Palace Protocol

It's not every day you get a chance to meet a king. But that's what our itinerary for May 30 th called for, specifically a visit to Manhyia Palace in Kumasi , Ghana , to see the Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the king of the Ashanti tribe.

According to our guide notes, prepared by Kwasi Bosompem from the Let's Go Africa Foundation, the Ashanti tribe gradually spread their influence over Ghana through conquest, reaching their peak during the 17 th , 18 th and 19 th centuries. The British, as did other European colonialists at the time, saw Africa as a rich exploitable resource. In Ghana , gold and ivory were plentiful, and the British were anxious to capitalize on those resources, including the lucrative slave trade, all areas that the Ashanti were also involved in.

That didn't sit well with the British; they didn't want anyone standing in the way. Armed conflict followed, spurring the Anglo-Ashanti wars in the late 1800s, The British eventually defeated the proud Ashanti in 1900. Despite having been defeated, the Ashanti continued to run their own affairs until Ghana became independent in 1957, the first black African nation to do so.

From what I gathered, the Ashanti pretty much to continue to run their own affairs now, a kind of semi-autonomous arrangement that works well for both the government and the Ashanti . But as our Ghanaian friends from the Cocoa Board informed us, whenever one visits the king of the Ashanti , adhering to protocol is paramount.

In Ghana , every important encounter with a chief requires a symbolic gift of “schnapps.” This gift of schnapps stems from the practice of pouring water, wine or some alcohol in a special pattern as homage to one's ancestors. This practice of libation runs deep in Ashanti culture.

Mindful of maintaining protocol, our group procured a case of schnapps and a sack of rice as our gifts. The Ashanti's king prep man had also mentioned a goat, but Bill Guyton and Tracey Duffey, president and program manager of the World Cocoa Foundation, respectively, thought better of it.

As a buses rolled into Manhayia Palace , one could hear the eerie calls of the male peacocks. Once on the grounds, the “boys” provided all of us with a fantastic display of feathers.

At this point, the group was separated into two smaller units, allowing the tour guides to each have a more manageable number of delegates with the Ashanti museum, at one time the original palace for the king.

Osei Kwadwo, the curator of the museum, took us on a fascinating walk through history, explaining the very intricate practice of electing a king. As he pointed out, the kings come from the matriarchal side of royalty, with the queen mother making the selection. All selections have to be approved by a council of elders, the idea being to ensure the right man for the job is selected.

Our history lesson lasted about an hour, heavily sprinkled with anecdotes and witticisms. It really set the perfect tone for our audience with the king. Unfortunately, some of that momentum was lost as our wait for our audience dragged on longer than anyone expected.

Our original itinerary had us scheduled to leave the Palace at 11:30 , but we actually didn't get to see the king make his appearance until 1-ish . During that time we waited in an open-air reception room, watching as members of the council and their staffers filed in.

David Loue, an agronomist for ADM Cocoa who happened to be sitting next to me explained that those who were wearing the traditional kente cloths over their shoulders were chiefs, while those that had the cloths wrapped up in a roll on their chests with their shoulders bare, were their assistants.

Atop the dais, an empty throne awaited the king, Nearby an assistant held an umbrella, thus forming a protective roof over the king. Flanking each side of the dais were chiefs sitting on small stools. During our wait, a thunderstorm let go a torrent of rain. Luckily, we were inside. Finally, two men holding horns announced the arrival of the king.

A side door opened and the king, no small man, sat himself down on the throne. Then the singing commenced.

Four men behind the king began to chant, lavishing praise on the king and describing great feats from the past. This sing-song history -- a kind of tribal trance music -- continued for quite a while, about 25 minutes, lulling more than a few delegates into a deep snooze.

Upon completion, the king was ready to receive his visitors. Protocol requires that visitors be introduced by a member of the council or their staff, who in turn talk directly to a translator or “linguist.” The linguist, in turn, talks to the king, who then responds directly back to the linguist. This fellow then relates the message to the guest.

This method of triangular dialogue prevents the king from making a mistake we were told, since one could always blame the intermediaries if there was a misunderstanding. Fail-safe it may be for the king, but it really prolongs the process.

Finally, our representatives, John Long, vice president of corporate affairs – Hershey and chairman of the WCF, and Bill Guyton, president of the WCF, stepped up to the plate. The gifts were offered and the reason for “our mission” detailed.

In accepting the gifts, another chief advisor thanked the group for their interest in Ghana 's cocoa. He also chided the major manufacturers of chocolate slightly, indicating the farmers should be getting a bigger piece of the pie, i.e. better prices for their cocoa beans as a way of ensuring “fair play” for everyone.

That was kind of unexpected, but I figured that probably stemmed from the group not having provided a goat as part of the package. The next delegation, a company from China representing heating and cooling, also delivered their gifts, including a $500 cash donation. Nary a discouraging word for them.

During this time, the clock ticked down, and all of us were getting hungry. Fortunately, Agnes Kye-Frimpong, Ghana Cocoa Board's deputy director, petitioned his Excellency to allow the group to leave before the audience officially ended.

In doing us, many of us had the opportunity to approach the king and bow before him, bidding him farewell. I suspect the king himself was getting weary and understood our desire to grab lunch at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Kumasi , reportedly one of the best Indian restaurant's in Ghana 's Garden City.

Everyone enjoyed their meal at Moti Mahal and probably would haven't minded taking the afternoon off to soak in the day's events. Fortunately, we still had one more stop to make, a visit to Bechem where St. Joseph 's Training College was located. The visit actually proved more inspirational and exciting that paying homage to Otumfuo Osei Tutu II (No offense, Your Excellency, but the future of Ghana rests with institutions like St. Joseph 's.)

It was about four p.m. when we finally rolled into Bechem. Upon our arrival, several students dressed in traditional garb, banged away on their drums, greeting us the way only Ghanaians can.

The student body had obviously been waiting for us since 2:30 , our scheduled time of arrival. Feeling a bit sheepish about our delay, our representatives apologized, explaining that kingly protocol prevented us from staying to our schedule.

The reason the WCF had scheduled a visit to St. Joseph's was twofold: First, IFESH, the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, had established a Teacher's Resource Center thanks to the funding provided by WCF and The Hershey Co.; second, the college underscored the importance of supporting schools involved in training teachers, a critical component to ensuring Ghana's children, including those on cocoa farms, all had the opportunity to receive an education.

Aware that our delay had put a crimp into the day's program, St. Joseph's Principal, Charles Mensah, fast tracked the agenda, getting in some singing and speeches by students, as well as remarks by Julie Sullivan, IFESH's president and ceo, and Tom Hernquist, senior v.p. and global chief growth officer.

Darkness approached and today happened to be “lights out” day at the school (no electricity from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. ). As we continued to discover throughout our tour, Ghana has a serious energy problem, one that forces the country to dole out electricity in measured amounts.

When it was his turn to make a few remarks, Hernquist noticed that his microphone died. Just as he was about to raise his volume level significantly, the school's generator kicked in, returning power to the microphone. Generators are used extensively in Ghana to compensate for electrical blackouts, as we all found out in every hotel we stayed in.

In his closing remarks, Mensah thanked WCF, IFESH and Hershey for their help in the school. But as every principal worth his weight in textbooks knows, it's always important to remind people that there are other needs, such as a second generator to keep the computer lab going. By the trip's end, that need was met, but more on that in the next blog.

After a quick tour of the resource center, the group made a courtesy call at the Bechem Traditional Council, paying respect to Nana Fosu Gyeabour Akoto II. This chief quickly dispensed with formalities and even called for the delegates to come onto the dais for a group shot.
I had one important function in this part of the trip: I carried the ceremonial schnapps and a white envelope (I assume it was a cash gift) for the chief.

From there we rumbled to a remote part of the village where – with the help of the Seed Production Unit of the Ghana Cocoa Board -- women had established a soap-making concern as a means of earning additional income.

Using discarded cocoa husks, the women burn the husks into ashes. The ashes are mixed with water, the liquid collected, purified and solidified to eventually produce three different kinds of soap, which are sold at the local markets.

During our visit – under a full moon – the female members of the WCF formally presented the women involved with soapmaking a gift of cooking kettles (The kettles had been delivered earlier to simplify logistics). It really was a scene “Out of Africa” that most people would never see or get to appreciate. Indeed, a special night.

Actually, it proved even more special when the first bus got stuck in a muddy patch on the dirt road leading out of the village. Well, after several minutes of slipping, sliding, and pushing by delegates, the bus managed to get some traction and shot forward.

Delegates then boarded the bus and we headed back to Kumasi to the hotel for a late night meal. Arriving tired but awash with memories, the group didn't take long to check in, eat and crash. Tomorrow we headed back to Accra via commuter plane and that meant a 6:15 departure. The home stretch of the tour was at hand.