Capitalist exchange, consumerism and power in nineteenth century Gold Coast: Interrogating Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa and the contested personage of the merchant prince
Commercial activities in nineteenth century Gold Coast were crucial in defining, not only the nature of African capitalism, but the consumption changes it brought to its merchant elite, commonly referred to in African historiography as merchant princes. The transformation of the Gold Coast economy into a commercial capitalist economy, which had as its life source a vibrant north Atlantic world market, exposed merchant princes to other goods which were not necessities but had the power to change one’s social status. In partaking freely in this consumerism that the north Atlantic world offered, they were redefining power relations and helping to entrench colonial capitalism in the Gold Coast. More importantly, this new kind of consumerism signaled the merchant princes’ desire to, at once, show off their newly acquired wealth and also appropriate power in a politically uncertain environment. Using available historical sources as well as creative works such as Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa, this paper suggests imaginative ways in which scholars may tease out African agency in existing narratives on the nineteenth century.