home catalogue history references appendix 
robert rattray : padua, lake botsumtwi, africa, 1921 

Robert Rattray  :  Padua on Lake Botsumtwi, Africa, 1921.

 Extracts and photographs from
 Rattray, Robert Sutherland:
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1923.
Negro Universities Press, New York,1923.

Robert Rattray's account of the padua of Lake Botsumtwi was identified, along with several other associated sources, by Kevin Dawson in his perceptive essay Swimming, Surfing and Underwater Diving in Early Modern Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora (2009).
The article was noted and forwarded by Herve Manificat in April 2013, with many thanks.

The padua of Lake Botsumtwi is a remarkable instance of an ancient design of water-caft  enduring in a remote jungle location as a result of the natives rigorously enforcing local taboos.
The story could be a chapter from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1914).
More prosaically?, less exotically? less romantically? , the padua encapsulates James Hornell's theory of the development of ancient water-craft - it is virtually a "missing-link."

In Water Transport- Origins and Early Evolution (1946), Hornell proposed that the first water-craft was the "swimming or riding float" (hereafter, the float board), which facilitated the development of swimming and was the basis for the next technological advance, the raft.
He further suggested that the float board itself continued to evolve, reaching its highest level of sophistication as the Hawaiian surfboard.

Lake Botsumtwi is formed in the basin of of meteorite impact crater, 10.5 km in diameter, and estimated to be 1.07 million years old.
While the bottom of the lake has gradually risen with the deposition of eroded sediment from the crater walls, its catchment is limited to rain falling directly within the crater's rim.
As the climate has fluctuated over millennia, the lake's size has varied markedly, on occasion rising above the lowest points of the rim and, at the other extreme, reducing to a small pond.
When Robert Rattray visited the lake in 1921 there were 26 villages, but he was told of another four that had recently been submerged
He confirmed that had been an increase in the level of the lake, evidenced by a number of surviving tree stumps.
This is well illustrated in Rattaray's photographs, which are a valuable adjunct to the text.

Recognised as a special place of religious significance, severe limitations were placed on the technology employed by the native fisherman on Lake Botsumtwi, retaining a Neolithic culture despite far more advanced technology being readily available.
A firmly established religious belief, in practice it also probably served, to some degree, to manage the fish stock.

Only swimming and paddling on float boards, the padua, are permitted on the lake.
When swimming, they use "either the ordinary breast stroke or a double overarm with a scissor-like kick of the legs," the latter directly associated with an established familiarity of propelling float boards.

The padua are rough hewn from logs of a light wood, "almost as soft as cork."
Rattray gives the botanical name as Musanga Smithii, which has since been reclassified as Musanga cecropioides.
This fast growing, but short-lived, tree has a straight trunk, up to19 inches or 0.5 metre in diameter, and reaches heights of 60-150 feet or 18-45 metres.
It features an umbrella-shaped crown and is dioecious, a feature common to primitive species
Reported as rare in the tropical jungle, forest swamps and along rivers, it is not immediately apparent if the fisherman of Lake Botsumtwi obtained this timber from the shores of the lake or from outside the crater.
Unfortunately, Rattray does not provide an account on where or how the corkwood trees where harvested, or how the padua was constructed.
Given the the religious significance of the lake, this may have had associated ceremonies or incurred some restrictions, such as the use of metal tools.

Note that the padua builders, like many boa t-builders, construct replicas of their craft, and a small model padua presented to Rattray is shown in Fig. 13.

The padua are 6 in. to 8 in. thick, about a foot wide, range in length from 6 to 10 feet, and the template is trimmed at the nose and the tail.
As Dawson notes, the padua resemble (some of) the surfboards of ancient Hawaii.
In particular, there are a number of features similar to the olo- a "thick" and "narrow" board that was 5 to 8 inches deep, usually less than 15 inches wide, and made from light-weight willi willi.

The olo was reported to be built up to extreme lengths for the surf riding chiefs, reliably up to about 16 feet, and was ridden prone.
While its forte was undoubtedly as a paddle board, its wave riding performance was improved with its high dome deck and  bevelled rails.
Like the padua, the olo was likely to be cut from an individual tree trunk, unlike the most common board in Polynesia, the alaia.
A wide and thin board, the alaia was shaped from plank (or billet)  of koa, one of several previously split in sections from a log.

Rattray's photographs show a range of dimensions and design features; some have a square box-rail and some have rocker, where the "ends stood out of the water higher than the centre."
As with all one-piece timber craft, some of these elements were probably determined by qualities of the harvested tree.

The padua is propelled in the standard prone paddling manner, Rattray noting that "perfect steering control is obtained by a flick of the foot upon the surface of the water.'
IHe notes that  the padua is propelled along the surface of the water much faster than an ordinary canoe is paddled or poled by one man, " and Fig. 13 certainly shows two young riders leaving a significant wake as they paddle away from the camera.
The photographs in Fig. 9 and 10 show the padua riders astride their boards with confidence and a relaxed demeanour, reminiscent of photographs of groups of surfboard riders waiting for set-waves outside of the surf zone.

R. S. Rattray identifies four simple types of nets used on the lake made from strips of a local reed, and an "even more" primitive method called abontuo, where the fisherman dives for  fish on bottom, returning to the surface hands free and holding the catch with their teeth, page 66..

When goods or passengers required transportation, several padua are tied together to form a raft, a mpata.
As illustrated in Figs. 13 and 14, the mpata  is either shunted, with the nose of the padua or the rider's foot held against the stern, or towed with a line of creeper usually tied around the rider's ankle, or a combination of both.
Surfboard riders would recognise the similarity of the tow-line to the modern safety accessory,  the leg-rope or leash.

If the padua and the skills of their riders were transposed back in time to the coast of West Africa, it may suggest how these simple craft could fully provide the transport and fishing needs of early coastal dwellers.
They would have also been particularly effective in the surf zone and highly suitable as surfboards.

In light of this study of the water-craft of the fishermen of Lake Botsumtwi, Hornell's thesis may be slightly refined.

The first watercraft, the float board (padua) had an extended period of use, which facilitated the development of swimming.
Long-term familiarity with the float board presented the possibility of a composite craft, the raft (mpata).
Initially, the raft did not require the use of the pole for propulsion, although this would surely have been quickly adopted in shallow waters.
The dugout canoe was a significantly later development, requiring a far more sophisitcated technology, and which only became highly effective in deep water with the development of the paddle, or the bladed pole.
A simple paddle was probably first used to propel small rafts, as exemplified by the catamaran riders of Madras on the coast of India, as were likely the first experiments with sails.

There are currently about 30 villages in the vicinity of Lake Botsumtwi with a combined population of about 70,000 people, placing considerable stress on the local environment..
Largely now noted as a tourist resort, the traditional fishing methods using the padua are still in practice as of 2013.

1. James Hornell : Water Transport- Origins and Early Evolution.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1946.

2. Dawson, Kevin : Swimming, Surfing and Underwater Diving in Early Modern Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora.
Carina Ray and Jeremy Rich, eds., Navigating African Maritime History
Research in Maritime History book series,
Memorial University of Newfoundland Press, 2009, pages 81-116. & Surfing in Africa copy.pdf, viewed 10 April 2013.

Dawson notes on page 104:

"branch or miscellaneous plank from a Western ship served the purpose.
Paddleboards were buoyant enough to carry both their paddlers and small cargoes.
Most likely these boards were the prototype for Atlantic African surfboards. (59)

While at Elmina in the 1640s, Michael Hemmersam wrote that two canoemen used a plank as an impromptu paddle-board.
When these Africans went below Ambtsforth’s deck, 'their canoes drifted away; so, without being at all afraid of drowning they laid themselves on a board thrown out to them be the skipper and swam ashore with it.
We were all quite amazed at this great feat of daring.' (60)

When Robert Rattray visited Lake Bosumtwi, he described and photographed mpadua that probably closely resembled early Gold
Coast surfboards.
“The ends of some padua are cut away at both extremities so as to offer less resistance than a blunt prow, and a few were seen in
which these ends stood out of the water higher than the center,” wrote Rattray.
Indeed, mpadua are surprisingly similar to ancient Hawaiian surfboards and even modern longboards. (61)

59. Finney, 'Surfboarding in West Africa,' 42; Jones (ed.),German Sources 103 and 109, and Hair, et al. (eds.), Barbot on Guinea, II, 532.
60. Quoted in Jones (ed.),German Sources, 103.
61. Rattray, Ashanti, 60-65. (page 104)"

These references are:
 Finney, “Surfboarding in West Africa,”

Jones, ed., German Sources for West African History 1599-1699, Wiesbaden, 1983?

Paul Edward Hedley Hair, Adam Jones, Robin Law (eds.):
Barbot on Guinea:- the writings of Jean Barbot on West Africa 1678-1712, Hakluyt Society, 1992

Google Books

Barbot reports

Page 532

[At ?, circa 1712]
... misfortune, with little or no concern, but this must proceed from them being brought up, both men and women, from their infancy, to swim like fishes; and that, with the constant exercise, renders them so dexterous at it, tho' the canoo be overturn'd or split to pieces they can either turn it up again in the first case, [or] ...

... may be seen several hundred of boys and girls sporting together before the beach, and in many places amoung the rolling and breaking waves, learning to swim on bits of boards, or small bundles of rushes, fasten'd under their stomachs, which is a good diversion to the spectators. (50)

3. Wikipedia: Lake Bosumtwi, viewed 11 May 2013.

"There is a traditional taboo against touching the water (at Lake Bosumtwi) with iron and modern boats are not considered appropriate.
The padua, a wooden plank requiring considerable skill to maneuver, is the legitimate method.

4. Virtual Tourist

Fisherman and padua , Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, c 2013.
5. From further images, search "padua" at:
Africa Image Library
6. For other reports from West Africa, see:
1812 Henry Meredith : Canoe Surf Riding on Gold Coast, Africa.
1823 John Adams : Surfboard Riding on the West Coast, Africa.
1835 James Edward Alexander : West Africa.
1861 Thomas J. Hutchinson : Surfboard Riding in Gabon, Africa.
1876 Hugh Dyer : Surf Boats in West Africa.
1887 Alfred Burton Ellis : Surf Dieties of West Africa.
1891 The Graphic : Surf Boats, Ghana.
1895 C. S. Smith : Batanga Canoes, West Africa.
1949 Jean Rouch : Surf Riding at Dakar, Senegal.

Also see:
1962 Ben Finney : Surfboarding in West Africa.
Wiener Volerkundliche Mitteeilungen, Volume 5, Wein, 1962..

7. For the catamaran riders of Madras, India, see:
1800 Charles Gold : Catamaran Surfing, Madras.

8. For corkwood or Musanga Smithii. see:
Wikipedia: Musanga cecropioides

Also note:
Power House Museum: D2235 Timber specimen, Musanga smithii, West Africa, 1892

Page 54


I shall now proceed to a more or less detailed account of  this lake, giving the results of investigations made on the spot  between the 1st and 14th of October 1921.
Bosomtwe is a lake in Central Ashanti lying approximately in Lat. 60 30' N., and Long. ro 25' E.
It is just over five miles long and just under five miles broad.
It lies in a perfect bowl.

Page 55

or cup, the sides of which are thickly wooded hills rising about 500-700 feet above the lake, which I have been informed is itself some 200 feet above sea level (vide Fig. I).
It has no outlet, but there are many small streams flowing into it from the mountain sides, and these, with the storm water from the hill,slopes, form apparently its source, of supply.
Its general appearance at once gives the layman the idea that its bed was formerly the crater of a volcano.
The lake shore is closely dotted with villages, of which there are now twenty six.
There were formerly thirty, but four have been submerged and not rebuilt.
A fuller account of these submerged villages will be given later.

The previous sum total of our knowledge concerning this lake is, I believe I am correct in stating, contained in an article by Mr. Kitson, C.M.G., C.B.E., Goverment Geologist, a copy of which is given in an appendix.
His short geological report is most valuable and negatives the phenomenon I shall describe presently being due to volcanic causes.

Facing page 60

 Fig. 6. 
The making of the raft.

Facing page 61
Fig. 7. 
The raft at the landing-place at Abrodwum.
Fig. 8. 
Showing various positions on mpadua.

Page 61

This concludes alI I could discover concerning the myths, traditions, and magic, religious aspect of the cult of this lake,
which has-so myth and tradition say-forbidden, and up to the present forbidden with success, the use of any of the following methods of catching fish, all equally 'hateful' to Twe, the anthropomorphic lake god.
I. Iron hooks of any description, or any kind of lure or line fishing.
2. Asawu (cast nets).

Page 62

3. Seine nets.
4. The use of canoes, boats, sails, paddles, poles, or any hollowing out, even of a log.
5. Brass or metal pans (only wooden ones must be used).
While the following rules must also be observed:
6. No fishing on Sunday. (1)
7. No menstruating woman must go upon the lake.

Instead of canoes, the lake-side dwellers go about on what each calls his padua.
These are logs with sides roughly hewn, as indicated in Figs. 6-9.
They are made out of a very light wood almost as soft as cork called odwuma fufuo, (2) and are anything from 6 ft. to 10 ft. long, about a foot wide, and 6 in. to 8 in. deep.

The ends of some padua are cut away at both extremities so as to offer less resistance than a blunt prow, and a few were seen in which these ends stood out of the water higher than the centre.

The numerous photographs illustrating this chapter show more or less clearly the different types.
Two or more mpadua are lashed together to form an mpata, or raft, and these are used to carry out the larger and heavier nets to set up at the chosen fishing grounds.
Such a raft, in process of construction and completed, is seen in Figs. 6 and 7.

No cross-struts are placed underneath, those on top are fastened by creepers, for rope may not be used, and such a raft must only be propelled in the manner to be described later.
It was upon such a craft that my various expeditions upon the lake were taken.

The etymology of the word padua I have not been able to trace with certainty.
Dua is of course a log or a tree, and pa may be pa = good; but if this be so we would expect the adjective to follow the noun, and so have dua-pa.
Christaller gives in his dictionary padua, a log or block of wood in which the iron pa for securing the hand of a prisoner is fixed, and also mpadua, a bedstead.
The latter is possibly the same word, with the root mpa, something to lie upon.

1. Even should' the Lake explode its powder', on a Sunday no one might touch the fish till Monday.
2. Corkwood or Musanga Smithii.
For this and other botanical names I am indebted to Major T. F. Chipp, M.C., B.Sc., F.L.S., late Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gold Coast, now Asst. Director at Kew.

Facing page 62

 Fig. 9. 
Showing various positions on mpadua.
Fig. 10. 
Villagers on mpadua turning out to meet our raft. 

Facing page 63

Fig. 11. 
Two young scouts dashing off to announce our arrival.

Fig. 12. 
On the lake: note the great tree top showing above the water.

Page 63

In spite of the taboos forbidding the use of sail, paddle, oar, or pole, the padua is propelled along the surface of the water much faster than an ordinary canoe is paddled or poled by one man.
The man on the padua uses his hands as paddles, lying face down on the log, when perfect steering control is obtained by a flick of the foot upon the surface of the water.
The idiom for to 'paddle' is yi abasa, lit. 'to =arm it '- 'to throw out the arms '.

The various positions adopted on the padua will be understood from the photographs (Figs. 8-12).

The men are very fine swimmers and some show magnificent muscular development.
They swim either the ordinary breast stroke or a double overarm with a scissor-like kick of the legs.

My raft was pushed and drawn, and the endurance of the men was wonderful, for to swim while pushing a raft with two persons upon it for eight consecutive hours in a broiling sun is no small feat.

The 'pushers,' each on his own padua, kept the noses of their respective mpadua (or sometimes a foot) pressed against the stern of the raft,  the' tractors' were in front lying flat on their mpadua with a piece of creeper tied round an ankle or sometimes simply held in the folds of the belly muscles, the other end being attached to the raft (see Figs. 13-14).

In Fig. 13 the small white object at the bow is a model padua given me just before starting off, the rope is that used in the sounding operation, to be described later.
This photograph was taken about three miles from the north shore on the return journey.
I did not see any women on mpadua but was informed they were as expert as the men, and this I quite believe, as I used to see whole family parties alternately wading and swimming along the lake shore instead of following the road running between the villages.

Coming now to the appliances used for fishing, these seem to be of four kinds.
All are made out of the same material, i. e. strips of the reed the natives call sibire. (1)
All these are really only slight variations of one simple design, consisting of an oblong-shaped mat woven of simple criss-cross pattern.
See illustration on p. 64.

[Footnote] 1. A species of Clinogyne Scitamineae.

Facing page 64

Fig. 13. 
Showing method of propelling the raft: a tractor.

Fig. 14. 
Propelling the raft from the stern.

Page 66

None of these traps or nets, it will be noted, are self-acting, i. e. apart from the fisherman there is nothing to prevent the fish swimming into the net and swimming out again.
There is, however, another way of catching fish which is even more primitive.
It is called abontuo.
The fisherman dives under the water, remains under from thirty to forty seconds, and comes up holding a fish between his teeth - to leave the hands free for swimming.
I think they catch these fish possibly lying on the mud at the bottom, and' tickle' them just as boys do in Scotland in the burns.
All fishing methods give, the fishers say, but poor and small results in comparison with the tremendous hauls of fish sent by the lake spirit when' Bosomtwe explodes his gunpowder '.

Page 74


"There is only one real lake in the country, and that is the sacred Lake Bosumtwi in central Ashanti, about 18 miles south-east of Coomassie.
This freshwater lake is roughly circular in shape, with a diameter of about 4 miles and an area of some 13 square miles.
It lies in a deep depression, with steep sides rising to 600 and 700 feet above its surface.
Its depth is unknown.
An attempt was made to sound it by Mr. A. J. Philbrick, acting Chief Commissioner of Ashanti, but unfortunately when 500 feet of line had been let down it broke, and the attempt was abandoned.
Though a lake with no outlet and only a few small annual streams flowing into it, the wateris fresh.
Its general appearance suggests a volcanic origin viz. that it is a caldera, but since no evidence whatever has been found on its north-eastern and northern rim and shore of young volcanic rocks, that view is hardly tenable.
The available evidence suggests its formation as due to subsidence.
Numbers of villages stand on the shores of the lake.
There are several interesting native beliefs about the lake.
It is sacred to the Ashantis, who regard it as a great fetish.
They believe that it is the seat of a powerful and energetic spirit which manifests itself intermittently on its open surface by flashing lights making noises like the discharge of artillery, and in various other ways.
No canoes, paddles, fish-hooks, or brass pans are allowed on or near it.
Fish abound in the lake, and are caught in an ingenious manner by the natives.
Plaited reed mats with gaping mouths are taken out from the shore by men lying face downwards on cigar-shaped logs of wood. They propel themselves by paddling with their hands, and having set and anchored the nets, mouths open, the lower platform just submeIged, they retire for some time.
The fish enter the trap and bask in the subdued sunlight, resting on the lower portion.
The fishermen return almost noiselessly, pull together the two parts of the trap, capture the fish and tow them and the trap ashore."
- Extract from a paper read by Mr. A. E. Kitson, C.B.E. before the R.G.S., June 1916.

Page 322


I have had occasion several times in the preceding chapters to mention neoliths, which in Ashanti are known as God's axes or God's hoes, and the following fuller notes upon them may be of interest.
In the year 1911 it was my good fortune to be in Ashanti during the latter part of the construction of the Coo- massie-Ejura main trunk road, and to have obtained a collection of celts which were then unearthed.
These formed the subject of a most interesting paper by Mr. Henry Balfour- (of the Pitt- Rivers Museum, Oxford) in the 'Journal of the African Society, (1) and I advise all who are interested to consult that article.
In 1921 I found myself again in Ashanti as Government Anthropologist.
In the short time that has elapsed since taking up my new work some hundred more specimens of celts have been obtained, a few being found by me in situ, and many were dug up by the Ashanti farmers, and one, the largest, was lately dredged up from the bottom of the Offin River.
Some were associated with the cult of the abosom, the suman, or of , Nyame.
While it is correct to state that probably ninety-nine out of a hundred Ashanti declare and actually believe that the stone celts found by them emanate from the sky, and are in consequence endowed with some of the power of the Sky God, Nyame, sufficient evidence is available to prove beyond a doubt that there are still alive in Ashanti to-day persons who know that these stones are artifacts, and that they were used by their ancestors at a period that was relatively recent.
The ~har.ti generally call them' Nyame akuma or 'Nyame asoso, i. e. the Sky-God's axes or hoes.
They believe that they fall from the sky during thunderstorms and bury themselves in the earth.
They think that, as they come from' Nyame, they are endowed with some of the power of that great spirit, and this is the explanation of their use in connexion with abosom and of their

[Footnote] 1. No. XLV. Vol. XII, October 1912.

Page 323

supposed potency as medicine.
As a consequence of this belief they are constantly to be found as appurtenances to abosom (the gods), suman (charms), 'Nyame dua (altar to the Sky God), or placed in a pot where the drinking water is kept, .to cool the heart '. They are also sometimes fastened against the body to cure diseases, or are ground down and the powder drunk.
.I am inclined to believe it is thought heterodox to say anything contrary to the above, because these, being the popular beliefs, are encouraged by the akomfo (priests), and that some of the old people who really know better say nothing, confess ignorance, or acquiesce in the generally accepted opinion.

Nevertheless, I have been informed by several old men that, according to traditions handed down to therI:l, the so-called .God's axes' were really tools used by their ancestors in the past, not only previously to but contemporaneously with, a period when the smelting of iron was practised.

Kakari, an exceptionally intelligent Ashanti, gave me the following statement, before I was aware of the existence of the very long celts here illustrated:
.My grandfather, Kakari Panyin, once told me that he had been told by his grandfather, who himself had heard of, but had not seen them in use, that very very long ago the Ashanti used the stone hoes which are now called' Nyame akuma. My grand- father also told me our ancestors formerly wore a girdle with leaves before and behind. He said these axes were not originally the short things now found but were very long, and that they used them for hoeing, holding them in both their hands and digging between their open legs' (translation from the ver. nacular). Kakari could not say clearly whether they were hafted or not. He picked up a stick lying 'against the verandah, to show the length, and held it about If to 2 feet up the shaft.! Later, and after I had seen the long celts (Figs. 41 and 142), another old man, Kobina WUSU,2 between seventy and eighty years of age, told me that his grandfather once told him that very long ago the Ashanti used hoes made of stone a cubit long, demonstrating this by holding out the right arm, fingers pointing, and touching the elbow-joint with the left hand. When asked
1 A celt of this length, from the Gold Coast, is now in the British Museum. 2 His photograph may be seen in Fig. No. 41.

Page 324

why they did not use iron, he replied that they also used it but that it was scarcer and more difficult to work than stone, and was only used for making nabuo (iron money). These statements were made independently, and neither informer had ever had any intercourse with Europeans, and neither had been told by me the real origin of these celts. The points of interest in these statements are:
I. The fact that a definite tradition still survives of a stone age.
II. The statement in each case that the celts were long (a foot or more).
III. The fact that in one case iron-working was stat~d to have been practised contemporaneously with the use of stone.
It may be here noted that the late Major Tremeane, in Nigeria,
also once met an old native who knew the true origin of these'
celts. I shall have more to say later as to the length of the celts. It may be stated, however, that long celts have been discovered; for example, one numbered I in Fig. 141 measures 24 centimetres. Long celts were apparently already known; Mr. Balfour, in the article alluded to, speaks of .two long slender celts from the Offin River', but does not give their dimensions.
With regard to iron currency, I had not before heard of nabuo or of an iron currency in Ashanti. Moreover, the Ashanti do not now work iron ore, nor are there any obvious traces of their ever having done so.
In Chapter IV, p. 47, of a rather rare old book entitled History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti,l by a native pastor, the Rev. C. C. Reindorf, in referring to Kwabia Amanfi, one of the earliest Kings of Ashanti of whom tradition has any record, writes: .All we know of him is that in his days gold was not known, the currency was pieces of iron.'
The word nabuo, used by the old Ashanti, is without doubt derived from two words, dade, with a plural nnade, iron ore, and buo, to pound or break up, and it describes the process by which the laterite found in Ashanti was prepared for smelting.
Ashanti traditional lore seems to go back to this first King Kwabia Amanfi. Reindorf gives his date very roughly as 1600,
1 Printed at Ba..,le.

Page 325
and fifteen Ashanti kings are recorded since then, ending with Prempeh, who was exiled in 1896.
We thus have some approximate data which would appear to point to the fact that four hundred to five hundred years ago iron was so little worked-1 do not say known-that it was used as currency in Ashanti. If this be so, then we should expect
-an overlapping of the Stone Age with the Iron Age until Euro- pean iron was imported, and further interesting evidence seems to confirm this supposition.
Before passing on to this I may state that in Reindorf's History, he also constantly alludes to the lost art of iron-smelting in Ashanti, which, according to him, vanished when iron rods began to be imported from Europe. These rods were apparently at first used a-" currency, for he talks of 'the piece of an iron bar which was the ordinary pay of a soldier '. I have never seen any of this nabuo or iron currency, and there are not any visible traces in Ashanti of iron furnaces, such as may be seen in Togo- land.l There is, however, evidence that iron was once worked.2
The town of Obuasi in Ashanti is the centre of a large gold- mining industry; it lies in a valley surrounded by isolated hills which rise to a height of 500-600 feet from the plain below. Many of these hills have been cleared of the dense forest which formerly grew upon them, and are now occupied by Government bungalows. There is neither outward sign n.Ql" tradition of these having been the settlements of the Ashanti in the past, but to judge by the remains under the soil, they must have been the former sites of large communities.
It is no exaggeration to state that there is hardly a square foot of ground on the tops of some of these hills which does not contain fragments of pottery; and I was informed many celts had also been found there. The pottery bears an endless variety of designs, herring bone, bands, elliptical punch-marks, contiguous and detached circles, &c. A celt was also found by me about 6 inches below the surface (Fig. 140, no. 3). A few yards from it and in the same strata were unearthed two curious objects of clay, one apparently unbaked, the other having been

1 See' The Iron Workers of Akpafu'. J. R. A. I., Vol. XLVI. 1916, by
R. S. Rattray.
2 Since my return to Africa two manilla were brought to me, they had been dug up near Lake Bosomtwe.

Page 326
subjected to intense heat (Fig. 14°, nos. I, 2, and 4). These seemed to be fragments of a pipe, and reconstructed would have
this appearance:
For some time I could not obtain any explanation
: of these objects; later, novkver, on my showing the collection of pottery to an old Ashanti, he singled out these fragments at once and said they were nsemua (sing. semua). He stated he
recognized them as similar to one he had at home which had been handed down by his ancestors. The semua, so he had~een told, was used for smelting gold. The one in his possession was sent
for and later presented to me. It was completely glazed and
encrusted with a dark brown substance (Fig. 140, no. 4). The nsemua found by me, the pottery and a celt, were all discovered on the east side of the hill known as D. C.'s hill, and about ten yards from the flat top upon which the bungalow I was then living in was built. An examination of these nsemua, (two found by me and one given to me) made in the Assay Office of the Ashanti Gold-fields Corporation, gave the following result:
.Semua. Both samples which have been used show only
a trace of gold.'
, One end of the unbroken semua is encrusted with a dark brown substance which corresponds to Ferrous Silicate.'
.This material is only present at one end, the other end being quite free.' ..
.An unused semua shows on grinding that it is composed of unburnt clay and sand intimately mixed.'
, There is no room for doubt that the semua were tuyers used
in a native blast furnace and that one specimen was that end which came in contact with the molten slag.'
Mr. Mervyn-Smith, the Acting Manager of the Ashanti Gold- fields Corporation to whose courtesy and interest I am in- debted for the assay of these specimens, also sent me a paper by J. Morrow Campbell-read before a meeting of the Institute

of Mining and Metallurgy I-from which the following is an extract:
, In various parts of the Gold Coast from the shores of the
N ani lagoon to Ashanti are to be seen heaps of slag. No remains of furnaces are to be found. ...
.They are generally attributed to the Portuguese, but this is not credible.'
Mr. Campbell then proceeds to describe native blast furnaces in Haute Guinee j he writes:
'. ..when the walls have reached a height of 18 in., about
a dozen irregular elliptical holes about I ft. long by over 6 in. high are left at equal intervals. A large number of open pipes or ,. Tuyers ", tapering from about 2 in. at one end to over I in. at the other and over 1 in. in thickness, composed of a mixture of clay an1i sand, are made and thoroughly dried in the sun. They are inserted small end downwards,' &c.
I think enough has been said to indicate that those nsemua found associated with a celt, are relics of an iron-smelting age in Ashanti, and would seem to show that the Stone Age in Ashanti survived into comparatively recent times and over- lapped the Iron Age.
With reference to the statements of those Ashanti, who say that the stone hoes or axes were originally longer than those now commo~ly known, I propose to consider some specimens I have at present available, with a view to seeing if this is a reasonable supposition. An examination of any collection of West African celts-I have about a hundred before me as I write, not including the photographs of forty-one more in the article by Mr. Balfour, to which reference has been made-will show that they fall into one or other of the following groups (see p. 328).
I. Short celts with ground edges and tapering butt (A).
2. Short celts with ground edges, the butt as wide, or nearly so, as the cutting edge (B).
3. Short celts in all stages intermediate between these two.
4. Cylindrical stones with both ends blunt (no cutting-edge) (c). 5. Cones (D).
6. Very long celts tapering towards the butt (rare) (E) (see p. 329). Let us now take any of the longer celts shown in Fig. 141,
1 No. 67. 4th April 1910.

 Rattray, Robert Sutherland:
Negro Universities Press, New York,1969..


Return to Surfer Bio menu
home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2013-2018) : Robert Rattray : Padua at Lake Bosumtwi, Africa, 1923.