Pre-colonial Economic Activities of Ga

RESEARCH REVIEW (NS) VOL.11, Nos. 1 & 2 (1995)


Irene Odotei


The land of the Ga people stretches from the Coast of Ghana from their capital at Accra which is also the capital of Ghana northwards to the foot of the Akwapim Hills. It is boarded on the west by the river Densu and its eastern boundary is the township of Kpone. The Ga have six towns: Ga Mashi (Central Accra), Osu (Christiansborg), La (Labadi), Teshi, Nungua and Tema. Each of these towns has several villages founded by Ga farmers, hunters and fishermen.1 Against the urban/rural background, the economic activities of the Ga also display and odd mixture of urban and rural characteristics.

By the time the British government took over the administration of the Gold Coast on 1874, the economic activities of the Ga had already advanced beyond the “primitive communal” stage.

Productive activities of the Ga centered around farming, livestock rearing, fishing and salt-making. Generally, people engaged in more than one occupation depending on the seasons.

Thus, the same people who farmed during the rainy season became fishermen off season. There were also elements of feudalism as the rich took ownership of some of the productive elements. Gradually, the rich in the society owned land, salt ponds, and reared livestock. In addition, these feudal lords had hired labourers and slaves who worked for them.

Trading was an important activity of the Ga. Traditional and documentary sources indicate that whereas the Ga were self-sufficient in fish, salt and livestock, they depended on their neighbouts for much of their other food requirements. Their neighbours in turn needed the salt, fish, and cattle produced by the Ga. The need for essential commodities by both the Ga and their neighbours forced them to exchange goods with each other. The Ga were already trading with their neighbours before the Europeans arrived on the Gold Coast in 1471. But living in both inland and coastal communities, the Ga were quick to exploit additional opportunities for trade brought by the European presence on the Ga littoral.

This paper discusses the economic activities of the Ga in the pre-colonial period. It looks at the productive forces and production relationships under the different economic activities.



It appears that though the Ga lived near the sea, marine fishing was not done extensively by them. Towards the end of the seventeenth century Barbot commented that “The fishery on the sea is inconsiderable but they want of sea fish is abundantly made amends for y the great plenty there is in lakes and rivers.”2 Barbort’s statement is backed by oral tradition. According to the oral tradition of the Ga did not fish much in the sea. Sea-fishing as is done today by the Ga was introduced by the Fante.3 The Fante fishermen used to, and still do, travel to the Ga towns seasonally to fish and return to their home towns. Sea-fishing introduced some cultural and economic relations between the Ga and the Fante. Some of the Fante fishermen eventually settled permanently in Ga towns. A section of the Abese quarter of La, for example, was formed by Fante fishermen. This section known as Abese-Fante claim that their ancestors were Fante fishermen from Moure. When they came to La, the chief (Mantse) gave them the office of Woleiatse (chief fishermen), which they still hold today. In Ga Mashi (central Accra) the Woleiatse is also chosen from a section of Fante origin. It was and is still the custom among Ga fishermen to purchase ‘mesicine’ (tsofa) from Fante for their canoes to make good catches.

There were different methods of fishing. One method was the use of wicker baskets and spears. The fishermen went along the beach or lagoon in the night with the wicker tied to a pole in one hand and in the other a lighted torch made of ‘fierce burning wood’.4 The fish were attracted by the light and the fishermen used the basket or spear to catch the fish. Other methods of fishing were by means of casting nets from the shores or from canoes and by throwing hools and lines. Sea-fishing was done throughout the year, except on Tuesdays5 and a short period of ritual ban on fishing for particular species of fish such as the sea bream, tsitle before the annual Homowo festival in August.

The Ga had, and still have, a custom of preserving and restocking fish in the lagoons. They did this by placing a ban on fish in the lagoon for some period. A religious sanction given to this custom, known as Gonfi maa, ensured the compliance of the people. It was only after the priest responsible for the lagoon had performed a special ritual for a formal opening of the lagoon that fishing could resume.

The productive elements used in fishing also indicated an advanced mode of production. The Ga made their own fishing gear or bought them from their neighbours. Fishing hooks were either made of a special type of thorn and carved out of the wood called haatso.6 In addition to this, iron hooks were also used. The fishing nets were made out of the processed leaves of the pineapple plant (anansee). The process of making nets out of anansee was so slow and time consuming, that imported yams and nets gradually replaced the locally produced ones.

The canoes used by the Ga fishermen were made inland from dugout timber, transported on the River Densu to the coast, and then by sea to the particular destination in Accra.7 The canoes were of small, medium and large sizes ranging from eight feet ling to bigger sizes. De Mares described the big type of canoes as “five and fifty0-foot long and five foot broad, three foot high which was as big as a Shallop so that it would have held thirty men at the least”.8



Several writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Tilleman, Rask, Atkin and Smith commented on the importance of salt produced in Accra. Smith observed that the “salt ponds in Accra yielded vast quantities of salt sufficient to supply not only the whole Coast but all the ships that trade there.”9 The sources of this salt were the lagoons such as Kpesi, Sakumo, Korle, Sango and Mokwe. According to La traditional sources, the Kpresi lagoon used to produce an abundant supply of salt. This flourishing salt-making industry came to an end during the Second World War, when the Americans tempered with the Kpesi lagoon.10

In the production of salt, land around the lagoon was decided into plots, owned by families or individuals. A clay wall of about one to two feet high was built around each plot and several ponds were dug inside the plot. In addition to being a boundary demarcation the clay wall was to prevent fresh water from entering the ponds, once the ponds had been filled up with the salty lagoon water. The water in the ponds was then left to evaporate. In some of the ponds the water dried up completely, while in others the salt settled at the bottom leaving clear water on top.11 This method of producing salt by the heat of the sun differed from the method of boiling sea water to produce salt which was practiced in some of the Fante towns.12

When the salt ponds dried up, the salt was ready for collection, in the dry season from December to February; the owners sent messages to their relatives for help in the collection. Owners who had so many ponds hired people to augment the labour provided by their relatives. At the end of the day’s work, payment was made in salt. In collecting the salt, a calabash , a wooden plate or the hand was used to scoop the salt from the bottom of the pond into a locally made basket, which when full was dipped in one of the ponds reserved for the purpose of washing away the mud. The salt collected was kept in heaps and a conical shed (odio) was built around each heap to protect it from the rain.



Farming is another major economic activity of the Ga. According to oral tradition, the Ga used to do intensive farming in both the inland villages and around the coastal towns. There were farmers who lived permanently in the village and farmed there. Such people travelled to the town to attend festivals, funerals and to purchase a few necessities which were not available in the villages. Others lived in the towns but went to reside temporarily in the village during the planting and harvesting seasons. There were others who had farms around the coastal towns and in the inland villages. These farming villages were described as ‘rusahr-places’ that is plantation settlement by the Danes.13 In October 1760, the Dutch factor in Accra reported that “all the Cuboceers Coffy (Kofi) alone expected are still inland to gather the harvest”.14

Although the Ga engaged in farming, they were able to produce enough to feed themselves. Dapper remarked that in Accra provision was “very scarce, especially fruits and bread-corn, so that whatever (sic) whites put into this place to trade must of necessity provide themselves well with all necessary provision”15

The inadequacy of food supply in Accra was due to unfavourable climatic conditions. The Accra region is the driest area in southern Ghana with a mean annual rainfall of less than 30 inches.16 Both oral tradition and documentary sources show that the Ga have been victims of droughts, bad harvests and famine.

In 1640 Arent Jacobsen Van Amersffort the Director-General of the Dutch West Indian Company of the Gold Coast reported on “the bad harvest again at Accra from which it is feared much will perish…., it appears that the traders were so impoverished through the famine and not six marked gold a month had been received “.17 Ga oral tradition speaks of a famine which hit the Ga so severely that its end was marked by a great feast at which the ghosts of the ancestors were invited to participate. This feast is the origin of the Ga annual festival known as Homowo means ‘hooting at hunger’.18

Some of the crops known by the Ga were cassava, yam, okro, garden eggs, beans, tomatoes, pepper and maize. Millet used to be the staple food of the Ga. This is confirmed by the fact that the word for millet nmaa is the same word used for food in certain contexts. The historical significance of millet is highlighted by the fact that it is reckoned as the food for the gods and is used in modern times for ritual purpose.19

Another crop which played a very important role in the life of the Ga was the gourd or calabash. The gourd was cultivated extensively in the Accra plains especially in Tema. According to tradition 'Tema' is the corruption of the word 'Toman' which means 'the town of the gourd'.

There were three different shapes of calabash and each shape had its uses. The globular-shaped with depressed top and bottom, called akpaki, had three uses. The biggest ones were used for storing clothes and other personal effects. The medium-sized ones were used for selling cooked food, such as kenkey; and the smallest ones were decorated with designs and used as vanity cases by the women.



The Accra plains were suitable particularly for livestock-raising. Ningio was said to be “abound with cattle” and La had “plain well-watered meadows convenient for pasturage of cattle and the trade for the inhabitants consists chiefly in caws.” Tilleman observed that cattle rearing were also done in Osu, but this was mainly carried on by the Ga in the Accra plains. Apart from cattle, the Ga also reared sheep, goats, pigs and fowls.



The Ga supplemented their meat requirements by hunting. According to the oral tradition, the Accra plains used to be covered with forest, which contained abundant game. Remnants of these forests are the fetish groves which can be found at present in the Ga towns, such as La and Nungua. Equipments used for hunting were traps, clubs, spears, bow and arrows and guns. Apart from the guns which were bought from the Europeans, the rest of the hunting equipments were made by local craftsmen. The Accra plains were noted for abundance of hare which were caught by a team of hunters surrounding their game with, clubs and beating them to death. Other games included deer, bush pigs, wolves, foxes, and occasionally leopard and elephants.



Information on craft was scanty. It is known that Ga blacksmiths smelted iron from a special type of stone called opipo. It was from this iron that cutlasses, hoes, fishing hooks and other iron implements were made. According to tradition, the goldsmithing craft was learned from the Akan. Gold ornaments were not common among the Ga until quite.

For ornamental purposes, the Ga used beads. Beads were very highly prized, especially Aggrey beads known by the Ga as koli and adiagba. Imported glass beads from Europe were also used, but these were broken and shaped to suit the taste of the local people.

It appears that cloth-weaving was carried on by the Ga but imported cloth-weaving was carried on by the Ga but imported cloth from the Ewe area and bark cloth from the Kojo tree (Kojo he oto) were more common. Traditionally, cotton was spun by women and used for for threading beads. Evidence from a klama song suggests that Ladoku, which was originally occupied by the people of La, was famous for the weaving of coarse cotton cloth.

Ka iya La O: ma wo tso bo.

Okoni gbe La no.

ka iya La O: ma wo tso bo.

If I would no longer go to La

I would wear bark cloth

Death has killed the La

If I would no longer go to La

I would wear bark cloth.



The inadequacy of farm produce and the abundance of salt, fish and cattle in Accra were the basis of trade between the Ga and their neighbours. According to oral sources, the Akeapem supplied the Ga with foodstuffs such as plantain, yam, cassava, etc. written sources indicate that the Ga also got supplies of food from the Fante coast. Barbot remarked that “Sabu (Asebu) produces great plenty of Indian corn, potatoes, yam, palm oil, banana, orange, lemon and other fruits where with near a hundred canoes are daily laden at Moure for Accra and Axim”. The Ga also raided their neighbours, such as the Agona, for food when they had bad harvest and feared the prospect of famine. In exchange for foodstuffs, the Ga sold cattle, salt and fish to their neighbours.

According to Tilleman and Rask, groups of forty or fifty inland traders came daily to the coast to buy fish. Since fish is highly perishable, the fish sold to the inland traders was processed by the Ga women. They either smoked or dried. Some were also salted and kept for days to give the fish a special flavour. This type of fish, calledlooshala ('stinking fish') by the Ga and momoni by the Akan, was usually used as savoury for soups and stew.

According to Ga oral sources, salt from the coast was carried a long distance inland, where it was sold at a great profit. Slaves were sometimes bought with salt. Barbot observed that in some places far up from Accra “a slave and sometimes two were given for a handful of salt” and the poorer people used a 'saltish sort of herb'. It appears that the inland traders depended a deal on coastal salt. Although Daboya in the Gonja state had salt deposits, the salt produced there was not enough for the inland states. Moreover, the Akan, especially the Asante, preferred the coastal salt to that from Daboya. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Sir Dalby Thomas remarked that “Accra salt was commanding commodity with Ashante trade”.

The salt trade in Accra was so lucrative that the Europeans participated in it in the eighteenth century. An early eighteenth century description states that “Accra opens trade to Quamboe (Akim and Aquowoa (Kwahu) for gold, slave, teeth (ivory) and salt. In 1709 the English regretted that they were unable to persuade one Captain Greaves of the OLIVE to go to Accra for salt to compete with the Dutch, who had bought a ship load from there. On account of the great demand for salt by the inland traders, the Ga were able to obtain credit facilities from the Europeans for goods which they paid for with salt during the salt season. Payment for goods with salt was readily accepted by the Europeans because there was “a profit of hundred per cent and upwards on the sale of salt.


European presence and other items of trade

From the sixteenth century, the Ga coast began to attract the Europeans who had been trading in the central and western coast of Ghana since the Portuguese first landed in Elmina in 1471. by the end of the seventeenth century, there three forts, Crevecoeur, Christiansborg and James fort in Accra belonging to the Dutch, Danes and English respectively. In addition to these, the French, Portuguese and interlopers of various nationalities traded from their ships in Accra waters. Each of these three forts paid a monthly rent of two ounces of gold to the king of Accra.

The establishment of the Europeans on the Ga coast introduced new items into trade on the Ga littoral. There were European manufactured goods, such as firearms, cloth, spirits, knives, basins, etc. the existence of trade contact between the Ga and their neighbours proved a great asset when the Europeans from the Ga hinterland followed the trade links already established between the Ga and their neighbours. The Ga became traders not only in fish, salt and livestock produced by themselves but in other commodities such as gold, slaves, ivory and palm oil from the inland states and these were sold to the Europeans on the coast.


Gold, Slaves and Ivory

From the closing decades of the fifteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century, gold was the most important item that left the Gold Coast for Europe. Bossman, who was on the coast from about 1688 to 1702, estimated the annual export of gold seven thousand marks a year “at a prosperous time when the passes are all open and the merchants can pass safe and uninterrupted.”

Accra was one of the most important outlets for the gold from the Gold Coast. The Dutch believed that they could obtain sixty to seventy marks of gold a month from Accra if their fort there was well stocked with merchandise. For the month of December, 1646, they obtained ninety-nine marks four ounces of gold from their fort in Accra. Dapper claimed that “little Accra has been many years the chiefest place of trade upon the Gold Coast, next to Moure and Kormantyn, where foreign merchants carry iron, linnen , which they exchanged in gold with much greater gain than on the other places on the Gold Coast. He estimated the gold exported from Accra to be “a third part of the gold that was to be had on all the Gold Coast”. Van de Broeche commented that “to this place of Accra comes down indeed the most and best gold of this whole coast”. De Marees also observed that, at Accra, the traders “come with much money bringing it in the state in which it comes out of mountains”. The Royal African Company also remarked that “Accra is always a good place of gold and sometimes plenty of slaves. This is the eastern most place of trade of good gold”.

The gold trade in Accra was so lucrative that although Accra was not a gold-producing area, Ga women tried to pan gold from streams after rainfall though their efforts were rewarded with very little, about “a shillings' worth” or most often nothing for a whole day's work. Both oral tradition and written sources indicate that the gold exported from Accra was obtained from the inland states north of Accra.

Among the inland states which supplied Accra with gold was Akyem or Great Akan on the north-west frontier of the Ga. Dapper remarked that the Akyem “mainly go to Abonse near Akora (sic) because they exchange most of their gold for European goods. On the northern frontier was Aboara (Aburi) where “very much gold is found which the inhabitants bring to the market at Abonze”. Further northwards was “Tafoe whose territory is excessively rich in gold and most of this gold is brought to Abonze.....” On the north-eastern frontier was Akaradi which was said to possess “very much gold” which “the inhabitants take to the market at Abonse.” Further north-eastwards was Kwahu where “gold is also dug and taken to the market of Great Akara for sale.

Accra's position as a central state and the eastern-most place on the Gold Coast where Europeans had established forts put her in a favourable position as an outlet for the above-mentioned gold-producing states. When slaves became an important item of trade the existing trade network was exploited.

The need for labour to work on the plantations and mines of America led to a great demand for African slaves by the Europeans. The Gold Coast became one of the sources for the supply of slaves for the Europeans. Traditionally, slaves formed an integral part of Ga society. Slaves were mainly obtained from the inland states in exchange for salt. These slaves were used to augment the labour provided by wives, children, pawns and debtors on the farms and in the salt-making industry. These slaves were integrated into the family towns of their owners.

The European demand for slaves put new value on slaves and the Ga began to buy slaves to sell to the Europeans. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the slave trade in Accra was completely overshadowed by the gold trade. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, the slave trade had gained the upper hand in Accra. The Ga coast became an important slaves trading centre till the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

Ivory was one of the major items that were exported from the Gold Coast and the Ga participated in the ivory trade. The ivory exported from Accra was obtained from the Afram plains.


Palm oil

With the abolition of the slave trade, palm oil which originally was used by the Ga mainly for cooking and medicinal purposes, became an important export commodity. Accra was an important outlet for the export of palm oil. Palm oil purchased by the Europeans from the Ga coast was obtained. When from Krobo and Akuapim but some of the Ga also moved inland to invest in palm oil production.


Organisation of Trade

In the Ga area, trade was organised on local and inter-state levels. There were daily local markets, where the inhabitants of the towns made small purchases of food items and few necessities; and there were inter-state markets, which attracted people from neighbouring towns and states. Bulk purchases of items such as salt, fish and foodstuffs were made in these inter-state markets. When trading commenced with the Europeans, slaves, gold, ivory and European manufactured goods were added to these items. The markets had specific market days varying from once a week to two or three times a week. European traders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries commented of the Ga system of market days. In 1557, Towerson remarked that in Accra they could “have the negroes but three or four days in a week and all the rest of the week they would not come at us. De Marees also noted that in 1601 that the Ga “seldom come down to buy goods there are only a few days in the week when they come down.” According to Dapper market days in the Abonse market of Accra were held two or three times a week “with great resort of people out of all the neighbouring territories”.

Before the Europeans established themselves in Accra, there was free passage to and from the Ga coast for both Ga and inland traders. This state of affairs continued for some time after the European contact. The inland traders were allowed free access to trade with the European contract. The inland traders were allowed free access to trade with the Europeans on the coast. Since the Ga understood the lingua franca which developed in the European Gold Coast trade. They acted as interpreters for the inland Akan traders. Brun had an interesting description of the role of the Ga as middlemen in the trade with the Europeans: “they (the Akan) know no other language than Akan and so they use an Accra as who may thus cleverly deceive the visitor... when they come on board ship they generally become sick for they are not strong by nature and are not used to sea storms. For this reason they had to back to dry land quickly and the Accras are entrusted with the transaction which they carry out as required from them. When they bring the trade goods to the land, the Akan are not so content with them, so they go back to the ship and fetch a little spirit which, is gratefully and copiously drunk, so that they fall silent and rest content”.

To strengthen their role as middlemen, the Ga changed the policy of allowing the inland traders to travel to the coast to trade with the Europeans. In 1647, the Ga rejected a Dutch request to give the inland traders free access to trade on the coast. Dapper remarked that “the king of Accra suffers nine out of Aquemboes (Akwamu) and Aquimera ( ) to come through his country to trade with the whites, but reserves that freedom to his subjects only, who carry the wares brought from the Europeans to Abonse and exchange them there with great profit”. From about 1640 to the defeat of the Ga by the Akwamu in 1680, the Ga market of Abonse became a centre of trade between the Ga and their neighbours. It was a well organised market with a minister responsible for controlling prices, levying taxes and keeping order. It was said that the merchants feared this minister more than the king himself, because he not only punishes offenders according to his pleasure but in case that any dissections happen, he stops all the ways, if they do not pay him according to his amercement.

The medium of exchange of markets varied. For small purchases the barter system or “little iron spikes or crosses of a finger long with a half-moon top” were used. For bulk purchases, gold or the commodity currency were used. Cowrie shells were also used for making both small and bulk purchases. The Ga had their own names for the value of the cowrie shells:

one cowrie shell - hio,

five cowrie shell s - kuumo,

ten cowrie shell s - kuuma,

twenty cowrie shells - tsaakpoo,

thirty cowrie shells - omelee,

forty cowrie shells - KPAA (one farthing) and

a head load (1,920 cowries - yikome (1 shilling)

The seriousness with which the Ga organised their trade and rose to the challenge posed by the European contact shows that trade played a vital role in the Ga economy. It was necessary for their survival. Since trade requires specialization, the Ga increased their production of fish, salt and the commodities for which they have comparative advantage to exchange with their neighbours.

The presence of the Europeans on the Ga coast not only intensified already existing economic activities such fishing, farming and trading but opened new avenues for income earning, which were dependent on European trade. Goods and labour acquired added value. Labour was provided by slaves, free men and women. The Europeans had their own slaves known as company or “invantari” slaves who worked locally for the forts and were rarely exported to the new world except in individual cases as the ultimate punishment for an offence. These slaves received a monthly allowance in goods and worked as canoe men, (remidorer), fishermen, artisans, interpreters, porters and labourers for the forts. Such services were also provided by free men and women to the European forts and ships. The European records abound with payments for services such as 'curing of the slaves' 'labour for the outworks' 'transporting of goods to and from the ships' 'delivery of letters from one fort to the other' etc. supply of goods like timber, firewood, poultry, pigs, 'millie' (corn) and other farm products, fish, canoes etc. received due payment and provided income for the people. Some of the people also acted as Commercial agents for the Europeans and received commissions for purchases and sale of slaves.


The Role of Women

Apart from the fishing and hunting which were traditional male preserves, women participated on practically all the other economic activities. In addition to these activities, however, their area of specialization were fish processing, processing of other food items, sale of cooled food, panning of gold, beads-making, spinning of cotton and trading in the markets of food and retailing of other items.

A special service which they provided to the Europeans was cooking. This service sometimes combined with their reproductive roles as women when they became wives and mistresses of the Europeans. Through the mulato children which they produced with these Europeans, they were able to inherit property in the form of buildings, household effects, goods, slaves and cash. These children became beneficiaries of any schemes for funds set up for them by the Europeans. As adults, these mulato children were later employed as soldiers and clerks in the forts. Some of them advanced to become wealthy men controlling vast human and material resources and were able to provide social security for their mothers. Thus, through their reproduction function, women could only enhance their economic and social status in addition to the other channels opened to them.


Effects of trade

The increase in intensity and diversity of economic activities during the pre-colonial period had both negative and positive effects. Some of the local industries and skills such as clothe weaving, net making etc. were replaced by imported substitutes. As economic activities intensified, large towns developed. Prior to the European era, settlements on the coast were mere fishing villages whilst the bigger settlements were located inland. For example, Ayawaso the capital town of the Ga, was situated inland till the town was destroyed by the Akwamu in 1680. The influx of people to the coast resulted in the development of the coastal settlements into towns. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the pattern of Ga settlements had reversed from inland towns and coastal villages into a mixture of coastal towns and villages and inland villages. New opportunities of mobility were created. Those who successfully exploited the economic opportunities and circumstances gained status which was given recognition by Ga society. These successful men and women were incorporated into the traditional authority structure. A good example is the story of an English company slave later advanced to become an emissary of the English company sent on special missions. He was later recognised as Nleshie Mantse. He now appears in Ga Oral tradition as Wetse Kojo founder of the Nleshie Stool. He also occupies the position of the James town mantse comprising the stools of Nleshies, Sempe and Akanmaje. His position as Jamestown mantse elevates him above the original traditional landlords and office holders who are of Sempe origin. The present position of Wetse Kojo's descendents as Jamestown mantse has created and still creates many conflicts and controversies in James Town and among the Ga in general.

The Accra littoral during the pre-colonial era was indeed a land of opportunity for all and sundry. An example is the story of the Akwamu trader and office holder Asomani. This man entered the Danish fort with a group of men on the pretext of purchasing firearms and other commodities. The guns which were being tested by them before payment were quickly turned on the Danes, who were driven out of the fort. For years, Christiansborg castle was run by Asomani who donned the Danish Governor's uniform trading and exchanging canon salutes with ships, the Dutch and English forts in Accra. Though the fort was later returned to the Danes after this “Coup d'etat” the keys to the fort were retained by the Akwamu as part of their stool regalia. People from other ethnic groups might not have been able to repeat the glamorous adventure of Asomani. But some were able to settle among the Ga as traders, fishermen etc. these people brought with them new skills and ideas. Ga society developed a capacity for absorbing immigrants and adopting aspects of their culture.


The missionary factor

The European presence introduced another important element to the economic activities of the Ga. This was the arrival of the Basel, Methodist and other missionaries in the first half of the nineteenth century. The missionaries built churches and schools where the African were trained to acquire reading, writing and other skills. These missionary-trained people found ready employment with various establishments. By the time the British took over the administration of the Gold Coast, the Ga together with people from other places where the missionaries operated had acquired skills which provided the necessary administrative and artisanal support for the colonial government.


Summary and conclusion

Economic activities of the Ga were quite advanced before the advent of the Europeans. Production techniques had far advanced beyond the “primitive-communal” stage. The main production activities were dictated by the available natural resources in the area. Thus the Ga concentrated on fishing, hunting, and salt production.

Trade links between the Ga and their neighbours promoted specialization and increased production. The position of Accra on the coast established for the Ga and important role as middlemen between the inland states and the Europeans. The trading activities which initially depended on the barter system advanced to the use of commodity currency and also helped to establish a monetary system on the coast involving the use of gold and cowrie shells.

The arrival of the Europeans at the end of the fifteenth century set in motion economic changes which affected the demographic, social, political and cultural characteristics of the Ga and the Accra littoral. By the time the British declared the Gold Coast a colony in 1874 and shifted the capital to Accra in 1877, the Ga were poised to launch into another hallmark of their history. How the Ga coped with their economic activities with all the repercussions during the pre-colonial period is a mark of their resilience and capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. These remarkable qualities might have prompted a seventeenth century observer to state the Ga are “a clever and subtle people, the cleverest on the whole coast, both in trade and in other things”.



1.      Oral tradition of the Ga referred to in paper were collected by the author from 1973-74. they were hereafter referred to as Field Notes.

2.      John Barbot, “a Description of the Coast of north ans South Guinea” in Churchill's collection of Voyage and Travels. London, 1732, p.186

3.      field Fotes

4.      barbot p. 186. this wood is probably the type called Haatso by the Ga. It is used as a torch for rituals performed in the night during the annual Homowo festival.

5.      Tuesday is the day of the Sea-god.

6.      Field Notes

7.      field Notes

8.      Pieter de Marees, (1602) Description and Historical Acount of the Kingdom of Guinea. Translated by A. Van Dantzing and Adam Jones (Oxford 1987)p.85

9.      W. Smith, (1744)A New Voyage to Guinea, London. Tilleman, En liden Enfolding Berrething on kysten Guinea og dets Beskaffended, (Copenhagen 1967), p.110-111; J. Rask, En Snadferdig Reise Beskrivelae till og fra Guinea (Tronhjem, 1754), p.124-6; J. Atkins, 1735 A Voyage to Guinea, Brazil and West Indies, London, p.107.

10.  Field Notes

11.  field Notes

12.  barbot, p.205.

13.  Field Notes.

Biorn to Christiansborg 25 May 1776/pb 1777-77GK 159/RA.

14.  Furley Collection, Blydenberg, Accra to Elmina 11 October 1760, (Balme Library, University of Ghana).

15.  G. Dapper, Naukeurige Beschrivinge der Africkaenche Gewesten, (Amsterdam, 1668); Adaptation in English in j. Ogilby, Africa: being an accurate description of the regions Aegypt, Barbary, Lybia, etc. (London 1670) p.434.

16.  K.B. Dickson and G. Benneh, 1970 A New Geography of Ghana. London. PROVINCIAL STANDING COMMITTEE, P.28

17.  Furley Collection. Dfirector General A Srent Jacobson Van Amersfoort, Elmina to Count Mauritz of Nassau and the counsil , Brazil, 20 November 1640.

18.  Field Notes. The oral tradition do not state when and where the famine occurred.

19.  Field Notes.

20.  Field Notes

21.  Dapper in Ogilby. p.436.

22.  Ibid. p.435-6.

23.  Tilleman, op.cit. P11-2. Resold. 24 Apart from cattle, the Ga also reared sheep, goats, pigs and fowls.

24.  Dapper Ogilby, op.cit. p.436, Tillman, op.cit. p.112, Field Notes.

25.  Field Notes.

26.  K.Y Daaku, 1974 Trade and politics on the coast 1600-1720. (Oxford), p.25

27.  field Notes

28.  N.A. Azu in Gold Coast Review , ii,2. (July-December, 1926; p.242.)

29.  Barbot, OP.CIT. P.175.

30.  Furley Collection, 'Journal of Loujs Dameert' entry for 3 February 1655.

31.  Rask, op.cit. p.126, Tilleman, op.cit. pp.110-111.

32.  Barbot, op.cit. p.206.

33.  Mahmoud El Wakkad, 'Qissatu Salagha Tarikhu Gonja'; Ghana notes and Queries, No. 4(1961), p.6.

34.  T/70/5/57, Sir Dalby Thomas to the Royal African Co. (R.A.C.) 8 May 1709.

35.  K.Y. Daajy, op.cit. p.8.

36.  T70.4, John Braithwaite and Robert Guickshank, Cape Coast Castle, 30 June 1729.

37.  I. Quaye, 'The Ga and their Neighbours' 1600-1742' PhD Thesis, University of Ghana, (1972) p.68.

38.  William, 1721, (A New and accurate description of the Coast of Guinea. Edition, London). p.90.

39.  Furley Collection. J. Ruychaver to the Assembly of XIX. 22 April 1646.

40.  ibid. Journal sent by the ship “Harlem” of Amsterdam, entry for 2 December 1646.

41.  dapper in Ogilby, op.cit. p.435.

42.  Ibid.

43.  pieter Van de Broecke, Reizen naar West-Africa 1605, edited by Rateiband (Gravenhage), 1950, p.36.

44.  De Marees, op.cit. p.83.

45.  Furley Collection. 1674-80, C13 a Description of place and forts on the Coast, Sub-date 1675.

46.  Rask, op.cit. p.83

47.  A. Van Dantinzing and K.Y. Daaku, 'A provisional translation of extract from O. Dapper', Ghana Notes and Queries No. 9p.17.

48.  Ibid. Abonse was an inland market of the Ga. According to Dapper, it was located 'two hour journey beyond Greater Accra' (Ayawaso) the capital of Dutch map 1629 as 'A.B.C. Market of Accra'.

49.  A. Van Dantinzing and K.Y. Daaku, 'A provisional translation '

50.  ibid.

51.  ibid.

52.  Field Notes

53.  K.Y. Daaku, op.cit. p.27.

54.  T. Astley, A New collection of Voyages and Travels (London, 1745), ii,p.173. R. Hakluyt, 1889 The Principal Navigation Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English nation, Edinburgh, xip.155.

55.  De Marees op.cit. P85.

56.  Dapper in Ogilby, op.cit. P435.

57.  The lingua franca was 'mixture of broken Portuguese, Dutch and French'. Dapper in Ogilby, op.cit. P 458.

58.  S. Brun, Shiffarten (1624), edited by S.P.P. Honore Naber, (Sm' Gavenbage, 1913), p.28.

59.  O. Dapper in Ogilby op.cit. p. 435.

60.  Ibid.

61.  Field Notes

62.  Minutes of Palaver Christiansborg 9 Feb. 1767 Pb 1767/GK 152. Hernaes, P.O. Palaver. Peace or “Problem” Working Papers 1988/1 Center for Afrikastudier, Kobenhavns Universitet.

63.  Field Notes

Quaye T. The Ga and their Neighbours. op.cit.

64.  Odotei, 1 “External Influence of Ga Society and Culture” Research Review. Vol. 7 No. 122 1991. Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

65.  De Marees op.cit. p.85