Assin Owienkyi ready for tourism
On October 29, the chiefs and people of the Assin Owienkyi Traditional Area held a durbar to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the installation of Ehunabobrim Prah Agyensaim VI, Paramount Chief of the area. Having led for 40 years, Ehunabobrim believes the chieftaincy institution is better preserved by having educated persons assuming roles as traditional leaders contrary to the belief that it was a threat to the institution.
In an interview with Daily Graphic’s Deputy News Editor, Rosalind Koramah Amoh, Nana, a lawyer by profession having had his university and law education at the Metropolitan University of London, shares his thoughts and experiences and his audacious plan to turn the traditional area, which has Assin Kushea as its capital, into a thriving tourism destination. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Rosalind Koramah Amoh (RKA): Nana, congratulations on chalking up the big 40 on the stool.
Ehunabobrim Prah Agyensaim VI EPA: Thank you very much. Yes, it has been quite a long journey, but an interesting one and I have no regrets at all. I’m happy to have been able to travel this path and having the full support of my people.
(RKA): Chieftaincy in modern times has seen many well educated personalities being enstooled chiefs in their communities, and many believe that given what education and westernisation have done to our culture, the noble traditional institution is also at risk.
EPA: Yes and that is good for the institution. It does not matter what you want to be in the future, education is good, as it helps to broaden your horizon.
What happened in the past was how the colonial masters made us believe that our culture and traditions were backward and fetish, so most of the people who went to school did not want to have anything to do with culture and tradition.
Unfortunately, that left many more people westernised, but culturally illiterate. Over time that has changed.
(RKA): Why has the status shifted and the royal establishment embraced more learned people?
EPA: In fact, communities with educated traditional leaders stand to benefit more now. They better understand the need to develop their communities, they are able to interact with all others as they seek support for their development agenda and they are able to help their communities progress. Having been part of the establishment for all these years, I can confidently say that chieftaincy is better off and its future better secured by having more educated people involved.
Tradition and culture
(RKA): Despite having educated persons, there is the challenge of people looking down on their tradition and culture. Can this ever change?
EPA: That is an issue of concern. In the name of education, westernisation and religion (Christianity), many people are looking down on their culture and tradition and see everything about it as fetish and backward. For instance, people no longer want to speak their mother tongue with their children and prefer to rather use English as their first language of communication. What it means is, gradually, we are raising children and a future generation who have no attachment to their culture and tradition and that is a threat.
(RKA): But Nana, people would say that with the world becoming a global village, there is no need to hang on to culture and tradition.
EPA: That is very wrong. Culture and traditions define us as a people. It guides us and gives us our moral values that shape our lives. All those things are being threatened. It is so bad that apart from our young generation not being able to speak and understand their mother tongue, even basic practices such as naming ceremonies have been heavily influenced by westernisation.
It is not by accident that those who have jealously preserved and use their language from the basics to the very top have progressed and become better developed. Talk of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China.
(RKA): This year, you are celebrating 40 years of your ascension to the throne. Over these years, the Assin Owirenkyi Traditional Area has undergone some significant changes in terms of development and status. How has the journey been for you as a traditional leader?
EPA: It has been an interesting journey. The responsibility of a good leader is to help develop the community for progress, give fulfilment and make your people happy. That has been my objective since I was enstooled
(RKA): That seems a well-planned job for you then.
EPA: Not entirely. Indeed, I have enjoyed the support and cooperation of my chiefs and people. On the other hand, pushing for accelerated development has been a struggle because it has not been easy to lobby for significant development for our area. We are typically a farming community, so it is assumed that our needs are not many. But we do. We need schools for better education, hospitals and other facilities that will open up our area economically. After 40 years, I can say that we are making progress.
(RKA): Do you mind sharing some of these significant developments?
EPA: You can say we took our destiny into our own hands and set up a four-year development programme to improve education, health, agriculture and employment, by setting up an audacious plan to make our area a tourism destination.
From one school, we have six schools, and set up a scholarship scheme to support students all the way to the highest level, because education holds the key to progress.
(RKA): You have one of the magnificent palaces, comparably to any castle. I have seen photos of the building and it is overwhelming, isn’t it?
EPA: Well, you say so. But the palace is not meant for me to live in. It has been built as part of the plans to open the place up to tourism, which we have identified as a game-changer to the economic fortunes of our traditional area.
We realised that we have a place in history, as we have the tombs of some unknown slaves and research has also shown that a considerable number of slaves were taken through Kushea on their way to Cape Coast for onward shipping abroad.
The decision to develop the tourism potential of Owirenkyiman is to honour the ancestors who fought and shed their blood from possibly being conquered as slaves.
(RKA): As you have alluded to, every leader aims at leaving a legacy, what would you want yours to be or best be remembered for?
EPA: I would like to talk about my disappointment or what I see as a failure rather, as whatever we achieve is a collective effort. My pain is that I have not been able to build an industry for my people that would have provided jobs for them. I hope at least, the tourism plan will make up for that though.
RKA: Speaking to some of your people, to them, the greatest legacy is making the traditional area the cleanest community in Ghana.
EPA: I don’t usually talk about it because ordinarily, maintaining a clean and healthy home should not be that one boasts of. But we both understand why people do talk about it.
To achieve that, I had to be a dictator of a sort. With the support of my traditional council, I decreed that we were going to be the cleanest community and in so doing, we also provided what was needed and the incentive to ensure that it was obeyed.
This we have done with an effective waste management plan and provided bins at vantage points to ensure that people did not litter. We are inculcating it into every aspect of our lives, so from the little child to the oldest, we all appreciate the importance of living in a clean environment and individually and collectively, we work at maintaining.
(RKA): Nana, you talk about making it a decree. Is it sustainable?nage the future when I am dead and gone, but it will be up to the people to say it has worked for us so we want to maintain that for the future. I have laid the foundation and put in place what has to be done to sustain and preserve it. I can only hope that my successor will do better than what I have been able to achieve. That is how we develop and progress as a people.
(RKA): You seem to have fitted so well into the role. Growing up did you know you would be chief or lead your people?
EPA: No. My parents never mentioned it at home. As the first of eight children, I was given a leadership role of being responsible for my siblings but that was it. We grew up like any other children, went to public schools. Born and raised at Obuasi, my parents ensured that my siblings and I were raised in an environment that did not encourage us to feel more important than others.
I was brought up like any other child, I did chores, no pampering, nothing. I even helped my mother who was a caterer in her business, selling the doughnuts she made after school. However, my parents placed so much importance on education and so ensured that we had education. It was my maternal grandmother, who would often refer to me as ‘Daakye hene’ and would pamper me a bit every now and then.
(RKA): But going through your profile, I found out that you went to some of the best schools, even up to the university level. Was it part of the grand plan to prepare you for this role, or it was coincidence?
EPA: I went to public schools, starting off from the basic school at Obuasi and then to Ghana National College in Cape Coast and completed at Sekondi College. However, my father was quite wealthy to ensure that my seven siblings and I went all the way to university. I was fortunate that after sixth form, I was sponsored to London to have my tertiary education, but that had nothing to do with being groomed for a chieftaincy role.
(RKA): Then how did you become a chief?
EPA: After returning from London after my university education and working with the Ministry of Trade as a legal officer, I was one day summoned home to visit my sick uncle, Nana Prah Agyensaim V, who was the chief then. Unfortunately, he passed away, and there and then, I was named the successor and went through the processes to be the new chief.
I was unprepared, but thanks to my uncle, Yaw Moshi, I was groomed and helped to fully understand the traditions and customs.
(RKA): Nana, you have just turned 80 years, and you look very well and healthy for your age. Any secret?
EPA: With the help of my wife, I have managed to stay in the healthy lane. She insists I eat well, though when she is not around, I try to indulge. I also exercise and pay attention to my health. I try to avoid the stress, so I love to stay more in Kushea because that environment gives me fulfilment.
I also believe that if one wishes to be old, he would. For me, I am still young at heart. I have been fortunate and lived a fulfilled life blessed with a good family, supportive extended family and traditional council, but it is the reward of hardwork.
(RKA): Surely, even without your position, your age and experience put you in a place to share your life’s experiences to guard, encourage and inspire the next generation. Do you mind sharing some of your life’s nuggets?
EPA: I hope the youth of today will achieve much more than I did. Education is key and today, there is no reason for anyone to be an illiterate and ignorant. They should train themselves and grab knowledge in whatever they can and not necessarily formal education. In whatever way, they should make an impact and a difference. They should show interest in civic duties and politics and not say they are not interested. Either way, they would be affected.
(RKA): Thank you very much for your time.
EPA: Thank you and happy to have had the chat.