[FoRK] Obits

James Walker james.walker at stockland.com.au
Mon Feb 21 22:18:37 PST 2005


Bizarre choice of content I know, but a nice guy...guess the add-ons.

Obituary: King Opoku Ware II of Ashanti ;  James Walker; ;  Independent
; 03-05-1999   ; 

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KING OPOKU Ware II was the 15th King of the Ashanti, or Asantehene. The
Asantehene has succeeded in wielding traditional power over the Ashanti
people of Ghana, who number some 30 per cent of the population, while at
the same time managing to coexist with President Jerry Rawling's
National Democratic Congress government.

This was achieved despite the fact that the Ashanti region has supported
the largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, and its candidate
in the last presidential election, John Kuffour. The role of traditional
leaders is entrenched in Ghana's constitution, in return for ceding
political power to the elected government. In order to carry out this
delicate balancing act the apolitical king drew strongly on the
tradition of the Asantehene.

The Ashanti kingdom was founded during the 18th century by Opemsuo Osei
Tutu who unified the Ashanti states through allegiance to the Golden
Stool, or Sika Agua Kofi, which mystically symbolised the soul of
Ashanti nationhood. Through bravery and skill the Ashanti dominion
expanded from their central Ghanaian homeland, bringing them into
conflict with the strongest colonial power at the time - Britain.

A series of wars culminated in 1873 with the capture of the Ashanti
capital of Kumasi, which was looted. Some fine examples of regalia from
that period are still on display at the British Museum and the Wallace
Collection in London. A series of colonial administrators and further
uprisings eventually led to a reconciliation between the parties, and
the establishment of a British protectorate, which became part of the
Gold Coast colony.

By this time the role of the Asantehene had been resurrected by King
Prempeh, who was succeeded by his nephew, Prempeh II, in 1931 as the
occupant of the Golden Stool. During his reign the Gold Coast colony was
transformed into the independent nation of Ghana in 1957. The royal
succession process of the Ashanti is a matrilineal one, which meant that
when his uncle Prempeh II died in 1970, Opoku Ware II (as he became) was
one of several potential successors to the Golden Stool. He was
subsequently nominated by the Queen mother, or Nana Asantehemaa, and
accepted by the Ashanti people.

The Asantehene was born Jacob Matthew Poku in Kumasi, central Ghana, in
1919 into the Ashanti royal family, and was educated at Anglican school
before attending Adisadel College, Cape Coast. He worked as a building
inspector and later with the Public Works department between 1937 and
1943 and then trained as a surveyor in Ghana, working on the Kumasi
Traditional Council Hall and the Kwame Nkrumah University. He married
his wife Victoria, also from Ashanti royalty, in 1945. In the 1950s he
studied law in the United Kingdom and was called to the Bar in 1962. He
later became known by the Ashanti name Barima Kwaku Adusei.

On his return to Ghana, Adusei worked as a lawyer in Accra, before
setting up a private law practice in Kumasi. Increasingly successful and
respected in Ashanti politics, he was appointed to the National
Liberation Council's executive board in 1968, as the Commissioner of
Communications.

Adusei's life was changed inestimably in March 1970, when shortly after
he was appointed the ambassador-designate to Italy, his uncle Prempeh II
died. His distinguished legal career and record of public service, along
with the support of his wife and family meant that he was officially
enstooled in July 1970 as Asantehene, and given the added sobriquet of
Otumfuo, or "the highest". Reports speak of his belief at the time that
the role of Asantehene was even more important to him than representing
his country, in that proper guidance for the Ashanti would lead to
progress for all Ghanaians.

In his tenure as Asantehene Opoku Ware concentrated on local affairs and
in implementing traditional tribal justice, rather than taking on a
national political role in opposition to the government. This was
evidenced by the support of the then President, Ignatius Acheampong,
concerning disputes over the costs of the Asantehene's traditional
palace in the 1970s. The Ashanti people, however, have remained active
in Ghanaian national politics at all levels, particularly in opposition,
and are viewed by some in government with trepidation, due to their
disproportionate wealth and influence.

During the mourning period, the process to succeed Opoku Ware II has
already begun, with several candidates vying for the position. In the
19th century, the funeral of the Asantehene would have meant live burial
for his entourage. While that custom has been abandoned, the ritual
spilling of blood on to the stool will still take place, and the funeral
itself will exhibit the finest Ashanti traditions of cloth and jewellery
making.

Opoku Ware was unique in that his wife, Victoria, ruled almost as an
Ashanti First Lady until her death in 1995, following the celebrations
for the Asantehene's Silver Jubilee. Their three children will not be
considered as candidates, although his son, Prince Akyempe-Hene, may be
consulted. It remains to be seen if Opoku Ware's successor will follow
his low-key example or attempt to formulate a more high-profile role for
traditional leaders in Ghanaian politics.

James Walker

Jacob Matthew Poku (Barima Kwaku Adusei), barrister and traditional
ruler: born Kumasi, Ghana 30 November 1919; called to the Bar, Lincoln's
Inn 1962; enstooled 1970 as King Otomfuo Opoku Ware II, 15th Asantehene;
married (one son, two daughters); died Kumasi 26 February 1999.


(c)1999 Newspaper Publishing P.L.C.

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