The text message I received from William, who I had met once at a meeting, inviting me to the event of the title, did little to reveal what I was to witness over the long weekend of 27th to 29th September. I assumed that I’d just find my way up onto the Akuapem ridge to Akropong as a day tripping tourist, and snatch a few photos as an onlooker. Far from it! I was to be the guest of the Queen Mother, have a costume made up in the gorgeous purple patterned ‘official’ fabric, an ‘access all areas’ photography pass, and a grandstand seat for the Friday Durbar.
The Akuapem tribal grouping was created following a 1733 tribal war, prompted by the cruel treatment of a conquered people by the Akwamus, who were warlords who had fought and defeated people as far as the Ga people near the sea. They were feared far and wide due to the rough treatment the meted out to their conquered neighbours. In January of that year, a meeting of the fetish priests of the Kyrepongs and the Guans living on the Ridge felt they could no longer stand this harsh ‘occupation’, and resolved to join forces with other peoples, seeking help from the might and powerful Akan kingdom of Abuakwa.
After a short by furious and bloody war, the Akwamus were driven westwards towards what is now Togo, but the original peoples, fearing their return, asked Nana Safori and his royals and warriors to come and rule over them as their paramount chiefs, to help ensure their safety. A stone was buried in the centre of the Durbar, as the ‘will and testament’ of the people that they would serve and recognise Nana Safori and all his descendants, until the stone ‘germinates and grows.’ The rationale being, knowing that a stone cannot germinate and grow, that the Abuakwa royals would remain their chiefs forever. Thus the Akan system of chieftancy was introduced and established in Akuapem.
The photos speak for themselves about the three days of events, beginning on the Friday with a riotous parade and assembly of the royals, which was the noisiest, most fantastic and colourful tribal gathering I have ever seen. Well, the ONLY one I have ever seen. The fabrics! The drumming, music, dancing, massive firecrackers and gunshots! It was barely organised mayhem, and I was right in the heart of it. William and his mother Yaa, who are identified in the slideshow, are related in some incredibly complex way to the Queen Mother, who is not a Queen Mum in our sense of the term, being the second wife of a now deceased chief.
The Durbar was followed by a full two days of feasting, music, dancing and entertainment at the Queen Mother’s house, in a stunning location on the Ridge, with amazing views across the lands below, for miles. That this was once all dense rain forest is testament to just how quickly the people we know collectively know as Ghanaians migrated into the forests, starting in about the 1880s. The Akuapem migrated down from the Ridge in waves, clearing the forest, mainly for cocoa growing, with other tribal groups migrating in from other directions, until the forest was reduced to a few small reserves on the margins, and the incredible diversity of flora and fauna was lost, destroyed or eaten. Chocolate lovers, take note! However, the incredible hard work and industry of the people, in response to this opportunity to earn income from cash cropping, should serve to dispel the image of the ‘lazy African’.
As these photos speak more eloquently than any of my words, I will let them do so. However, I will remember this experience for a lifetime, and I am profoundly grateful to William ‘Dynamic’, his mother Yaa, and Queen Mother Nana Gyekyewa Opokua II Akyeminpimhene of Akropong Akwuapem, for making me so absolutely welcome, and enabling me to have this unique experience. I forgive Milliki, the MC, compere and professional entertainer, who made me get up and dance in front of the assembled family and friends of the Queen Mother. This obruni can dance! I got the equivalent of a standing ovation!
The brass band boys were a hoot(!), and I danced with them and other members of the community into the darkness, before retiring to the neighbouring Palm Hill Hotel – 2 nights paid for by the Queen Mother. The first night I discovered there was hot water and had a luxurious shower. The second night there was no water at all, reminding me that I am, indeed, in Africa!