As we’re walking past the corpse of the queen mother, an official’s angry hiss gets my attention. "Remove your glasses!" Apparently, it’s not allowed to wear glasses as you pay the queen her last respect. Just another cultural difference and traditional taboo that’s impossible to predict for an outside like me.
My family have returned to Denmark. I’ve instead been join by Bo – the founder of Globespots.com, for which I sometimes do some writing – who’ll bee travelling with me for about a month. Together with a couple of German travellers, we’re attending the funeral ceremony of the Ashanti, Queen mother. The second most important position in the ancient Ashanti culture, after the King of the Ashanti.
If you don’t know the Ashanti, here’s the ultra short background. Ashanti means "because of wars" and the kingdom offered the toughest resistance against the British in Ghana during the early colonisation period. So great was this kingdom that their former territory now forms an entire region in central Ghana, simply called the Ashanti Region.
The death of the queen mother is a once-in-a-generation experience. So it’s a lucky coincident that the five-day ceremony fits perfectly with our trip. Thousands of people had gathered on the palace grounds and in the surrounding streets. Most wearing all black – including our two German friends who had have special clothes made in the market earlier that day. Some combined black and dark red (the royal colours), and a few came in whatever black or red clothes they had. Both Bo and I struggled to find anything that could go with our black t-shirts, but most people seemed to forgive our brown pants.
A ceremony like this one – we found out – tend to be rather rowdy. One thing is the heavy drinking. The funeral is held a few months after the queen mother’s death. So the moarning had been replaced by something more fitting a goodbye party, which I guess fits well with a funeral. More problematic was the dancing and competition. Let me explain.
All the regions local chiefs attend this funeral. With full entourage. These entourages, complete with weapons for noise-making, tend to compete in creating the loudest and wildest presentation of their chief. One thing is the firearms for making noise, but the dances and shouts mostly arrive from old worrier and war dances that are very aggressive in nature. Having a bunch of armed bodyguards competing in being the wildest loudest and most aggressive, doesn’t necessarily create what I would call a ‘nice atmosphere’. It was rather a spectacle.
Having mostly untrained local bodyguards to act as crowd control didn’t improve the situation further. Local dancers would approach us white people and make a dance move where they would rather aggressively head-bud a money bill. If we were meant to donate money to the dancers, I don’t know, but being singled out by these guys weren’t fantastic.
At this point, some local guy felt pity for us and used most of the rest of the funeral on showing us around and trying to explain us things. Including getting us into the lines that would walk around the dead queen mother’s body as a sign of respect. No shoes, no jewellery (including watches), no hats and apparently no glasses. I’m just happy that I’m only 0.5 myopic – so it wasn’t a problem to actually see the body. Had I been near blind it might have been a problem not to accidentally step on one of the many members of the royal family who was sitting on the ground around the corpse.
Rowdiness and the aggressive vibe aside it was an enjoyable experience. Only one real low point was that both Bo and I suffered an attempt to pickpocket us. This is the first time in my ten months here in West Africa I’ve experienced it, but crowds like this are prime locations for thieves, so I’m not surprised. Both Bo and I are experienced travellers, and none succeeded.
I’m mostly a bit offended by how stupid “my pickpocketer” though I was. He got my zipped pockets opened and tried to go for my phone. I feel his hand around my pocket, grabs it with my left hand and pushes him away by planting my right hand firmly in his chest. Accompanied by a loud, “keep your hands out of my pockets!” You should think he would get that message, but no. A second later he tried to open my zipper on my small camera back strapped to my belt. Again, I manage to push his hands away and just before I turn around some locals shout out to me that he’s a thief and he loses himself in the chaos.
However, he was wearing a blue and white jumper. In a crowd of all black. He was the easiest guy to spot, and I manage to spot him across the crowd. I simply refuse to get pickpocketed by someone so amateurish that he doesn’t even dress to disappear into a crowd of people all dressed in black. If you want to pickpocket this white guy, you simply need to make at least a minimum of an effort!
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