FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2009
Preserved head of chief who killed Dutch soldiers returned to Ghana
By Francis Kokutse, NATION Correspondent in ACCRA
It reads like the plot to a novel but it is true. An African Chief killed two European intruders on his land and was punished by hanging. His head was cut off and sent across the Atlantic to far-away Holland.
But for the work of a daring researcher, the head would still have remained in a bottle where it has been preserved since then unknown to any of his people.
That has been the story of Nana Baidoo Bonso II, the Ahanta chief from Busua, a small town hidden by coconut trees along the western coast of Ghana in West Africa.
Only a coastal town until now, Busua is located 214 kilometres away from the capital, Accra, and is set to rewrite its history with the arrival of head of Baidoo Bonso II who was court martialled and hanged for killing two Dutch soldiers in 1838.
That was long before the British annexed the area and other parts of the country which later became the Gold Coast.
“Many historians have never touched on the aspect of the country where our chiefs resisted the arrival of the Europeans long before the British arrived on our coast,” said Mr Dominic Arthur, a teacher in Busua.
What makes this story interesting is that apart from chiefs of the Asante Empire who were known to have fought the British in many wars in the days before the Gold Coast, not much is known about chiefs who fought other Europeans before that era. This is likely to spur more inquiry into the country’s past history.
The rest of West Africa may have similar hidden history. There is a local song in neighbouring Benin Republic which translates that “Kpende has been taken away by the White man and has not yet returned so let us pray for him.”
Folklore claims that Kpende was a notorious chief who gave much trouble to the White men who arrived on the coast of Dahomey which is modern day Benin Republic.
Mr Kwadwo Boateng, an assistant director of the Foreign ministry said Baidoo Bonso II “was enthroned during the era of the Dutch colonial occupation of the coast of Guinea, including the Western Region of present day Ghana.”
After the trial and the execution of Baidoo Bonso II in June 1838, Boateng said, “the severed head was taken to Holland where it eventually ended up in the Leiden University Centre for Medical Research near the Hague.”
Mr Boateng added: “The issue of Baidoo Bonso II’s head came to light when a Dutch historian Arthur Japin raised it during former President John Kufuor’s official visit to the Netherlands in October last year.
After hearing the story of the head, the former President instructed the Ghana Embassy to negotiate to secure the release and the return of the head.”
After much negotiation the Dutch government finally allowed the release and the head was finally returned to Ghana on July 24. It has since been kept at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra.
Otumfuo Baidoo Bonso XV, who is a direct descendant of the late king, told the Nationthat, “Ahanta Traditional Council — made of chiefs in the area — have decided to honour the late chief by preserving the head for some time before deciding on the form of burial which would be a national affair.”
“As a mark of respect, the chiefs have decided not to hold this year’s Kundum festival which was due next month,” Baidoo Bonso XV added.
The festival, according, to history started in the 17th century, and is used to thank the gods for abundance harvest but it has a religious side to it.
“We use the occasion to offer sacrifices to our dead ancestors and it is a form of communicating between the living and the dead. That is why we want to wait till we have buried Nana (Baidoo Bonso II) before we celebrate the next festival,” Nana Baidoo Bonso XV said.
“There could have been many of our chiefs who suffered the fate of Nana Baidoo Bonso II but, there has been no record to show. We have heard of stories of people sent out of the land by European traders on the coast at the time, there should be work on which people were taken away for what reason,” Mr Arthur said.
In the lone street of Busua, there seems to be some renewed pride among the people. Aba Tawiah, a farmer who does not to understand the import of the return of the head is, however excited that “Nana Baidoo Bonso II’s head has come back.”
She said, “Nana has proved to be a powerful person, they came, took his head away but he has refused to remain with the white man and that is why he has asked to be brought back.”
Even though officials of the ministry of culture and chieftaincy affairs told the Nationthat “we only facilitated the return of the head to the family,” it does look that the Ahanta chiefs want to involve the government to plan whatever fitting burial that the late chief’s head is to be given.
“We are not just celebrating the return of the dead chief’s head, we are celebrating a brave warrior who for several years had remained unsung and it is for that matter that we want to turn it into a national affair,” Nana Baidoo Bonso XV added.