Maids in Ghana (Domestic Help)

Domestic help is readily available. Most expatriates employ at least one domestic. Those with representational responsibilities or children usually employ two or more. Those living in houses may also hire a gardener. A 24-hour guard is posted at every residence. Often, the best way to get good help is to hire someone who worked for a departing expatriate family.

The following types of domestics are available: cook/steward or housemaid (performs all household duties), cooks, stewards, nannies, gardeners, guards and drivers. The salary range is $75-$90 per month for a 5- or 6-day week, less for part-time work. Employers usually provide at least one or two uniforms, and many pay medical expenses. A bonus of 1 month’s salary is normally given at Christmas. A “dash” (tip) is usually paid on special occasions and for extra duty.

Also in the same period, some of the Mandé who had stimulated the development of states in what is now northern Nigeria (the Hausa states and those of the Lake Chad area), moved southwestward and imposed themselves on many of the indigenous peoples of the northern half of modern Ghana and of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), founding the states of Dagomba and Mamprusi. The Mande also influenced the rise of the Gonja state.

It seems clear from oral traditions as well as from archaeological evidence that the Mole-Dagbane states of Mamprusi, Dagomba and Gonja, as well as the Mossi states of Yatenga and Wagadugu, were among the earliest kingdoms to emerge in modern Ghana, being well established by the close of the 16th century. The Mossi and Gonja rulers came to speak the languages of the peoples they dominated. In general, however, members of the ruling class retained their traditions, and even today some of them can recite accounts of their northern origins.

Although the rulers themselves were not usually Muslims, they either brought with them or welcomed Muslims as scribes and medicine men, and Muslims also played a significant role in the trade that linked southern with northern Ghana. As a result of their presence, Islam substantially influenced the north. Muslim influence, spread by the activities of merchants and clerics, has been recorded even among the Ashanti (Asante) to the south. Although most Ghanaians retained their traditional beliefs, the Muslims brought with them certain skills, including writing, and introduced certain beliefs and practices that became part of the culture of the peoples among whom they settled.

In the broad belt of rugged country between the northern boundaries of the Muslim-influenced states of Gonja, Mamprusi, and Dagomba and the southernmost outposts of the Mossi kingdoms, lived a number of peoples who were not incorporated into these entities. Among these peoples were the Sisala, Kasena, Kusase, and Talensi, agriculturalists closely related to the Mossi. Rather than establishing centralized states themselves, they lived in so-called segmented societies, bound together by kinship ties and ruled by the heads of their clans. Trade between the Akan states to the south and the Mossi kingdoms to the north flowed through their homelands, subjecting them to Islamic influence and to the depredations of these more powerful neighbors.

The Mfantsefo or Fante are an ethnic group mainly gathered in the south-western coastal region of Ghana, with some also in the Côte d’Ivoire. Their main city is Cape Coast and Sekodi and Takoradi as settlers. They are one of the Akan peoples, along with the “‘Asantefo'” or Ashantis, the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Guam, and others. Despite the rapid growth of the Ashanti Empire in historic times, the Fanti have always retained their state to this day. Currently, they number about 1,850,000. Inheritance and succession to public office among the Fanti are determined mostly by matrilineal descent, as is common amongst most Akan peoples.

Under Chief Oti Akenten (r. ca. 1630-1660), a series of successful military operations against neighboring Akan states brought a larger surrounding territory into alliance with Ashanti. At the end of the 17th century, Osei Tutu (died 1712 or 1717) became Asantehene (King of Ashanti). Under Osei Tutu’s rule, the confederacy of Ashanti states was transformed into an empire with its capital at Kumasi. Political and military consolidation ensued, resulting in firmly established centralized authority. Osei Tutu was strongly influenced by the high priest, Anokye, who, tradition asserts, caused a stool of gold to descend from the sky to seal the union of Ashanti states. Stools already functioned as traditional symbols of chieftainship, but the Golden Stool represented the united spirit of all the allied states and established a dual allegiance that superimposed the confederacy over the individual component states. The Golden Stool remains a respected national symbol of the traditional past and figures extensively in Asante ritual.

The principal early struggle was between the Dutch and the Portuguese. With the loss of Elmina in 1642 to the Dutch, the Portuguese left the Gold Coast permanently. The next 150 years saw kaleidoscopic change and uncertainty, marked by local conflicts and diplomatic manoeuvres, during which various European powers struggled to establish or to maintain a position of dominance in the profitable trade of the Gold Coast littoral. Forts were built, abandoned, attacked, captured, sold, and exchanged, and many sites were selected at one time or another for fortified positions by contending European nations.

Both the Dutch and the British formed companies to advance their African ventures and to protect their coastal establishments. The Dutch West India Company operated throughout most of the 18th century. The British African Company of Merchants, founded in 1750, was the successor to several earlier organisations of this type. These enterprises built and manned new installations as the companies pursued their trading activities and defended their respective jurisdictions with varying degrees of government backing. There were short-lived ventures by the Swedes and the Prussians. The Danes remained until 1850, when they withdrew from the Gold Coast. The British gained possession of all Dutch coastal forts by the last quarter of the 19th century, thus making them the dominant European power on the Gold Coast.

During the heyday of early European competition, slavery was an accepted social institution, and the slave trade overshadowed all other commercial activities on the West African coast. To be sure, slavery and slave trading were already firmly entrenched in many African societies before their contact with Europe. In most situations, men as well as women captured in local warfare became slaves. In general, however, slaves in African communities were often treated as junior members of the society with specific rights, and many were ultimately absorbed into their masters’ families as full members. Given traditional methods of agricultural production in Africa, slavery in Africa was quite different from that which existed in the commercial plantation environments of the New World.

Another aspect of the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africa concerns the role of African chiefs, Muslim traders, and merchant princes in the trade. Although there is no doubt that local rulers in West Africa engaged in slaving and received certain advantages from it, some scholars have challenged the premise that traditional chiefs in the vicinity of the Gold Coast engaged in wars of expansion for the sole purpose of acquiring slaves for the export market. In the case of Ashanti, for example, rulers of that kingdom are known to have supplied slaves to both Muslim traders in the north and to Europeans on the coast. Even so, the Ashanti waged war for purposes other than simply to secure slaves. They also fought to pacify territories that in theory were under Ashanti control, to exact tribute payments from subordinate kingdoms, and to secure access to trade routes – particularly those that connected the interior with the coast.

It is important to mention, however, that the supply of slaves to the Gold Coast was entirely in African hands. Although powerful traditional chiefs, such as the rulers of Asante, Fante, and Ahanta, were known to have engaged in the slave trade, individual African merchants such as John Kabes, John Konny, Thomas Ewusi, and a broker known only as Noi commanded large bands of armed men, many of them slaves, and engaged in various forms of commercial activities with the Europeans on the coast.

The volume of the slave trade in West Africa grew rapidly from its inception around 1500 to its peak in the eighteenth century. Philip Curtin, a leading authority on the African slave trade, estimates that roughly 6.3 million slaves were shipped from West Africa to North America and South America, about 4.5 million of that number between 1701 and 1810. Perhaps 5,000 a year were shipped from the Gold Coast alone. The demographic impact of the slave trade on West Africa was probably substantially greater than the number actually enslaved because a significant number of Africans perished during slaving raids or while in captivity awaiting transshipment. All nations with an interest in West Africa participated in the slave trade. Relations between the Europeans and the local populations were often strained, and distrust led to frequent clashes. Disease caused high losses among the Europeans engaged in the slave trade, but the profits realised from the trade continued to attract them.

The growth of anti-slavery sentiment among Europeans made slow progress against vested African and European interests that were reaping profits from the traffic. Although individual clergymen condemned the slave trade as early as the 17th century, major Christian denominations did little to further early efforts at abolition. The Quakers, however, publicly declared themselves against slavery as early as 1727. Later in the century, the Danes stopped trading in slaves; Sweden and the Netherlands soon followed.

The importation of slaves into the United States was outlawed in 1807. In the same year, Britain used its naval power and its diplomatic muscle to outlaw trade in slaves by its citizens and to begin a campaign to stop the international trade in slaves. These efforts, however, were not successful until the 1860s because of the continued demand for plantation labour in the New World.

Britain & the Gold Coast – The Early Years

By the early 19th century, the British, through conquest or purchase, had become masters of most of the forts along the coast. Two major factors laid the foundations of British rule and the eventual establishment of a colony on the Gold Coast: British reaction to the Asante wars and the resulting instability and disruption of trade, and Britain’s increasing preoccupation with the suppression and elimination of the slave trade.

During most of the 19th century, Asante, the most powerful state of the Akan interior, sought to expand its rule and to promote and protect its trade. The first Asante invasion of the coastal regions took place in 1807; the Asante moved south again in 1811 and in 1814. These invasions, though not decisive, disrupted trade in such products as gold, timber, and palm oil, and threatened the security of the European forts. Local British, Dutch and Danish authorities were all forced to come to terms with Asante, and in 1817 the African Company of Merchants signed a treaty of friendship that recognized Asante claims to sovereignty over large areas of the coast and its peoples.

With the north under British control, the three territories of the Gold Coast – the Colony (the coastal regions), Asante, and the Northern Territories – became, for all practical purposes, a single political unit, or crown colony, known as the Gold Coast.

The years of British administration of the Gold Coast during the 20th century were an era of significant progress in social, economic and educational development. Communications and railroads were greatly improved. New crops, including cacao trees, were also introduced and gained widespread acceptance; cocoa production would become a major part of Ghana’s economy. The colony’s earnings increased further from the export of timber and gold. Revenue from export of the colony’s natural resources financed internal improvements in infrastructure and social services.

Many of the economic and social improvements in the Gold Coast in the early part of the current century have been attributed to the Canadian-born Gordon Guggisberg, governor from 1919 to 1927. At the beginning of his governorship, he presented a 10-year development program to the Legislative Council. He suggested first the improvement of transportation. Then, in order of priority, his prescribed improvements included water supply, drainage, hydroelectric projects, public buildings, town improvements, schools, hospitals, prisons, communication lines, and other services. Guggisberg also set a goal of filling half of the colony’s technical positions with Africans as soon as they could be trained. His program has been described as the most ambitious ever proposed in West Africa up to that time.

Ghanaian Nationalism

By the late 19th century, a growing number of educated Africans increasingly found unacceptable an arbitrary political system that placed almost all power in the hands of the governor through his appointment of council members. In the 1890s, some members of the educated coastal elite organised themselves into the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society to protest a land bill that threatened traditional land tenure. This protest helped lay the foundation for political action that would ultimately lead to independence. In 1920 one of the African members of the Legislative Council, Joseph E. Casely-Hayford, convened the National Congress of British West Africa, which sent a delegation to London to urge the Colonial Office to consider the principle of elected representation. The group, which claimed to speak for all British West African colonies, represented the first expression of political solidarity between intellectuals and nationalists of the area. Though the delegation was not received in London (on the grounds that it represented only the interests of a small group of urbanised Africans), its actions aroused considerable support among the African elite at home.

Notwithstanding their call for elected representation as opposed to a system whereby the governor appointed council members, these nationalists insisted that they were loyal to the British Crown and that they merely sought an extension of British political and social practices to Africans. Notable leaders included Africanus Horton, the writer John Mensah Sarbah, and S.R.B. Attah-Ahoma. Such men gave the nationalist movement a distinctly elitist flavour that was to last until the late 1940s.

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