Aborigines' Rights Protection Society
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The Gold Coast Aborigines' Rights Protection Society (ARPS) was an association critical of colonial rule, formed in 1897 in the former Gold Coast, as Ghana was known. Originally formed by traditional leaders and the educated elite to protest the Crown Lands Bill of 1896 and the Lands Bill of 1897 that threatened traditional land tenure, the Aborigines' Rights Protection Society became the main political organisation that led organised and sustained opposition against the Colonial Government, laying the foundation for political action that would ultimately lead to Ghanaian independence. J. W. Sey, J. P. Brown, J. E. Casely Hayford and John Mensah Sarbah were co-founders.
The ARPS formed as a conglomerate of different groups of intellectuals in Cape Coast and Southern Ghana who sought to protect the traditional land tenure practices of the indigenous Gold Coast peoples from being taken over by the colonial government. One of the initial goals of the ARPS was to ensure “… that every person may understand [the Lands Bill of 1897] the same”. The ARPS became a voice for the rights of indigenous peoples by both broadcasting the aims of the ARPS in their own newspaper, “Gold Coast Aborigines” and advocating on behalf of indigenous land rights by presenting the reasons for dissent of the Lands Bill of 1987 in front of the Legislative Council. Particularly, John Mensah Sarbah, a key member of the ARPS and a lawyer, helped to advocate against the introduction of the Lands Bill of 1987 by arguing that it was no different from a previous unsuccessful bill in 1894, that family and society ties could be broken by the introduction of the bill, and that the land was valuable to indigenous peoples for its religious significance. The ARPS then sent a delegation to London in order to advocate for their case in front of Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State on Britain at the time. A notable aspect of the delegation is that it included not only members of the Gold Coast elite but also “prominent merchants”. It was through their meeting with Joseph Chamberlain that the ARPS was able to get support for the denunciation of the Lands Bill of 1897 and the assurance that “native law would remain and prevail with regard to devolution of land.” The ARPS eventually fell out of fashion in exchange for newer nationalist movements, such as the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) in 1920.
Nationalist Aims of ARPS
Entrenched in the founding of the Gold Coast Aborigines' Rights Protection Society as a response to the Lands Bill of 1897 was a belief that both the political actions of the ARPS and the movement against foreign encroachments on native lands were “joint vehicles of nationalism." Moreover, the key players in the ARPS predicated their belief in a movement against the Lands Bill of 1897 on a false notion that “the economic interests of the [village] chiefs were identical with those of the rural population as a whole.” This false assumption was necessary in the cultivation of support for the opposition of the Lands Bill of 1897 because it fueled public support for a return to traditional forms of land tenure that had vested land ownership in the hands of rural peoples instead of in the hands of foreign actors. In understanding the critiques of the ARPS’ nationalists aims, it is important to note that much of the skepticism about the true intentions of the members of the ARPS came from colonial leaders who were dismissive of the attempts of the ARPS to oppose the Lands Bill of 1897. This is highlighted in controversy that suggests despite beliefs of the ARPs self-interest in the protest movements, “ there was overwhelming evidence of a long history of cooperation between the intellectuals and the indigenous political authorities, at least in Cape Coast.”
Influences on Founding of ARPS
The formation of the ARPS came at a period during the late 19th century in which the educated Gold Coast elite were systematically barred from high-ranking positions in the colonial government. It was this exclusion, in part, that fueled both the “cultural nationalism” and “anti-colonial political activity” that led to the creation of the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society in 1897. As part of the emergence of cultural nationalism during the late nineteenth century, members of the educated elite throughout the Western African region began to return to their traditional roots by either reclaiming their “original African names, when these could be discovered,…” or … “new African names when they could not, …”. This reclamation of nomenclature influenced the naming of the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society, as it was originally conceived as a branch of the Aborigines' Protection Society of London but later renamed so as to serve as its own unique entity with a direct connection to the African continent in general and the Gold Coast in particular.
Global Salience of Race
An analysis of the impact of the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS) is typically constrained to the society’s impact on local politics in the Gold Coast region. However, the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society was interested not only in the protection of the rights of the native and colored peoples in the Gold Coast but also with the larger global struggle of colored people everywhere from America to Britain and the West Indies. The Society’s interest in the affairs of people of color abroad was predicated on the notion of the salience of race beyond the confines of an African context and the global usage of race as a basis for oppression. The connection of the ARPS with the global movements for freedom and rights for people of color began with interactions between the leaders of ARPS and other anti-imperialist and pan-Africanist leaders abroad and ended with ARPS’ involvement with the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress.
ARPS Activities Abroad
The ARPS’ interest in global movements initially gained momentum as news of the success of various anti-colonial efforts reached the Gold Coast, particularly the “Japanese defeat of imperial Russia” and the Ethiopian defeat of the Italians. In addition to the news of successful anti-colonial movements, the ARPS was interested in the growing formation of pan-African conferences that sought to discuss “questions ‘affecting the Native races’ ”. The ARPS was particularly interested in the Pan-African Conference that took place in July 1900 in London as it was the first conference of its kind to occur. The influence of this conference on the ARPS was a renewed belief that, eventually, the native and colored African peoples would be able to successfully rise up against the imperialist powers that had subjugated them for centuries and begin to govern themselves. This interest in Pan-Africanism manifested itself in attempts by the ARPS to hold a similar conference on the Gold Coast, although the idea never came to fruition. Despite this inability to create their own Pan-African conference, the ARPS participated in a conference at, what is now, Tuskegee University in 1912.
Impact of International Exposure
The impact of the ARPS’ interaction with global Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist movements rested on the ability of these interactions to not only bring the grievances of the Gold Coast natives to the global stage but also to help the ARPS gain leverage with which to lobby the colonial government in Gold Coast to recognize the legitimacy of their cultural nationalist and political aims. Another consequence of the ARPS’ interaction with other global movements was the attainment of knowledge about how successful African domination of colonial rule could take place. An idea of particular interest to the ARPS was the creation of trade amongst the “all of us who are of African blood”.
A common critique of the ARPS was that its members sought to garner greater financial and political gain for the African bourgeoisie and elites, rather than for the common people. Part of this critique lies in a disjuncture between the espoused values of cultural nationalism by the ARPS that advocated a fight for the native peoples and the connection that the ARPS had with the colonial government. Specifically, many of the members of the ARPS had been educated abroad and were part of the elite class that would take over the rule of the Gold Coast should the British colonial rulers leave. Moreover, in the attempts by the ARPS to engage globally with other anti-imperialist and pan-Africanist movements , the ARPS required large sums of money to fund their trips that they often acquired by unfairly charging tribal heads of local communities disproportionate fees to become members of the ARPS. These criticisms of the desires and true motives of the ARPS are strengthened by the outcome of the Native Administration Ordinance of 1927 that allowed chiefs of indigenous Gold Coast groups to have direct interaction with the colonial rulers. It was at the same time as the implementation of this ordinance that the Gold Coast ARPS began to lose some of their power, as they could no longer use the Gold Coast indigenous chiefs as leverage from which to gain funds. Some also critique members of the ARPS because of the fact that many did not return to their ancestral African roots, despite their constant praise of a need to return to African roots as a way to fully realize the cultural nationalist policies that they supported.
- J. W. Sey
- J. P. Brown
- J. E. Casely Hayford
- Willem Essuman Pietersen (c.1844-1914)
- J. E. Biney
- H. van Hien
- Kobina Sekyi
John Peter Allotey Hammond was the Secretary and later a member of the Coussey Committee Joseph William Egyanka Appiah (later Jemisimiham Jehu-Appiah) later became a member through Attoh Ahuma, and was part of the delegation that went to UK to protest to the Queen to release all Ghana lands into the hands of natives.
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