The Asantehene- a chief or a King

I seek to take an academic approach to the substantive issue as to whether or not we have kings in Ghana today. The issue has generated scores of arguments from the populace on numerous Ghanaian airwaves following comments made by the Editor-in-Chief of the New Crusading Guide Newspaper, Mr. Abdul Malik Kweku Baako on Wednesday 9th May 2018 on Accra based Peace FM.

As an academic and author I rely on academic and literary interpretations but I politely refrain from any politics that has unfortunately been associated with the issue. This restraint is to the extent that we need to stay rather focused on the substantive issue of whether or not a king is in Ghana.

· According to dictionary.com a ‘king’ is a male sovereign who holds by lifetime the authority over a countryWikipedia puts it in this way; a king is the male ruler of a country. And according to Wikitionary, a king is a male monarch who is the supreme leader of a nation. A monarch is a sovereign head of state in a monarchy; therefore, a monarch exercises the highest authority and power in the state. If a country has a king or a queen that means it is a monarchy or a kingdom. Monarchs bear a variety of titles such as King or Queen, Prince, Emperor, Archduke, Duke, Grand duke, Emir, or Sultan. An emperor is typically rules over more than one nation and is a higher monarchical title. Thus an emperor may be called king of kingsas used by the kings of Persia and others.

A ‘Chief’ on the other hand is a leader of an entire tribe regardless of how large or small the tribe may be. The subordinates of a chief are known as sub-chiefs or chieftains. Ashante is a tribe and a region and not a country of its own. Therefore the leader, Asantehene of Ashante in entirety, irrespective of the extent of his territories falls within the chieftaincy context.

From the above definitions it is clear that even in the past, Gold Coast had never had kings because no single monarch ruled the entire land called the Gold Coast. No historical accounts hold that Gold Coast was once a monarchy or kingdom. The phrase Ashante kingdom is only the English people’s way of describing the tribe of Ashante because of her unity in kingship and culture. Asanteman never means Ashante Kingdom just as Mfantseman will never mean Fante Kingdom and just as Ghanaman never means Ghana Kingdom. In the past, it was true that Ashante was great but every tribe was independent in kingship systems and beliefs. The Asantehenes would have been monarchs only if all other tribes and ethnic groups in the country were under Ashante tribute. If the Asantehenes had been monarchs, they would have been emperors since emperors are king of kings.

· In Akan Nana is synonymous with a chief, a grandparent and even deities. At the same time it is a name for commoners in the example of Nana Yaw. For these microsomes of reason, it is unscholarly for one to be quick to make a direct translation from English into our vernacular. No doubt trying to translate a ‘king’ into Akan seems challenging or contemptible if not controversial. In an example, in Akan, only the brother of a mother is called uncle. This is totally different in the English system where uncle denotes the brother of either parent. This is because of the difference in the English system and the Ghanaian system. So, an uncle in the United Kingdom may not, per our systems be regarded as an uncle. Therefore it would be erroneous in seeking to interpret English, to import words exactly how they look like.

The foundation of any better understanding of this issue is semantics, the branch of linguistics studying the meaning of words. In another example the Akan word translated ‘Ɔhene’ may be translated into a king, a chief, and sub-chief. Ɔhene has never meant a ruler of the entire of Gold Coast or Ghana but the chief of a tribe. This means the word ‘king’ is not found among the Ghanaian vocabulary. Since no traditional ruler exercises absolute power over all tribes within the country, none qualifies to own the title king. The queen and kings in some European countries have absolute royal power over all and not a section of the population. If the white Englishman’s definition for a king is a male who rules over a country and is not subject to any other authority then we do not have kings in Ghana. To say the Asantehene is a king implies that Ghana is a monarchy like the U.K and the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

On the other hand I feel that there is no grammatical sin in referring to one’s traditional authority in Ghana as king. Many men call their wives ‘queen’ and ‘first lady’ but in actual fact they are not. In the spousal context here, the title ‘queen’ and ‘first lady’ are used figuratively and not literally for the purpose of romance. The same may be done to persuade a chief. However, once it begins to evolve into the realms of quarrels, then it exceeds semantic tolerances and the scroll must be consulted.

I propose that both terminologies explained, the ordinary Ghanaians can save themselves the politics and misleading equalization of a chief and a king by simply switching to semantics. It is my personal belief that this issue is not also a conflict of customary and constitutional law at all. The laws of grammar and linguistics hold their heads high here. Ghana is not a monarchy but a republic. We have chiefs but no kings. I rest my case.

By Paa Kwesi Arko Cee (2017 Ghana Writers Award Winner / Student at Foso college of Education)

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