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The Twentieth Century brought with it vast changes for the peoples of West Africa. The yoke of colonialism bound them together into a new political, economic, and social order. It was as if hundreds of years of history had suddenly ended, and begun again anew. In the wake of the Berlin West Africa Conference, in 1885, the great powers of Europe - Britain, France, Germany, and even Portugal and Belgium - had carved up West Africa among themselves. European overlords either completely replaced, or else adopted a "supervisory" position over the native African authorities. Proud kingdoms, like those of the Asante, Benin, and Dahomey, found themselves forced to adapt or disappear, as West Africans struggled to make sense of a world that had been turned completely upside down and inside out. For "inside out," could easily describe the reversal of economic roles that came along with European conquest. Formerly, European traders had stayed close to the coast, allowing the African rulers and merchants to supply Europe and her New World colonies with slaves and other "merchandise." The British had finally succeeded in ending the slave trade some years before, and many of the coastal kingdoms of West Africa had languished as a result. Some had been almost wholly dependent upon the trade in human beings - now there would have to be new sources of revenue. For the most part, these new sources of income would be developed by Europeans who would exploit West Africa's people and resources for the benefit of their home countries. However, the Africans would also learn from their new masters. Some of them would obtain a Western education, or work to introduce the ideas of the modern industrial world to Africa. European science, technology, education, political, economic, cultural, and religious ideas would all have a profound impact on West Africa.
The pre-colonial relationship between Europeans and West Africans was one of mutual trade. In the first half of the Nineteenth Century, Europeans vastly increased their purchases of palm oil, and also continued to buy tropical hardwoods, while Africans received the products of Europe's industrial revolution: cotton and woolen textiles and iron. 1 It was only as direct European influence began to increase that economic conditions were gradually modified. The introduction of cocoa by European missionaries in the 1860s, led to its becoming a major cash crop and primary export by the earliest period of European colonial domination, around 1900. Gold and coca were the mainstays of the economy in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). To keep up with their seemingly insatiable demands for these and other products, the British, French, and other others, introduced more modern techniques of production. In particular, they employed industrial methods of mining, and built railroads and port facilities to enable a vastly increased flow of goods. 2 Yet it would be wrong to think that was no African response to changed economic conditions. Already, in the late 1800s, African merchant families, such as the Sarbahs, began to encourage rubber production:
In contrast to the palm oil trade, the rubber trade, because of a greater monetary return per unit of labour input and weight, drew into its orbit thousands of producers from the deep interior, including Sefwi, Kwahu, Asante and the distant states of Brong-Ahafo, all more than 100 miles from the coast. The rubber trade also gave rise to a new group of middle-men or broken from the Fanti states, Asin, Denkyera,
Terminology mentioned in this term paper
Names referenced in this report
Rubber, Asante, Akim,
Organizations included in this paper
Colonial Government, British Cocoa Board,
Locations referenced in this report
West Africa, Gold Coast, The French, Benin, Ghana, Belgium, Portugal, Britain, Germany,
Health Conditions mentioned in this research material
Companies talked about in this essay
Twentieth Century, palm,
Keywords referenced in this essay
africans, West Africa, Berlin West Africa Conference, African culture, French West Africa, rubber, European market, African peoples, European education, African economy, trade, palm oil, social order, Native traditions, coast, the european, arts and crafts, economic development, rubber latex, petit bourgeoisie, British Empire, the africans, Twentieth Century, cash crop, new masters, New World, policy, Official policy, great powers, new horizons, indigenous cultures, Nineteenth Century, Christian missionaries, human beings, a new era, one million, mission civilisatrice, home countries, industrial revolution, France, higher level, middle class, new approach, forest zone, folk dances, rural life, Great Depression, traditional, legal system, conditions,