Vol 27 No 2 (2018): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Culture

Inherently Diseased and Insanitary? The Health Status of the Gold Coast [Ghana] from the 18th to the late 19th Century

Akwasi Kwarteng Amoako-Gyampah
Department of History, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Nordic Journal of African Studies
Published November 9, 2018
  • Health,
  • Insanitary conditions,
  • Sanitation,
  • Unhealthy Climate,
  • Gold Coast,
  • Ghana,
  • Environment,
  • Diseases
  • ...More


Until the end of the 19th century, many European accounts represented the West African Coast as the “White man’s grave.” This representation was borne out by the high morbidity and mortality rate of European sojourners who were exposed to the Guinea Coast. This article reviews European accounts of the health status of the Gold Coast during the 18th and 19th centuries. I examine European accounts that characterised the climatic conditions of the Gold Coast as insalubrious and its social and physical environments as unwholesome –conditions that were held to be responsible for the high mortality and morbidity rates of Europeans who visited the region. I suggest that while there appeared to be formidable health challenges, especially, in the coastal settlements, the linear narrative that privileges the insanitary conditions and unwholesomeness of the region during the period under consideration could be quite misleading. I demonstrate that even though these European accounts, mostly blame the habits of the indigenous population and their social and physical environmental conditions for the unwholesome and insalubrious conditions that caused ill-health and death, the presence of Europeans on the Gold Coast littoral was itself implicated in the insanitary and depressing health conditions that the region was associated with.