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I. Bibiriba, Where it All Began
If anyone had told him, that the decision they had taken to
remain permanently in Bibiriba, would have implications for the spiritual
transformation of people everywhere; or that it would usher that small, sleepy
village of some two hundred inhabitants, in the coastal Central Region of Ghana,
into the limelight of world attention, he would have been extremely surprised.
The year was 1984 and Kojo Apiata, dark, radiant, clean-shaven and bespectacled,
had arrived in the village of Bibiriba from the United States with Sue, his
white American wife. He had been away for twenty-six years, but was now
compelled to visit home to oversee the burial of his father who had succumbed to
the effects of old age, and had passed away the week before. With regret, he
recalled his inability to be present for his mothers funeral three years
Being the Chief of Bibiriba, the funeral of Nana Gyata II was
elaborate and full of ceremony and Sue was engrossed in the goings-on, so unlike
anything she had seen. The burial had hardly been completed, however, and the
last clod of earth thrown over the coffin, than unusual activity around her and
her husband greatly alarmed her. So incomprehensible to her was what was going
on, that she mistook it for a kidnap attempt and began to punch and kick
anything in sight in desperate effort to salvage the situation; for suddenly and
unexpectedly, a group of hefty men in traditional clothing had pulled Kojo away
from her, and amid chanting, drumming, dancing, and the firing of musketry, had
lifted him physically over their shoulders and began to move away, half
trotting, as her husband struggled fruitlessly to free himself. What confused
her even more was to see some whitish powder being sprinkled over him by one of
the men, as the excited crowd disappeared around the corner in noisy jubilation.
Goodness me! Whats that stuff? she wailed to no one in
particular. Could it
could it be
She was still in a high state of perturbation when a group of
women, about seven of them, in colourful African attire, drew close to her and
attempted to calm her down: Your
new Chief, atse a? one of
them attempted to communicate something to her.
The other women laughed, and speaking in the local Fanti
dialect, noisily teased their companion to speak better English next time.
But Sue was still confused. Was it a bad omen that her
husband should be abducted in this manner to see the Chief? But to see which
Chief? Hasnt the Chief just been buried? While these thoughts agitated her
mind, the womens presence reassured her somehow, and she allowed herself to be
chaperoned by them, all the way to the Chiefs palace. After agonizing alone for
about an hour in the room she shared with her husband at the palace, she was
relieved to receive a note from him, telling her that all was fine; that he was
going to be installed as the new Chief of Bibiriba in place of his late father;
and that in preparation for that event, he had to be in confinement for a week
to allow for certain necessary rituals of a traditional nature to be performed.
He encouraged her to relax and enjoy her stay.
Sue survived the week without her husband by becoming
engrossed in a book she had bought several years ago, but which because of her
busy schedule back home, she had not had time to read. All so soon, the day of
the enstoolment arrived, enstoolment being a term used in Ghana to refer
to the installation of a chief, in any of the southern areas of the country,
where the symbol of a chiefs authority and office was the stool.
The day began very well. The ceremony was full of sound and
colour, the grounds of the ceremony packed full. Twisting their bodies to the
rhythm of the drummers and singers since the early hours of the morning, were
various groups of dancers. Chiefs had come from neighbouring communities, each
one of them magnificently attired in his beautiful kente cloth and
adorned with a rich array of ornaments of pure gold on his arms, around his
neck, and even on his feet; and there were sub-chiefs from Bibiriba. Also
represented at the grounds were ordinary subjectsthe young, the old, the men
and the womenin every kind of attire.
Kojo Apiata was truly majestic in his full royal regalia,
surrounded by an entourage under the richly decorated pavilion. By his side sat
his wife, Sue, looking splendid in traditional attire that she had adorned with
help from some women attached to the palace. The main ceremony had been
accomplished and Kojo Apiata, having now acceded to the stool of Bibiriba with
the stool name of Nana Kojo Egyir I, was receiving the homage of his subjects,
when commotion erupted. A large group of angry-looking men, wielding sticks and
clubs, appeared suddenly on the scene, chanting in a manner understood to be
hostile and invaded the grounds of the ceremony. The new Chief took a quick
glance at the situation, and fearing that stones might start flying around, took
Sue by the hand and deserted the grounds in a hurry. Other chiefs abandoned
palanquins, large royal umbrellas, and other paraphernalia depicting their royal
offices, and together with their entourages and subjects, dispersed
helter-skelter in all directions.
Back in the comfort and safety of the dilapidated mud palace,
guarded by an asafo company of traditional warriors, Nana Egyir received
news, some hours later, that Kwame Apiata, his elder half-brother, had been
behind the disturbances; that one person had died in the mayhem, scores injured,
and a couple of houses burnt down. It appeared that Kwame Apiata, being the
eldest son of the late Chief, had been peeved at being overlooked for election
as the next Chief of the village.
Jojo dear, what does being chief of a village really mean in
practice? What are the privileges? Sue asked of her husband, as they anxiously
monitored the situation outside of the palace walls.
It means I am the custodian of the culture of this place. I
hold in trust, all the land and resources of this community.
How much land do you hold?
Several hectares… From the coast just a few metres from
here, to the highway from where we came, is about five kilometres. Across will
give us, perhaps, another ten kilometres. That will make about
hectares, if my calculation is correct.
Now, how were you able to usurp the right of your elder
Oh, but you saw how my installation went! I was not
expecting to be enstooled
I dont even see how we can remain permanently here.
My half brother, Kwame, is not educated, and he was overlooked by the kingmakers
and the Queen mother who together do the selection, probably because they feel
less comfortable entrusting the affairs of this village into his hands. However,
that does not mean that my enstoolment is illegal
since Kwame and I are from
Kojo went on to explain how inconvenient it was going to be
for him as Chief, anyway; that if they went back to the States, he would need to
be coming back often, for prolonged stays, to look after the affairs of the
people. To Sues question, he explained that Kwame did not have an education
because he spent all his life in the village, while he, Kojo, was fortunate to
have left Bibiriba to live with a maternal uncle in Sekondi who took care of his
education. It was on the basis of a scholarship he received, that he left in
1958 to study Nutritional Science in the States, as he had several times
explained to her.
Three days had passed after the disturbances, and the village
was still in a state of tension. Kojo, confused about what should be done, had
had enough of it and was anxious to return to the States. Surprisingly, Sue
seemed very relaxed and not as concerned as he was.
Choochoo, he called to Sue, Its time for us to return
home. I am fed up with this situation
Does that mean you are abdicating?
I have not said that, have I? But what else can one do
in an environment so hostile? And Bibiriba, after all, is such a tiny village,
such an insignificant place. Does my enstoolment justify the death of one person
and injuries to others? No, I dont think so. After a long pause, he continued,
We should be leaving at the weekend. I shall be explaining my position to the
elders of the village.
But will they accept it if you told them you wished to
They would probably advise me to
reconsider. If I should abdicate, which I have not yet decided to do, I would
rather do so when we are safely back home.
After a pause, he turned to his wife: When are you going to
begin packing? What he received for an answer was complete silence. A quick
glance at her convinced him that Sue was not keen on going. Dont you want to
go home? he asked in surprise.
No, lets spend the rest of our life here, she murmured
The response hit Kojo like a thunderbolt. His jaw dropped.
What? But Jason is still there! he reminded her of their twenty-year old son.
What about our jobs?
Oh, Jojo, you know that Jason is in college and can take
care of himself. As for our jobs, we can do without them, cant we? I mean
mean we should be able to manage here, shouldnt we?
Kojo was getting irritated and a bit worriedworried that his
beloved wife was going crazy. Why else would she want to abandon a wonderful
life in the Land of Promise, for a hostile, remote, sleepy village on the shores
of Ghanaa village that was frozen in time, its inhabitants so steeped in
tradition, poverty, and ignorance that even he, born and partly-bred here, had
had a cultural shock when they arrived two weeks before?
Woman, I am no fisherman or farmer, and dont know how to
survive here, Kojo blurted out, trying to suppress in his voice the anger that
was simmering within him. We have no choice, we have to go!
I do not wish to go anywhere! Sue shot back, in as polite a
voice as she could muster.
Kojo realized at that point, that he definitely had a problem
on his hands, and it would not help to be angry or argumentative. Rather, he
would have to be tactful and conciliatory, and attempt to reason with his wife.
Choochoo, my love, he began, I dont know what your
fascination is with Bibiriba, but there is very little to occupy our time here.
The place is tiny; some of the people are visibly hostile, and in their
desperation may not hesitate to visit violence on innocent people. Already one
person is dead and a number injured. I do not wish to be labelled as an African
leader who will go to any length to be in power. All life is sacred
person killed for the stool of this village is one person too many. That is why
I wish us to leave, so that further bloodshed may be averted and my conscience
may remain clear. Come to think of it, I am now convinced I should even abdicate
On the contrary, Sue responded, to abandon Bibiriba at
this time will be a disservice to the injured, to those who have lost homes, and
will do nothing to honour the memory of the deceased. It is precisely because of
the unfortunate death and injuries that I believe we should stay.
But, sweetheart, have you not been following the news
concerning so many of the intractable wars in Africa? The underlying reason for
the prolongation of most of these wars is intransigence on all sides
But I am not asking you to be intransigent, Jojo dear. See
When innocent bystanders, engaged in legitimate human activities, are caught up
in incidents such as we witnessed, and are made to endure extreme sacrifices,
huh?… deaths, injuries
the ultimate outcome for them, needs to be good enough
to alleviate their sorrow, and to compensate in a way for their losses. Just
imagine, if we should go back home, and your half-brother accedes to the stool,
he would have done so through violence, would have alienated a good section of
the population, would most likely be unable to improve the appalling conditions
in this village, and the conditions of the people would be worse than before,
their suffering unduly prolonged. That would mean that our coming only brought
death, injuries, burnt homes, resentment
division in the community! But if we
should stay and succeed in improving the conditions of life here, that would be
adequate compensation for the sufferings caused, wouldnt it?
Sue proceeded to explain how she thought Kojo should approach
the disaffected faction, make reasonable concessions to them, attempt to elevate
their vision to see the kinds of development that would follow in the village,
solicit their wholehearted cooperation, so that they would be happy to be part
of a new dispensation in Bibiriba. Those who had suffered some disadvantages or
injury during the disturbances, she further explained, could be approached later
and reasonable compensations offered them. If you approach your own
half-brother in sincerity and friendship, and show genuine love, affection and
empathy, she stressed, you will be surprised at the positive response you will
receive from him and his supporters.
Kojo was pleasantly surprised by his wifes wisdom and
composure. She seemed so comfortable, so relaxed in the tense environment, so
much in control of the situation. He recalled how back home in the States, they
would argue needlessly about almost everything; but here she wasso sincere, so
passionate, so authentic, and so very convincing in the advice she had given, of
how the impasse in Bibiriba could be addressed. Knowing her very well, he was
sure Sue had seen or experienced something in Bibiriba that had touched her
deeply enough, for her to want to remain permanently in the village
could not put his finger on what it might be!
Nana Kojo Egyir I, new Chief of Bibiriba, agreed to go along
with the suggestion of his wife, Sue, which meant remaining with his subjects in
Bibiriba and preoccupying himself with their welfare. And that was how
negotiations were initiated between the elders of the village on behalf of the
Chief, and Kwame Apiata and his chief supporters, until genuine reconciliation
had been achieved and the authority of the new Chief acknowledged. Kwame Apiata,
in particular, was very profuse in his apologies to Nana and to his wife. He
had been genuinely won over by the positive manner in which the Chiefs elders
had engaged his team, the concessions that had been made, and the promises of
development that had been proposeddevelopment that would cover such areas as
provision of good drinking water, electricity, roads, schools, a hospitalall
within the next ten years, and with that, the concomitant prospect of improved
economic opportunity for everyone in Bibiriba.
When normalcy was restored soon after, and Nana Egyir assumed
full authority in his backwater chiefdom, with Sue, his white American wife, by
his side, he was fully conscious that his work for the next decade had been
fully cut out for him. Sue for her part was delighted that the couple could
remain in Bibiriba and dedicate themselves to the welfare of the people.