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NANA BONSU’S HEAD RETURNED AFTER 171 YEARSpdf print preview print preview
27/07/2009Page 1 of 1



The head of Nana Badu Bonsu II, an Ahanta Chief in the 18th century which has been preserved for 171 years in the Netherlands was last Friday returned home.

The Netherlands government had on the previous day presented the head of the chief who was executed by Dutch Colonialists in 1838 to the Government of Ghana in the Hague.

On hand to receive the box containing the head at the Kotoka International Airport was the Minister of Chieftaincy and Culture, Alexander Asum-Ahensah.

He said the necessary arrangements will be made with the Ahanta Traditional Council to give the remains of the chief a befitting burial.

Circumstances surrounding the reason for Nana Badu Bonsu’s execution are shrouded in mystery as there were no records at the National Achieves of Ghana to explain what exactly happened.

The Head of the Search Department at the National Achieves told the Times that there were no records because the Dutch colonialists took everything away.

According to the Dutch Foreign Ministry, however Nana Bonsu killed two Dutch officials in 1838 “and was handed over by his own nation” to Dutch colonialists then in control of that part of the country.

“The King was sentenced to death for treason and hanged. His head was removed, preserved, and brought to the Netherlands,” said the Ministry.

“Times research into the era indicated that the coastal area of present Ghana was occupied by several independent nations or tribes which traded among themselves and with the European settles in the castles and forts they had erected on the coast.

The Dutch, according to records, landed in Cape Coast in the morning of August, 26, 1471, followed by the construction on the St. George Castle by Don Diego d’ Azambuja in 1482.

Later in 1642, the Dutch captured Axim Fort in Ahantaland after which the Portuguese departed from the land they had stayed for over 160 years.

What later happened for the Dutch traders to decapitate the Ahanta king’s body will remain a mystery. However, Nana Etsin Kofi II the leader of a seven-member delegation from the Ahanta traditional area to retrieve the heads from the Hague, said the King was killed because “he was a thorn in the flesh of the Dutch traders”.

Nana Kofi said their king was killed because he stood against injustice and atrocities perpetrated by the Dutch traders.

He said from their oral history, the palace of the King was ransacked by the Dutch and a lot of things were taken away.

Nana Kofi demanded reparation for the things taken from the palace, even though he could not give an inventory of the items taken.

He described the return of the head of the King after so many years as a good omen for the Ahantas and called for an economic relationship between the Dutch and the people of Ahantaland.

Nana Kwaku Darku III, Kejebrilhene and Sompahene of Ahanta Traditional Area, who poured libation at the airport for the successful arrival of the chief’s head asked all Ahanta chiefs to bury their differences and give the present Omanhene the necessary support for the development of the area.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Nana Bonsu was enthroned during the era of Dutch colonial occupation of the coast of Guinea, including the Western Region of present day Ghana.

It said it was alleged that the King ambushed and killed a number of Dutch soldiers in retaliation of hostilities.


             Ghanaian Times    -    page: 3           Monday, July 27, 2009


The chilling story about the return to Ghana of the head of the Ahanta chief, Nana Bonsu II from Holland, (see The Ghanaian Times, July 27, 2009, page 3) more than a century and a half after it was cut of after hanging by the Dutch, then taken away to Holland and kept until now stands out as a very bizarre episode indeed and shows the high level of barbarity in those dark days of slavery.

A statement by the Dutch Foreign Ministry had said that the chief was tried and hanged after he had killed two Dutch officials and was handed over by his own people for trial. This was followed by another statement by the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs that the chief was arrested and court marshaled by a by a punitive expedition”. However, the elders of Ahanta who received the head of their dear one recalled an oral tradition which says that the chief was killed because of his “bravery and fight against injustice”.

Besides raising questions as to what sorts of other Ghanaian items still remain in the hands of those European nations who flocked to our shores between the 15th and 19th  centuries to loot the material and human treasures of Africa, the matter, as stated, also reinforces the high level of resistance put up by our people against foreign domination, injustice, and inhuman activities introduced by the Europeans which by the mid-1700s had, according to the Dutch’s own account “turned from a Gold Coast into a pure slave coast”.

But what was the particular incident in which the Ahanta chief was accused of? And why they take the head away to Holland after killing and decapitating the man?

None of the papers that reported the story of the return could provide background information about what happened at the time and a search by the Times reporter at the National Archives proved futile because he learnt that the Dutch colonialist took away all their records.

Fortunately, the Ghanaian historian Rev. Carl Reindorf in his acclaimed book “A history of the Gold Coast and Ashanti”, published in 1889 provided a record of one incident which matches the date and description of the event described.

This was the assassination of the acting Dutch Governor H. J. Tonneboyer on October 28, 1837 by the Ahantas. The book contains a compilation of all the British, Danish and Dutch governors of the Gold Coast. For the Dutch, it indicates that there were 81 governors from 1598-1843, 18 of who died from natural causes while two, J. P. Hogenboom and Tonneboyer were assassinated in 1808 and 1837 respectively. Hogenboom, according to another Lawrence Green was “horribly murdered by the local natives of Elmina”, while Reindorf stated that Tonneboyer’s assassination occurred after 10 months in his office.

History is replete with the horrific atrocities that characterized the transatlantic slave trade: the raids and forcible capture, the chains and shackles, the long marches to the selling point, the dungeons, the branding with hot iron, the terrible sea journey, up to the severe maltreatment and indignities suffered in the New World-a most terrible event in the annals of African history, the full effect which cannot be assessed.

The Dutch who first set foot on the coast of present day Ghana in 1593 and possessed 32 out of 80 forts and castles became known, for their brutalities and wicked methods of reprisal and punishments, (though they were not alone), including amputations and beheading both in the then Gold Coast and in their New World plantations.

Despite the superiority of European weapons and the treachery of a few local accomplices, W.E.F. Ward wrote that “they were hated by the people around them” due to their rough character as well as the type of trade they had introduced with its attendant wars and disturbances plus “attempts to make themselves the rulers of the coast and have power over all the chiefs and people”. Brutal penalties, too awful for words, were inflicted by the Europeans against all those who opposed and stood in their way.

In fact, cutting of the heads of dead enemies was “a customary punishment for munitions slaves in the baracoons” such as the Dutch did to mutineers in Ft. Crevocoeur (Ussher Fort) in 1722.  It was also practiced among the local people such as the Ashantis did to the British Governor, Sir Charles McCarthy in 1822 and in numerous other cases cited in Reindorf’s book.

Dutch activities were mostly concentrated along the central and western coast where not chief Badu’s people, the Ahantas, but also all the coastal people: Komenda, Apam, and Pokesu (Pricesstown) and others gave them no peace. The same things happened in the New World where “slaves revolts” says V.S Naipul, where as frequent and violent as hurricanes”, especially at the hands of those originating from the Gold Coast, the famous Koromantines, beginning from the 1700 including the Berbice slave rebellion in Surinam which the Dutch had turned “one vast concentration camp” adds Naipul. The revolt was led by one Atta and his Aucanner (Akan?) kinsmen which went on for about three decades till the independence of the bush-Negroes was tacitly recognized”, wrote the Trinidadian historian.

The Dutch who pledged to stop human trafficking by 1814 but did not even went to the extent of buying slaves in Kumasi, then dress them in Dutch military uniforms to deceive British anti-slavery patrols and sent them to Indonesia to go and fight insurgents; all of which goes to show until now the vast amount of less-known stories related to the slave trade.

On November 3, 2003, the former Netherlands Ambassador to Ghana, Aries Vander Wiel, on the occasion of the opening of a UNESCO Slave Route Conference in Accra, expressed regret for his country’s “strong involvement” in “the most tragic and disturbing episode in the history of mankind, the slave trade”, and went on to speak about the importance “turning the dark pages of our common history, from something to be for gotten into something to be remembered”.

It is interesting to note that this portion of regret of which I requested and obtained a copy from the Dutch Embassy in Accra was found to be deleted from the published version by the Ministry of Tourism titled ‘The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: The Landmarks, Legacies And Expectations”,   2007. at any rate, no Ghanaian chief knew at the time that the severed head of a Ghanaian chief was on display in a Dutch museum until a renowned Dutch writer, Arthur Japin, broke the news after discovering it in one of the 15 museums in the city of Leiden, southern Holland.

So far, the Dutch are the only ones who can tell the world what they actually did with the chief’s head apart from “storing it in a jar with formaldehyde”?

Meanwhile, it is only after the final burial of the head, according to African custom, that the soul of Nana Bonsu II will go to rest peacefully with his ancestors after so many years of indignity. Nana


             Times Weekend   -    page: 14          Saturday, August 8, 2009

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