African Tribal Head Reinstated

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

The Dutch government managed to save some face over a bit of past high-handed colonial conduct on Thursday with a rather bizarre ceremony in The Hague, reported on by Sacha van der Zande of the newspaper Trouw: Finally Badu Bonsu and his people are at peace. Badu Bonsu II, King of the Ahanta tribe of Ghana, was finally released to go home after being held in containment by the Dutch authorities. But there are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. He’s dead.
  2. He’s head.
Yes, the actual interaction of Dutch officials with King Bonsu occurred way back in 1838, on his home turf down on Africa’s Gold Coast, and ended with the Dutch executing him by decapitation. Then they took home that head as a souvenir and preserved it for all this time in a jar of formaldehyde-solution at the University of Leiden.

So it was this particular object that was the subject of Thursday’s ceremony, which included the press as well as leaders from the Ahanta tribe residing both in the Netherlands and Ghana. The latter initially seemed pleased at the Dutch government’s gesture – as one Ahanta representative, Veronica van der Kamp, noted, “This is very important. A person without a head is not complete in the afterlife” – and proceeded with some native funeral rituals that involved gin, both drinking it and spilling it on the floor. Soon, however, spirits instead started to rise dangerously high among some of the assembled Ahanta delegates, including King Bonsu’s great-great-grandson, Joseph Jones Amoah, who began to get the crowd agitated by exclaiming “Why did you have to take his head? I’m am so intensely grief-striken [verdrietig] to see him here like this.”

Luckily, certain others present were able to keep their head while everyone else was losing theirs and moved quickly to restore calm, mainly by herding all official attendees (i.e. minus the press) into a separate room to conclude the formalities. A long-awaited homecoming for King Bonsu should follow shortly, and promises to be truly a capital event.

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