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Chief's head returned to Ghana

Published on 13 June 2010

Author(s): AFRICOM, issue 8 2009-10

Type:  News

Dutch government not very cultural sensitive when the head of Asante King was returned to their descendants

GHANANIAN DESCENDANTS OF CHIEF KING BADU BONSU II, have reluctantly accepted the return of his severed head following his hanging and decapitation by a Dutch general 171 years ago. King Badu Bonsu II’s head was discovered last year in a jar of formaldehyde gathering dust. It was stored as part of the anatomical collection of the Leiden University Medical Centre. Embarrassed by its discovery the Dutch government agreed to Ghana’s demands that the relic be returned.

The head was taken by Maj. Gen. Jan Verveer in 1838 in retaliation for Bonsu’s killing of two Dutch emissaries, whose heads were displayed as trophies on Bonsu’s throne. Arthur Japin, a Dutch author, discovered the king’s head when he was working on a historical novel. Despite the Dutch Government’s effort to correct the historical mistake by organizing the homecoming of the head of King Badu Bonsu II to Ghana, aggrieved members of the chief’s Ahante tribe expressed their anger on the manner in which the head was handed over to them.

Handover ceremony

Members of the leader’s Ahanta tribe, dressed in dark robes and wearing red sashes, who had been invited to identify the head, were subsequently asked to take part in the unexpected handover ceremony. Despite their concerns, the elders accepted the head by honouring his spirit by toasting with Dutch gin and sprinkling it over the floor at the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

Members of the kings Asante tribe dressed in dark robes and wearing red sashes during the handover ceremony Photo by EPA.jpg

Members of the kings Asante tribe,dressed in dark robes and wearing red sashes, during the handover ceremony (Photo by EPA)

The leader’s descendants felt aggrieved by the handover ceremony as they said they were not consoled at all. During the ceremony, the chief’s head was stored in a different room from where the handover ceremony was taking place. Joseph Jones Amoah, the great, great grandson of the chief lamented the manner in which his grandfather’s head
was handled saying “I am hurt, angry. My grandfather has been killed.”

Breach of protocol

Tribal elders from Ghana said they felt angry because they had been sent by their current chief only to identify the head, and not retrieve it. Taking it back without first reporting to the current chief was not acceptable. “We, the Ahanta, are not happy at all,” said Nana Etsin Kofi II.

Dabbed tears

The elders demanded the Dutch government to provide aid to their tribe to appease the slain chief. In his own words, Nana Kwekwe Darko III, who sprinkled the gin onto the floor according to tradition, said he wanted the “Dutch to build schools and hospitals for his people”.

However the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Bart Rijs, said that 10 tribal chiefs who were invited from Ghana had agreed before the ceremony to take the head home as agreed by the two governments.

Whatever the case or circumstances may have been, this incident raises the issue of ethics and morality in handling repatriations especially those involving human remains.

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