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Meet John Kabes: Prominent African Trader, Entrepreneur, State-builder, and One of First African Millionaires in West Africa

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.

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