’s speculum and measure-tape, then it brings the past of that nation to its own view, so that the past may be compared with the present to see whether progress or retrogression is in operation; and also as a means of judging our nation by others, so that we may gather instruction for our future guidance. When such is not the case with a nation, no hope can be entertained for better prospects. Keeping this in mind, we shall more clearly understand the necessity of collecting materials for a complete history of the Gold Coast from every source within our reach.

The title chosen for this publication, “History of the Gold Coast and Asante,” may be deemed to promise more than I was actually able to give. For, from want of reliable information, the principal and important portion of the Gold Coast, Fante, the land of history, the land of poetry and enlightenment and semi-civilization, could not be treated from its origin. Still I venture to have the book so named in the hope that our brethren and friends on the Gold Coast, both native and European, may possess better sources of information for a history of the Gold Coast, and may, laying aside all prejudice, be induced to unite to bring the history of the Gold Coast to perfection; I deem it impossible for one man unaided to carry out such an important work to perfection. Having described the principal object I have in view in writing this work as a desire to produce a complete history of the Gold Coast, I trust, my friends in Fante, or elsewhere, will cooperate with me in revising, if need be, what I have written, and in assisting me by furnishing additional information, in order that a subsequent edition may be more complete.

Another important subject, besides that of Fante, &c., which ought to be more fully investigated before the work would be complete, is the different conditions and concerns of various European nations on the Gold Coast and their connections with the people there since their establishment in this country. I may also state briefly my object in connecting the history of Asante with that of the Gold Coast. There must be a starting point in writing a history of a nation. If the kingdom of Akra, which appears to have been the first established on the Gold Coast, could have continued and absorbed that of Fante, or been absorbed by the latter, I might have easily obtained the starting point. But both kingdoms having failed and the kingdom of Asante having become the leading and ruling power, a Gold Coast history would not be complete without the history of Asante, as the histories of both countries are so interwoven. Thus my present work carries us from the origin of the different [groups] to the year 1856, i.e. the rebuilding of the town of Osu or Christiansborg, a period of at least three centuries. If, in conjunction with the united efforts of all the educated community of the country and those foreigners who take a special interest in us, we could collect materials of those dark days to complete this pioneer work, that from 1857 up to the present time, some thirty years only, could be easily obtained, as there is sufficient matter already in store for us.

Regarding dates and historical facts, I have made references to such works as I could lay hand upon. The records of the Colonial Government would have furnished me with correct dates and substantial informations [sic], but I was unable to obtain access to them. I am, however, highly thankful to the Rev. P. Steiner for the translation of some pages from the [published works] into German…. Besides those, I have got the [several published] works in English…. And lastly, I am thankful to the Rev. A. W. Parker and the Rev. John H. Davies M.A., the Colonial Chaplain, for their information.

And in conclusion I must beg you, my native friends, not to despise this work coming from one of your own brethren, but let it rather encourage you to assist me by your kind information and co-operation, so as to get our own history complete. To interest you chiefly I collected so many names of our forefathers, who defended our country from the yoke of Asante, trusting that every one of you will be pleased to find his grandfather’s name in the lists. May our dear Lord bless this poor means I now offer to the public for the improvement of ourselves as well as our country!


Source: Carl Christian Reindorf, History of the Gold Coast and Asante: Based on Traditions and Historical Facts, Comprising a Period of More Than Three Centuries from about 1500 to 1860 (Basel: Author, 1895), iii-vii.