Ghana King's Burial Ends Long Feud
2006-04-16 20:00:35This article has been read 1275 times.
The funeral of Ghana's Dagbon king ended four years of uncertainty as two clans disputed how best to choose his successor. The BBC's Kwaku Sakyi-Addo looks at what this means for a group of people whose traditions sometimes seem at odds with modern Ghana.
Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II, traditional ruler of Ghana's northern Dagomba kingdom, has finally gone to his grave four years after being decapitated in a murder that shocked the country.
He received full state honours at a ceremony in Yendi, where Ghana Armed Forces bugles provided the rhythm to traditional Dagomba rituals.
Many of the people who turned up for the burial earlier this week wore some kind of spiritual accessory, comprising dark leather bands around their upper arms or waists.
This is a region where superstition is strong, and people rely on their amulets and cowries.
A young man arrested by the police for carrying a locally-made pistol, sat on the floor chanting ceaselessly.
The police said the culprit believed he could make himself vanish.
The policeman told him he was going nowhere. He remained in the physical realm.
But the deeply-held conviction that one can simply turn into wind, or blunt an attacker's knife by staring cross-eyed at it, or cause bullets to change direction because one belted out some secret Dagomba code, causes people to be unafraid to initiate trouble. Because they believe they're immune.
The Ya-Na's burial follows a long and bloody dispute between two rival clans over who should become regent, resolved only by means of a compromise deal that offered some benefit to both the Andani and the Abudu clan.
Where people believe they have nothing to lose, they lose everything
Until this issue had been resolved, the slain ruler could not be laid to rest.
In terms of the deal, his first son, Kankupya Na Abdullai Andani, a 40-year-old primary school teacher, is now to be named regent.
Even so, elders from both clans and the national security forces must maintain close watch to prevent the road map from getting derailed.
That's not difficult given the social conditions in Dagombaland - or Dagbon, as the Kingdom is called in the vernacular.
Farming is the chief occupation of the Dagombas. But for half of the year, during the dry season from November to April, there is little economic activity.
When combined with the 45C heat and relentless blasts of sand from the creeping Sahara, that is not a good recipe for big, brawny Dagomba youths.
Where people believe they have nothing to lose, they lose everything.
And then there's the partisan politics from the elite who live in air-conditioned capsules in Accra and prey on the penury of their people by manipulating events in Dagbon.
The new regent is a primary school teacher
More and more Andanis are finding themselves with the main opposition National Democratic Congress, and Abudus with the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP).
The mediators - the "three wise men" who brokered the road map and security analysts - have warned politicians to respect the independence of Dagomba chiefs and elders, and refrain from encroaching on their authority.
Indeed, in many respects, the flare-ups in Dagbon are also a conflict between the Western-style political system and traditional institutions of chieftaincy.
In the absence of modern encroachment, the Kulga Na, grandfather of the Ya-Na, would have been the custodian and interpreter of Dagbon law.
His opinion, like that of a Supreme Court, would have been final. But these days there's also a Supreme Court of judges, mimicking the British House of Lords.
So a compromise solution it had to be. As soon as the regent takes office, he will run the affairs of the Dagomba Kingdom along with a council of six elders: three each from the Andani and Abudu clans or "gates" in an interim mandate.
The Ya-Na received full state honours at the ceremony
Together, they will determine who becomes the next Ya-Na. Although succession rotates between the two gates, a bi-factional "road map" reached with mediators makes either gate eligible because Yakubu Andani didn't die a natural death.
Having a shot at providing a successor satisfies both sides. In addition, the burial and naming of a regent satisfies the Andanis.
The Abudus also take home a sweetener. Ya-Na Yakubu's predecessor, Mahamadu, who was an Abudu, and who was removed in the mid-70s from "the skin" - the symbol of authority on which the Kings sit - is to be restored posthumously as a Ya-Na.
All this is a reminder that Ghana straddles two political worlds. But for the proud people of Dagbon, with their ancient and time-tested customs but not the economic clout to back it all up, it's rather unsettling.