A tale of two polities: socio-political transformation on the Gold Coast in the Atlantic World

  • Decorse C
  • Spiers S
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This article examines change and transformation in the political economy of the Akan coast and coastal hinterland of Ghana during the era of the Atlantic world. Archaeological and documentary data indicate dramatic changes in settlement size, settlement patterns, and socio-political organization between the fifteenth and the nineteenth-centuries. On the eve of European contact there were few large settlements located on the coast or in the adjacent hinterland. With the expansion of the Atlantic trade, some African settlements emerged as centres of commercial activity, linking inland societies with European trade and growing in size and importance. These emerging polities were African, building on forms and political structures that were characteristically Akan. Yet the coastal enclaves were distinct entities, following different trajectories and in some instances incorporating features not found in interior Akan polities. Drawing on archaeological and historical data on Eguafo and Elmina, two of the principal polities on the coast, we examine the transformations that occurred on the Akan coast during the period of the Atlantic trade. These developments are evaluated in light of wider discussions of urbanism and socio-political complexity in other parts of Ghana.

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  • Christopher R Decorse

  • Sam Spiers

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