Netherlands returns king's head to Ghana

24th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

A Ghanaian king from the 19th century who was executed by Dutch colonists and whose head was kept in a museum in Leiden for decades will be flown back on Friday.

The Hague – The Netherlands presented to Ghana Thursday the bottled head of a monarch, Badu Bonsu II, executed by Dutch colonists in the former Gold Coast in 1838 and kept in a western museum for decades.

The Dutch and Ghanaian governments and a member of Badu Bonsu's Ahanta tribe signed a pact in The Hague for the handover of the head, which remained out of sight in a room elsewhere in the foreign ministry building for the ceremony.

Ahanta tribe leaders held an emotional ritual, pouring alcohol on the floor of the conference room while invoking the chief's spirit in the presence of Ghanaian nationals dressed in the country's red and black mourning colours.

"It is because of the injustice meted out to our people that our great king, who was fighting for his people, was murdered," was how Nana Kwekwe Darko III, who led the ritual, explained his chanting in English afterwards.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told his guests the ceremony sought to lay to rest an historic episode that was "unfortunate and shameful".

"I am glad that our two peoples, Ghanaians and Dutch alike, are able to face these parts of our history squarely and together," he said.

Ghana claimed the head, which had been preserved in formaldehyde in a bottle among the anatomy collection of the university in the western Dutch town of Leiden, after hearing of its whereabouts last year.

The identity of the head was uncovered by a Dutch researcher a few years ago.

"Up to that point, nobody in the Netherlands was aware of its existence," Dutch historian Michel Doortmont told AFP.

Ondine Gort, spokeswoman for the Leiden University medical centre, said the preserved head had been kept there for "scientific examination", and was never shown to the public.

A great-great-grandson of the late ruler, Joseph Jones Amoah, told journalists after Thursday's ceremony that he was "unhappy".

"I am hurt, my grandfather has been killed," he said, in tears.

According to the Dutch government, Badu Bonsu II killed two Dutch officials in 1838 "and was handed over by his own nation" to Dutch colonists then in control of a part of the former Gold Coast that included Ahanta tribal lands.

"The king was sentenced to death for treason and hanged. His head was removed, preserved, and brought to the Netherlands," said a foreign ministry statement.

But Amoah said his forebear had been trying to protect his people from the slave trade, and was "betrayed" by power-hungry rivals.

"This is one of the rough edges of our common history," said Doortmont.

Nana Serwaah, a 52-year-old Ghanaian expat, told AFP the ceremony was important "because a king needs to be buried on his own land. He cannot rest in peace without a head."

In an apparent gesture of forgiveness, Ahanta chief Nana Etsin Kofi II told the gathering through an interpreter that the events happened long ago in history.

"None of us had been born."

The ceremony, that started off solemnly, ended somewhat in disarray when several of the Ahanta tribesmen objected passionately to their representative signing the agreement.

They claimed they had been sent to The Hague by the current 15th Badu Bonsu merely to identify the head and report back to him, and that they had been unaware of their own government's plans to take the head back to Ghana.

According to the Dutch foreign ministry, the head was now in the custody of the Ghanaian government, and should be flown home on Friday where a big funeral is being planned.

AFP / Expatica

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