The Gold Coast and the Slave Trade

Updated on October 20, 2018
Ikye Modungwo profile image

Ikechukwu Modungwo is a student of life and geography, researching quite frequently the topics that invincibly move the world and drives man

The Gold Coast Trade

It was not until 1471, however that the Portuguese finally reached the Gold Coast, under the command of Juan de Santarem and Pedro de Escobar. They landed at Shama near the estuary of the Pra River and here the European trade in gold began. Diego d’Azambuja, who followed the route of Santarem, sailed to the Gold Coast to trade in gold with the people who live in an area that the Portuguese would come to call El Mine (the Mine), hence Elmina, and where in 1482 they would build a fort. On one trip, d’Azambuja had on board a sailor engaged in cartographic work: some believe that it was Christopher Columbus. On completion of this project he was to be commissioned by the queen of Spain to discover a westward route to the Indies to find gold – a route that led eventually to his accidental landing on the American mainland. The Dutch, who had arrived at the Gold Coast in 1595, captured Elmina in 1637 and had taken over all Portuguese possession by 1642. At this time, British traders were also active. Despite Dutch efforts to expel them, the British maintained their footing and, after hostilities in 1664-65, the two parties concluded a peace treaty in 1667. By 1750, there were only the Danes at Christianborg Castle, the Dutch at Elmina and the British at Cape Coast Castle still trading. Most Europeans arrived at the Gold Coast in the hope of finding wealth, but many simply found malaria and other tropical diseases and ended up in the European cemetery in Elmina. In 1850 the Danes left, the Dutch in 1872, leaving the British in complete control of a thriving trade in gold dust and nuggets.

The Effects of the Trade

Not only does the movement of gold from one area of the globe to another set great changes in motion in the recipient states, but it also has a profound effect on the producing society. The gold that flowed out of the Akan forests caused major changes in the society of the Ashanti and the surrounding peoples. The gold trade effectively tied them into the rest of the world and they soon became inextricably linked to the developing capitalist and industrial system of Europe, a system which, by the 19th century, came to dominate the whole globe.

Expanding Horizons

The gold trade to the North of the Ashantis, over the Sahelian belt, had already introduced new goods and new ideas, perhaps even new mining techniques, by the time the Portuguese arrived on the scene. The Wangara traders who came from the north to obtain gold provided valuable commodities in exchange: salt, North African cloth, and metal items. Among the most valued of the latter were bowls and other brass vessels made in Egypt or North Africa, decorated with elaborate designs and text in Arabic scripts. Vessels of this sort were highly valued by the Akans and they entered into their early traditions and mythologies: the founding ancestors of some groups are said to have come down from the sky in brass basins and such vessels are used as shrines for their gods or treated as sacred relics. Later, the Ashanti and other groups began making their own copies of them, creating the type of ritual vessels known as kuduo, which were decorated in patterns copied from the original Islamic imports. The knowledge of Islamic designs and scripts introduced in this way may also have influenced the patterns used in Ashanti art. The incoming traders also used a system of weights for measuring out gold which influenced the development of local weights. The local need to find gold in order to trade for exotic goods, set in train vast changes that eventually led to the creation of a system of an elaborate centralized government in Ashanti. When the first traders arrived, the ancestors of the Ashanti were probably living in small communities scattered through the rain forest, subsisting by a combination of hunting and horticulture. The gold trade gave them another source of livelihood and, apart from importing necessary items such as salt and cloth; it also allowed them to import slaves in return for the gold they were producing.

Gold and the Slave Trade

When the Portuguese began to fight their way into the gold trade, they discovered that there was a great demand for human labour in the interior, that is, in the area where the gold was being produced. In order to profit from this demand they began to buy or capture slaves in the area of Benin and ship them to the Gold Coast. There, once they were exchanged for gold, they were taken inland. Why was there this demand? What were all these extra hands needed for? Although the process is unclear, it seems that the Akans were undergoing a sort of agricultural revolution. Areas of the dense rain forest were being cleared to allow more productive farming. As productivity rose, so the forest was able to support a larger population, grouped together in bigger settlements. The labour they bought in exchange for gold supported this process.

Trading With the World

By the 16th century, Akan society had reached a take-off point and exported gold provided much of the power that enabled it to do so. But the gold trade did not end once the local society had begun to move into a period of population growth and increasing prosperity. Gold, traded to Europeans, could provide other resources which served to increase the power of those who controlled local gold production. These included: slaves, cloth, iron, beads, brass, distilled liquor and, most importantly firearms. The Ashanti used their guns to expand the resources under their control. For much of the 18th and early 19th century, theirs was a growing economy fuelled by war, conquest, booty and levies as well as by trade. While trade links with the wider world helped the Ashanti society to evolve, they also had the power to damage it. When the slave trade was abolished in the 1820s, the Asantehene found himself in considerable difficulty because the slave trade had developed into an important part of the Ashanti economy. Equally, when trade was depressed in Europe or the Americas, the Ashanti suffered. But the Ashanti developed a great understanding of trade, establishing systems of credit and always being ready to embark on new enterprises if they felt they could show a profit. Besides gold, they exported caffeine-rich kolanuts (mostly to the north where their power to suppress appetite and tiredness was especially valued by Muslims, denied the use of tobacco on religious grounds.) and, later, rubber and cocoa beans.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)