Birthday Dinner (Unshared)
A four hour drive to the midsection of Ghana awaits. Budget 6 hours. Unlike most other parts of the world, Ghana is mountainous at the coast. Twenty or so kilometres inland, the vegetation changes and a large savannah awaits. Looks nothing like Georgia, however.
Stop one was a large national park, the highlight of which was a seven section canopy walk crossing the rainforest at 30 meters in the air. Having undertaken similar experiences in both the Amazon Basin and Rigaud, Lori and I found the experience underwhelming. Made for good photo ops though, which left the missus happy. God help you if you drop your lens cover.
As we continued our trek north, we crossed a river that demarcated the beginning of Ashanti territory. The Ashanti make up a large portion of the Ghanaian population and their land represents about 50% of the national territory. Ashantis have a long and proud tradition. They are traders, gold miners and warriors. Not self-perceived as aggressive, their legendary battle-readiness derives from a strong determination to hold their lands from other interlopers eager to claim the gold laden rivers and mountains. Theirs is a matrilineal society. In the event of inheritance, the money and property travels down the mother’s lineage. Everything stays on the female side. Divorce lawyers who move to Ghana starve. The Ashanti have transitioned into the 21st century but, more so than other tribes, have retained their value systems, religious traditions, and family links.
Our first stop in their land was at a place known as The Last Bath. Another shameful blemish on mankind.
|Graves of 2 slave descendants (US & Jamaica). Bodies exhumed and repaitriated.|
The journey’s dirt was washed off, they were fed and fattened up and had their bodies oiled to improve their appearance. Once presentable they were led down to Accra and sold to the local slave traders. A clean, well fed and glistening slave would fetch a hefty price.
Visiting the second fort/dungeon at Cape Coast several days previous, a couple of images seen there hit home. Allow a bit of author’s digression at this point. In today’s world the concept of ‘branding’ has become a leading buzz word in the field of marketing and advertising. The concept serves to create an easily recognizable and identifiable product. However, the etymology of the word will forever evoke a horrendous reality for me. On display was a steel branding iron. It was about 1 1/2 inches high and 3 inches wide. On its face were the letters ATI, the initials of one of the slave traders. Upon purchase of a slave, the brand was placed in a fire until red hot. The new property was branded on his or her back, chest, or shoulder for easy and permanent identification. I will forever shudder when hearing the term ‘branding’ used to help sell any product.
The second image was a layout prepared by an anonymous slave ship owner. He devised a floor plan to maximize loading efficiency. Essentially how many slaves per square foot can be forced onto a boat. They remained tightly packed and chained for the entire duration of the trans-Atlantic voyage.
The mental images were incredibly difficult for me to digest. Unfortunately, slavery continues in various forms today. A person we met had been indentured for twenty years to pay off a debt of his father. The amount of the IOU was in the range of $10. It is hard to be a card carrying member of the human race when stories such as these are brought to the forefront.
OK, enough downertime. Let’s try to get back to some levity. We arrived at Kumasi, long time capital of the Ashanti. Touring the present king’s palace was an experience in itself.
|Peacock from Royal Palace Garden. Amazing, with ketchup.|
Unfortunately, he was out of town; he regularly hangs out and receives audiences from those requesting a meeting. I figured that we had lots in common to discuss and I was ready to give him a few pointers as to how best to rule his people. His loss. A relatively plain building, the palace contained relics from the several hundred years of the dynasty, which continues to today. There are items such as Victrolas, gem studded rifles, cocktail glass collections (complete with Sterling silver martini shaker), a 1961 black and white Phillips television and statues of the various kings and queens direct from Mme. Toussaud’s. Eclectic does not begin to describe. One of the items holding a place of honour was a trophy, the kind one could buy in any sporting goods store, presented by the graduating class of some Canadian high school in honour of the 50th year of the previous king’s reign.There was a hokiness but naive charm to the place.
What was most fascinating was the legend behind the unification of the kingdom in the 1500’s. It seems that every local leader wanted to be the supreme chief. Too many Ashantis, not enough warriors; it’s the same old story.They held a convention a la Romney, Bachman, McCain, et al. Rather than trying to prove who was the dumbest, the head priest collected toenail clippings and hair samples from the contestents, mixed them up and lit them sending the offering skyward. He then evoked a magical incantation and a golden stool (the kind you sit on, potty mouth) dropped from the sky and landed on the lap of ‘he who was to be ordained’. I have seen pictures of this solid gold apparition and, based on size and weight, calculating velocity increase, whoever won this pageant and had the thing drop in his lap would have ended up looking like Toulouse-Lautrec. Maybe they didn’t have physics in those days. Anyhow, they have soldiered on, each king acting as advisor and leader to his people, covered in enough gold to make any princess you’ve ever met (and I don’t mean Ashanti) weep with envy. The stool embodies the soul of the people and remains hidden, interred somewhere in the kingdom. According to Ashanti lore, losing the stool would mean an end of the people. I was told that the king would be back in residence the next day. I put in my request for an audience, advising His Highness that I wanted to play a game of ‘Hot and Cold’. He hasn’t returned my call yet.
Kumasi is also home to the largest market in Central West Africa. Unfortunately part of it burned down the day before our arrival.
Why markets are needed is beyond me. Every square inch of every road houses a small stall, created from corrugated tin or a recycled shipping container. There exist oodles of products from electric cords to cooking utensils to jeans to phones available absolutely everywhere.
|Kumasi’s Cavendish Mall|
Tour completed for the day, we headed down to Lake Bosomtwe, named after an antelope that, avoiding a hunter, jumped into the lake and disappeared. Quite the honour for a drowned mammal. In fact, the lake had been created by a plummeting meteorite, to use scientific jargon – quite a while ago. The place was known as the Lake Bosomtwe Paradise Resort.
Should have known by the name we were headed for trouble. The road to Paradise was unpaved, deeply rutted, narrow, dusty, overgrown and steep. It was mentioned by Yao that the road to Paradise is never easy. Do not sin, it will not be worth the wear and tear on your spiritual 4×4.
Two other guests were there,
the other lodges remained empty. We ordered dinner and were advised it would be half an hour until served. Peckish but understanding, we waited. During this time the twenty or so staff who were employed to look after the 4 of us sat down for an impromptu dinner and drinking session. It started fine but we realized that the boisterous – heading toward rowdy – group were more interested in serving themselves than the guests. Hunger morphed into headache. A few of the staff, sensitive to my condition, did the only logical thing. They pulled a few large drums off the stage and began to jam. Had I been at Woodstock, I certainly would have enjoyed Santana’s drummer, Michael Shreeve’s, interpretation of Soul Sacrifice but I was not ready to take in the vibe at the time. After some serious complaining and cajoling (by Lori, of course) we received our salad and sandwich, wolfed the meal down and headed back to our air conditioned room to find the air conditioner broken. Realizing that we were not at the Ritz, we accepted our fate and I sat down to work on the blog. Did you know that cratered lakes miles from civilization are not the most conducive spots to receive internet signals let alone WiFi? Now you do. So we curled up in this enormous bed in a slightly bug infested, under lit, warm, muggy room and went to sleep. On the bright side, the bathroom had hot water and decent pressure and one of the three TV channels broadcast Premier League football, so it wasn’t a total write off.