Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 159-161
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"I Will Not Eat Stone":
A Women's History of Colonial Asante
"I Will Not Eat Stone": A Women's History of Colonial Asante. By Jean Allman and Victoria Tashjian (Westport, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000) 255 pp. $65.00 cloth $24.95 paper
In "I Will Not Eat Stone," Allman and Tashjian have produced a well-written and rich social history of women in colonial Asante. Focusing on the first generation of Asante women born under colonial rule, the authors document the ways in which colonial policy, missionary activity, and the cocoa economy transformed women's social, economic, and political roles. This text will be of great use to historians, anthropologists, and sociologists of Africa, as well as scholars interested in women's history, colonialism, and gender studies. Its five chapters are written in clear, accessible language that well serve its many virtues.
Asante, the former center of an empire that controlled much of present-day Ghana, was occupied by the British in 1896 and made a protectorate in 1901. The women whose lives form the core of this book were born during the first two decades of the twentieth century; thus, "they grew to maturity with the colonial state" (1). British occupation marked a new era in Asante history, but for the women born into this era, the details of their daily lives did not always register seismic change. Many social practices and institutions bridged this new era, but they were significantly transformed by colonialism's political economy.
The colonial state relied heavily on revenue from exports. One of them, gold, had given Ghana its colonial name, the Gold Coast, but in the twentieth century, the dominant export was cocoa. Cocoa wealth transformed the social and economic lives of Asante men and women, but its success relied on practices and institutions established in the precolonial era. The colonial state, for example, expanded a network of roads established by the old Asante state in order to convey cocoa from the interior to the coast. Cocoa production would come to rely on conjugal [End Page 159] labor that, in earlier centuries, had produced food stuffs for subsistence and for the market, among other activities. The colonial economy was in many ways built into existing structures. However, as Allman and Tashjian demonstrate, the outcomes for women born under colonialism were significantly different from that of their mothers. One of the areas in which this difference is clearest was marriage.
Using early anthropological writings on Asante, court cases, missionary, and government records, the authors reconstruct continuities as well as significant changes in marriage. Like their mothers and grandmothers, this first generation of colonized Asante women shared a commitment to marrying and having children. Marriage carried reciprocal rights and obligations for both partners. Asante men had the right to call on their wives for agricultural assistance, and wives were expected to provide a range of domestic services, including cooking, cleaning, and looking after the children. In exchange, women expected maintenance from their husbands in the form of meat, clothing, and food crops (60).
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a man typically had a food farm on land belonging to his lineage, and a woman had a food farm on land held by her lineage. It was mutually beneficial for husbands and wives to pool their labor and work on each other's farm. Cocoa production radically altered this equation. As cocoa production expanded, couples moved to vacant areas far from the villages where they held family lands. In their new location, only the husband obtained rights to the land. The distance of the cocoa farms from their lineage lands meant that women essentially relinquished their food farms. Furthermore, the intensive labor required in the early years of a cocoa farm made it difficult for women to pursue their own income generating activities (63-64). Despite the labor that wives invested in their husbands' cocoa farms, they did not have clear rights to any portion...