What’s in a Name?

The late Newark City historian and Director of Special Collections at Newark Public Library, Charles F. Cummings researched Newark’s Jack Cudjo’s life for over twenty years and concluded that his other name Banquante was either of African or Caribbean origin. Elsewhere, Jack Cudjo was purported to have been named for an African‐Caribbean hero that was sold into slavery.  (New Jersey Star Ledger Jan 3, 2005). Cudjo, according to Charles Cummings, was born to slave parents in the 1730s. 

In John T. Cunningham’s book, Jack Cudjo was supposed to be of royal African lineage. Joseph Atkinson (1878) says, “There was something about the bearing of Cudjo which gave strength to the claim advanced by him that he was of royal African lineage.” He was later known in life not as just Jack Cudjo, but also Cudjo Banquante. 

“Cudjo” is a dialectical variation of “Kwadwo,” an Akan name that is given to a boy born on Monday. “Cudjo,” a contraption of Kwadwo, is anglicized because the Latin letters “c” and “j” do not exist in Twi alphabets. “Cudjo” in its native form is written “Kudwo”; “dw” is pronounced as “j”— “gy” has similar phonetic pronunciation. Similarly, there is no “q” in the Twi alphabets; hence, “kw” in “Bakwante” would sound as “qu” to an educated European. 

The name “Cudjo” (as other similar Akan names) is traditionally an Akan first name, even though it has been used as a last name in contemporary Akan culture. Each day of the week has its own corresponding gender specific name called ‘soul name.’ Thus, a child enters into the world with a set name determined by the day he or she entered the world of humans. This mode of naming is peculiar, but the concept goes beyond Akan lands and deep into Togo and Benin to the east of Ghana and into Cote d’Ivoire to the west of Ghana. The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria have such a system, but it is based on an atypical four‐day week with seven‐week month. The Akan system is based on a seven‐day week, which corresponds to the Eurocentric Sunday to Saturday. 

Akan Names and Appellations

In Akan naming structure, an appellation or title tag can be compounded with a soul or last name. “Yaw,” for example, can be compounded with “Preko” to complete the name: Yaw Preko. Such names as Frimpong Manso, Osafo Kantanka, and Owusu Akyaw, etc. are all compounded with appellations.

“Kwante” is an appellation of Baa; the others are Siakwan, Otieku, and Otudoku. The appellations could compound with “Baa” to complete an Akan last name. Thus, a “Baa” could end up with Baa Siakwan, Baa

Otieku, or Baa Otudoku. So is the formation of Baa Kwante, anglicized “Banquante” or other Anglo‐spelling variations thereof such as “Baquentyn,” “Bacontin,” “Banquantee,” Banquanty,” or “Bonquante.” Cudjo was given, and adopted, “Jack” by virtue of his new social environment. “Jack” then became his first name, pushing “Cudjo” to assume the surname or last name.  In contemporary Akan culture, the name Baa Kwante is still a rare Akan compounded name used mostly by the Akyem, especially its royals. There have been some Akyem royals with this unique name. There was indeed a recent Baa Kwante Agyeman, the Abontendomhene of Kyebi. Apinaman, an Akyem town near Asamankese, perhaps has had more Baa Kwante royals than Kyebi, its traditional nephew. According to Opanyin Essah, the royal head of family at Apinaman, there was a King Baa Kwante in 1837, and probably others (Baa Bakwante) before him. The Apinaman stool, or throne, is said to have been brought from Dabenase in Adansi. 

In early to mid-18th century, there was indeed an Akyem Abuakwa king (the 14th Akyem king and first to rule from Kyebi), called Baa Kwante Agyeman. He succeeded his uncle Ofori Panin. According to Affrifah, King Baa Kwante of Akyem Abuakwa ruled from 1727 and was killed in a war between Asante and Akyem in 1742.

Affrifah points out that both J. B. Danquah and Christian Carl Reindorf put his death in 1742. McCaskie says that Baa Kwante’s head is amongst Asante war trophies that were displayed in past Odwira festivals. Van Dantzig postulated during the war, “There was a rumor that Baquentyn is alive in Pockoe’s (Poku, then king of Asante) hands, and that he has Oers’ (Owusu) Head.” 

According to Addo‐Fening, Baa Kwante “is believed to be the first Okyenhene (king of Akyem) to have been buried at Kyebi on a piece of ground that today constitutes Banmu (royal mausoleum).” Addo Fening asserts that Baa Kwante was the first Akyem Abuakwa king in the Kyebi phase (the earlier phases being at Banso and Adanse in present day Eastern and Ashanti regions of Ghana respectively), and he supports his argument with an Okyeman drum language at Adae festivals in Kyebi.

Jack Cudjo’s story is as mysterious as the relationship between the Egyptian boy pharaoh Tut and the heretic pharaoh Akhenaton. Some say the former was the son of the latter. Others claim he was a half-brother. This research, however, supports the claim of Banquante as being of royal African lineage, born in Africa and not associated with Caribbean origin. 

The most widely known slave rebel leader in the Caribbean, Cudjo (1680‐1744), was a Leeward Maroon warrior in Jamaica. This Maroon warrior’s father, called Naquan (Nakwan means “His ways” in Twi language of Ghana), was said to have been captured and sold into slavery in the 1640s; he was an Akan of royal extract, according to Junius P. Rodriguez. The Maroon Cudjo and his two divisional chiefs, Quao (Kwao) and Cuffee (Kofi), waged the first Maroon guerilla war before, eventually, signing a peace treaty with the English on January 6, 1738. Warrior Cudjo’s last name was lost to antiquity; he was simply known by his first name throughout Jamaica and beyond. The Jack Cudjo of Newark, on the other hand, insisted his given names were Cudjo Banquante. 

Simeon F. Moss suggests that there was no slave imported into New Jersey until 1718: “From 1718 to 1726 a total of 115 slaves arrived at the port of Perth Amboy, all from the West Indies.” If Cudjo was one of the slaves arriving from the West Indies, then he was probably born in the early 1700s. He could have been purchased by Benjamin Coe IV, after the latter had sold property inherited in New York in June 1723 and moved to Newark, New Jersey with his widowed mother. 

Records show that on October 23, 1723, Benjamin Coe bought about six acres of real estate in Newark, New Jersey for one hundred and seventy-one (171) pounds (sterling) from John Ward. This was probably when he started investing with the inheritance he had received and could therefore afford to purchase several slaves to man and till his large acres of farms. Alternatively, he (Cudjo) could have landed anywhere in the Americas first before making his way somehow up to Newark, New Jersey. On the other hand, Cudjo could have been one of several direct imports from the west coast of Africa to New Jersey in the decades preceding the War because, according to Graham Russell Hodges (1946): 

by the 1760s, New Jersey had also become an appealing market for Philadelphia slave traders. Some of the trade was legitimate, but because New Jersey charged no duties on slaves, importers and masters from New York and Pennsylvania found it convenient to unload a small lot in Jersey, sell a few slaves locally, then smuggled the rest to the larger colonies. 

It is worth noting that the slave trade intensified between 1741 and 1751 on the Gold Coast at the time of Asante expansion, according to Dupius who was resident in Kumasi in 1824. 

A short memoir transcribed by Van Dantzig from “A Collection of Documents from the General State Archive” at The Hague reveals in part,

 ”In the first place it should be observed that  that part of Africa which as of old is known as the Gold Coast because of the great quantity of gold which was at one time purchased there by the Company as well as by Dutch private ships, has now virtually changed into a pure Slave Coast; the great quantity of guns and powder which the Europeans have from time to time brought there has given cause to terrible wars among the Kings, Princes and Caboceers of those lands, who made their prisoners of war slaves; these slaves were immediately bought up by the Europeans at steadily increasing prices….” 

 Elsewhere, Van Dantzig says, “If the indigenous are at peace with one another, the supply of gold increases, but war impedes the trade.”

The author, Kofi Ayim, is the editor of Amandla The book is available @ amazon.com

Posted by on Feb 3 2021. Filed under BHM Special: Remembering Our Heroes & Sheroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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