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  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  whose special subject was the evolution of ethics out of primitive religion,
and it was not meant to sound as derogatory as it does now, but it expresses
quite accurately the central purpose of his book.

  In Ashanti Proverbs we can see the germ of his later books on Ashanti,
  but it is not very much in itself. It is fairly obviously the work of a busy
Assistant D.C. who has had to fit in discussions of the Supreme Being,
Fetishism, Ghosts, Witches, Animals, Birds, War, Childhood, Old Age,
Death, Chiefs, Slaves, Hunger, Sickness, Folly and Wisdom, Truth and
Falsehood, Fire, Water, Rivers, Rain, and many others, between trials for
petty thieving and supervision of road-making. it is a not altogether
satisfactory bundle of anthropological and linguistic notes, but it did give
much new information, and it established some important principles which
Rattray was to hammer home in his later books. The first was that the
supreme God, Onyame, was not introduced into Ashanti mythology by
Christian missionaries, but had always been a central feature of it. The
second was that ‘fetish worship’ was a most unsatisfactory term for Ashanti
religion, which was not simple idolatry (in Ashanti Proverbs he was quite
tentative about this; he was much more  emphatic in his later books). And
third, words like ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’ were hardly applicable to a
people who could express ideas of the complexity and subtlety of many of
the proverbs. The divided state of his mind on this subject is shown by the
way his subtitle: Primitive Ethics of a Savage People contradicts his own
statement at the end of his Author’s Note:

  ‘These few words the present writer has felt in duty bound to say, lest
  the reader, astonished at the words of wisdom which are now to follow,
refuse to credit that a “savage” or “primitive” people could possibly have
possessed the rude philosophers, theologians, moralists, naturalists, and
even, it will be seen, philologists, which many of these proverbs prove
them to have had among them.’33

  His administrative work brought him in tough with the ‘court’ at
  Mampong, which was the traditional capital of the state to which Ejura was
subsidiary and which, more than any other area, was to be ‘his’ Ashanti.
The Omanhene (Paramount Chief) was Owusu Sekyere, who had managed

  33Ibid.pp.11, I2.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  to avoid the exile of most of the older Ashanti amanhene, not by being pro-
British but  by being against the exiled Asantehene, Prempeh, whose forces
his own had fought on more than one occasion. It was his first introduction
to ‘those wonderful old men and women’ as he used to call the Ashanti
aristocracy of the older generation; and especially the royal family of
Mampong, amongst whom he made many close personal friends. No doubt
there was an element of snobbery in his preference for chiefs and queen
mothers (though they do not have the rarity value of their European
equivalents). The idea of royalty inheriting the mantle of a past of heroic
wars appealed to him. But a ‘royal’ who is prepared to crouch on a low
stool, dressed only in a plain cloth and sandals, and is considered as a close
relative to as many as a sixth of the ‘commoners’ in the town, is not really
an object of snobbery in the European sense. It was rather that many of
them possessed in reality the virtues which old people in their culture were
supposed to possess: knowledge, kindliness, wisdom and philosophic
detachment. ‘I wonder what it is,’ he wrote later, ‘that seems so often to
ennoble these Africans of the past generation, and gives to them that
indefinable something which their Europeanised fellow-countrymen so
often seem to lack. It seems to me like some hand reaching out of the past
and linking them with it. It gives the old illiterates a quiet confidence in
themselves at times when a man feels quite alone, which he is apt to do in
the presence of strangers of an alien race.’34

  Three books in three years was no mean achievement, when it is
  considered that he was carrying out his duties as Assistant D.C. to
everyone’s satisfaction (Fuller described him as ‘a hard-working energetic
officer’, and Phillbrick — Fuller’s Second-in-Command — as ‘a very
promising young officer indeed’),
35 as well as his studies in Oxford. It is
almost phenomenal if we bear in mind that he was almost continuously ill
with malaria and dysentery. He spent the first part of his leaves in 1911,
1912 and 1914 in hospitals and nursing-homes, until the Colonial Office
virtually commanded him to do less work.

  By 1914, the first part of his Eight-Year Plan (as it turned out to be)
  was finished, and he was ready to take the exam for the anthropology
diploma. In June he sat the papers in Physical Anthropology, Ethnology,

  34R.S. Rattray: ‘The Mausoleum of Ampon Agyei’ in Blackwood's Magazine, June
  1928, p. 846.

  35Foreign Office Rattray file.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  Social Anthropology and Archaeology and Technology. To no one’s
surprise except perhaps his own, he passed well. A few days later, he found
his names in the papers. Lewis Harcourt, Secretary of State for the
Colonies, had referred to him in a speech at the Corona Club. ‘If the
Governor wanted any further assistance,’ he said, ‘he need only apply to
the polyglot Mr Rattray who, having qualified in all known languages of
the coast, had now acquired many others for which it was impossible to
reward him, because no examiner could be found to certify his proficiency
(Laughter).’36  Then, as if to complete the rite of passage from an obscure
official to a member of the colonial establishment, on the 29th June he was
married in a registry office to Mrs Constance Mary Stanley, a divorcée
whom he had met just after he had come ashore in March.

  Paragraph II of the ‘General Conditions of Service’ for West Africa in
  his day reads as follows:

  ‘Accommodation for European women and children is in many places
  .... not available; and the conditions of life are generally unsuitable to
them. Officers therefore should not take their wives out with them until
they have acquired experience of the local conditions and have
ascertained the views of the Governor or High Commissioner on the

  It did not say what officers were supposed to do when conditions were
  unsuitable for European women, and from this distance it is hard to sort
out fact from myth. Rattray was certainly not a puritan, and he was
certainly susceptible to the attraction of African women. Those who should
know say that virtually all district officers had a black girl in their bed at
one time or another, and inevitably Rattray came under the charge of
‘sleeping with his dictionaries.’ But my guess is that when he met Connie
Stanley he was at a point of crisis in his emotional life, feeling that he
would have to decide very soon (he was thirty-three) whether he would
remain a bachelor ‘Coaster’, ‘unfit for the company of decent women’: or
whether he would face the problems involved in setting up an English

  36Report in The Morning Post June 19, 1914.

37The Gold Coast Civil Service List (1917) pp.335,336.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  home in the West African bush. The trouble with the first was that he
wanted some stability and respectability in his life, and with the second that
he was going to find it hard to give up his freedom. Actually, this is rather
more than guess, because Rattray said almost as much in the fictionalised
version of his marriage in his unfinished novel Missianna:

  ‘(He) had literally “picked her up” some days after his return to
  English, following a long period of African service, during which he
had been entirely cut off from the society of white women. He was,
therefore, still in that rather dangerous, super-charged state, resulting
from enforced isolation and self-imposed continence, when he was
almost certain to fall in love with the first pretty woman he met. He thus
became an easy prey to (Constance), not that she had to do much
hunting, for he wanted to possess her from the moment in which he had
first surprisedly espied her ....

  (She) had large blue “Irish Eyes”, long lashes, jet black hair, a
  beautiful complexion, good teeth .... Her voice was surprisingly pleasant
and refined. Only when she laughed over-heartily did her laughter jar
somewhat on Bob Allen’s sensitive ear. This, and an occasional
mispronunciation of certain words, a fondness for catch- phrases, a
predilection for pertness in her retorts, were, however, all minor details
which did not seem then to matter greatly to (him) ....’

  Women did not bring out the best in him. The snobbery in these
  remarks is a symptom of his mistrust of his own feelings, of his attraction
towards physical beauty rather than goodness or intellect, and it provided a
breeding ground for his worst trait of all, his jealousy. Connie was
(naturally) not an innocent, which suited him very well at the time, but that
confirmed his feeling that she appealed to the ‘lower’ side of his nature (the
nostalgie de la boue’, which most anthropologists share). He said
afterwards that even in the registry office a voice was telling him that it
would end badly, and, as it turned out, history did not help. Almost in the
minute when they stepped ashore at Accra, Britain and Germany declared
war on each other. Rattray was not one to let even a new wife stand
between him and his destiny.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  Chapter 5 Rattray’s War

  It is not widely known that the first men to die in the First World War
  in an engagement between British and German forces were Ghanaians (as
they would now be called). In fact, by a quirk of historial geography, it is
probably true to say that the first people to fall on both sides would now be
called Ghanaians. The reason is that whereas British Troops had to cross
the Channel to reach Europe, the Gold Coast shared a frontier with the
German Protectorate of Togoland which is now divided between Ghana
and modern Togo.

  The Rattrays arrived in Kumasi just as the Gold Coast Regiment was
  being mobilised there for the invasion of Lome, and Connie was given her
first clear message that her husband’s life was not entirely centred in her.
In his own words, he ‘raved about Coomassie, cabled, wired, etc., and 2
hrs before the troops left I got orders from Governor to join the Field
Force as P.O. (Political Officer).’ The idea was that as soon as the military
work was over, civil servants would be needed to take charge of the
German territories. But Rattray had no intention of missing the fighting.
He had no doubts at all that with his Boer War experience he would prove
indispensable to the army.

  Not surprisingly, Connie put up some resistance to his leaving her after
  a month of marriage and a week in the White Man’s Grave. But he failed
to understand her objections, put her in the charge of the Officer
Commanding in Kumasi, and left for Accra.

  Although Lome, the capital of Togoland, was only a mile from the Gold
  Coast border, the invasion force was sent from Accra by sea, the reason
being that road communication to the border would have been slower (on



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  principle, it was always made difficult to travel between the various
European colonies). Meanwhile a certain Beckley of the Land Preventive
Service in Keta, near the Togo frontier, had at each sunset been lighting
bonfires at intervals of about a mile along the border. He then bicycled
with his bugler from one to the other, sounding the Last Post. This gave
the Germans the impression that the Gold Coast Regiment was already
knocking at their doors, and by the time the invasion force actually arrived
at Lome, the Germans had abandoned it and retreated to Kamina, some 100
miles to the north, where they had an important radio station.

  In Lome, using his Boer War experience as argument, Rattray managed
  to exchange his role as Political Officer for a commission in the army as
Captain (a title he always used in later life) and Intelligence Officer. The
rest of his experience in the Togo campaign is best left to his own words,
in a letter he sent home to his sister Boo as soon as it was over:



  (Postmark 14.9.14)

  Witch Darling,

  I’ve not written you, partly because no time, partly because one has
  the feeling letters will all be read.

  Well, Witch, I’m not the worm you’ve been thinking. I’d have died if
  I had (been?).

  I raved about Coomassie, cabled, wired, etc., and 2 hrs before the
  troops left I got orders from Governor to join the Field Force as P.O.
(Political Officer).

  You’ve seen all the rot about Togo surrendering (the first lot). They
  evacuated Lome, the coast town, and went about 100 miles north to
KAMINA where they had a big wireless, the finest in the world, which
they could talk to Germany with. They blew up bridges and cut wires
and sat down to await us there.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  Lt.Col. Vincent was in charge of the force.

He’s a topper, and it’s thanks to him I every got here.

Well, P.O. didn’t exactly suit me, I found. So I got a commission and
  taken on Headquarter staff as I.O. (Intelligence Officer) — “Captain

  Then the fun began. Native scouts are all unreliable. When they don’t
  want to go ahead, they come back and report they were caught by vast
hords (sic) of the enemy. So I took on Chief Scout (as well as I.O.), with
the night in the bush alone or with a faithful Hausa man or two.

  I just lived!!

I got right through the German line twice. Once, I was 12 hrs ahead
  of our advance guard and have come into AGBELUFOE in my sox!!
(sic) at 7 p.m. Found all clear. The Germans had left it that day. Sent a
despatch back to say all clear, on receipt of which the column were to do
a night march.

  I dossed down at the railway station. About 3 a.m. I heard a rumbling
  and a whistling, and had just time to dash across the line and hide in the
long grass.

  A long train pulled up and gutteral (sic) gabbling and lights flitting
  about about (sic).

  You can guess my feeling. I lived 10 yrs in as many seconds.

You see, I had sent back a message to say all clear, and we
38 were
  marching up (the) road which ran parallel with (the) line, so I guessed
the Germany were going down to ambush us.

  Well, Witch, you’d have done it too, I guess. I opened fire on ’em at
  about 5 yds, tried to shoot the driver and yelled:

  “Hurrah! Come in, troops!”

I emptied my magazine into the engine and cab.

  38I.e. the British forces — not Rattray himself



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  There was a hullabaloo and a screeching and off went the train.39 I
  would have been riddled had they fired back, but never a shot.

  I simply gasped with wonder at my luck. Then I got out (of) the bush,
  mounted a bike and tore back, meeting our advance guard coming in,
about 6 miles out. Reported. Potter (Capt.) sent off Lt. Collins to dash
across and cut line behind us, and — Witch — we had ’em — cut line
between them and the North.

  Well, I forget. It seems almost as soon as (the) first train had passed, a
  second came down, but they got wind of us and cleared out, dashing
through station as we came in.
40 So, here we were at AGBOLOFOE,
only 50 men and a machine gun, and 150 Germans and machine guns
(this we found out later was what the train I fired on had) south of us cut
off, but an open line running north down which we expected
reinforcements to come to help them.

  We spent all day pushing salt bags and loopholing the wall of the wee
  railway ticket office.

  About 4 p.m. the enemy we had cut off began to feel their way back,
  and at dark brought up the machine gun. Witch, it was just topping!

  50 of us and our Maxim in our little fort and the bullets pattering on
  the roof like rain.

  Potter made me second-in-command, as Lt. Collins and Lt. Blakely
  were out on advanced picquets. We had 17 of the old Preventive Service
men with us, besides the Half Coy. of I(infantry).

  The Germans didn’t put up much of a show and never once tried to
  rush us, the sole idea being to break through. They blew bugles and
cheered and pumped in lead with the machine gun, but did d- little
damage. We had 5 killed only, poor devils — we had no doctor. At
dawn, a dirty bit of paper was brought in, saying some wounded officers
were in the bush. Thomson & R.S. (Rattray) went out with a flag of
truce and brought 3 in, and one dead — Capt. Phaler.

39 I.e. southwards (see our paragraphs below).

40I.e. they came from the north and — unlike the previous train — went back
  northwards (see next paragraph).



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  Also, we found their machine gun abandoned on the road.

About 6 a.m. I went down to see how Lt. Collins had got on. He had a
  picket down the line.

  He was O.K. About 1,200 yds down the line was their train with a
  whole crowd of ’em standing about it!!!

  I ran back to Potter and reported, and he sent me down with a flag of
  truce because I told him I knew German!!

  I walked down the line with an old towel on a stick. Three officers
  came up. Lots of saluting — bowing and scraping.

  I demanded unconditional surrender instanter.

After conferring for a few minutes, they said “We will surrender on
  no condition”.

  We saluted and 5 min. after, the Col. Sergeant [Colour Sergeant] and I
  had the maxim on ’em and Collins was attacking from the flank. My new
elephant gun was used, Witch. It does kick!

  Well, to cut a long story short, up went the white flag and all the lot
  surrendered, including the train. Witch! When they came in, they cursed
and damned me and fumed and asked why they had been fired on, as
they had surrendered to me already!!

  Witch! Witch! “We surrender on no condition” meant “We surrender
  unconditionally”! Grand, wasn’t it? And the swine had never meant not
to surrender, and were petrified at being shot at again.

  When they complained later to the Col. he told them curtly they had
  better learn English!!!

  That was our first fight, Witch, and your twin fired the first shot in
  this little war.

  The second fight was at Chra River on 22nd Aug (7 days later). I
  can’t tell you all about it. It would take too long.

  We lost 60 killed and wounded, or 17% of our total force.

An advance patrol of French and English had gone on nights (?)
  before, and forced to retire. I wasn’t with ’em as I’d been out all day and
night before, and was coming on with main body that day. About 6 a.m.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  I was jogging along with the battery on a captured “Fleeing Swallow”
[horse], when we heard heavy firing. I galloped on to see what (was) up.
A long straight road in front. Not a soul in sight. I knew we had a patrol
out the day before and never expected anything to happen, when
suddenly “Zip Zip” began. I jumped off Fleeing Swallow and tied him
up behind a big baobab tree. I had hardly got off him, when he was shot
through both forelegs. Then I ran down the road towards the firing,
crouching low and running along the side of the ditch that flanked the
road. There was a corn (Indian) field on both sides, and I could see a
village about 900 yds ahead. I had gone about 200 yds when I saw some
of our men lying flat beside a culvert under the road, which I knew
would have excellent cover, and was making for this when suddenly the
air became littery (sic) lashed with hissing things. I fell flat and tried to
burrow into the grass — only a few inches high.

  Well, Witch, for ten minutes I was lying flat and over me was a
  lashing hail of bullets passing about 2-3 feet above me. I knew what it
was at once — a machine gun (Maxim). As I lay here, I heard calling
from the culvert only about 10 yds away, and shouted out, when (illeg.)
the Col. answered and told me they were snug and I had better make a
dash for it. I tried to worm along the ground, but the second I started
the lashing of the air began. I knew then that I could be seen by the
enemy. Well, Witch, I gave a wee thought of you and lay quite still. I
expected to get it every second, as they had only to lower the machine
gun a few inches and the stream passing over me would have gone into

  I wasn’t awfully frightened, but expected it was up. Then there was a
  complete lull and I guessed the machine gun belt had run out, so I dashed
for it and fell slap among the staff in a pool of dirty water as I got under
the culvert.

  There were about 6 officers under it, all as snug as could be.

Well, Witch, we all sat here for about an hour. If you put a hand out
  either side, the machine gun began.

  You remember I said I was with the battery? Well, we expected it up
  soon, and sure enough a whizzzz and a bang and the first of our big gun
shells went over us and burst in the village, then another and another.
Then a lot of our black troops came up and advanced among the corn
fields and began a furious blazing away of ammunition. The Col. was
furious and I volunteered to go out and stop ’em and ran out in the corn


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