On Thursday July 20, this year, I was virtually held “captive” but for a good purpose. I was “arrested and detained” by the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and it was more than worthwhile. I was not too well, down with malaria but needed to fulfil an appointment with a senior public servant who asked me to meet him at the Manhyia Palace.
I told the person that if Otumfuo Osei Tutu should spot me, he was likely to call me. As it turned out, the Kumasi Traditional Council was sitting. As I mixed up with the courtiers, Otumfuo spotted me and directed his grandson Ayeboafoh to step forward and greet him. I could no longer hide. The sword bearers opened the way for me and I walked majestically towards Otumfuo. I had become an instant hero as most of the chiefs wanted to know who I was.
Then Otumfuo commanded that I should join him at his court and support him and that he would speak to me afterwards. It was more than an honour as Otumfuo gave instructions that I should be seated close to him and so I found myself in the midst of the chiefs, who were seated in groups called Fekuw. Unfortunately, I was in shirt and trousers and was out of tune. But because the Asantehene had given the orders, I had to be accommodated where I did not ordinarily belong.
Soon I was to appreciate Ashanti custom and observe one of the most profound processes of customary and cultural adjudication. It was then that I had a better appreciation of the saying that when the King speaks, no one else says another thing. It was beautiful and I do hope that the processes would be documented and translated into written format for the future.
I realised that the chiefs were seated in a certain order and when it was time for them to speak, they followed a certain pattern. As each case was mentioned, a secretary would step forward, announce the membership of the adjudication committee, give details of proceedings and the findings of the committee.
Thereafter, the chiefs, led by the spokesperson of each Fekuw, would either ask for clarification and then to proffer the position of the Fekuw on the matter. One after the other, all the Fekuw would make their views known. It was when all of them had made their positions clear on the matter that the Asantehene would proceed to make a pronouncement and bring finality to the matter. Whatever came from the Fekuw was considered a recommendation as it is the Asantehene who can make a definitive pronouncement on the matter and declare a judgement. The beauty of it was that as soon as Otumfuo spoke, all the parties were made to plead and swear by the Oath of the Asantehene, Ntamkesee that they accepted the decision and would abide by the decision.
The guilty parties were then directed to make some token payments to the courtiers, Nhenkwaa
There were some of the cases that Otumfuo directed to be remitted to the Asanteman Council. Because the Otumfuo is both the head of the Kumasi Traditional Council and the Asanteman Council, those who are not familiar with the set up could get confused.
Before the parties departed, Otumfuo always offered words of advice and admonition and emphasised the need for peace, unity and co-existence.
Sitting there close to Otumfuo and observing proceedings that day, gave me a lot of insight into the unique structure of the chieftaincy institution in Ashanti as against all other chieftancies in the country. There was no way I could have been enlightened about the dispute resolution mechanism regarding the Kumasi Traditional Council from any other source than my chance involvement. It means that those of us, who left our homes and traditions early to pursue academic studies, must from time to time go home to observe how things are done to give meaning to our culture.
I have made a pledge to visit the palace once every six months to observe how things are done and make my observations known to Otumfuo such that if there are areas that must be refined to bring greater glory to the palace, that could be done. The little I saw suggests to me that there is more that could be done to ensure that the palace and its processes are commercialised to generate funds for its programmes.
One other thing that I would want to place before Otumfuo and the Asanteman Council is to appeal for the police station in front of the palace to be modernised to befit the image of the palace.