Ghana’s Ashanti King Celebrates 25 Years On Golden Throne
KUMASI, Ghana (AP) _ First came the pounding of leopard-skin drums to signal their arrival. Then the ruby-red velvet parasols, fringed in gold, flapping up and down like elephant ears above their royal charges.
They slowly streamed in by the thousands, hour after hour, the kings and queens of Africa, the chiefs and deputy chiefs of Ghana, with their entourages bearing gifts of golden swords and ebony stools.
They came to this West African country on Sunday to pay homage to the Ashanti king, His Majesty Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, one of the continent’s most powerful and revered royals, who was celebrating 25 years on his golden throne.
Putting aside the heartbreak and conflict in many of their nations, the all-day procession, known as the Grand Durbar, was a brilliant spectacle of Africa in all its rich and proud glory.
``The king is what makes the Ashanti powerful,″ said Paul Osafu-Waife, prince of the Offinso clan of Ashanti. ``And we love him because, somehow in the end, he loves everybody too.″
The Ashantis belong to the Akan ethnic group that comprises about 40 percent of Ghana’s 15 million people. Their heartland of Kumasi, 160 miles north of the capital Accra, is full of gold and timber that for 300 years has made them among the wealthiest and most powerful African ethnic groups.
Too powerful for the likes of their former British colonialists. In 1900, they banished King Prempeh I and 30 Ashanti chiefs to the Seychelles Islands for 24 years to punish the Ashanti because they wouldn’t give up possession of their Golden Stool, their most precious symbol of unity and strength.
About 75,000 people came from around the world for a rare glimpse of the Golden Stool, which is brought out of the king’s palace only once every five years. This year the day was Sunday.
The small, solid-gold antique _ which is never sat on, even by the king _ is said to have been sent to Earth as a message from heaven to form the clan.
``It’s much more than a symbol,″ said Enid Schildkrout, curator of the anthropology department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. ``It’s a symbol of a throne, it’s an office, it’s a title, and it has a relationship to the ancestors.″
Before the king arrived at the Kumasi Sports Stadium, typically two hours late and only after Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings appeared, he was preceeded by priests and poets, toothless grannies sprinkling holy water before him, young men balancing herbs on their heads to rid the stadium of any lurking doom, Queen Victoria Opoku Ware, and the Queen Mother Afua Serwaa Kobi Ampem.
The entourage of thousands created a bright tapestry in their gold-embossed silk and cotton gowns and togas.
The king himself, 15th in a line of direct descendants to the throne, was dressed in a traditional toga draped over his left shoulder made of kente, a heavy cloth woven from bright rectangular strips that many consider the most symbolic of African pride.
Carried on the shoulders of shirtless bearers, following hunters bellowing through rhino horns, the 75-year-old king and English-trained attorney lifted his arms dripping with strings of gold and slowly waved to the crowd.
It was no less than 90 degrees, and bearers fanned Otumfuo with giant palm fronds and rhythmically pumped his red velvet umbrella the size of a parachute, giving him bursts of breeze while also shooing away the crowd.
He was slowly carried past a stand of other kings and their queens, such as the Emir of Kano and the Oni of Ife, both of Nigeria, King Zwalithini of South Africa and the Moro Naba of the Mossis of Burkina Faso.
``It’s just incredible, such a momentous event,″ said actor Danny Glover, one of the many African-Americans who traveled to Ghana for the event. ``The ritual, the regalness of it all, it’s just mind-boggling.″