History in Africa

Research Article

The Komenda Wars, 1694–1700: a Revised Narrative

Robin Law

University of Stirling

Since 1990 I have been working on a critical edition of records of the Royal African Company of England (hereafter RAC), preserved in the Rawlinson collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This material comprises letter-books containing correspondence received at the RAC's West African headquarters, Cape Coast Castle, mainly from the Company's other factories on the Gold Coast, during the period from 1681 to 1699 (though with some gaps). Two volumes of this correspondence, covering the years 1681-83 and 1685-88, were published in 1997 and 2001; a third and final volume, presenting correspondence from 1691-99, is now published.

Although attention was drawn to this material in the 1970s, only limited use has hitherto been made of it by historians. The only substantial published study of the Gold Coast which makes extensive use of the Rawlinson material is that by Ray Kea (1982), which deals with general social and economic structures and their transformations, rather than with the detailed course of events. The general neglect of this material has undoubtedly been due, in large part, to its user-unfriendly arrangement, the letters being entered according to the date of their receipt at Cape Coast, without regard for geographical provenance, which makes the process of locating documents which relate to any particular locality extremely tedious—an obstacle which its publication has now removed. The potential utility of this material in the detailed reconstruction of events on the Gold Coast is illustrated here by the case of the “Komenda Wars” of 1694-1700.