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A salute to the global allure of Elizabeth Regina

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Watching the elaborate ceremonies of the initial funeral rites for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it was quite a revelation to see the British displaying such funeral ‘pomp and circumstance’. That had seemed to be the preserve of Ghanaians!

As has been well publicised, the final rites, as we would say in Ghana, will take place on Monday, September 19, in Westminster Abbey, London.

After the Abbey service, she will be taken to Windsor Castle, some 25 miles from London, for a committal service and then buried there beside her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year. Among the specially invited world leaders, Ghana and the other 55 Commonwealth countries, of which she was head, will doubtless be well represented.

Her Majesty died on September 8 in Balmoral, Scotland, aged 96. Notably, minutes after she drew her last breath, the whole world was being informed of the distressing news.

Here in Ghana apart from flags flying at half-mast, as directed by President Nana Akufo-Addo, a Book of Condolence has been opened at the British High Commission in Accra and other mourning events are taking place. Yesterday, the Anglican Communion in Ghana, in collaboration with the High Commission, held a service in her honour. On Monday, September 19, the Daily Graphic will publish a special supplement to celebrate her legacy.

Remarkably, before her remains were brought to London from Scotland, in all the places where the coffin was taken for people to pay their last respects, as well as reports from elsewhere, there were numerous quotes about her empathy and how she made them feel that they were special to her.

That is part of her special appeal, what is attracting people to endure long hours in queues in wet and cold weather just to see her flag-draped coffin. Incidentally, as reported by the Washington Post, her coffin, made more than 30 years ago, “is of English oak and lined with lead to seal out air and water.”

Another fascinating fact is that Her Majesty was always reputed to be one of the richest people in the world, her personal wealth estimated to be about $500 million.

Notably, her fashion sense and carefully coordinated bright colours and accessories always made her stand out – and that was the intention, especially the bright colours, reportedly because of her petite stature.

Of course it’s not only world leaders who are keen to pay their last respects. On Wednesday, September 14, members of the general public queued for hours in order to enter Westminster Hall where she is lying in state until Monday, to say goodbye to their much loved Queen.

On Thursday, September 15: The Independent (of the UK) reported: “Tens of thousands of Britons queued last night to pay their respects …Up to 350,000 more are expected to try to join the line over the next four days, with warnings of 10-mile long queues and waits of 35 hours.”

Also, there have been gatherings at Buckingham Palace, her official residence, and at other places, of people from all walks of life and nationalities, some bearing customary condolence flowers.

Even my ancestral village, Ampenkro in the Dormaa District of the Bono Region, was represented! My cousin, Yaa Grace, a London resident, a long-time devotee of Elizabeth Regina –  Her Majesty’s official signature on documents (Regina being Latin for Queen) – was sighted at one of the gatherings.

It was no surprise to see Yaa in a CNN clip, typically her neck enveloped in a large British flag, being interviewed about her presence there, despite the chilly weather. And doubtless Yaa Grace will be an early bird at the Abbey on Monday, too.

Of course others probably just want to be part of this history, people who like to be able to say “I was there when …”. 

Apparently, many Ghanaians have been amazed at the swiftness and precision of the funeral arrangements, notably the comprehensive media coverage.

Compared to what happens in Ghana, usually involving many months of pre-burial mourning, not to mention family disagreements, the Queen’s funeral taking place so soon, is quite an eye opener.

Furthermore, significantly, there has been no succession dispute.  Almost as soon as she drew her last breath, the world knew definitely that her eldest child had succeeded his mother as King Charles III.

Actually, the media in the UK, especially the BBC, and in some other countries, have been preparing for this sad, imminent occurrence for a long time; some for years, as I recall a journalism teacher telling my class ages ago.

Those media organisations have the custom of preparing in advance the obituaries of selected VVIPs, notably political office holders and others of importance, and they keep updating the text.

Interestingly, the word ‘obituary’ appears to have acquired a different meaning in ‘Ghanaian English’ – understood as ‘funeral announcement’, whereas in the western world, and in the dictionary, “an obituary is a piece of writing about someone who has just died”, more like what is called a ‘tribute’ here.

Evidently, the Queen’s long-prepared obituary is the reason why as soon as the death was announced all the UK, and other foreign media, were able to provide so much information. And, of course, regarding the actual rites, the royal protocol staff, too have all the ancient procedures spelt out for them, hence no dispute about the arrangements.

Still, not everyone thinks her death should be of importance to the Developing World, especially Africa. There are people whose view is that the Queen represented a kingdom which engaged in, and was complicit in, not only the Atlantic slave trade, but many atrocities and dispossessions against vulnerable countries, and so no tears should be shed for her.  

But that appears to be a minority view. Generally, she is viewed as a person of worldwide importance, whose passing marks the poignant end of an era. After her 70 years on the throne, a new era has started. Soon there will be a new image on British currency; and even a new expression to describe correct English, ‘the King’s English’, in place of ‘the Queen’s English’.

The glowing tributes pouring in from all parts of the world, the official mourning in Ghana and other countries, all testify to the global allure of the person whose signature on documents spoke volumes, although it was a simple ‘Elizabeth R’.    

 

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