Debt bondage has been known in various forms in several societies in the world from the ancient period and it still exists in some cultures today. In pre-colonial Africa, it mainly took the form of pawning human beings to secure debt. Pawns served for debts they either personally contracted or, more often, for the indebtedness of senior members of their corporate kinship groups. This article examines the essential purpose of human pawning among the Akan of Ghana. It argues that the practice was not profit-oriented in that society, but a “brother’s keeper” system in which the wealthy in a community assisted close neighbours caught in unexpected adversity and needed urgent financial bailout. It further argues that pawnship came to have oppressive features with the passage of time partly as an organic process, but mainly due to the impact of the emergence and growth of the Atlantic trading system.
Key words: Akan, Gold Coast, debt bondage, pawnship, pawn, security, creditor, redemption.
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