„From a real body which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here“

– an encounter with a missionary portrait of a pre-colonial Akan court official. [1] [2]


Paul Jenkins


A Sitz im Leben



Christraud Geary’s pioneer anthropological work with historical photographs – which reached a first climax in the Smithsonian exhibition German Colonial Photography at the Court of King Njoya in 1988[3] – involved her in intensive interaction with holdings of pre-1914 Cameroon Grassfields photographs in the Basel Mission archive. Her earliest contact with this collection dates back to 1977, and the archive was one of the first institutions to respond to the new importance of historical photographs from Africa and Asia which her work opened up. Indeed, the archive’s early entry into this field played an important role in raising the funds necessary for making a proper catalogue of its pre-1945 pictorial holdings, and their online publication in 2002 as www.bmpix.org. This website offers access to some 30,000 images, about 50% of them older than 1914, concentrated geographically in Ghana, Anglophone Cameroon plus Duala and Bamum, Karnataka and North Kerala in India, Malayasian Sabah and Indonesian Kalimantan, Hong Kong and Hakka-speaking regions of Kwangtung Province in the Peoples’ Republic of China. The website’s language is English.


As part of an NGO, the archive focuses where possible on activities which make sense in the general pattern of overseas relations maintained by its parent organisation, the Basel Mission (now: Mission 21). With Geary’s prodding we had became aware of the importance of its holdings of historical photographs, and these were then seen as new resources for pursuing a three-fold aim already well established in its work: the provision of additional sources for African History – a field where source-famine is never far away;   the exploration of the indigenous character of the historic development of the Mission’s African partner churches; and the identification of synergies between the historical analysis of these churches and decisive elements in their present-day situation.[4]


These aims meant that while we always intended to ensure that work with the historical sources in the archive was conducted with a no-holds-barred scientific rigour and with an awareness of developing anthropological styles of analysis and critique, it has never become dominated by any particular anthropological school. In particular the reflexive style of the analysis of photographers took second place, in the crucial decades of the 1980s and 1990s to the application of the archive’s resources to African history as such.[5] This tendency was consolidated when, from 1989, the Basel Mission archive played an important role in building up a new programme teaching African History in the University of Basel. This role was played out especially through annual week-long intensive seminars with hands-on work with source materials (including historical photographs) entitled “[Searching for] African History in a European archive”. The first took place in 1990, and they were then held every year from 1992 to 2003, always as far as possible with a representative of the region under consideration among the participants. And they often brought the students into direct contact with notable anthropologists with extensive field experience like Christraud Geary and Michelle Gilbert.


This essay, originally published in a German Festschrift for Christine Lienemann, Professor of Missiology in the University of Basel, stands four-square in this tradition. It does weave into the analysis consideration of the photographer, the missionary Fritz Ramseyer. But its main thrust is an attempt to place the portrait of a traditional court official in Kwahu, a district which broke away from the kingdom of Asante in 1874, in the context of the development and evolution of an indigenous community. As its title indicates, however, the analysis has also been stimulated by elements in Barthes’ Camera Lucida. Being based in an NGO gives an archive a certain freedom to operate outside the limitations of any contemporary academic orthodoxy, indeed to develop its own genres of study and writing.[6] At a key point in the argument the paper takes into account emotions which Barthes argued should be allowed to deepen our perceptions of historical photographic portraits we may be contemplating.



Encounter with a portrait of an Akan court official


Fritz Ramseyer had been a Basel missionary in Ghana for 20 years before he took up photography in 1888. He remained in Ghana for a further 20 years, and in that time became one of the best and most prolific of any of the Mission’s photographers. He was also probably the first person to author a publication devoted solely to photographs of Ghana, which appeared in Neuchatel, in 1895[7]. Alongside many informative photographs of mission subjects – his pictures of pioneer life in Kumase in the late 1890s are especially noteworthy – he has handed down to us two dozen excellent pictures of chiefs and their retinues in the mountainous Ghanaian region of Kwahu (around the mission station in Abetifi), all probably taken 1888-96.[8]


Of these two dozen photographs, only two are portraits of a single person – those of the Chief of Abetifi’s head Swordbearer (Plates 1 & 2). All the other photographs of chiefs and their retinues are portraits of small groups (e.g. Plate 3), or of big assemblies (e.g. Plates 4, 5, & 6). I have chosen to take Plate 1 as my starting point partly because it is such a visually arresting close-up. But the portrait also, it seems to me, challenges us to clarify our views of what was going on politically and socially in pre-colonial African communities like Kwahu. And we find ourselves asking what their ruling circles’ policies were about religion, and about the missionaries who were coming into their territories.[9]


Let me take a somewhat unorthodox, perhaps even a shocking, starting point. We can use the keywords “cut” and “death” to start a contemplation of this image, and to link it to an analysis of long-term developments in the political community in Kwahu.


The portrait is of the Chief of Abetifi’s – the Abetifihene’s – swordbearer. This official, called okafonafo in Twi, is a chief’s or king’s messenger, someone who when carrying the sword speaks or negotiates with the authority of his master. Yet it is vital to understand that that sword has no cutting edge and was never used in violence or punishment. It was and is purely symbolic and ceremonial – a decorated blade made by a local blacksmith, and a hilt covered by a local goldsmith with gold-leaf (see Plate 3 for a view of the blades of two other ceremonial swords). The executioners were and are a quite different group from the swordbearers in an Akan court, and their weapons look quite different too.


But if “cut” is an inappropriate keyword for the Swordbearer, the image does contain direct evidence of the work of executioners and warriors, and the threat and use of deadly violence. The white hemispherical objects attached to the drum on which the swordbearer leans so nonchalantly, are human skulls, cut to fit the surface of the drum column. And we can be sure that they were not anonymous skulls, stolen from the buried corpses of unknown farmers. They will have been the skulls of known people killed in war, or who were executed through capital punishment or human sacrifice.


Most people in my Basel environment, when I have shown them this image in the course of university work or adult education, go down the familiar road of “civilised” horror when they rrealise these white objects are skulls. They are dominated in their responses by this evidence of savage violence, and ignore the rest of the image. But there is, in reality, a major tension in this portrait between the symbolic sword and the real skulls. We see the evidence of violence, of a community prepared to go to extremes to defend itself and guarantee future prosperity. But we have to balance this with the existence of the ceremonial sword, the symbol of an authority which may have had the threat of violence in the background, but could go far in maintaining political coherence with instruments which we know from our own practice of politics – symbols of majesty, political negotiation, the formalised language of legality binding on both sides. This photograph may reflect raw reality in the skulls bound to the drum. But it also reflects a political community whose use of symbols and language provided means to allow its people to negotiate their way out of problems, and in its reference to tradition provides a sense of justice to which its people could have recourse. It gives us a glimpse into a social organism which was, indeed, a real political community.


Plate 1 was published by Ramseyer in 1895, so we have his commentary on it. Translated, the German text says:


The Chief’s Swordbearer. The sword has a broad blade on which strange             figures have been engraved. The handle is covered with gold leaf. The Sword-Bearer          is wearing the King’s headdress and is resting his arm on a drum decorated with human skulls. Before the arrival of the missionaries the drums were dipped in human        blood, as was the custom in the whole Asante region. Today the people use the blood   of sheep mixed with eggs. The white spots are eggshell.


The French text is not quite identical, adds that the feather headdress is the “Chief’s war helmet”, says specifically that the skulls on the drum are those of defeated enemies, and gives the impression that eggs are broken on the drum as offerings, which would help to explain why fragments of shell are sticking to the drum’s surface.[10]


At first sight, perhaps, the commentaries are not very striking. But, in fact, their very blandness needs explanation. Fritz Ramseyer and his wife were two of a group of four European hostages held by the Asante kingdom in or near its capital, Kumase, from 1869 to 1874. The hostages’ diary published soon after their liberation is one of the classic nineteenth-century depictions of cruel violence in an African setting.[11] It still makes sobering reading, but there is no call to argue that it exaggerates, with its reports of many prisoners of war being sacrificed in the streets of Kumase during parades to mark the homecoming of victorious armies, or during the major annual festivals of the kingdom. Indeed two photographs, probably taken by Ramseyer in the aftermath of the colonial conquest of Asante (which happened nota bene in 1896, after the photograph we are discussing here had been taken) show large heaps of human bones at places in Kumase where the bodies of the executed had been laid aside.[12] With this background one might have expected a certain sensitivity to the sight of skulls bound to a large drum, a pious exclamation about traditional cruelty and the need for peace brought by the Gospel. What significance can we read into the air of bland objectivity in Ramseyer’s commentary?


At one level, Ramseyer probably did believe that “the powers-that-be are ordained of God”[13] and that this applied to chiefs in Africa as well as to presidents and monarchs in the West. As a missionary who spent half of his time in Africa beyond the formal boundary of British colonial authority, and often experienced the British government in the 19th century as weak and unwilling to apply military power, his political theory will have been that the Akan state – even, it seems, at times, Asante itself – was capable of receiving Christian influence and changing. Someone with this basic belief would be slow to speak a categorical condemnation of a particular chief or a particular state.[14]


The most striking passage in his commentary is, of course, the one which suggests that the presence of missionaries had to do with the cessation of the kind of human sacrifice which had provided blood for the consecration and re-consecration of major war drums, and which had generally been believed important for the safety of the community. This is not only a reminder that one of the most important Biblical texts over the whole of Black Africa is the story of Abraham being told by God not to sacrifice Isaac – that the sacrifice of a human being is not required by God.[15] It is also an indication of the dynamics of relationships between a well-anchored Mission – the Basel Mission, with the Ramseyers hardened in the fires of Kumase and determined to see out their lives as missionaries in Ghana – and the local or regional state. The Mission was clearly prepared to invest lives, money and effort in its presence in a remote mountainous area a week’s arduous journey from the locations of British authority on the coast. And to match this the local state, I would argue, had a policy about the Mission. The point well covered in existing analyses of mission history in Ghana is the way a state like Kwahu used the missionaries and their literate employees as points of linkage to the distant colonial power.[16] But the comment about missionaries and the end of human sacrifice suggests very strongly that we have to define the local policy towards the mission much more broadly. It gives us grounds for thinking that the religious policy of the Kwahuhene and the Abetifihene was to welcome the Mission, and to find ways of profiting in a conservative way from the innovations it suggested. It indicates that the political community was capable of developing self-defined programmes of organic reform, indeed was a source of social reform which valued missionary presence as a means to this end.


The “story” of Kwahu and the Ramseyers needs, in fact, to be understood in a complicated and differentiated way, far from the simple dichotomies contrasting heroes of anti-colonial resistance with “Uncle Toms” kow-towing to the colonial masters and their missionary running-dogs. As John Middleton first pointed out a quarter of a century ago, long before the arrival of the Basel missionaries the Akan world was experienced in the reception of religious innovation from North and South.[17] Missionaries and their staff could be classified as prophets and priests in a way familiar to a local population. Most parts of Kwahu, caught between the attempt by a weakened Asante to re-assert a much disliked authority over what had been a tributary province, and the possibilities for change represented by the white presence on the Ghanaian coast, showed how much it was inclined to prefer the link with the Europeans to the well-known perils of Asante domination. As a result the Ramseyers had Abetifi in good memory as a place where they were well-treated when they passed through the town on their forced march to Kumase as prisoners in 1869. From 1876, as missionaries started work in Abetifi after the defeat of Asante in 1874, a Mission House and a Chapel were built which must have involved kilometres of planks and beams being sawn by hand from tropical hardwood, and the cutting of hundreds of thousands of wooden shingles for their roofs, all primarily done by local labour. Although the labourers were paid daily wages it is clear that such a massive amount of work could not have been brought to a successful conclusion without the firm intention locally to see that the mission station was established.[18] And from that time on the Kwahu state’s policy towards the Mission evidently gave the Mission cause to believe change was taking place, and apparently resulted in changes in some important cultural/political practises in the region, not least in terms of the abolition of human sacrifice, before Kwahu, very much at its own prompting, formally came under British rule in 1888 (Plates 4-6).[19] .


For people familiar with the almost miraculous compilations of pre- and early colonial Asante biographies put together in Northwestern University, Ramseyer’s German and French commentaries to Plate 1 (which are, as far as I know, the only extended documentation on this photograph) are highly frustrating.[20] We are given no name for the Swordbearer, no information about his origins, no information about his children or (more to the point, perhaps, in a matrilineal culture) his nieces and nephews. We do not know if, in a region famous for its pre-colonial involvement in long-distance commerce, he was also a trader. In particular we have no direct clue as to how he fitted into the social reform in Kwahu history which we propose was happening.


But we do have the photographs printed here. It is time to look at these photographs of the man himself, and to recall Roland Barthes’ wonderful words


….the photograph is literally an emanation of the referent [here: the person        photographed]. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which         ultimately touch me, who am here …… light, though impalpable, is here a carnal            medium.


We may see a tension, when we contemplate the photograph, between the sword without a cutting-edge, and the skulls on the drum. But there is also a serious question to ask about the relations between the skulls and the man standing beside them. Both the living and the dead are, as it were, sending their radiations to us as we look at this portrait, and demand and deserve our alert contemplation.


Viewers of these photographs will perhaps easily agree on one point. The Swordbearer shows no fear of “losing his shadow” to the camera. Indeed the photographs reproduced here demonstrate a point often forgotten by people who delight in repeating myths of African backwardness. An Akan chief’s court may have had its secret corners, but it was also a place of public display. This chief swordbearer was evidently a particularly strong visual accent in the self-display of the Chief of Abetifi (see Plates 4-6). Like other chiefs, and other retinues – Geary’s book on the King of Bamum is a locus classicus for this (see footnote 3*) – at this time the Abetifihene learned very quickly that being photographed offered a radical extension of the means of display available to him. Our okafonafo is carrying out a new aspect of his professional duties by posing for the camera. There is no anxiety and no ambiguity: his will is that his image will be registered in the photograph and carried beyond the immediate confines of his life and times.


It will be more difficult, perhaps, to come to consensus on what we feel his character and his attitude to the life around him will have been. And yet Barthes’ call to us to respond to our emotions when we hold a photograph of someone in our hands – be they never so distant – urges us to bring powerful and deeply-felt elements into an academic discourse which would be poorer without them.[21] And so I take the liberty of calling on long years of intensive interaction with Ghanaian faces to say that I see this man as someone one could approach with confidence. He has dignity, is experienced and somewhat withdrawn – he is after all primarily loyal to his chief and patron. But basically he is gütig – friendly, a good partner for discussion or negotiation. He does not look like one of the people whom Ramseyer and his wife frequently met during their captivity in Kumase, who glorified in the threat of cruel violence to prisoners and hostages.


Those who have ears to hear will have known for a long time that being an accepted elder in Akan communities means developing the ability to advise generally, to arbitrate in disputes and restore social relations after they have been strained. With this portrait those who have eyes to see will encounter an elder whose abilities also ran in this direction. If I am right in thinking there was a Kwahu policy to meet the Basel Mission’s intention to start a mission station in the region and thereby to promote some social change, then we have a here senior member of the Abetifi court who approved of this policy, and demonstrated this by carrying out his new duty to pose for a missionary’s camera in a friendly if reserved way.



An appendix: on some “radiations” which do not reach us.


To reflect on a strong portrait like that of the Abetifihene’s Swordbearer is one thing. To reflect on radiations which do not reach us – because they were not captured by a camera – can be infinitely more tendentious. But chains of thought can be developed about a lack of images among the results of Ramseyer’s work which is close to being an objective approach to a major theme – the lack of the appearance of women on photographs from the traditional milieu taken by Ramseyer in Kwahu.


Of course, praxis with photographs of people in other cultures, wearing clothing ensembles which are not entirely familiar to us, knows that mistakes can be made with the identification of the sex of those portrayed. But with the Ramseyer photographs of chiefs and their courts in Kwahu I have, so far, found it difficult to identify women, and the more formal the group, the less likely it seems to me to be that women are present.[22] Certainly, his Kwahu photographs do not bear out the frequently-heard assertion in Akan circles that, on a formal occasion, the ohemaa, the “Queen Mother”, or female head of the family of a chief or king, sits on the chief’s left, and a little behind him. If women were present when Ramseyer’s group portraits were taken, they were so firmly in the background as to be virtually invisible. And considering that status is highly important for one category of women in the traditional akan setting (adehye women, so-called “royals”, who are the vital guarantors of the continuation of the matrilineal clan) if no women are visible at places in the group which one might expect to be occupied by high-status women, the logic is that there will have been no women present in the group portrayed.[23] These photographs suggest that we should recognise that there were serious grounds in traditional Akan life for keeping women away from the places where men did politics.


Of course, women are prominent in Ramseyer’s Kwahu photographs. Women are as likely to appear in his photographs in a church/mission setting as men, and there are fine pictures of women engaging in traditional activities like preparing fufu or arranging their hair.[24] But if we remain strictly within the limits of looking at group photographs with a political reference only one woman appears (Plate 5). She is sitting in a prominent place. But she is part of a different scene – she is in the mission delegation at the negotiations to make Kwahu part of the British protectorate, probably the wife of the indigenous pastor who is sitting next to her. If we adopt to this figure the train of thought which has “placed” the swordbearer in the context of political and social developments in Kwahu, and regard this as an area with a long history of interest in social reform, the presence of this woman at a formal political occasion is a highly interesting straw in the wind, a sign of questioning about the position women have in the Akan world, a questioning facilitated by contact with the Mission.


Is this too elaborate an argument to base on the presence of one women and the absence of many more in a small group of photographs? Of course, we are benefitting here from one of the characteristics of good holdings of historical photographs – they can offer information which is absent in the other – relatively – rigorously datable sources available to us, like written reports. But the significance of the presence and absence of radiations from women in the photographs featured can be taken further, and does, to my mind, provide both a confirmation and a complementary suggestion to the reflections on the radiations reaching us from the Swordbearer.


I have argued that the fact that this archive is part of the Mission House in Basel gives its staff the freedom to develop genres of visual analysis inspired by developments in the world of academic research, but not bound to any particular school of interpretation. One of the features of this Sitz im Leben is undoubtedly the links which continue up to the present day between communities like those in Abetifi, and the Basel Mission/Mission 21. These challenge present-day scholars to incorporate the present-day world, as it displays itself in the concrete life of specific communities, in their historical analyses.


One day in 1999 the centenary of a Presbyterian Church institution in the town was celebrated which has been devoted, in different styles and under different names over the years, to adult education in a church context. This event showed that chieftaincy is by no means defunct or merely a matter of folklore in the Akan region of Ghana. The emotional temperature went through the roof when the King of Kwahu appeared in his palanquin with a full train of swordbearers, “linguists”, drummers and horn-blowers.[25] The King’s speech was a fiery endorsement of the idea that the Presbyterian Church in Ghana should open its own university, one of whose campuses should be in Abetifi, a political demarche of considerable significance. Among his horn-players – a post traditionally reserved for men – were two women. They represent a degree of change in the position of women in “traditional” culture and society which we in the West can only expound in the most general terms. But they warn us not to underestimate the possibility of an interest in change with roots going back to a pre-colonial past, a change which goes ahead slowly, perhaps, but in an organic way.


Plate 1. Archive, Mission 21 (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No. D-30.14.056

Original caption (translated): “Head of the swordbearers of [chief] Odow Kwami of Abetifi.”

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date: 1888-1891


The photograph was taken in a chief’s palace, probably the one in Abetifi (see the relief patterns of moulded adobe). The act of photography was not a private event – we can see the arm of another attendant standing on the swordbearer’s left. There seem to have been technical problems with the very bottom of the image – the negative we have (QD-32.024.0339) does not show the swordbearer’s feet, and they have been touched in in this image.






Plate 2. Archive, Mission 21 (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No. QD-30.024.0030

Original Caption (translated): “King’s Herald in full dress, Abetifi”

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date: probably as Plate 1.


Photograph taken in a chief’s palace, probably in exactly the same building as Plate 1 (see the moulded decorations in both) and on the same occasion.









Plate 3. Archive, Mission 21, (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No. D-30.14.049

Original Caption (translated): “Odow Kwame, Chief of Abetifi”

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date: 1888-1895.


An informal group of the chief and some of his servants. There are two other younger swordbearers without headdresses, which confirms the suggestion that our swordbearer was the head of a group, rather than the only one in the Abetifihene’s court. A curious point is that the chief is bare-footed – a situation which according to modern Akan theory should never be allowed. People say nowadays that if his bare foot touches the floor a chief counts as “destooled”, i.e. has been forced to abdicate. This chief’s left foot is bandaged – is he excused wearing sandals because of his injured foot? Or is the assertion about destoolment when a chief’s bare foot touches the ground an example of the rigidity which entered Akan courts’ culture when they became part of the colonial system of Indirect Rule? Or should we argue that this rule only applies on formal occasions, which this probably is not?






Plate 4 Archive Mission 21 (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No. QD-30-041.0041

Original caption (translation): “The King of Kwahu and his entourage on the occasion of the annexation”

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date: May 1888.


Part of the Kwahu delegation at the assembly or durbar in which Kwahu’s annexation to the British Gold Coast Colony was negotiated. The Abetifihene’s head Swordbearer is clearly visible standing almost dead centre.





Plate 5 Archive Mission 21 (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No.D-10.15.010

Original Caption: “The annexation of Okwawu”

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date: May 1888


Seated between two wings of the Kwahu delegation, this photograph shows a small group of people linked to the British DC who conducted the negotiations (he is the prominent African with a walking stick and his sun-helmet on his lap). There is a Hausa police unit, and a few representatives of the Basel Mission, all of whom will have been, at this stage, citizens of a European nation or Gold Coast subjects of Her Majesty. (The empty chair was presumably being used by Ramseyer.) One of the Mission people is an African woman in a long frock, taken in half-profile, sitting on a chair towards the left-hand margin of the photograph. (Note, if you want to put Plates 4 and 5 together in a panorama, that the umbrella with prominent white spots half visible on the right is also visible in QD-30-041.041, as is the chief dressed in an Adinkra cloth.) (Note, too, that the party around the DC is the subject of an image taken at closer range, Ref. No. QD-30.041.0043 on which this woman also appears).





Plate 6 Archive Mission 21 (Basel Mission holdings)

Ref. No. D-30.15.009

Original Caption (translation): “The north of the Gold Coast being taken over – with Rev. Ramseyer from Abetifi and chiefs (each under his umbrella)”.

Photographer: Fritz Ramseyer

Date May 1888



Group photograph, presumably taken after the conclusion of the agreement to make Kwahu part of the Gold Coast Colony, since the seating order has changed from what it was in Plates 4 and 5. Note that “north of the Gold Coast” refers here not to the Northern and Upper Regions of today, but to an area (Kwahu) south and south-east of Asante which was north of the then Gold Coast colony. From left to right at the centre of the photograph are Ramseyer, the Kwahuhene and the DC. Standing 3rd from the left is the chief of Abetifi’s head swordbearer. He is dressed in an Adinkra cloth with the same motif as the chief sitting to the right of the DC – is this the Abetifihene?.


[1] The quotation is taken from Barthes, Roland Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography, the 1981 English translation in an edition from 2000, pp. 80-1.

[2] This is an adapted version of an English essay first published, under this title on pp. 17-32 of (ed.) Katrin Kusmierz et al Grenzen Erkunden – zwischen Kulturen, Kirchen, Religionen – eine Festschrift für Christine Lienemann-Perrin, 417 pp., Frankfurt a/M, 2007.

[3] Geary, Christraud, Images from Bamum. German Colonial Photography at the Court of King Njoya, Cameroon, West Africa, 1902-1915, Washington, 1988, 151 pp.

[4]   An example of the way photographs from this archive can open up new perspectives on the indigenous nature of local church developments in the colonial period is Jenkins, Paul, „Everyday life encapsulated? Two photographs concerning women and the Basel Mission in West Africa c. 1900“, in the Journal of African Cultural Studies 2002 vol 1, pp. 45-60.

[5] My personal suspicion is that in a tightly-organised society like the Basel Mission missionaries were much more able to express their fascination with their African or Asian environment through their photography than through formal official reports. And in any case the reflexive question “with what presuppositions/aesthetic ideas did missionaries take photographs?” needs to be balanced by the question “and what influence did those being photographed have on the way the way they were portrayed?”

[6] For published work emerging from the study of photographs in the context of this archive see for example Jenkins, Paul, “The earliest generation of missionary photographers in West Africa and the portrayal of indigenous people and culture”, History in Africa, 1993, pp. 89-118, reprinted in Visual Anthropology Vol.7 1994, pp. 115-45;   idem „Photographs, engravings, half-tone plates: documenting and evaluating Authenrieth’s rare images of Bakossi [Cameroon] in 1893” – pp. 38-68 in ed. Jürgen Thiesbonenkamp & Helgard Cochois Umwege und Weggefährten. Festschrift. Heinrich Balz zum 65. Geburtstag, 548 pp., Neuendettelsau, 2003, and idem “Much more than illustrations of what we already know: experiences in the Rediscovery of Mission Photography”, pp. 157-162 in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October 2002.

[7]   Ramseyer, Fritz, Achtzig Ansichten von der Goldküste (Westafrika) nach Originalaufnahmen des Missionars Fritz Ramseyer, Neuchatel, 1895, 80 pp. French version Quatre-vingt vues de la Côte d’Or d’Afrique après les originaux du missionaire F.R, also Neuchatel 1895. Judging by evidence about the publication of photographs in the Basel Mission archive these were pioneer efforts, using what was still the new and fairly crude technique of half-tone plates to reproduce photographs without the intervention of an engraver.

[8]   Dating is, unfortunately, an inexact science with photographs from the Basel Mission archive. We have no evidence, however, that Ramseyer was taking photographs before 1888, when he took pictures of an event which can be precisely dated (Plates 4-6). He was on furlough in Europe in 1886, so it may be that he equipped himself for photography in that year, and that his earliest photographs will have been taken in 1887, not 1888. But for the moment I stick to the provable earliest date of 1888. (He did date some 1888 photographs to 1885 himself, but this was clearly an error made much later in his life). We do know Ramseyer left Kwahu in 1896 and moved to Kumase, which gives us a probable final date for photographs of Kwahu. Some Kwahu photographs can be given more precise dates than the bracket 1888-96 – Plate 1 arrived in Basel in 1891, according to a register of accessions in the Basel Mission museum. And, of course, all the photographs which appeared in Achtzig Ansichten….must be dated “1895 or earlier”.

[9] A large number of excellent individual and group portraits of people at the court of the Bamum king (Cameroon) were taken in the years before the First World War by the Basel missionary Anna Rein-Wuhrmann – see Geary op cit (footnote 3*), and, in www.bmpix.org the images in album QE-30.006.

[10] Ramseyer, Achtzig Ansichten, and Quatre-Vingt vues. In both publications this image appears as No. 53.   It is perhaps worth commenting that beside his professional facility in German Ramseyer’s mother-tongue was French, so it is not surprising that the two captions are not quite identical. The remark in German and French that the head-dress belonged to the Chief is useful – two other Abetifi photographs show someone else wearing what is apparently the same head-dress, and comparisons with pictures which show the chief (like Plate 3) indicate that this other person was indeed the chief – www.bmpix.org D-30.14.048 and QD-32.024.0082

[11] Ramseyer, Fritz Vier Jahre in Asante 256 pp., Basel, 1875. French and English versions of this book also appeared, but as Adam Jones has shown quite clearly, the German version is most extensive, and almost certainly closest to the original text (Jones, Adam, “Four years in Asante: one source or several?”, History in Africa 1991, pp. 173-203). It is worth adding that the indication which these publications present that the hostages were keeping a diary in Kumasi has to be treated with care. No original text such as might have been written in Kumase has come to light in Basel or Neuchatel, Ramseyer’s home town.

[12] www.bmpix.org, QD-32.024.0377, QD-30.044.0068

[13] This is a reference to a central New Testament saying about political power – Romans c.13 v.1.

[14] This stress on the weakness of colonial power may seem strange to people who remember that the Ramseyers were directly involved in three massive British interventions in f Asante – in 1874, 1896 and 1900. But he was close enough to high British officials to have known very clearly that military power was favoured and approved only in extreme situations. He and his wife had had to wait a long time before the British Government reacted with military force to their being held hostage in Kumase.

[15] Genesis c. 22.

[16] Haenger, Peter, Die Basler Mission im Spannungsbereich afrikanischer Integrationsversuche und europäische Kolonialpolitik, 139 pp., Basel (MA thesis in History), 1989.

[17] Middleton, John, “One hundred and fifty years of Christianity in a Ghanaian town”, Africa, 1983, pp. 2-18.

[18] The workers on the building-site did, in fact, strike for better pay, so the payments they received are not a sufficient explanation for the completion of what was, with the technology available, a massive and labour-intensive building project.

[19] The missionaries’ reports, of course, are full of complaints about Kwahu non-compliance to what they were teaching. But we must be careful to distinguish between germanophone pietist missionary perfectionism and what people in Kwahu could reasonably be expected to do. And the blandness of Ramseyer’s commentary to Plate 1 – to the continuation of sacrifice but change of the sacrificed object – suggests that he understood this very well.

[20] Published in the North Western University’s periodical Asante Seminar, later Asantesem

[21] Much of Barthes’ Camera Lucida is about the emotions which arise when one looks at photographs, e.g. p. 82, where he writes “…the Photograph astonishes me….” (my emphasis).

[22] The bulk of the photographs of chiefs and their courts on which this essay is based are identified as having been taken in Abetifi. Three photographs each with traditional groupings were taken in Obomeng and [Kwahu] Nkwatia. Photographs from these places can be called up in www.bmpix.org by following the path: Search > I agree > geography > modern state > Africa > Ghana > modern region > Eastern Region: and then selecting on the list of places from which we have photographs in the Eastern Region, one at a time > Abetifi, > Nkwatia, > Obomeng. Some photographs of the Kwahuhene and his court could not be coded to a place, and are to be found under search > I agree > proper names > A > Akuamoa [King].

[23]   The publication referred to in footnote 4* includes a photograph of the Queen-Mother of Akwapim in a group portrait, but this particular woman performed a dual role as Queen-Mother and pastor’s wife, and it is the pastor’s family which was the subject of this photograph. Photograph D-30.020 in www.bmpix.org does show a formal group around the Begorohene, which seems to have a woman sitting with a child a little behind and to the left of the chief. Begoro lies to the south of Kwahu, in the state of Akyem Abuakwa, which, though also an Akan state, may follow traditions which in detail are somewhat different to those of its neighbours to the north. .

[24] D-30.24.013 in www.bmpix.org is a particularly attractive image, with women sitting in the open air and evidently getting ready to have their hair-arrangements photographed. Behind them a sheet is spread out along a fence to provide the simple backdrop for a missionary’s mobile open-air photo studio. The bmpix catalogue attributes this photograph to Fritz Ramseyer, and dates it to between 1888-1908.

[25] Personal observation