See also Africa: Texts and Sources
The technology of warfare in Asante and Dagbon
- Bowdich, T. E., Mission from Cape Coast to Ashantee 1819
- 235 Tribute being demanded from the neighbouring kingdom of Dagwumba, a war ensued, and its troops were defeated. The King of Dagwumba, convinced that his former reliance on superior population was vain, from the military genius of the Ashantee and the commercial disposition of his own people, dispirited from their lack of firearms, prudently invited a peace . . . they respected his resources and were content to secure him as a tributary
- Law, Robin, The Horse in West African History OUP 1980
- viii The real subject of this book, it should be stressed, is not the horse, but the human societies in West Africa which made use of horses. The book is offered as a contribution to our understanding of the character of West African societies during the pre-colonial period. Horses were employed on a substantial scale in pre-colonial West Africa, most obviously in warfare but also very widely as a token of great wealth and high political status. Moreover, the keeping of horses, in an environment highly uncongenial to them, involved considerable logistical problems and imposed heavy expenditures upon the societies and individuals concerned. The important role played by horses as an item of military technology, in the symbolism of authority and status, and as large-scale consumers of West African resources, makes the study of their use an illuminating starting-point for the exploration of general questions concerning the economic, social and political character of pre-colonial West African societies. In so far as the horse in pre-colonial West Africa served above all a military function, this book can be seen as a contribution to the study of the relationship between `war and society', a subject of growing interest in historical studies generally which has already attracted some attention in the field of specifically African history. In so far as the horse culture of West Africa generally symbolized and reinforced the complex interconnection of military, economic and political power, this book can be seen as a contribution to the developing debate about the economic and social character of pre-colonial African societies, of which other fruits have been the growth of interest in the material basis of political authority and in the institution of domestic slavery and the discussions of Marxist scholars concerning the analysis of African `modes of production'. . .
ix . . . there were in West Africa in fact two distinct traditions of horsemanship: a pre-Islamic tradition, characterized by the use of a small breed of horses and by riding without saddles and with a bitless form of bridle, and a tradition derived from the Islamic world to the north of the Sahara, introduced into West Africa from about the thirteenth century onwards, associated with large horses and with the use of the bit, the saddle and stirrups. . . in the east (including Upper Volta, Ghana and Nigeria) cavalry still fought principally with the spear and employed protective armour, and continued the older technique of riding with long stirrups and the legs extended.
15 . . . the successful expansion of Dagomba eastwards into Konkomba country in the seventeenth century was due to their use of cavalry. (This is corroborated by the traditions of the Konkomba themselves.) . . . Contemporary documentation of horses in the area is lacking before the eighteenth century, when a European report attests to the use of cavalry on a considerable scale by the Dagomba at the time of the invasion of their country by the Asante in the 1740s.
16 Horses seem to have reached the kingdom of Asante by the early eighteenth century. . . Men on horseback also occasionally feature among the small brass sculptures used as gold weights in the Asante area, though these seem normally to represent northerners rather than local people.
MAINTENANCE, HEALTH, AND TRAINING
Horses in West Africa are generally kept under close control in stables in the owner's compound . . . the mares kept in the rural areas for breeding purposes are usually allowed to roam free and graze during the day-time, returning to the owner's compound only in the evening. But mares are little used for riding . . . and rarely seen in the towns. The stallions used for riding are invariably kept, when not in use, in stables where they are regularly tethered, and very often hobbled; their food has to be brought in for them from the rural areas . . . Kings or important chiefs, owning larger numbers of horses normally have large courtyards of their palaces set aside for use exclusively as stables. . .
73 Roofed stables . . . can . . . be seen . . . at Yendi, the capital of Dagomba in northern Ghana. . . . The food given to horses in West Africa normally consists mainly of grass and cereals, especially guinea-corn supplemented by the leaves and stalks of other plants, such as beans and groundnuts.
134 . . . in the Mossi-Dagornba area. . . ` the infantry formed a single skirmishing line and made first contact . . . Next the cavalry charged.' . . . `If the initial infantry attack was unsuccessful, the cavalry reserved the right to beat a hasty retreat . . .'
. . . .The cavalry of Dagomba are also described, in at least one account, as advancing `behind [a] screen of archers'.
Reports of the cavalry leading the infantry into battle are much less common, though not unknown. A second account of the Dagomba army places the cavalry in the front of the army, followed by infantry armed with muskets, with the archers on the flanks.
142 In the clash between the coastal kingdom of Asante and the hinterland cavalry state of Dagomba . . . it was the Asante musketeers who emerged victorious. Even in this case, however, the outcome of the initial Asante invasion of Dagomba in 1744 was somewhat ambiguous. According to the contemporary account of Roemer, the Asante invaders `were opposed by a large number of horsemen' whom they attacked with apparent success, but themselves suffered considerable losses' . . . `The horses became frightened by the shooting, since these horsemen have no guns but lances or spears and sabres'. After the battle, the Asante judged it prudent to withdraw, and were apparently harassed by the Gonja cavalry on their retreat: `the Ashanti army retired, surrounded by cavalry, straight across the wilderness into the Ashanti bush'. The Asante claimed a victory, but were reported to have lost over a tenth of their force, during the retreat. This account suggests that the Dagomba cavalry were able to fight at least a drawn campaign against the Asante musketeers. However both Dagomba and the neighbouring kingdom of Gonja were obliged to acknowledge Asante overlordship during the second half of the eighteenth century.
143 These campaigns serve to illustrate some of the limitations to the effectiveness of early firearms in West Africa. Before the later nineteenth century, most of the firearms imported into West Africa were small-bore muzzle-loaders. Muzzle0loading means a very slow rate of fire . . . Smooth0bore muzzles meant a very limited accurate range, and it is presumably this which explains the curious fact that in the campaign . . . in Dagomba in 1744 the muskets are reported to have broken up cavalry attacks, not by inflicting actual casualties on men or horses, but through the noise of their fire disturbing the enemy horses.
179 The military value of cavalry was perhaps less evident in confrontations between major states than in the domination of politically fragmented and horseless peoples by centralized kingdoms employing cavalry. The advantage afforded by cavalry is clearly attested, for example, in the case of the conquest of the Konkomba by the cavalry of Dagomba during the seventeenth century. As Konkomba tradition graphically records, `The Dagomba rose and mounted their horses, that is why we rose up and gave the land to the Dagombas.'
- John Thornton on Slavery and dependency theory
- From: The history of slavery, the slave trade, abolition and
emancipation [mailto:SLAVERY@LISTSERV.UH.EDU]On Behalf Of Steven H Mintz
Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2000 12:37 PM
Subject: Slavery and dependency theory
H-Africa, which is moderated by Peter Limb <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
has had an on-going discussion of present-day underdevelopment in
West Africa, which has touched on the history of slavery in West
Africa and its connections to dependency theory. In the following
message, John Thornton discusses this issue.
From: John Thornton, Millersville University <email@example.com>
. . . The issue of military dependency is more complex and
perhaps more rewarding. I have tried to examine in
detail Africa's military environment and the impact of
European weapons in my latest book, _Warfare in Atlantic
Africa, 1500-1800_ (London: UCL Press/Routledge, 2000).
While gunpowder weapons are neither as complex or as
expensive in relative terms as today's infantry weapons,
once Africa military leaders decided to equip their
forces with them, they did create the necessity to keep
up stocks, replace losses, etc. There is little doubt
that military decisions were made with this sort of
profitability in mind. But it seems to go too far, to
me, to suggest that Europeans could foment African wars
at will, as Mendosa suggests, through proxies, using
weapons supplies as a lever. No one group ever
monopolized weapons supplies enough to leverage it, and
what is more, any long term shift in supplies could
probably have been matched either by local manufacture
(African blacksmiths in recent years have done quite
well with much more sophisticated weapons), or by
returning to older weapons which are nearly as effective. . .
Davies, A. W., (District Commissioner), The History andOrganization of the "Kambonse" in Dagomba, June 1948
Fage, J. D., Ghana, AHistorical Interpretation, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1959.
Fage, J. D., Slavery andthe Slave Trade in the Context of West African History, Jour Afr Hist X 3 1969393-404
Iddi, M. Dasana The musketeers of the Dagbong Army Dagban Kambonse Legon Ghana 1973 MA Thesis
Iliasu, A. A., 1971, Asante'srelations with Dagomba 1740-1874 Gh Soc Sc Journal 1(2) 54-62
Tenkorang, S, The importanceof firearms in the struggle between Asante and the Coastal States 1708-1807 JHist Soc of Gh Vol IX 1-16