chapter  IV
77 Pages

LAND—Introduction

To the natives of West Africa, as to all backward peoples, the land is of paramount importance in their economic, social and political life. African peoples will remain passive while their most cherished institutions are effaced, but if their land is interfered with, they will blaze up in rebellion. Land in a simple state of society is the source of livelihood; land is their Mother-Goddess. l There is no doubt that religion highly colours the more primitive conceptions of land as being a God-given heritage. This religious tinge fades away as communities advance in civilisation, and a general law as to the relations between religion and land might be stated to that effect. The next step is that the land, from being itself divine, becomes the possession of divine beings or spirits. This stage is exemplified in Ashanti where the real landowners are the " samanfo ", the departed spirits of the clan forbears, while the living possessors hold tenancies at will from the dead and are their trustees. ~ So long as the religious conception of land persists, the real controller of the land of the community is the priest or the chief acting as priest,3 and so long as it persists alienation of land in so far as it is thinkable to the native mind is a crime~ 4 The criminal aspect of land alienation is as much economic as it is religious, as a Belgian observer has pointed out: " On peut expliquer cette conception par cette idee que

la tribu irriterait les manes ancestraux, si elle abandonnait ce qu'ils lui ont legue; ennn Ie sol etant par sa fecondite, sa faune et sa flore, la ressource alimentaire par excellence, n'est-ce pas une sorte de suicide que d'y renoncer?" 1 Despite changes from within and from without, land still preserves a strong religious tinge in West Africa, and it is a force to be reckoned with in any study of West African land. All this is in sharp contrast to the conception of land entertained in a country like England. For nine-tenths of the population of England the condition of land tenure is not a question of direct importance. The cause is the industrialisation of England, where it is quite true to say that industry feeds people rather than agriculture. In fact the industrial problem is to England what the land problem is to West Africa: it is of the essence of the economic life of the country. The land problem in West Africa is not so acute as elsewhere so far as competition between black and white is concerned, since Europeans cannot settle and thrive there in the way they can in East and South Africa. Although Europeans are unable to work the land themselves, there is theoretically still the possibility of European-owned and African-manned plantations, wherein the Africans would be divorced from the ownership of the land and reduced to the status of wage-labourers. This condition of affairs was exempli ned in the German Cameroons before the war, and produced social discontent and economic backwardness. Attempts have been made to introduce the system into West Africa in connection with a variety of cultures (e.g. cotton), but they have always failed. Local conditions do not favour the system, and the English Government has latterly set its face very sternly against its introduction. 2 What is now known as the "West African Policy "-of native development of native resources for native benent under English supervision-is claimed to have proved its superiority over what is named the " East African Policy" -of plantationsin the matters of economic productiveness and social contentment.