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Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of the Anlo-Ewe.

Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of the Anlo-Ewe by Sandra Greene is a milestone in precolonial African history and something of a tour de force. Greene has collected and utilized extensive oral histories from various Anloga clans to construct a detailed social history of Anloga, supplemented by secondary and primary archival sources from Ghana, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. (correspondence held in the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago, Illinois). She had the fortune and the savvy to access one of the richest stores of oral history in West Africa. The superior quality of her oral sources is all the more unusual since the Anlo-Ewe never developed a centralized state with kingship. Rather, the keeping of oral history was facilitated, as elsewhere on the West African coast, by strong patrilineal clans that were residentially focused in villages and in the same location for hundreds of years. Greene uses these materials creatively in giving us both a collective and an individual history that delineates broad patterns of change.

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
COPYRIGHT 1997 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Robertson, Claire
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1997
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