Otumfuo Celebrates Akwasidae In Style
…On The Weekend When The Greatest Boxer Joined His Ancestors
By Ebo Quansah in Accra
The news of the weekend was solemn. The passing on of boxing legend Muhammed Ali topped all events. That the greatest boxer who ever lived has joined his ancestors, tells more than the story of human existence. Boxing's most charismatic figure joined his ancestors on Friday, after 30 years battle with Parkinson's disease, and will be buried in Louisville, his hometown, on Friday. Ali was 74.
The Quoran says in Surat al Ankabut 57; “Every soul, shall taste death in the end, and to us, shall you be brought back.” The silencing of the Louisville lip shall register on all mankind that we shall all pass away.
I was in Kumasi on Friday to attend to a number of things in the Ashanti Regional capital and Bonwire, the Kente capital of Ghana. As the Ashantis will tell you, it takes more than one event to send a person on a journey. I was also in Kumasi to be a living witness to the celebration of Akwasidae, one traditional celebration that portrays the unique culture of Asanteman at the Manhyia Palace on Sunday.
I was just retiring to bed after returning from Bonwire, the town that gave the Kente cloth its distinctive national character, when I learned, through Al-Jazeera network, that the man who used boxing to advertise the potency of the black race has joined his ancestors.
Initially, I was lost in my thoughts. Here was a man who was larger than life, who has been cut down by the icy hands of death. The thought of death as a reality struck me. Throughout the night, I thought of relatives who have passed on. The circumstances surrounding their departure from the earth were very vivid.
Of course, the legendary figure, who has just died in America, and his contribution to boxing as a sport, and how his activities have helped in keeping many black pugilists from prison, was paramount on my mental excursion.
In my mind's eye, I pictured the many boxing arenas Ali helped to make famous as the outcome of his encounters thrilled the world. Madison Square Garden in New York, where Ali first won the World Heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston. There was the 'Thriller in Manlila', with Joe Frazier in the opposite corner, and the 'Rumble in the Jungle,” in which Muhammed Ali dethroned the then impregnable George Foreman. These fights re-defined boxing as a sport.
To me, as a human rights advocate, one of Ali's greatest legacies to mankind was his ability to stand up to the power of American hegemony, by refusing to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. Though Ali was stripped off his crown and was jobless for three and a half years, he won the title of the People's Champion across the globe.
In those days when Ghana was Mecca to the black race, it was only natural that Ali's first foreign trip, after defeating Sony Liston on that cold night of February 25, 1964 to become the World heavyweight Champion at 22 years, was to visit Ghana.
The new Heavyweight Champion of the World classified his trip to Ghana as a return to the fatherland. “I want to see Africa and meet my brothers,” he told reporters before setting off on the pilgrimage to the home of the black man.
On the streets of Accra, and other regional capitals, Ali wore the famous Kente cloth as if he was a native Ghanaian. One of his famous quotes on his visit was the assurance to Ghanaians that he was truly on home soil.
“I will return to Ghana anytime I knock a man out,” he said to the cheers of boxing fans in the national capital. In talks with then President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, leading political figures and traditional leaders, Ali made it absolutely clear that he was truly on home soil.
The most famous boxer in living memory never returned to this country. But the legacy of that visit helped to establish Ghana as the undisputed Mecca of the Black race.
On his visit to Africa, Muhammed Ali touched down in Nigeria, but cut short his trip to visit Egypt, before returning to the United States. As we mourn the greatest boxer of all time, we take solace in the fact that his legacies still live on.
Ali fought bravely against Parkinson's disease for three decades. But it is obvious that the power of the architect of the universe is beyond any human endeavour.
All the same, Muhammed Ali influenced the world in a manner few living souls could ever do. This nation owes him a debt of gratitude for choosing Ghana ahead of all other countries on his visit to Africa in 1964. Of course, the visit also tells a lot about the standing of this country in the comity of nations at that time.
It is a shame that our lovely country has disintegrated into one of the least respected on the planet at this time and age. The economy of this country, and the discriminatory manner of politicking, have contrived to lower the image of this society in the eyes of both the citizenry and members of the international comity of nations.
I saw the decay of this society and its politics on my journey to Kumasi and back. As a matter of fact, anytime I use the Accra-Kumasi Highway, I come back an angry and frustrated Ghanaian.
The genesis of my frustration is how officialdom has been treating the 31.7 kilometre Teacher-Mante-Suhum Apedwa stretch. For a considerable time after the take-over of the National Democratic Congress Mark II administration, that portion of this nation's busiest road network was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
For nearly six years, the Mills-Mahama hegemony refused to complete that portion of the road. When the Kufuor administration was exiting in January 2008, it had constructed most of the entire 250 kilometre link between Accra, the national capital, and Kumasi, this nation's second largest city and cultural home of this Republic.
Two portions were outstanding. The 5.7 kilometre Achimota-Ofankor stretch was uncompleted. So was the 31.7 kilometre Teacher Mante-Suhum-Apedwa stretch. So much column inches of ink had to be poured in the print media, while radio and television took quite a number of airtime to discuss the issue.
At a point in time, deceased President John Evans Atta Mills owned up to the failure on the part of his administration to discharge the obligation of completing the two stretches outstanding. He said anytime he used the Achimota-Ofankor stretch, he had to bow down his head. It was a big shame, he admitted.
It took more than four years to finish the 5.7 kilometre Achimota-Ofankor stretch. Even then, it was never without its own controversy. It emerged that a new BMW (Seven Series) was purchased at a cost of US$160,000 for then Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr. Joe Gidisu, to inspect only that stretch of road.
Mr. Gidisu lost his appointment when the NDC returned to Government House under the Presidency of Mr. John Dramani Mahama, the former Vice-President, in January 2013. The news about what the media christened 'Gang of Four 'roads is that the 31.7 kilometre Teacher Mante-Suhum- Apedwa stretch of the Accra-Kumasi Highway is still outstanding in its construction, technically.
Following public outcry against the way this administration had abandoned the construction of that portion, and left commuters at the mercy of its treacherous surface, an announcement went forth that the administration had found favour with that stretch. An attempt was made at getting one-side of the dual carriage way operational.
As you read this piece, there is bitumen on the surface of that stretch alright. But its construction is so appalling that it is very difficult for any commuter not to come to the conclusion that it is intentional. The edges are rough and the surface undulating.
Articulated trucks and other heavy trucks virtually cry on that surface. Even smaller vehicles struggle against the treacherous surface. The bridge at the interchange with the Asamankese Road at Suhum is still idle.
I have no doubt in my mind that this administration is hell bent on leaving that surface to its fate until it exits power. The great pity is that President Mahama calls his pick and chose oligarch Transformational and Changing Lives. The Mahama oligarchy may be changing lives and transforming people in Damongo, for instance, where I learn an asphalted road has been constructed to the middle of nowhere. But it is deliberately inconveniencing commuters on the Teacher Mante-Suhum-Apedwa stretch of the Accra-Kumasi Highway.
On Friday, I was annoyed throughout the journey to Kumasi. I was equally appalled by the attitude of this administration to this nation's Number One Road network on my way back. With the Koforidua-Bunso road in tatters, the Asamankese-Suhum road still treacherous, and the Nsawam-Kade road through Adeiso and Asamakese in that deplorable state, the Mahama administration must have made up its mind to punish the people of the Eastern Region, for what wrong, only they can tell.
In my opinion, as far as some roads in the Eastern Region particularly are concerned, this administration has been a disappointment. I was thrilled though, by the spectacle that awaited some of us who managed to be at the durbar grounds at the Manhyia Palace for Akwasidae last Sunday.
Akwasidae is a six weekly celebration of the Akans of Ghana. It is a celebration that links the living with the ancestors. In Ashanti folklore, it is the biggest celebration of the chiefs. There is the Adaekese, which brings all the 37 or so Paramount Chiefs to the Manyia Palace, and the one that involves the various divisions on their own.
Last Sunday's event involved the Kumasi Division. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, therefore, performed the Akwasidae as the Paramount Chief of the Kumasi Traditional Area. All the same, tradition made its masterpiece at Manhyia.
At the fully packed grounds, Otumfuo was led by the Sumankwahene, who was followed in front by page boys carrying a pot of herbs and swaying from side to side. He was shielded by a group of other page boys. It is believed that the pot carrier is always possessed by the spirits of the ancestors of the stool, who come to the earth in their numbers to shield the occupant of the Golden Stool from evil doers.
At all such functions, the Sumankwahene is followed immediately by the Nsafoahene, who displays several bunches of keys, symbolising that at that moment in time, all doors to the palace are locked. The retinue of sub-chiefs and courtiers include drummers, horn blowers and appellation singers.
The retinue, on Sunday, as in all days, made its way to the grounds. The sitting arrangement is the U-formation, with the Otumfuo at the head. As Otumfuo, the Asantehene makes his way to the grounds, everybody is required to stand in reverence to the King, and remain standing until the Monarch had taken his seat. After he sits down, drummers, appellation singers and horn blowers sing his praises for a long while, before the actual ceremonies begin, after which the Akyeamehene (Chief of the Linguist) calls the occasion to order.
The Abrempong (men and women of titles) come to pay their homage by either shaking hands with the Overlord or coming closer and bowing down. All those greeting the King are required, as a matter of courtesy, to leave their shoes and sandals a distance from where the Asantehene is sitting in state.
On Sunday, former President John Agyekum Kufuor was there to pay homage. There was the Ashanti Regional Minister, Alexander Ackon, with the Kumasi Metropolitan Chief Executive, Kojo Bonsu, in tow.
Two former ministers were also at the durbar grounds to greet Otumfuo. Former Defence and Interior Minister Dr. Kwame Addo-Kufuor and Mr. Sampson Kwaku Boafo, one-time Ashanti Regional Minister, came to celebrate Akwasidae with the Overlord of the Ashanti Kingdom.
There was a delegation of students from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States to pay homage to the Overlord of the Ashanti Kingdom. The American University is linked to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in the field of medical research.
The students from the United States were led by Professor (Mrs) Ernestina Addy, Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor at the KNUST. They presented assorted items to Otumfuo.
A tourism delegation from China came to the Palace to greet Otumfuo and observe the celebration of Akwasidae. As is the custom of the people, every Ashanti who has honour conferred on him or given any appointment of repute anywhere in the world is required to share the glory with the Asantehene.
On Sunday, Archbishop Kwaku Frimpong-Manso of the Reconciliation International Church, based in Great Britain, came all the way from London to show a medallion presented to him by the Queen in recognition of the role he played in ending the riots on Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham. The Broadwater Farm riot was one of the deadliest misadventures in inner London in contemporary inner-London history.
Otumfuo took advantage of the presentation to urge all Asantes to be good ambassadors of the Kingdom wherever they may find themselves.
A film crew from the BBC was on hand to film the event as part of a special documentary the television station is compiling on Otumfuo on the Golden Stool.
One unique feature of Asante tradition is the role assigned to children born to Asante fathers. By tradition, only children of Asante mothers could ascend to all thrones in the land. It is in respect of the Akan concept of inheritance. All the same, all people born to men in Ashanti (Akan) are given special roles in traditional homes.
Last Sunday, Oheneba Akwasi Abayie, born Mr. Lovelace Prempeh, son of the late Asantehene Prempeh II, was the Master of Ceremonies at a glittering lunch organised by Otumfuo for selected guests after the Akwasidae. I was fortunate enough to be among the invited guests.
Born at the Manhyia Palace and schooled on royalty, Oheneba Abayie made the atmosphere very lively. He traced the link between Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and his great uncle, Osei Tutu I, founder of the Asante Kingdom. Not only do the two bear the same name, according to Oheneba Abayie, only the two kings have had their reigns spanning two different centuries.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu I, founder the Ashanti Kingdom, was born in 1675. He was enthroned Asantehene in 1701, and died on the throne in 1717. In comparison, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the 16th occupant of the Golden Stool, was born in May 1950. His coronation as King of Asante took place in April 1999.
None of the previous 15 previous Asante Monarchs ever crossed the millennium.
The significance of last Sunday's Akwasidae was captured by a BBC cameraman.
“This is unique. I have never seen such a spectacle anywhere,” he said.