The role of King Tackie Tawiah I: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh

LECTURE VIII

                                                      THE ROLE OF KING TACKIE TAWIAH I

To pull to pieces is, after all, the work of a child…our chief duty as Citizens is to build up our country, mould our nation, and help to effect the uprising of our race…In all circumstances of life – “Be wilde, Be bolde, and everywhere Be Bolde.”[1]

We come now to the high point of this series of lectures; the role of King Tackie Tawiah I in the modern history of Accra and the importance of his reign in the development of Ghana into a nation-state. Coinciding with the formal colonisation of the Gold Coast in 1874, King Tackie Tawiah’s reign usshered in a period of systematic institutionalisation of European concepts and systems in the motherland. Johannes Zimmermann’s translation of the Bible into the Gá language in 1865 and the earlier works of various missionaries, African and European, had already created the basis for the introduction of mass Christianity. The transfer of the capital to Accra in 1877 gave the Gá-Dangme a central role in the spread of colonial European ideas across the Gold Coast and beyond.

From the traditional perspective the emergence of King Tackie Kome I and victory at Katamanso had created a new militarism and surge of confidence, leading to various military campaigns in the Volta area. The reception of European ideas was therefore received by a Gá-Dangme at the height of its military prowess and ready to spearhead the propagation of such ideas. In many ways, the new era in Gá-Dangme affairs commenced with the divine ordination of Tackie Kome I; it continued steadily through the reigns of Nii Ofori Gakpo (Kpakpo) (1856-1859) and Nii Yaotey (1859-1862). In the person of King Tackie Tawiah they found yet another bold and fearless leader to lead the building of the new nation.

Tackie Tawiah’s fourty-year reign provided the basis for Gá-Dangme entry into the modern era. Widely recognised by both Europeans and Africans as King of the Accras, Ga Manche Tackie Tawiah was a fearless military general and wise leader. Like Caesar, Tackie Tawiah returned to Accra at the head of many a victorious military expedition. His reputation for bravery, invincibility and sagacity grew as he advanced in years, increasing the stature of the Gá-Dangme.

Born to the Ga royal family of Teiko Tsuru We at Kinka,[2] Tackie Tawiah (originally known as Nii Quarshie Tawiah) succeeded to the stool in 1862, shortly before colonisation of the Gold Coast. He was descended in a direct line from Ayi Kushi, the first Gá king in recorded history. Tackie Tawiah lived and reigned for some time under the Dutch flag. King Tackie Tawiah’s charisma, bravery and authority derived in no small way from psychosocial factors in Gá-Dangme society which ascribed to him the combined mystical force of the Gá royal households as well as the added spiritual authority of the Sakumo oracle. To the Gá-Dangme still enthralled by the extraordinary military exploits of Nii Tackie Kome I, the hallowed name and prestige of the deceased leader attached to his grandson. King Tackie Tawiah succeeded to his predecessors’ role as senior military leader of all the Gá, Dangme and Akan states of South-eastern Ghana.[3]

Tackie Tawiah’s personal qualities won the admiration of many; he had a remarkable sense of statesmanship, generosity and fairness. He considered the welfare of his people the paramount virtue, and worked relentlessly to that end, and showed unflagging determination in adversity. His fearlessly, bravery and outspokenness inspired the youth, while his countless victories brought glory and respect to the nation.

Even in his youth Tackie Tawiah earned a reputation for military exploits.  He also worked as a prosperous merchant; his mercantile activities took him to many West African countries and he developed a broad outlook on the world. The king’s early career seems to have been along the lines of extensive Gá-Dangme contacts with the rest of West Africa and beyond. Nii Tackie Tawiah led a delegation of Gá fishermen to Dahomey who successfully transferred skills at managing surf boats to the locals.

As King Tackie Tawiah’s fame rested on two principal achievements: his leadership of the peoples of South-Eastern Ghana and opposition to the diktat of the colonial administration. Shortly after his enstoolment Tackie Tawiah had to retire to a village on the outskirts of Accra following a riot in the royal quarter of Kinka. He re-emerged to lead the Gá-Dangme into battle against the Anlo Ewe in the Anula Ta (Anlo war) of 1866, marking the beginning of a succession of Gá-Dangme campaigns in the Lower Volta. The activities of the Ewe slave-trader, Adzoviehlo Atiogbe (Geraldo da Lima) were the proximate cause of the war.[4] Disruptions in the palm oil trade from Krobo stemming from da Lima’s activities were ruining the business of the Ada and Prampram as well as some Accra traders. European interference ensured that the usual spiritual and psychological preparation for war, including the gathering of the warriors before the Sakumo shrine and the “boiling” of the war could not take place. Although the campaign was successful, minor reverses were attributed to European interference in the Gá-Dangme chain of command. King Tackie Tawiah and his forces were to remain at Ada for several years before returning to Accra in 1869. In the meantime, the 1868 Anglo-Dutch exchange of forts had brought Ussher town within the British sphere of influence.

The new British representative, Governor Blackall declared both Tackie Tawiah and Manche Kojo Ababio of Jamestown outlaws, effectively setting the stage for the King’s life-long struggles against the colonialists. In the words of the King: “When this country [Kinka] was taken by the White man I was absent from town and I heard that their flag was up. I was then at Awoonah…”[5] The British later changed their policy towards the two political leaders who returned to Accra in 1869.

King Tackie Tawiah’s next major military campaign was the second Awuna War or Duffo Ta, in response to Asante military activities in Northern Eweland. Ga role in the anti-Asante campaign centred on a spectacular assault against the Asante and Akwamu on Duffo island in 1870; over 400 enemy troops were killed, and 650 taken prisoner. A significant consequence of the Duffo Ta was that King Tackie “gained control by rights of conquest over the Volta ferry crossing at Bator, from which he was continuing to extract revenues in 1886.”[6] Another consequence of the Duffo Ta was the re-opening of the Volta and overland trade routes. This appears to have justified the troubles of the merchant classes in encouraging and supporting the Gá-Dangme campaign.

Ewe prisoners of war were treated kindly by the king, settling them at Avenor, and gradually incorporated into the Gá state. The Ewe were impressed with the king’s qualities. According to Torgbi Awlesu of Konu in the Anlo Traditional area,

“[King Tackie Tawiah’s] greatness, bravery and martial skills…made him so famous that he won no small recognition among the Anlo people. Such was his reputation that his name was constantly mentioned in the chieftaincy affairs of Anloga.”[7]

King Tackie Tawiah’s military and strategic talents were to be put to the test one more in the Glover War (1873-74) shortly before the formal colonisation of the Gold Coast. Preparations for the Glover War were bedevilled by many difficulties. Firstly, Glover’s unilateral attempts to secure the release of slaves in Accra had led to widespread discontent. Secondly, Sakitey, the konor of Manya Krobo broke the ranks of the Gá-Dangme by agreeing to march to Kumasi with Glover. Finally, the Gá-Dangme did not consider that they had any difficulties with the Asante; they were much more disposed to take on the Anlo. Glover’s difficulties ceased when news reached Accra that the Anlos had attacked and burnt a number of stores at Keta.

Thus for the Gá-Dangme and their allies the fight against Asante planned by Captain John Glover and Sir Garnet Wolseley, also entailed a fight against other enemies. The aim of Glover and Wolseley was to attack the Asante in a pincer-movement involving two separate detachments of troops: the Fante and their allies in the west and the Gá-Dangme in the East. For the Gá-Dangme the theatre of war meant an engagement against the Anlo and Akwamu. King Tackie considered the Anlos as allies of the Asante and urged that the Anlos be fought first lest they attacked Accra in the absence of its troops during engagement with the Asante.

In yet another military feat King Tackie Tawiah annihilated Ashanti Bantama forces from Ada where they were bent on controlling the salt trade, returning to the Ada people their sovereign rights over their own land. A side-event of the Ada campaign was a duel between the King and the renown Ada traditional priest, Tetteh Agbi. Tetteh Agbi was revered by both the Adas and the Anlos who were often spell-bound by his feats. Fortified by a belief in his supernatural powers, Tetteh Agbi challenged the King to a fight. To the astonishment of the crowd the famed priest was easily overpowered and decapitated by the King.

King Tackie’s numerous confrontations with the British appear to have foreshadowed the campaigns of the later Gold Coast nationalist leaders. We have already suggested that he seemed taken aback by British annexation of Ussher in his absence during the first Awuna campaign; this was but a dress rehearsal for his later difficulties with the British. The appointment of Herbert Ussher as Governor and his consequent interference in Gá affairs provided the immediate political context for the 1880s. The Native Jurisdiction Ordinance of 1878 provided a focus for the Gá-British antagonisms which started to revolve around King Tackie Tawiah. Ussher himself remained hostile to traditional chieftains, holding great reservations about their judicial powers. Soon King Tackie Tawiah and Osu Mantse Naku were accused by Ussher of dabbling in Kwahu attempts to resist the imposition of Asante rule. Ussher also felt uneasy about the use of the King’s traditional prison or kpabu.[8] Shortly afterwards the “abrogation of all native courts in Accra” was announced.[9]

Ussher started to view the King as the focus of indigenous resistance to rule, and determined to depose and deport him; he, however, calculated that this might lead to unpleasant repercussions across the South-Eastern part of the Gold Coast the inhabitants of which he acknowledged “profess a sort of feudal tenure to the Gá stool”.[10] The outbreak of what came to be known as the “Asafo Agyei Affair” provided the excuse that Ussher needed. Asafo Agyei was the chief of New Juaben in the Eastern province of the Gold Coast; the Juabens, originally Asantes, had left Kumasi and settled near Koforidua. Shortly after Ussher had caused Asafo Agyei to be repatriated from Lagos to re-join his people, it was suspected that he had entered into a league with King Tackie Tawiah to attack Asante.

Asafo Agyei himself was locked in a bitter struggle for power with his own daughter, Akosua Afrakuma. Asafo approached the king to arbitrate his in dispute with Afrakuma; Afrakuma, on the other hand, approached Governor Ussher with entirely different allegations. She informed that governor that Tackie Tawiah and Asafo Agyei were conspiring to have her murdered. The king was subsequently apprehended and incarcerated in Fort Crevecoeur. However, Afrakuma fell ill and died shortly after the arrest of King Tackie Tawiah. Although a post-mortem resulted in a verdict of death by natural causes, foul play was suspected.

As rumour circulated of the imminent deportation of the King tension mounted, and the townsfolk prepared to storm Fort Crevecoeur. To stave off any such action the fort was surrounded by the Hausa Constabulary. on 9 November 1880 and in the utmost secrecy the King, with a small group of retainers, was transported into exile in Elmina by gunboat. The following day as Governor Ussher sat down to write his account of the matter for the Colonial Office, he was taken sick; he died three weeks afterwards. It was later suggested that the information upon which King Tackie Tawiah was suspected of encouraging war against the Asante was provided by Edmund Bannerman.[11] During the years of exile (1880-83) the king’s cabinet resolved that the “The King Never Dies” and continued his efforts to reunite the Gá-Dangme peoples; he was now dubbed the “Warrior King” (Tabiloi a Manche) throughout the South-Eastern province, and generally considered the Field-Marshall of the Gá-Dangme and other forces.[12]

No charges were ever preferred against Tackie Tawiah which was just as well as he had committed no offence. The British found themselves in the unenviable position of having deprived a completely innocent man of his liberty. A face-saving formula was found when the King was “pardoned” and re-instated in 1893; he devoted much of his later years to ensure the security, stability and prosperity of the Gá-Dangme. It has already been observed that prior to becoming king, Tackie Tawiah was a successful merchant; his trading activities not only took him beyond the borders of the Gold Coast, he also travelled extensively across the Gold Coast itself and the hinterland, developing a network of contacts and friends. He cultivated the friendship of many of the Brazilians settlers in Accra. The Brazilians arrived in Accra during the reign of Nii Tackie Kome, and were quickly incorporated into the Gá polity; they were attached to the household of Mantse Ankrah and absorbed into the Otublohum quarter.

The knowledge and skills of the Brazilians were harnessed by King Tackie Tawiah to the development of the town. Stone architecture, warehousing, smithery and other crafts and trades were added to the range of Gá-Dangme

traditional skills. The affluence of Accra attracted numerous peoples from the hinterland and other places who joined with the original Gá-dangme in developing the country. A civic sense developed among the people whom he frequently organised to undertake construction of the developing urban infrastructure and to provide social amenities. The King was keen to ensure the adaptation of imported technology to local conditions; and frequently drew the attention of artisans, fishermen and merchants to improper methods of operation.

Accra harbour, located in the bay just beyond the Gá state palace at King’s Street, and the nearby Salaga market became great centres of commerce; the many bonded warehouses around Accra attested to the economic prosperity of the town. Profits from these trading entrepots provided many ordinary people with capital to join the great cocoa-planting expeditions into the forests beyond Accra. In the meantime, banks, brokerages, agencies and other corporate elements of modern commercialism were established all over Accra.

It was an age when what has usually been described as the Gá-Dangme spirit enjoyed free reign; when individuals boldly embarked on voyages into the sea and into the hinterland to seek their fortunes; when adventure beckoned the young and inspired by the example of their great leader, they rose to the task; fearless, bold, brave and forward-looking. It was the apogee of the age generally referred to by the Gá-Dangme as Takiyino, literally the Gá-Dangme equivalent of the Elizabethan period. With King Tackie Tawiah and his forebear, Nii Tackie Kome as the models, the Gá-Dangme emphasised strong will, honesty, hard work, toughness, intrepidity and the ability to protest against injustice as the vital elements of national character. Each of these elements were amply demonstrated by the two kings whom every young person seeking to emulate. They also set new standards in the duties of political leaders; fearless and devoted leadership, as well as the continuous advocacy of the cause of one’s people, became the fundamental qualities that the Gá-Dangme looked for in their leaders. Responsibility to the people became the cardinal principle of chiefship.

There were other factors too at play within this period which ensured the leading role of Accra in the development of the Gold coast. In particular, the Basel missionaries provided much of the education and apprenticeship facilities which equipped Gá-Dangme youth to fully exploit the opportunities offered by the period. The Basel missionaries translated the Bible into the Gá language and provided a vernacular alphabet and this facilitated education among the local population; they also provided apprenticeship facilities at Christiansborg where young men acquired skills in carpentry, masonry, shoe-making and the like.

Encouraged by Count Zinzendorf of Saxony, German and Swiss-German missionaries soon started missionary activities in the South-Eastern province of the Gold Coast.[13] A castle school was formed at Christiansborg, and congregation centres were developed at Christiansborg and Abokobi. Also, outstations were built at Labadi and Teshi which developed into centres of education.[14] However, it was mission workshops established at Christiansborg which had the most impact on the development of skills. In 1857 two master carpenters arrived at Christiansborg, one specialising in house-building and the other in furniture-making. Others followed, including a master blacksmith, mason, shoemaker, tailor, potter, etc.

By 1860 78 indigenes were employed or apprenticed at the workshops; they were to utilise their skills in transforming the landscape of Accra and the South-East and to introduce new standards of craftsmanship, marked by complete devotion to duty, meticulous attention to detail and a thoroughness yet unseen in Gold Coast craftsmanship. Many of these young men were later to embark on sea voyages to the Bights of Benin and introduce their skills to neighbouring countries. After reviewing the work of the missionaries Reindorf concluded: “We are greatly indebted to the Basel missionaries, but in particular to the Revs. J. Zimmermann and Christaller, for having taken great pains to cultivate our language to become written languages. We say with gratitude that as long as this world exists their names will never be forgotten in the annals of the Gold Coast.”[15]

By now Accra had become the gateway to European ideas, the motor-car, the modern dance band, …. all made their way to the rest of the country, having first been indelibly localised with an Accra signature that soon spread to the rest of the country. Thus the mummy-truck, “tro-tro” mini-bus, the distinctive designs of Ghanaian architecture and furniture, etc. had their origin in Accra. While Accra central with its numerous bonded warehouses and factories became the industrial workshop of the country, Nungua gained fame for the skills of its gold-smiths and gold-dealers; and the Krobo, industrious as ever, set new standards in agricultural efficiency.

here was also present in Accra a sizeable body of European-educated native merchants who, encouraged by King Tackie Tawiah’s bold statesmanship, started to flex their muscles in local affairs. The likes of James Bannerman, William Addo, William Lutterodt, and G.F. Cleland became more and more involved in their direction of Gá-Dangme politics. By 1869 the Accra Native Confederation had  been formed to canalize feelings within South-Eastern Ghana and to encourage the formation of “a strong, compact native Government, which would command the obedience of all native Kings and Chiefs.”[16]

Why did the Gá-Dangme organise themselves so successfully under King Tackie Tawiah, and how was the King able to command so much authority among his people? These questions have been answered differently by various people. Some suggest that the king’s personal qualities account for the glory attained by the Gá-Dangme during his rule. Others are of the view that the King was really the inheritor of traditions and tendencies inherent in Gá-Dangme society, and accelerated by the stunning victories of Nii Tackie Kome I. These victories, along with memories of the warrior cult of Okaikoi, created for the Gá-dangme a new confidence which successfully took advantage of a new desire to acquire military weapons from Europeans. European artillery played an important role at Katamanso and in the subsequent campaigns of both Mantse Ankrah and Akwashongtse Kwatei Kojo. Besides, the role of the Sakumo cult tended to reinforce militaristic tendencies fostered by the legacy of King Okaikoi.

What factors account for the major events of King Tackie Tawiah’s rule, and would Gá-Dangme history have developed differently with a less forceful King had been leader? These are four main answers to these questions. The first was political. Ever since the Portuguese were squeezed out of the Gold Coast trade, the English had tended to be the dominant foreign players. The Anglo-Dutch exchange of forts in 1868 and subsequent English presence in the Gá Royal Quarter of Kinka appear to have led to change in policy towards the Gá ruling house. Governor Ussher’s hostility almost certainly provided the background to the King’s acrimonious dealings with the English.

The second reason was economic. English fiscal policies, particularly the Poll Tax Ordinance led to a certain degree of militancy among the Gá-Dangme and other peoples of the South-East. There was, therefore, some pent-up frustration amongst the people and a marked tendency to resolv3 matters through open conflict.

The third reason has already been touched upon. Long suppressed cultural factors in Gá society seemed to have been unleashed by the Katamanso War. Strategically and militarily gifted political leaders, such as King Tackie Tawiah I, Mantse Ankrah and others ably exploited these factors and the fighting qualities of the troops to extend their influence in the South-Eastern region of the Gold Coast.

The peace-time achievements of King Tackie Tawiah I may be attributed to other cultural reasons. The Gá-Dangme concept of the Good Society was one that urged leaders to administer the community in a manner that secures them for the citizen the best possible social advantages. While this was articulated quite well at the baptism of every Gá-Dangme child it took an extraordinary leader to pursue a Good Society policy for the Gá-Dangme as a whole. In the personality of King Tackie Tawiah I the Gá-Dangme found a warrior king with all the attributes of a leader of the Good Society; he was a man of extraordinary ability, passionate, fearless, bold and firm. He was a determined man, constant in his friendship; he stuck to his friend, Asafo Agyei of New Juaben and was prepared to pay the ultimate price of exile although he had done no wrong. He opposed the Europeans, but also saw the opportunities offered by the advent of colonialism. In all this he sought the best for the Gá-Dangme, standing steadfastly with the intelligentsia and seeking the best for his people in the new dispensation. His reign set a new standard of performance for subsequent Gá kings.

    [1]Attoh Ahuma 1971, pp.12 and 27.

    [2]Other evidence suggests that King Tackie Tawiah was a grandson of the revered Nii Tackie Kome I, and therefore also a member of the Tackie Kome We royal family. See e.g. Parker 1995, p. 72.

    [3]Reindorf 1895, p. 118; and Daniell, “Ethnography of Akkrah”, p. 2.

    [4]On the activities of Geraldo de Lima and the Ada war, see generally D.E.K. Amenumey, “Geraldo de Lima: A Reappriasal”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 9, (1968), pp. 65-78, esp. pp. 68-74.

    [5]Interview between Col. White and King Tackie, 12 October 1887, cited in Parker 1995, p. 93, note 118.

    [6]Parker 1995, p. 102.

    [7]Interview with Oko Dagadu, quoted in ….

    [8]Parker 1995, p. 162.

    [9]Ibid. p. 163.

    [10]Id.

    [11]See parker 1995, p. 168.

    [12]Private correspondence by the La Manche, Nii Kpobi Tettey Tsuru, 12 April 1996.

    [13]Reindorf 1895, p. 221 and H.W. Debrunner, A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra 1967, p. 62.

    [14]Debrunner 1967, p. 125.

    [15]Reindorf 1895, pp. 230-231.

    [16]Agbodeka 1971, p. 21.

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One thought on “ The role of King Tackie Tawiah I: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh

  1. King Tackie is Not the direct descendant of Ayikushie but rather a descendant of Tackie Kome I.

    In fact King Tackie Tawia I was the grandson of Tackie Kome I.(Source: The Pinkwai Judgment of 1892)

    Tackie Kome I,was NOT A DESCENDANT OF AYI KUSHIE (Source: Social Organization Of The Ga People by Dr M.J. Fields)

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