John Kabes (John Cabess or John Cabes) (c. 1640s-1722) was a prominent African trader, entrepreneur and a State-builder in the port city of Komenda, part of the Eguafo Kingdom, in the Gold Coast (Ghana). Although he was a major British ally and was a supplier to the British Royal African Company but he nevertheless played them against other Europeans competitors.
British Fort Komenda (left) and Dutch Fort Vredenburgh (right). Note the peculiar architecture of Fort Komenda in the plan of the fort (lower left).
As a trader, he became a strong economic and political force in the coastal region in the early 1700s, playing an active role in the Komenda Wars, the rise of the Ashanti Empire, the expansion of British involvement in West Africa, and the beginnings of large-scale Atlantic slave trade. Because of his combined economic and political power, historian Kwame Daaku named Cabess one of the “merchant princes” of the Gold Coast in the 1700s. He was arguably the first native African millionaire trader that transacted business and was in competition with Europeans. He paved the way for other famous Gold Coast rich Caboceers like Eno Baissie Kurantsi (John Corrente) of anomaboand Cudjoe of Cape Coast.
The Komenda Wars of the Gold Coast 1694-1700
John Kabes as a trader cum political leader had a career spanning nearly forty years, he established the paramount stool of Komenda, hitherto part of the inland state of Eguafo. Kabes began as a trader for the English (and sometimes for the Dutch) and gradually achieved political status which, however it may have been acquired, proved to be lasting because it was acceptable to existing political mores. “Such of Kabes’s activities as are known suggest that his success sprang from his ability to wring advantage from the new exigencies of the time and place in ways which enabled him to acquire legitimacy as well as wealth and influence. Although Kabes’s career is uniquely documented there is no reason to suppose that it was particularly unusual in its other facets. On this argument it can suggest ways in which other West African trade-derived polities, particularly in the Niger delta, may have coalesced.”
He died in 1722, but his heirs continued to exert economic power in the port for the remainder of the 18th century.
Komenda town in Central Region, Ghana
John Kabes was born sometime in the 1640s or 1650s (the record of his birth is unclear) in Akatakyi (Komenda). The Komenda Tradtional Area is bounded on the east by Elmina, on the west by Shama, on the north by Wasa, on the north-east by Eguafo and Abrem in the Central Region. The capital of the State is Akatakyi, which means “the town of great people” known in European records as Little Commendo, while describing the Komenda State as British Commendo.
Komenda traditions allege that their ancestors originally lived at Takyiman in present-day Brong Ahafo Region, and that they formed part of the Borbor Fante emigrants which broke off in search of peace and security, because in those days the Takyiman area was constantly in great turmoil-there were wars and rumours of war.
The Komenda dissidents were under the leadership of Nana Kome as they trekked southwards; however, Nana Kwarhin (Who later founded Kwarhinkrom), was the pathfinder of Twafohin for Nana Kome till they reached Mankessim, the nursery ground for Fante ideas and institutions.
Earlier, the whole congregation had settled at Kwaman (Akan-manmu) close by a rivulet, where the three warlords namely Oburumankoma, Odapagyan and Oson died and their remains carried to Mankessim and interred in a nearby grove which became the famous Nana Pow. When the Fantes were afflicted by any misfortune they turned to the deity. Nananom in the night.
At Mankessim, the Borbor Fante lived in five quarters- Nkusukum, Anaafo or Ntsetse, Edumadze, Bentsi and Kurentsi Amanfo, each quarter enjoyed absolute independence of the other.
They settled at Mankessim a long time before they began to form new territorial state, leaving behind the Kurentsi Amanfo, however the quarters of Edumadze and Kusukum left Abaatam in their original quarters at Mankessim.
After their, departure from Mankessim, Nana Kome and his followers first settled at Komantse, and as they were leaving this place the younger brother called Kome Kuma refused to accompany the main party and chose to stay behind. Soon the Asante army invaded the area and Kome Kuma was captured. It is alleged that his elder brother felt aggrieved and exclaimed. “If Kome Kuma had listened to me, he wouldn’t have been captured”. The expression in Fante was Komeantse or Kormantse.
Earlier, they had stopped briefly at Biriwa, a fishing village, and thence to Yamoransa (Akatakyiwa in Nkusukum). Where after a sojourn a few remnants were left behind, while the bulk of the people followed Nana Kome to the land of Eguafo.
Nana Kome approached the king of Eguafo, humbly requesting for a piece of land to settle on. He was told to help the Eguafo to get rid of a monster which disturbed them a lot. Nana Kome’s gallant fighters took up the challenge and got the monster killed.
Then Nana Kome and the king of Eguafo drank fetish that henceforth the Akatakyi would occupy the land between Kankan (Dutch Komeda) and the mouth of the Pra River. Up to the second half of the 18th century, the king of Eguafo controlled the stretch of coast from the west bank of the Benya River to the estuary of the river Pra. In those days, Jabi (Shama), Elmina, Abrem and Efutu were part of the Eguafo state.
The story is that the monster killed by the gallant fighters was known as Ekyi, which gave them the new name AKATAKYI. Finally they left for Mmaado where they build the Akatakyi State. The chiefs spied the land and then came to inform Nana Kome, where each wanted to stay, and were accordingly granted permission to build their various towns and villages.
TOWNSMIGRANT LEADERS RULING CLAN ANCESTRAL HOME
1. Akatakyi Nana Kome (Omanhin) Abrade Takyiman
2. Aboransa Kweenu Amoa (Nifahin) Abrade “
3. Antardo Ansah Pregow ( Antardohin) Abrade “
4. Bisease Kwedu and Aban (Kyidomhin) Abrade “
5. Dominase Kumi Kuma and Kwesi Ebeng Abrade “
6. Dompoa Kobinko and Sumawuah (Benkumhin) Abrade “
7. Kokwaaso Kwansan (Kokwaadohin) Abrade “
8. Kwarhinkrom Kwarhin (Twafohin) Abrade “
9. Kyiasik Ofiram (Kyiasihin) Anona Tarkwa Dunkwa (Denkyira)
10. Kissi Barima Kissi (Adontenhin) Abrutuw Asankare Breman (Wassa)
11. Ahwene Amoakwa Kouna Wamaso
Komenda in the past strongly determined to maintain their loyalty and allegiance to the British when so many invasions and attacks were made by the Portuguese, Danes and the Dutch who were exploiting the west coast of Africa.
Thus, J. K. Fynn (1974) remarked that the political growth of Akatakyi from a dependent market centre into an autonomous city-state was largely the outcome of the perpetual tension between rival European trading companies which competed among themselves for commercial supremacy on the Eguafo coast, Akatakyi in which the English fort stood became a fast growing town and enabled the Komeda chiefs to rival the Eguafo kings in importance and power. Thus the name Komenda is derived from the name of the towns founder Nana “Kome.”
Anyway, it is believed that John Kabes was the son of John Cabessa, who had been a prominent African official working for the British at Fort Amsterdam in the 1660s. The older Cabessa was most noted in British reports for committing suicide rather than become a captive while the Dutch were attacking Fort Amsterdam.
Dutch Fort Vredenburgh, Komenda
The flowering of the Atlantic trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused many of the West African societies of the near hinterland to orient themselves increasingly toward the coast. This new focus created new geopolitical conformations. Given the nature of the stimulus, trade and politics went hand in hand and entrepreneurial ability could reap political rewards. These possibilities were greatest along the Gold Coast and in the Niger delta where the actual European presence was small in relation to the extent of the trade
The city of Komenda, part of the Kingdom of Eguafo, had become a major trade port in the later parts of the 17th century. The British and French wanted to get a foothold in the port in order to break the Dutch monopoly over trade in the Gold Coast. The Dutch, in contrast simply saw it as a secondary port to support its other operations in the area. In this situation, Cabess moved to Komenda in the 1670s to work with the British attempts to establish trade relationships in the port. The primary African merchant to the British in the port was a trader named Captain Bracon in the 1670s; however, by 1686, Cabess had taken over this position.
By the 1680s, Cabess had established himself as a key merchant in Komenda. Henige speculates that Cabess came to Komenda between 1683 and 1685.A British trader emphasized his control over trade and relations in the port by exclaiming that without Cabess in Komenda “nothing will be done.” At this point, he provided shells, food, and manpower for fort and factory construction by the Royal African Company in Komenda and elsewhere along the coast. Eventually, Cabess became a major slave trader out of the port of Komenda supplying thousands of slaves on a continual basis.
His refusal to trade with the Dutch significantly slowed their ability to build facilities and when the French took an interest in developing a factory at Komenda they offered Cabess a significant amount of gold to help them in the project (a deal which was never finalized). Cabess had significant negotiating leverage in his relationship with the British which sometimes resulted in tense relations. In 1687, tensions between Cabess and the Royal African Company representative in the fort, William Cross, resulted in Cross being forcibly removed from the post. Similar situations occurred in 1698 and 1714, both times with the British representative being replaced at the request of Cabess.
In 1688, Cabess was panyarred by the Dutch, a practice common in the area where merchants and traders would be captured by other merchant forces and their goods would be taken. The British merchants secured Cabess’ release and according to some accounts this is what precipitated his attack on Dutch miners in 1694 which started the Komenda Wars. In 1690 during a war between the Dutch and French trading companies, the British factory was burnt down and they left the area. Cabess therefore began supplying goods and manpower to the Dutch.
During the Komenda Wars (1694-1700), Cabess provided crucial assistance to the British position and actively supported their return to Komenda. In 1694 and 1695, Cabess attacked the Dutch fort on multiple occasions and during negotiations with the Dutch commander, Willem Bosman, the Dutch commander attempted to shoot Cabess but missed.With the end of the wars after 1700 and the rise of the Ashanti Empire in trade along the coast, Cabess became a crucial middleman in the port city. British traders complained that Cabess would prevent traders from directly entering Komenda and instead intercept them outside of the city trading for their goods and then charging a higher rate to the British, while keeping some of the best goods for himself. Cabess then became a monopsonist and monopolist able to manage contacts with multiple sellers and multiple buyers but keeping them from directly contacting each other and thus centralizing buying and selling within his control.
The economic position of Cabess brought him into conflict with the British in the early 1700s with him and the British commander at the fort, Dalby Thomas, becoming quite hostile to one another by 1705. However, although he traded with the Dutch, he remained a significant British ally for the rest of his life and the tension quickly decreased. This economic position also introduce rivalries with other African powers: a series of hostile activities between Twifo and Cabess in 1714 required the adjudication of Ashanti diplomats.
Economic importance translated into increasing political importance and Cabess became the virtual leader of Komenda, which began to be less a subordinate to the city of Eguafo and gradually became an equal. In addition, Cabess begun owning significant land around Komenda that he directly controlled. Originally, he controlled a few huts around the British fort, but by 1714 this included a sizable area. At the time of his death, he largely held sovereign power along the coast and had become the possessor of his own stool (a symbol of leadership amongst the Akan people) which would later be passed to his descendents.
Cabess died in June 1722 in Komenda. The British and Dutch feared a large succession struggle by the many heirs of Cabess. The RAC administrators dispatched an officer to provide gifts to those members most likely to take the place of Cabess. His body was buried at the British fort in Komenda after a public viewing of his body. His son Ahenaqua took over much of the trade and political power of Cabess, without a recorded succession struggle, and until the chiefs at Cape Coast became predominant over Komenda in the mid-1700s, the main official at Komenda, the Caboceer, governed on what was known as “the stool of the late John Cabess.”