Akan - Economy and Settlement

The Akan are almost all forest dwellers; the exceptions are a few outlying groups northward in the savanna and eastward in the hills and valley of the Volta River.

The basic crops are forest root plants (including yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, plantains) and trees (including oilpalm, many other palms, and cocoa). In many areas, minerals—especially gold and bauxite—have been and remain important. Some Akan kingdoms have lacked gold sources, their political weakness reflecting the lack of this valuable trade commodity. Livestock have never been of great importance, but in some areas hunting has been so until the late twentieth century. For most of the Akan kingdoms, trade—mainly in gold—has been a crucial resource. Weaving in cotton and silk is of a technically and aesthetically high order, and much commerce is built around it. Wood carvings have also become a valuable commodity, especially with the rise of the tourist trade in the late twentieth century.

The basic Akan pattern of settlement is extremely variable but, in the main, is one of towns each centered on the palace of its chief. Attached to these towns, but away from them in less densely inhabited land, are villages and farms, some large and long-lasting and others little more than clusters of the houses of single small families. The houses in the larger towns, constructed of materials that can last for several years before they crumble, are set along permanent roads. The dwellings in the villages are made of less durable materials and are typically arranged with no plan and no clearly marked center, being merely clusters of the houses of kin.

Men and women share in labor, but both may own farms and houses and both may provide the labor for them. In former times, until the end of the nineteenth century, much or most farm labor was supplied by various forms of servile persons: slaves, pawns, and many categories of "servant." Today different types of sharecropping and labor hired for cash are the most prevalent, although domestic peonage is still common.

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