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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'Watch the waves of the sea': literacy, feedback, and the European encounter in Elmina
Author:Holsey, BayoISNI
Periodical:History in Africa (ISSN 1558-2744)
Geographic term:Ghana
oral history
local history
About person:Kwamena Ansa (fl. 1482)ISNI
External link:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/history_in_africa/v038/38.1.holsey.pdf
Abstract:David Henige has tracked the emergence of Kwamena Ansa, king of Elmina (in present-day Ghana), within Elmina's oral tradition. Henige argues that, while this historical figure can be traced through written sources reaching all the way back to the early sixteenth century - when he stood up to the Portuguese -, his recognition as a past king by local residents in Elmina has a much shorter history. Indeed, Ansa first emerged in kinglists dating back only to the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, Henige argues, local residents began reading European texts about Elmina's history in order to negotiate colonial courts. The inclusion of Ansa on kinglists represents, therefore, an example of feedback, which is the process of the integration of information from the written record into the oral tradition. While the story of Ansa's legendary encounter with the Portuguese does not appear in the court records analysed by Henige, it emerged soon after in collections of oral history written by nationalist authors in Ghana. Nationalist writers were drawn to this story because they could frame it as a story about Elmina's early autonomy and about the agency of an African king, in contrast to European narratives of the day that described Africans as powerless in the face of Europeans. The present author examines the story of Ansa's encounter with the Portuguese with attention to the politics of writing. In addition, he considers the renewed salience of this tradition today in the context of contemporary popular history in Elmina. Finally, he looks at the broader literature on oral history, literacy, and the construction of tradition. Bibliogr., notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]