Africa Today 49.1 (2002) 99-101
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Jean Allman and Victoria Tashjian have published an incisive disquisition on the gendered nature of Asante’s colonial history. They argue that their study was shaped by the substantive richness and silences in Asante’s historiography and by the burgeoning feminist scholarship on Ghana in the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, there is no doubt about the impact gender studies have had on research and scholarship in the humanities and social sciences worldwide–hence the choice of gender as a paradigm of analysis.
The book is based on the recollections of men and women born from 1900 to 1929, men and women whom the authors interviewed during their research in Ghana. They supplement the oral recollections with a wide range of archival information and material culture from Ghana and Britain to write the story of Asante’s colonial encounter. For comparative analysis, they draw on numerous studies by anthropologists and historians who have written on Asante. By revisiting the works of R. S. Rattray, Meyer Fortes, Thomas Kyei, Christine Oppong, Claire Robertson, Agnes Akosua Aidoo, Penelope Roberts, Gwendolyn Mikell, Gracia Clark, and Emanuel Akyeampong, they interrogate and verify information provided by their informants. In this regard, they have succeeded in capturing the inherent silences on gender relations as a variable that was inappropriately problematized in earlier studies, leading to the exclusion of women from historical discourses on Africa.
Allman and Tashjian argue that to fully comprehend the gendered nature of Asante’s political economy, one must identify continuities and discontinuities in the sociopolitical and economic relations of the Asante. Thus, the book is about how Asante women and men have responded to, and reconstituted, notions of gender in their encounter with European visitors to Gold Coast (Ghana) in the twentieth century. However, Asante women should not be perceived as a detached and exclusive group of individuals who had superficial relations with Asante men. Far from it, the continued historical interaction of the sexes on multiple levels in the social and economic spheres suggests that both sexes were active in (re)shaping their heritage.
Little wonder, then, that the authors take a women-centered approach to the conceptualization of power relations and the impact women had on the political economy of Ghana. As they embark on the analysis of the [End Page 99] composite experiences of women and men during colonialism, the authors subtly invite the reader to consider their choice of subtitle, A Women’s History of Asante, not as a misnomer, but as a way to eschew errors of omission—the glossing over of women’s experiences in the study of African history. Allman and Tashjian are responding to Jean Allman, Susan Geiger, and Nakanyike Musisi’s argument: “Despite the fact that feminist scholars have been writing women into African colonial histories for three decades, it is still very much the case that unless ‘women’ or ‘gender’ appears in the title, women do not have to be present in the text at all” (Allman, Geiger, and Musisi 2002:5). Allman and Tashjian have succeeded in recovering Asante’s women’s voices in the history of colonial Ghana. They deserve praise, not only for pitting gender history against the old orthodoxy that once shaped historical inquiry, privileging some kind of metanarrative as the ultimate historical paradigm of explanation, but for writing women into history in the process.
Given the paradigmatic pitfalls they identified in previous studies, they innovatively embark on analyzing twentieth-century social and economic history of Asante with the use of a twin prism of conjugal relationships, mothering, and childbearing as alternative frameworks. They argue that Asante people experienced economic relations through conjugal relations whereby women-as-wives provided much of the labor necessary for the creation of cocoa farms, yet men-as-husbands dominated ownership of these farms and therefore controlled the resulting profits. Perceived this way, marriage would occupy a central position in...