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Becoming a Traditional Chief in Rural Ghana

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I recently returned from the trip of a lifetime with my parents — we visited Ghana for a PeaceJam conference, and continued on to Ethiopia and then a safari in Tanzania. While in Ghana, Wisdom Addo, the head of PeaceJam in West Africa, took us all on a trip to the village where he grew up, to meet the village elders. While we were there, I was given the unexpected gift of being crowned the village’s newest traditional chief — and my parents were there to witness the whole thing. Read on to find out how the day went according to my parents, Suzanne and Brian Kelly:

Anxious anticipation gripped us that Sunday morning. A 90-minute ride to a remote Ghanaian village for a supposed 60-minute meeting with the village elders/chiefs? Why did Wisdom get us beautiful and elaborate outfits, but not one for Brian? Hmm… something must be up.

The driver, Precious, drove like the African Mario Andretti — eyes clear and intent. He downshifted the Sprinter Van to pass, hit 135 km/hr in fifth gear on roads pockmarked with three-foot craters. Good thing we had seat belts on.

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The van ride to Wisdom’s village was an adventure itself.

When we arrived in Krobos, it was warm — really warm — but exhilarating to be greeted by so many smiling faces.

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Everyone we came across in the village was so friendly.

We met Wisdom’s mom and and grandmom, and Wisdom gave us a tour of the village. Amidst basic housing and few material possessions were some of the happiest people that we’ve ever seen. Our group was warmly welcomed, and the kids followed us on our tour — happily posing for pictures along the way.

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Meeting Wisdom’s mom and grandmom was a great experience.

Rather than cats and dogs, we saw goats and pigs. Drums were the musical instrument of choice. We were less fearful here than at a mall in America.

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Goats populated the streets all around Krobos.

We thought this was going to be a short visit, and we were not expecting to have lunch. With great pride, containers of chicken and rice made by our hosts were served.

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It was great having lunch with our soon-to-be-chief son before the ceremony.

During lunch, we watched the village women making foo foo (pounding a plantain mixture). They politely withheld their laughter as our group took turns trying, unsuccessfully, to match their technique.

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Making foo foo is no easy task.

From lunch, it was time to head to the big event — there was an aura of excitement surrounding the village.

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Everyone headed toward the village square together after lunch.

Traditional drums pounded — almost as loud as our hearts — and hundreds of hands clapped as we are walked to the village square.

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The sound of drums and clapping and feeling of joy filled the air.

Little did we realize that our son was about to be paid the absolute highest honor that this village can bestow a person. We felt it. We were soaking in every minute. Pure joy!

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The current village chiefs sat at the front of the village square.

After a brief introduction and the other chiefs taking their seats, Brian was marched away.

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Brian briefly left the ceremony so he could be given his new chief garb.

Several minutes later, he returned in traditional garb looking very regal. Walking back in, the crowd was brought to its feet, accompanied by cheers and smiles as Brian made his way to becoming a new chief.

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Seeing Brian’s face walk back in to the village square was unlike anything else.

The village women presented him with a beaded bracelet that’s reserved only for traditional chiefs, and he was given his traditional name — Nene Kwesi Mateu Tsu the First.

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Only traditional chiefs get one of these beaded bracelets.

With great fanfare, each of the village chiefs did a ceremonial dance involving much foot stomping, hopping and knife slashing. No surprise, they expected the new chief to also dance around the square — and Brian did not disappoint.

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Brian’s first dance as traditional chief did not disappoint!

They then brought the blade to the new chief’s dad, and it was the moment of truth — dance or bring great shame to Nene Kwesi Mateu Tsu the First. So, we danced! The drums pounded and the crowd laughed with glee. This day we were Ghanaians!

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Of course, the new chief’s dad had to get up and dance for the crowd as well.

The entire day was a surreal experience and one that we will never forget. I wonder if we should invite our new family for Christmas this year…