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The Quills of the Porcupine

Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana

Jean Marie Allman

Publication Year: 1993

Bearing the historic symbol of the Asante nation, the porcupine, the National Liberation Movement (NLM) stormed onto the Gold Coast’s political stage in 1954, mounting one of the first and most significant campaigns to decentralize political power in decolonizing Africa. 
    Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) was the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to secure political independence from Britain.  The struggle for full self-government was led by Kwame Nkrumah, the leading advocate of African nationalism and Pan-African unity in the post-World War II era.  The NLM threatened the stability of Nkrumah’s preindependence government and destroyed prospects for a smooth transition to full self-rule.  Though NLM demands for Asante autonomy mobilized thousands of members, marchers, and voters, the NLM was unable to forestall plans for a unitary government in a new nation.  Under Nkrumah, Ghana became independent in 1957.
    Marginalized politically by 1958, the NLM has at times been marginalized by scholars as well.  Cast into the shadows of academic inquiry where history’s losers often dwell, the NLM came to be characterized as a tribalist ghost of the past whose foreordained defeat was worthy of some attention, but whose spectacular rise was not.
    Today, when it is far harder to dismiss decentralizing movements and alternative nationalisms as things of the past, Jean Marie Allman’s brilliant The Quills of the Porcupine recovers the history of the NLM as a popular movement whose achievements and defeats were rooted in Asante’s history and in the social conflicts of the period.  Allman draws skillfully on her extensive interviews with NLM activists, on a variety of published and archival sources in Ghana, and on British colonial records—many of them recently declassified—to provide rich narrative detail.
    Sophisticated in its analysis of the NLM’s ideology and of the appeals of the movement to various strata within Asante society, The Quills of the Porcupine is a pioneering case study in the social history of African politics.  An exciting story firmly situated within the context of the large theoretical and historical literature on class, ethnicity, and nationalism, its significance reaches far past the borders of Asante, and of Ghana.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

When first conceived, this was to be a study in historical continuity and national resilience, an attempt to extend the well-documented and oft-debated history of the Asante kingdom1 into the twentieth century by focusing on the Asante National Liberation Movement (NLM) of the mid-1950s. Founded late in 1954, the NLM demanded Asante self-determination in the face of Kwame Nkrumah's blueprint for a...


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pp. xiii

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1. "Leaving the Dead Some Room to Dance": Theories, Paradigms, and Problems in the History of Asante Nationalism

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pp. 3-15

As a subject of academic inquiry, Asante in the 1950s stands in a curious scholarly limbo. Historians of the Asante kingdom have seldom ventured past the turn of the century, while social scientists, whose initial concern from the late 1950s was to explain why Asante posed such a problem to Ghana's nation-building enterprise, have long since...

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2. Cocoa and Kotoko: The Origins of the National Liberation Movement

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pp. 16-50

On the 19th of September, 1954, over 40,000 people gathered at the source of the sacred Subin River in Kumase, the capital of the historic Asante empire. Most were dressed in kuntunkuni (traditional funeral cloth) to underscore the gravity of the day's events. As noon approached, the crowd began to shout the age-old battle cry, "Asante Kotoko, woyaa, woyaa yie!" They continued in pulsing fervor until the...

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3. The Dump Ablaze: Murder, Mobilization, and Building a Popular Front

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pp. 51-83

During the three weeks following the September 19 inauguration, the flames of the National Liberation Movement swept through Asante, reaching from the source, Kumase, to such major towns as Sunyani and Obuasi. Seemingly overnight, in village after village, the cpp flag came down, and the NLM flag was raised. The local newspaper, the Ashanti Pioneer, carried daily headlines documenting the...

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4. "Revolutionary Movement" or "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition": The Months of Crisis and Consolidation

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pp. 84-118

Almost one year to the day after the first grumblings over the price of cocoa in Asante, a front-page article in the London Times remarked: "In the intervening months the tide of opposition has begun to rise from both regional and class fissions .... Undeniably the impetus and rallying point have been provided by the National Liberation Movement in...

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5. Off the Streets and into Parliament: The Ascendancy of the Politicians and the Defeat of the Popular Front

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pp. 119-161

On August 12, 1955, the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, supporting Krobo Edusei's motion in a 58 to 13 vote, resolved to Hrequest Government to introduce a Bill to amend ... the State Councils (Ashanti) Ordinance, 1952, ... to allow a Chief below the status of Paramount Chief, to appeal in a constitutional matter, from the decision of a State Council to the...

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6. "And a Thousand More Will Come?" The NLM's Demise and the Legacy of Asante Kotoko

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pp. 162-192

When Nkrumah's motion for independence passed the Assembly on August 3, the immediate significance of the election results was brought home to all members of the Movement, from those conspicuously absent from their seats in the Legislative Assembly to those rank-and-file supporters who anxiously awaited word of events taking place in...


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pp. 195-237


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pp. 239-253


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pp. 255-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780299137632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299137649

Publication Year: 1993