Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of the Anlo-Ewe.
Greene has paid particular attention to the relationship between ethnicity and gender. The most unique aspect of this work is its exploration of the intimate linkages between the construction of gender and of ethnicity. The story Greene tells answers quite a few questions and also poses new ones. The broad picture she sketches illustrates convincingly how societal structure changed to subordinate women further in the course of constructing "insider" status and seeking wealth. Thus, Greene does not fall into the error of using static categories, but rather shows how concepts of ethnicity and gender changed along with broad economic shifts from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. Her findings have large ramifications for our views of precolonial Gold Coast history, with the additional strength of carrying the story into the twentieth century. In developing her main argument regarding gender and ethnicity Greene illustrates the impact of the slave trade on social structure, not only the expected class formation entailed in the concentration of wealth in certain hands, but also how the advantages of cross-cousin marriage developed out of it. The impact of matrilinearity is described with the Akwamu conquest. Arguing with Leroy Vail and others who have assigned the construction of ethnicity to the colonial period, Greene situates that construction within the precolonial era, but problematizes the concept of ethnicity in such a way that we can appreciate its mutability and how colonialism transformed it.
Some of the other topics illuminated here are nonstate formation and religion. Greene answers some questions about why people surrounded by states and occasionally attacked by them might not form a state. Greene documents the introduction and flourishing of various cults, syncretic efforts, and their relationship to changing gender relations. The impact of Christianity and missionaries is delineated as is the decline in the utility of Ewe religion for women wishing to maximize their position. Greene portrays women neither as victims nor as completely empowered individuals, but rather as nuanced individuals and collectives. In accordance with the traditions, there is more about men in the story than about women. Altogether, this book should help to change the thinking on a number of topics in precolonial history for all those save the incurably gender-blind. To preserve suspense I leave to the readers the discovery of exactly how the construction of ethnicity and of gender are related and recommend strongly that they pursue that answer.
Claire Robertson Ohio State University
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1997|
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