“Love of Stone Houses”: Urban Merchants, Ancestral Spaces and Sacred Objects on Africa’s Gold Coast, 1700-1890


ACLS Fellowship Program


Art and Design


At the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Gã and Fante merchants on the Gold Coast increasingly collateralized private property— ancestral stone houses and family heirlooms — rather than captive strangers to secure European and American credit on imported merchandise. But Gold Coast merchants risked losing their ancestral houses and goods despite potentially gaining access to overseas capital. Over time, commercial real estate superseded the sacred value of ancestral spaces but not without lingering spiritual anxieties. Drawing on archival, ethnographic, and multilingual sources, this project broadens the discussion of African and African diaspora history and art history by introducing discussions about real estate in addition to sacred relics most often associated with African material cultures. While trade goods and relics carried economic valence and value as property, they operated as expressions of power and spirituality embodied within fortified stone houses.