We have travelled by train to Mangoase, thence up the line to Tafo; and from Tafo we have returned by car to Kof oridua, where we are now staying.
It is early morning. The sun has only just risen, but we are up and dressed and sitting on the verandah of the bungalow that has been our happy home for the past two days. Eagerly we watch the road that skirts the garden.
Presently, round a bend in the road comes a figure carrying a white bag on his head. He is followed by another and another, each balancing a headload that looks as if it might be a bundle of linen. We snatch up our sun helmets and hurry out. The spectacle for which we have been waiting has begun . . . the farmers and their families are bringing in their cocoa for sale.
By the time we reach the road, crowds of carriers are in sight. On they come, in an endless but broken procession of groups, twenty, thirty, fifty or more men, women and children to the group. Everyone is heading a load of something to market, and most of the loads consist of sixty pounds of cocoa beans in a white or blue and white cotton wrapper. Some of the very small pickins have loads which look bigger than themselves. At intervals a man appears on the scene, rolling along an enormous barrel; these barrels contain 5 cwt. or half a ton of cocoa beans, according to whether they are of the puncheon or butt size.
The prevailing style of dress is a more or less scanty attire, but the whole effect of the costumes in this great march of darkies to market is very picturesque. Here comes a man in a blue and white "toga" cloth, which is draped to leave black legs, arms and right shoulder bare and free; he is heading cocoa beans in a white cotton bag. Follows a youth bare to the waist and up to the knees, but clad about the loins with an indigo and cinnamon hued cloth of Oriental design, worn short-petticoat fashion; his headload of cocoa beans is in a blue and white wrapper. Close behind comes a striking study in black and white; a woman whose black skin shines like ebony against her dull black draperies is balancing a white cotton load on her woolly head. Striding with stately gait alongside this woman is a tiny pickin, who helps himself along with a pilgrim's staff; he is wearing a ragged nightshirt and a scarlet and gold smoking cap, and by the help of a blue and white head-pad he balances a huge brass bowl piled up with plantains. His near neighbouring, childish companions in the procession include a little girl dressed in a string of beads, who is heading a load of cocoa to market, and a small boy in bathing drawers, who is almost lost to view under the bundle of wood stacked up on his head.
Similar processions to that in which we are joining are now wending their way to Nsawam, Mangoase and Tafo, and to numerous sub-stations which are feeders for the main buying stations in the Accra district. Similar activities, too, are in progress in the Winnebah cocoa district and in the cocoa-growing region of Ashanti. And throughout the season, similar busy scenes, and others at which we are just going to have a peep, are matters of daily occurrence.
Cocoa beans in the Gold Coast and Ashanti are all grown and prepared for market by natives. The buyers, however, are natives and Europeans.
The trading methods of the native buyers are apt to be against the best interests of the industry. All the native traders are more or less educated, and their knowledge encourages an inborn instinct for trading to make opportunities for what they consider "smart' dealings. Many of them take advantage of their ignorant farmer brethren by means of such tricks as can be played by people who understand the working of scales and are able to count and do a little mental arithmetic. Most of them, despite any education they may have, are too ignorant to see the folly of buying any rubbish that is brought to them, and of mixing good, bad and indifferent cocoa beans.
There are three classes of native cocoa buyers: Freesellers, Middlemen and Shippers.
The Freesellers are the worst offenders. They are itinerant middlemen, in a small way of business, who take up a free-of-charge stand by the roadside, all along the roads between the farms and the nearest centre to them in which the European factories are situated. They congregate, too, in some street or open place near those factories; the most frequented pitch is commonly known as the "cocoa market." The freesellers and their scouts favour a sports style of English summer costume, slop made or second hand. They are good at palavering, and use other means, such as the bribe of payment in silver, for inducing the farmers to bid their carriers drop their loads on the wayside scales. During the mile or so walk into Koforidua which we take in company with the procession of carriers, we see many a group fall out by the way to do business with the freesellers.
The freesellers dispose of their produce to native middlemen, who, as a rule, resell to natives in a comparatively big way of business as buyers and shippers.
The European factories buy, for the most part, direct from the growers. They seldom have any dealing with the freesellers, but their clients sometimes include a middleman who has the reputation for selecting the best of his produce to offer them.
On arrival at Koforidua, we notice that the carriers are flocking into the town, in spite of the wiles of the freesellers en route. Here the procession scatters. One group of carriers stops at the shanty store of a native middleman, two or three groups turn into the compound of one European factory, other groups into the compound of a European factory opposite or a few yards up the road. The majority, guided by the farmer heads of families, take their loads to one or other of the European factories, and the biggest crowd congregates in the compound of the white competitor who is this day offering the highest price for cocoa beans.
At the European factories the buying is all done by white men. Each load of beans offered for sale is examined, and if the quality is up to the firm's "passable" standard, the load is weighed, the correct weight and corresponding value are called out and entered on a slip of paper, and the beans are turned out into one of the firm's sacks; the native who has sold the cocoa beans takes the slip of paper to a white cashier, in an office close by, receives payment, ties up the notes in a handkerchief or tucks them into a fold of his toga, collects his carriers and starts off on the return tramp to his farm.
Any beans which are not considered sufficiently dry for packing are spread out in the sun. There are cocoa concrete drying grounds for this purpose in the compounds.
For transport, the beans are packed into large sacks, or, as they are commonly called, "bags." Each filled bag is dumped on to platform scales by darkie yard-boys. When the scales register a certain exact weight - usually 140 lbs. - the bag is hauled off the platform and passed on to another gang of darkies, whose business it is to sew up the mouth. The bags are next stacked in the factory's store, flanking the railway siding.
From the up-country stores, the bags of cocoa beans go by train to Accra. Here, the Agent of the European firm to whom they belong must arrange to meet them with motor lorries and be able to give them storage accommodation until such time as there is room for them on a steamer going to the land of their destination. When the Agent is advised that such a steamer is due in the Accra roads, the cocoa bags are taken by motor lorry from store to beach, where they are stacked up so that no time may be lost in getting them aboard. When a steamer is expected in, homeward bound for England, France or America, the beach at Accra is suggestive of a cross between Brooklands on a race day and Yarmouth sands on August Bank Holiday, except, of course, that everyone in the crowd is hard at work instead of hard at play. When the steamer drops anchor, the scene is still more animated, for every bag of cocoa has to be carried down to the water's edge and taken in a surf boat to the ship.
Drying Cocoa : Grenada