Of debt and bondage: From slavery to prisons in the Gold Coast, c. 1807-1957
Contrary to the belief that prisons never predated colonial rule in Africa, this article traces their emergence in the Gold Coast after the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. During the era of 'legitimate commerce', West African merchants required liquidity to conduct long-distance trade. Rather than demand human pawns as interest on loans, merchants imprisoned debtors' female relatives because women's sexual violation in prison incentivized kin to repay loans. When British colonists entered the Gold Coast, they discovered how important the prisons were to local credit. They thus allowed the institutions to continue, but without documentation. The so-called 'native prisons' did not enter indirect rule — and the colonial archive — until the 1940s. Contrary to studies of how Western states used prisons to control black labour after emancipation, this article excavates a 'debt genealogy' of the prison. In the Gold Coast, prisons helped manage cash flow after abolition by holding human hostages.
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