Let’s explore the Western Region II (Forts)

The population of the region is 1,924,577, constituting about 10 per cent of the total population of the country.

With a population growth rate of 3.2, the region’s population is expected to double by 2020. The population is relatively young, with over 40 per cent within the age group 0-14, and a dependency ratio of 88.3 per cent.

The population density is 80.5 persons per square kilometre. Females constitute 49.2 per cent of the population, translating into a sex ratio of 103.4.

The proportion of urban to total population is 36.3 per cent, with the three most urbanised districts being Shama-Ahanta East (100%), Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai (37.5%) and Wassa West (35.6%).

There are five major indigenous ethnic groups, namely, the Ahantas, who form 6.3 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region, Nzemas including the Evalue (10.6%), Wassa (11.7%), Sefwis (10.9%) and Aowins (2.5%).

It is worth noting that 18.2 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region are Fantes, even though these are not indigenes of the region, but are settlers who migrated several years ago from the Central Region, and have subsequently totally integrated into the indigenous population.

There is freedom of religion in the region; however Christianity (81%) and Islam (8.5%) are the two major religious groups.

The Pentecostals constitute the largest single Christian group (26.1%), followed by the Protestants (19.5%) and Catholics (19.4%). Other Christian groups constitute another 16.1 %. Islam (8.5%) is practised mainly in Aowin-Suaman (10.4%), Sefwi-Wiawso (10.1%) and Juabeso-Bia (12.4%), all three being districts with significant migrant populations from the mainly Islamic northern parts of the country, particularly the Mole-Dagbon areas.

Traditional African religion is also practised by 1.5 %, while 8.2 % of the population profess no religion.

The Western Region is another region with a rich heritage demonstrated by the number of castles still open to visitors. The best examples in the region are:

  1. Fort St Appolonia Image result for Fort St Apollonia

Until 1670, there was no fort west of the River Ankobra in Beyin (now in the Western Region of Ghana), except for the temporary French fort at Assini. All goods – gold and slaves – were brought to the coast, where captains of all nationalities haggled fervently for it.

To ward off Dutch colonial ambitions which had led to intermittent warfare in the Nzema country (Apollonia), and to facilitate trade, the Nzema Chief Amenihyia granted the English Committee of Merchants permission to build a fort at Beyin on an elevated platform known as Cape Apollonia.

In 1766, the quest for building materials began; construction ensued two years later on the last fort in the Gold Coast to be built by the English. The name of the fort was first bestowed on the area by a Portuguese explorer who first caught sight of the place on St. Apollonia’s Day.

Image result for Fort St ApolloniaThe abolition of the slave trade diminished the economic importance of the fort, and hence it was abandoned in 1819. It was transferred to the Dutch in 1868 as part of the 1867 exchange of forts agreement between the British and the Dutch. The Dutch renamed it in honour of their monarch Willem III and held it until 1872, when it reverted to the British.

The fort was bombarded by a British gunboat in 1873, during a British attack on Beyin on account of its coalition with the Asante Kingdom.

The fort fell to ruins. It was rehabilitated in the 1960s by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and was used as a rest house.

 

2. Fort Metal cross 

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The British colonial fortification, Fort Metal Cross (originally Dixcove Fort) is located on a promontory near the fishing village of Infuma, in Dixcove (Dick’s Cove) in the Western Region of Ghana.

The cove’s quiet waters are suitable for small boats and canoes; large ships anchor approximately 2 kilometres offshore.

For the British, the motive for commencing construction of Dixcove Fort in 1692 was identical to that of the Dutch in building Fort Batentstein – to tap into the promise of gold in the hinterland; and also to win back the many English captains trading at the Brandenburgers’ (Germans’) Fort Gross Friedrichsburg in nearby Princestown.

However, the people of Infuma, loyal to two chiefs whose allegiances swayed between the British and Dutch, besieged the fort several times, on behalf of the Dutch, stalling its completion. By 1750, the fort was equipped to carry up to 25 canons.

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The promise of gold never materialised, as the gold that was mined was largely impure gold. Hence, the fort earned the title of ‘the fake mint of the Gold Coast’ by author Bosman. Like Fort Batentstein, Fort Metal Cross became a service-station for the repair of ships and the supply of timber from the surrounding forest; and during the slave trade, it became a slave prison.

The 1867 fort exchange agreement between the British and Dutch resulted in Dutch ownership of the fort in 1868. The Dutch had to call for military reinforcement to restore calm in their new areas of control, as the local populace was infuriated by the swap, especially since they had not been consulted. The name of the fort was altered to ‘Metalen Kruis’ (Metal Cross), after one of the Dutch gun-boats which brought the reinforcement.

However, the immense cost of control persuaded the Dutch to sell their forts to the British. Hence, in 1872 the fort reverted to the British, who renamed it Fort Metal Cross.

The fort has served both the Police and the Postal Services. It has currently been leased to a private organization.

 

3. Fort Batensteyn

Situated on the high hill behind Butre village in the Western Region of Ghana , the view of the Atlantic coastline from the bastions of Fort Batenstein is quite sensational. However, it was the promise of gold in the hinterland, and not simply the beauty of this ecological paradise, that prompted the Dutch to construct this small trading fort in 1656.

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The sheer steepness of the hill was the fort’s greatest defence against imminent attack, but its constitution was so weak that the building literally shook on the occasions when its guns were fired in welcoming salutes. William Bosman described it as ‘a tiny, ill designed fort’ . However, amidst the verdant vegetation, clean air and the waters of the beach, life at Fort Batenstein must have been, and still is, idyllic.

Although its trading prospects never materialized, Fort Batenstein provided useful services. Ships underwent repair works in the still waters of its bay, using timber acquired from the forest of Ahantaland. Cotton, sugar and coffee plantations were also set up on the rich soils behind the fort, along River Butre. The British acquired the fort on 6th April1872 and implemented a few basic structural adjustments.

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The Fort Batenstein  was consolidated between 2010 and 2011 with co-funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The fort is currently preserved as a ruin. Butre has a Town Tourism Development Committee, which offers guided tours to Fort Batenstein and the local area.

 

4. Fort Groot Fredericksburg

The history of the Brandenburg fort, Fort Gross Fredericksburg, still reverberates in the Caribbean, via the John Canoe festivals. On Manfro Hill, in Princestown, in the Western Region of Ghana, the Brandenburg Africa Company, led by Benjamin Raule, under the patronage of the Frederick William of Brandenburg, built the luxurious Fort Gross Fredericksburg as their headquarters, between 1683 and 1684, desiring also ‘a place in the sun’ and the riches of the Gold Coast. It is the only fort in Ghana with Germanic authors.

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A farmyard lookalike, the fort had 32 cannons upon completion; and only a strong defence would have been a sufficient deterrent to assaults from the Dutch and British, who resented further foreign intrusion into the area.

This was especially so because as few Brandenburg ships arrived on the coast, the fort traded with merchants from all nations, becoming the hub for smugglers along the coast.

Jonn Conny, Chief of the Ahanta ethnic group, often referred to as ‘the King of Prinze Terre’, as the Prussian’s African broker, was a most effective ally, succeeding in directing such trade to the fort that revenues dwindled at the Dutch forts at Axim, Butre and Sekondi.

Over 95 ships are recorded to have traded with Fort Fredericksburg between 1711 and 1713. In 1717, with their departure from the Gold Coast, Brandenburg sold its possessions to the Dutch, without John Conny’s knowledge.

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John Conny claimed and took over Fort Fredericksburg, and for seven years, he maintained trade lines with all nations, offering huge discounts on the price of gold and slaves. In spectacular victories, he successfully resisted all Dutch military attempts to reclaim the fort.

This earned him a hero’s place in tales recounted by slaves in the Caribbean.  When the Dutch finally ousted John and his army from the Fort in 1724, they discovered that John had removed enough stones from the fort for the construction of a personal mansion and a dividing wall.

Renamed Fort Hollandia, it lacked its previous beauty and splendour as Fort Fredricksburg, and served the Dutch as a service station.

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5. Fort San Antonio

The history of Fort St. Anthony, located in Axim in the Western Region of Ghana, partly illustrates the motive for the construction of heavily fortified forts on natural elevations – especially on a rocky one that juts out into the sea.

In 1503, the Portuguese had built a trade post in Axim, near the edge of the River Ankobra, but they had to abandon it due to insistent attacks by the local people.

They then constructed, in 1515, a massive triangular fort on a small promontory closer to the River Ankobra. Named ‘Santo Antonio’, it was the second Portuguese fort built on the Gold Coast, after St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle). To enhance its defence on the landward side, a three-metre deep rock-cut trench was constructed.

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The effective defensive capability of Fort St. Anthony was revealed by its ability to withstand attacks for over four years, even after the fall of Elmina to the Dutch in 1637.

Having no rival in the surrounding gold-rich lands of the Ankobra and Tano River valleys enhanced the economic viability of the fort; gold traders from Adanse and Denkyira frequently visited the fort. However, between 1670 and 1720, with the construction of rival forts in the bays east of Axim, Portuguese trade monopoly was ruined.

 

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By the 1720s, St. Anthony had become a Dutch fort. The fort is reported to have amassed ‘more gold at Axim than anywhere else together’ , especially after the dissolution of the Brandenburg Company and the death of John Conny (see Fort Gross Fredericksburg). The area was also an important source of timber and cotton for Dutch plantations.

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The fort was ceded to Britain in 1872.

The fort’s 17th-18th century panelling is one of its archaeological fortes. In the 1950s, it was rehabilitated for use as government and local council offices. It is the proposed site for a museum and restaurant.

 

6. Fort Dorothea

In 1683, the Brandenburger Company built a lodge in Akwida, east of Cape Three Points in the Western Region of Ghana in 1683. According to Albert van Danzig, ‘Fort Dorothea was originally built as a small triangular building. Situated on a promontory and the end of a peninsula between the mouth of the Suni River and the sea, it had much natural protection’

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The lodge was captured in 1690, and enlarged into a fort by the Dutch. It was renamed Fort Dorothea. It is currently preserved as a ruin.

 

7. Fort San Sebastian

In an area known as Shama, on the coast of Ghana’s Western Region, lies Ghana’s third oldest fortification. Fort San Sebastian is a historical architectural delight, reflecting the distinctive styles and preferences of both its Portuguese and Dutch sculpturing.

Fort San Sebastian was built by the Portuguese from 1520 to 1526. Its original purpose was to serve as a deterrent to English sailors interfering in Shama trade.

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Fort San Sebastian has been described as a small-scale copy of St. George’s Castle , and the fort received a mention in Di Castaldi’s Venetian map of 1564. However, when the Dutch took over the fort in 1638, San Sebastian was a ruin.

Major Dutch renovation works in between 1640 and 1643 substantially expanded the initial structural form. Later Dutch West Indian records reveal some trade in gold and slaves at the fort, but by 1705, the Dutch West India Company’s official opinion was that although the fort served as a source of fuel wood and water, there was no trade activity. Fort San Sebastian was ceded to the British in 1872.

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Rehabilitated in 1957, the fort is presently used as a post office and magistrate’s court. It also serves as offices for the Electoral Commission.

 

8. Fort Orange

Originally a Dutch fortress, Fort Orange is located a few metres off Sekondi’s harbour, in the Western Region. Though it served as a trading post for some time, Fort Orange was originally intended to be as a lodge, and it served that purpose during the 1670s.

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The 1670s were also years of intense European competition for the wealth of the Gold Coast, and to weaken the Dutch stronghold on the coast, the English built a succession of forts and lodges within gunning range of Dutch fortresses.

After this lodge was attacked by the indigenous people – for instance, when it was attacked by the Ahtantas in September 1694 – it was reconstructed into a much more fortified fort by 1704. Unsurprisingly, the fort’s cannons were mainly directed at the nearby British trading lodge.

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Since its cessation to the British in 1872, ‘Fort Oranje’, as it was called by the Dutch, has been used as a lighthouse. Fort Orange is now a naval base for the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.

Source: ghanamuseum, ghanagov