The Journal of African History

Research Article

John Kabes of Komenda: An Early African Entrepreneur and State Builder

David Henigea1*

a1 Boston University

The flowering of the Atlantic trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused many of the West African societies of the near hinterland to orient themselves increasingly toward the coast. This new focus created new geopolitical conformations. Given the nature of the stimulus, trade and politics went hand in hand and entrepreneurial ability could reap political rewards. These possibilities were greatest along the Gold Coast and in the Niger delta where the actual European presence was small in relation to the extent of the trade.

Such a trader cum political leader was John Kabes who, in a career spanning nearly forty years, established the paramount stool of Komenda, hitherto part of the inland state of Eguafo. Kabes began as a trader for the English (and sometimes for the Dutch) and gradually achieved political status which, however it may have been acquired, proved to be lasting because it was acceptable to existing political mores.

Such of Kabes's activities as are known suggest that his success sprang from his ability to wring advantage from the new exigencies of the time and place in ways which enabled him to acquire legitimacy as well as wealth and influence. Although Kabes's career is uniquely documented there is no reason to suppose that it was particularly unusual in its other facets. On this argument it can suggest ways in which other West African trade-derived polities, particularly in the Niger delta, may have coalesced.


* I would like to thank Albert van Dantzig and Joseph Lauer for commenting on various parts of previous drafts of this paper. I have used the following abbreviations: CCC, Cape Coast Castle; RAC, Royal African Company; PRO, Public Record Office, London.