Social Change

Ghana Table of Contents

Needless to say, contact with Europeans, Christians, and Muslims as well as colonialism greatly affected and modified indigenous customs, institutions, and values. A good example of this process is the office of local chief. British influence has been present for generations, and by the time of independence in 1957, the British had exercised substantial political authority over certain southern regions for more than a century. The office of the chief, traditionally used to manage the affairs of the village community and the ethnic group, was retained by the British as one of the most important agencies through which the populace received colonial instructions. As the architect of the British colonial policy of indirect rule, Frederick Lugard argued in his Dual Mandate in British Tropical Afric that the preservation of the office of the traditional chief was cost- effective because it presented the appearance of continuity in the changing political environment. As was the case in many British colonies in Africa, traditional chiefs in Ghana were allowed to hold court in matters relating to traditional customs. They also controlled some local lands for agricultural production, even when the timber and mineral resources were exploited by the colonial government.

Chiefs continued to be appointed by their own people during colonial times, but native administrators became increasingly accountable to the colonial government. Inevitably, the presence of other colonial agents, such as the small but effective colonial police and the resident commissioners, influenced the power of chiefs. Also, with the abolition of slavery, the imposition of colonial taxes, and the establishment of bureaucratic and judicial procedures, the social relationships that had existed in the precolonial period between chiefs and people were altered--at times radically and always permanently. Some individuals and groups lost power, while others gained influence as the British abolished some traditional functions and established new ones.

A combination of factors affected customary notions about the exercise of power--colonial rule, Christianity, the money economy, and Western-style education. Christian missionaries established the first Western schools. Products of this formal school system became the new elite class of literate graduates who functioned as intermediaries between the indigenous people and the colonial power and, later, the world at large. Freed from lineage property as the sole means of attaining wealth and social status, the new elite developed new forms of social institutions and patterns of interaction. Such modes of behavior associated with modernization and urbanization and acquired through formal education and the formal market economy introduced certain value systems that were distinctly different from those within the traditional culture.

Of course, Western knowledge, technology, and organizations were not uniformly introduced throughout the country. They appeared first and in most concentrated form on the coast or in the Gold Coast Colony, where European influence was greatest and where many schools were established compared with Asante and other northern regions. Consequently, the coastal and southern peoples were the greatest beneficiaries of the new economic and social opportunities and, conversely, suffered the greatest social upheaval--especially in conflicts between the Western-educated Africans and their traditional chiefs. Traditional society adapted with particular swiftness to life in urban areas, in part because of the concentration of economic development and social infrastructure in such areas. The pace of change intensified in 1952 when Kwame Nkrumah, the first African-born Prime Minister of the Gold Coast, introduced the Accelerated Development Plan for Education.

The impact of the urban region on rural, traditional life has been great. Migrations from the rural to urban centers, either in search of work or for the pure enjoyment of urban conditions, greatly increased after 1969. The result was a decline in rural agricultural productivity and an increased dependence on urban wage-earners by extended family relatives. What has been described as "rural dependency on the urban wage-earner" was acceptable to those within the traditional system, who saw the individual as socially important because he continued to function in a matrix of kin and personal relationships and obligations, because his social identity could not be separated from that of his lineage, and because the wealth or positions attained could be shared by, or would benefit all, members of the extended family. Such a position, however, contradicted the Western view of the individual as a free and separate social agent whose legal obligations were largely contractual rather than kin-based and whose relationships with other people depended on individual actions and interests. The very difficult economic conditions of the 1970s brought even more pressure to bear on the relationship between traditional and urban values; nonetheless, the modern and the traditional societies continued to exist side by side, and individuals continued to adapt themselves to the requirements of each.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress