Otumfuo: Veritable Cultural Ambassador In Boston
On the cold night of November 2nd when Otumfuo sat in state as guest of honor for exhibition on “West African Gold: Akan Regalia….. ” at Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, I spent much of the evening talking to visitors who have come to pay their respects to Nana.
On exhibition were Akan textiles (kente cloth), jewelry, swords, sandals, etc.
I spoke to about 20 people of mixed racial and professional backgrounds, black and white American, from university dons to hotel doormen, trying to find out their impressions of the night's event. Otumfuo's elegance with traditional Asante horn blowing and drumming in tow overwhelmed the Americans and many promised to visit Ghana to savor more of our culture in not too distant future.
“It's great to see a royal figure. I'll to go to Ghana to see more of what I'm seeing tonight,” said a professor at University of Rhode Island, Nicholas Sterling.
“The king's visit makes the Akan objects on display much more sense. I may follow up to Africa,” said MFA official, Meta Chavannes. A preview in The Boston Globe which set out protocol (those who wanted to greet Otumfuo were only to bend in reverence and nod quietly; they could neither speak nor touch Nana) for the night's event made Bostonians very curious.
That piece of news helped attendance remarkably. Among the hundreds of people who filled the museum galleries were dozens who had come just to find out why they couldn't touch or speak to Otumfuo.
Of course, there were Ghanaian delegation from Boston, New York, Washington and Toronto.
Before seeing The Globe story some Bostonians had hoped not only for a royal handshake but photo-op, for good measure.
“Why can't I speak to his majesty nor have photograph with him?” asked a young African-American lady April Turner.
Otumfuo's visit to Boston was organized by MFA and Harvard University, where Nana presented a paper on “Chieftaincy and Development in Contemporary Africa: The Case of Asante” on November 3rd.
The Harvard program known as DISTINGUISHED AFRICAN ADDRESS was instituted by the university three years ago to provide platform for non-academics who have made tremendous impact in society to share it with the world.
The maiden speaker was Stephen Lewis, Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on HIV/AIDS in Africa. The second year talk was given by another Mr Annan's Envoy on Africa, Ibrahim Gambary.
Like the exhibition before it, the address went extremely well. Nana's 11-page paper which was a - summary of the history of chieftaincy in Ghana in the 20th century and his activities since his accession in 1999 - drew adoring applause from the public gallery.
But what particularly overawed the audience and won Otumfuo rolling ovation was the ability of his traditional court in Kumasi to speedily arbitrate succession and land disputes to the utmost satisfaction of contesting litigants (I sat subdued in my seat as the ovation rolled on because Nana's court has yet to fix my Gyamase succession; what do you think 'bra' Kofi Wusu of Manhyia Palace ?)
The admiration for Otumfuo and Asante and indeed Ghana and Africa became much deeper when Juabenghene, Nana Otuo Siriboe, introduced members of Otumfuo's delegation. The audience, mostly professors and students, were visibly impressed when they learned the composition of the retinue included Cambridge-trained lawyers to medical doctors and engineers to London-educated anthropologists and ex-World Bank officials.
The introduction was done very late into the program; both Nana Otuo Siriboe who took questions from the floor on Otumfuo's behalf and Harvard's Prof Emmanuel Akyeampong who emceed the occasion and most of us in the public gallery had clearly forgotten about it.
We've to thank an African-American colleague of Prof Akyeampong who drew attention to the omission. Observing the impression the introduction made on the audience, Prof Akyeampong described it as an “important detour.”
“My perception about Africa and its traditional institutions have utterly changed,” a graduate medical student told me after he'd learned about the stellar resumes of Otumfuo's retinue.
Harvard also had something surprising for us. A Yoruba woman teaches Twi at the university. Twi is among 14 African languages that were recently introduced into Harvard's curriculum (in the list are Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Zulu).
Though it was realized later that the Yoruba lady, Nike Lawal, was raised at Akyem-Odumasi in the Eastern Region, she still deserved some back patting.
When I got word in New York that Otumfuo would be in Boston I felt there was no better time to see that U.S. city (for the first time) than during Nana's visit. Like our own Cape Coast, Boston's greatest attraction has always been its prestigious colleges – Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, Boston U., Boston College, etc
I know some fanatical supporters of Red Sox, the idolized Boston baseball team, won't agree with me. But I discovered on the streets of the Boston that the city's education reputation was much stronger than its sports.
Actually, Harvard is in Cambridge. But Cambridge and Boston are coterminous cities, separated indistinctly by Charles River. Again like our Sekondi and Takoradi, Boston bigger size and robust business life has submerged Cambridge.
The two nights I spent in Boston was a welcome break from impersonal New York. Paying homage to Otumfuo, doing errands for Mr Kojo Yankah and helping to cart luggage of the delegation, elicited nostalgia.
Boston has convinced me that in – tourism – our schools in Cape Cost could be as good as the Castles and Forts!