Besease: The Home Of Yaa Asantewaa

Staying in a small village in Ghana was a contrast to even living on a farm in the rural south, which I have done briefly. While it’s not huts or some silly idea that most people have about Africa, it does take a bit of getting used to especially for the technologically savvy generation. The experience though cannot be traded for any other and is very enjoyable if one is open to it. This is not about becoming aware of the luxuries one has in America, but rather adjusting to surroundings that have not been ‘industrialized.’ And there was a lot to be admired from the lifestyle too.

As mentioned in the title, Yaa Asantewaa, the woman with the rifle in the picture above, was a famous queen mother, which is something like the equivalent of a mayor, in the nearby village of Eijsu and was from the village we stayed at. She is famous for leading a rebellion against the British in 1900 when they had exiled the Asantehene, which is the king position over all of the Ashanti nation, and then demanded the golden stool used to give the Asantehene his power, which is a major offense to the Ashanti group. She rallied the Ashanti nation and lead the final battle of the Anglo-Asante war in which they trapped the British in a fort still standing in Kumasi for six months. Eventually she was captured and exiled by the British for this, but she is still honored by Ghanaians for what she did.

Our stay in Besease was a different to what we are used to in America, in therms of being guests in someone else’s house. While we were taken care of as visitors with food and beds made specifically for us, we opted to partake in some of the day to day actives around the guest house we stayed at such as sweeping the floor and going to the water hole to fetch water. A central concept in many African cultures, we would use the water we carried back, which could make one very strong as the buckets were big, to bathe, wash our clothes and clean the floor of the guest house. In some ways it’s kind of like the African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ as it is a very communal experience and required everyone to help out.

It was also a bit weird being there due to the fact that we were invited by the former chief of the village, and since the college’s last visit to the village there had been some controversy that resulted in the previous chief being removed from his position. So subsequently anyone appointed by him also had to step down, which included our professor who was appointed a development chief. Ultimately this did not conflict with our presence there, but it did make the preparations for our arrival a bit complicated, which involved diplomatic meetings to discuss a potential relationship with the village and Brooklyn College. Plus since we stayed at the former chief’s guest house it was somewhat awkward since the village was split on supporting him or the new chief.

For a couple of days we traveled to the village of Eijsu to teach at the local high school there. My roommate and I decided to teach several classes on, what else, journalism. What amazed me was how quickly the students caught on to what we were teaching them, and probably had better comprehension of the basic ideas than American students at their grade level. It is true that it’s not uncommon for young adults as old as 21 to still be on that grade level, but even the teenage students had a great desire for learning. The discussions that followed after class were also enlightening as the kids wanted to ask us all about America, and we had our own questions for them about Ghana.

I’ll say that the best experience there was seeing the ceremony that re-enstooled our professor to her development nana position. They opted to hold it in one of the central intersections in the village, and there were quite a few people who came out to see the occasion. The new chief and elders of the village came in traditional garb, and hearing the rites read out loud made it evident how serious the occasion was. When this part ended and it was declared that the final rites would be read at the chief’s place, spontaneously several people picked up our professor and marched towards the house with perhaps several hundred people from the town including us in tow. The exhilaration and greatness of the moment is hard to describe, even with the photo above. Being allowed to see such a occasion made the trip that much more worthwhile, and we were allowed to photograph and record the event to show how important it was.

The story continues in Cape Coast! Be warned, this was probably the least pleasant part of the trip for us.

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