‘En proie à la fièvre du cacao’: Land and Resource Conflict on an Ewe Frontier, 1922-1939
Benjamin N. Lawrance
Rochester Institute of Technology
August 22, 2005
African Economic History, Vol. 31, pp. 135-181, 2005
In 1936 an Accra newspaper hit the streets with the alarmist headline "Tribesmen Mobilise for War in British Togoland." According to the newspaper the people of Buem and Akposso, rivals for a parcel of land occupied by prosperous cocoa farms severed by the international boundary, were going to combat. Several attempts had been made to resolve the matter before British courts, but appeal after appeal swung the decision in different directions. The claims were further complicated because British courts had no jurisdiction over land under French control, which meant that a parallel case remained unresolved. Ultimately an appeal reached the Privy Council in London, but not before many other groups embroiled themselves in the conflict.
British and French native policies of the nineteen-twenties and thirties significantly reorganized chiefly authority in their respective territories, prompting chiefs to attempt new strategies to aggrandize their economic and political power bases. The chiefs of Akposso and Buem, the fertile borderland between the two Togolands, were witness to a large emigration movement during this period caused by domestic and international economic change. The emigrants themselves followed well-worn paths to the Buem region marked by Ewe and others. In emigrating, they not only overcame European attempts to control their movement, but they pushed the Ewe "frontier" northward into a true borderland region. On a macro-level this article details how Ewe pushed the "frontier of Eweness" north with cocoa farming, emigration and settlement. On a micro-level this is a narrative of social conflict caused by local chiefly power networks, land ownership and tenure, and ethnic alliances. The story of the Buem-Akposso conflict, two non-Ewe communities, conceals a complicated narrative about Ewe emigration around a new border zone between the British and French mandates. It is thus a fascinating story for the colonial legal historian, offering new insight into the manipulation of Ewe identities for political and economic gain and the political instability ushered in by the "cocoa rush" in British Togoland.
Although the plaintiffs in this conflict were the chiefs of Buem and Akposso, Ewe emigrants were the de facto protagonists of a much larger socio-economic transformation of the region. Although wildly exaggerated, the newspaper story captures the relative isolation of the densely forested region north of Hohoe, in British Togoland. Largely unsettled and unfarmed in the mid-nineteen-twenties, Buem by I936 was a site of intense demographic growth because of the expansion of cocoa farming. Thousands of settlers moved from French Togo, from both Ewe territory and elsewhere, and worked as day laborers, or bought land and hired their own farmhands. The French were unable to halt the exit, while the British openly encouraged the development and exploitation of the mountainous region, considering a logical development of the "peasant capitalist" mentality that had already transformed Akan territories. European authority ruptured as Ewe people voted with their feet and expanded cocoa farming, and with it Ewe language and customs.
This article investigates the story of a border conflagration between two different "frontier" communities on the mandate borderland as a point of departure for a wider discussion of four themes familiar to African historians: the invention of tradition, status and authority; the development of colonial economies and borders; the development of the colonial mandate administration and its legal apparatus; and, the concept of ethnic identity, in this case "Eweness" and its evolving relationship with the ideas of ethnicity and nationalism. Chiefly status conflict, cocoa farming, and new land tenure arrangements, when studied as "social process," can each be interpreted as markers of authority and identity. Emigration, the motivations underlying the movements, and the limitations of the mandate structure, particularly with respect to the control of borders, provide a critical link between colonial economies and the evolution of Ewe identities during the mandate period.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: Ghana, Togo, West Africa, courts, ethnicity, Privy Council, British Empire, colonialism, cocoa, Ewe, frontiers, borderlandsAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 24, 2011
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