When I was asked to write down my Experiences of a German " woman in a traditional Ghanaian context my first inspiration " was that normally the people of Alavanyo, Akrofu, Saviefe and Sovie, who elected me as their Paramount Queen, should be asked about their experiences with a German lady as their queen. The view from the other side, I thought, would have been more interesting. But because I was asked first, and not one or all of the about 200.000 of “my” people in the SASADU areas, I will try my best to tell about my feelings, my doubts, my happiness, my sadness and, last but not least, my great love of my second homeland Ghana and its people.
Being involved in the destiny of so many people with a totally different culture than mine has been a very big challenge for me from the first moment on, and it has changed my life totally, but in a very positive way. I want to start with an old Ghanaian proverb, which says: “Try to grab the moon, if you miss it, you will still end up between the stars”.
I visited Ghana for the first time in 1998. It was my first trip to a West African country. After travelling for over twenty years all over East, South and Middle Africa for holidays or big game hunting, I started a school project in Zimbabwe in 1997. The legendary “Mal d'Afrique” had already taken possession of me. In East Africa, especially in Tanzania, I fell in love with the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen.
Then I came to Ghana for business reasons. I started to import healing plants from the Ashanti area to Germany. And I stayed. Because of political reasons and racial problems, my school project in Zimbabwe stagnated, and I decided to donate a part of my profit to the natives in Ghana. My first school project in Ghana had started.
When, about one year later, the Paramount Chief of the Alavanyo traditional area and his elder informed me that they and the people of Alavanyo had decided to nominate me for election as their queen, I felt very honoured, but for several reasons I had to decline the offer. First of all, I had much resentment because of the circumstance that I was a German, without any knowledge and experience of the old Ghanaian traditions and culture. Maybe also my East and South African
past, with all the racial problems, were another reason for my doubts about being a foreign Queen Mother in Ghana. But when I continued my projects and was initiated step-by-step into certain customs, I suddenly lost my objections and I said yes to the honour of being the Queen of Alavanyo.
The 22nd of July 2000 was the official date of my coronation, but the overwhelming ceremony took three days altogether. The rituals actually started a day before, with a cleansing of body and mind, and I wore a white robe of innocence, decorated with beads and traditional gold. After that, I got an old brown jute robe like the warriors or hunters wear. Bells and drums were heard, and I was taught their old native dances.
Receiving the imperative instructions of being a Ghanaian queen filled my whole day. Late in the evening, when I went to bed in the monastery of Abehenase, one of the seven villages of my future Alavanyo area, I really tried not to reconsider the decision that I had already made, but no chance I could not sleep the whole night. I felt as if I were at the wrong place in the world I asked myself how I could be so arrogant as to think that I could be responsible for the development and the progress of an area with over 50,000 people. But the morning came and my daughter, who accompanied me, encouraged me by saying: “Everything you will be able to do, will be more than nothing”. That was the beginning of a day that changed my life completely. More than 10,000 guests came to participate in the ceremony of my coronation, which lasted nine hours. About three hundred traditional rulers were there, such as the Paramount Chiefs and Queen Mothers, divisional chiefs, speakers, the elders and other members of the royal families and their relatives. Other invited guests and some ministers from Accra were also present. But everything was so exciting and exceptional, and the reception that I and my entourage received at the durbar ground was so warm and friendly that I immediately became more confident in the situation. After swearing the “Great Oath” of allegiance to my country, the crown was placed on my head and my new life started.
Being a queen in Ghana and a businesswoman in Germany cannot be easy, and I knew it before I accepted the challenge. But I never imagined that it would go so far beyond my wildest dreams. I started to be a wanderer between the different worlds and cultures. One day dressed in a woman's suit in a business meeting or on German television, a few days later wearing one of my traditional Kente and my crown for an official event or a function in Ghana. I went through a long process before I started to accept the traditional rules and customs for my own person. At first I tried to wear my European dresses, until I realized that the people of Alavanyo enjoyed seeing me in Ghanaian “cloth”. I also started enjoying it. One or two years after my coronation, I don't remember the exact moment, I also started to think in a different way. Not a single day passed when I did not think about “my” people in Alavanyo, arranging something, collecting donations, building girls' hostels, schools and a kindergarten, preparing operations for sick people, or organizing a network of sponsorship parents for needy children. Back in Ghana I always took the opportunity to be instructed in the old customs and rituals. I am very happy and grateful that the traditional rulers and the elder taught me so much about royal customs and celebrities, and that they never got tired of answering my questions and telling me the old legends, which were never written down anywhere. But as I failed with my half-finished school project in Zimbabwe, becau-se of political and racial problems, I nearly failed with my work in Alavanyo because of the war between the Alavanyo and the Nkonya tribes, which has gone on for about eighty years.
It was obvious that nobody at first told me anything about the war situation in my area. When the father of a young boy, whom I took to Korle Bu for a heart operation, was shot on his farm in 2002, I got involved in these problems.
That the people of Alavanyo thought that once I knew about the situation I would never come back, shows how unsure they were about my person during the early days after my “enstoolment”. Realizing that made me very sad for a period of time. But not even for one minute did I ever consider leaving. I stayed, even when during one of my stays the Nkonyas attacked a village, shooting on the durbar ground during the SASADU festival some years ago, where we were sitting with our guest of honour, the German ambassador, his Excellency Mr. Peter Linder, who had kindly donated a sewing project to the area. I saw the warriors come and go, and they joined so many of our ceremonies and festivals in the various villages.
But I thank God that the long period of war is over now, and I hope that the peace will last. Conversations and meetings with the different bishops and Paramount Chiefs of the enemies, but also at the governmental level, unfortunately took a big part and time of my work in Alavanyo. Having war and being a prisoner of what I call “tribal thinking” closes so many doors to freedom, independence and peacekeeping processes in this new era, when we all should be Ghanaians, that I have been forced to do everything possible to prevent more innocent people from becoming victims.
I don't want to seem arrogant as a German queen in the tradi tional system of Ghanaian governance by saying that keeping the roots and maintaining the old customs and traditions as an important part of the Ghanaian culture will be the basis of one's life and personality and is very important in order not to lose the identity of the people. But in my opinion the focus must lie on forming an integrated whole, which has no designation such as for example “Ashanti” or “Ewe”, it is simply called “Ghanaian”.
When I was asked last year if I would agree to be installed as the Paramount Queen of the SASADU areas, with altogether about 200,000 people, it was much easier for me to agree than when I was to received my title as the Queen of Alavanyo in 2000. I have learned a lot in the last seven years, and I became more confident in my own work and possibilities. “Everything is possible, if one really wants it”, is one of the mottos of my life. In my speech during the ceremony in November last year, I mentioned that the war between the tribes and the “tribal dimensions” is one of the most significant factors blocking development and progress within a country that has already been independent for 50 years.
I want and I hope that I will be able to open the minds and the souls of the people in my areas a little bit more, in view of coming together, of solidarity, of taking humane joint action and of helping each other. I think and I hope that the first step has already been taken. The work of the first six years was rewarding for me. The people who at first thought that I might not come back in wartime saw that I stayed. The “Great Oath” to my second homeland was not only an empty phrase.
Today, I am happy and proud to be part of the destiny of my people. But I am sure that many of them also had their doubts about my person. I still find it legitimate that some of them maybe think that I could do more. One of the big differences between our two cultures, for example, is the way one deals
with patience. My very simple explanation for one of the most common misunderstandings is “getting or receiving something cannot be fast enough, but doing something will take a lot of time…”. I got used to doing so many things that I never thought I would ever be confronted with: so many fatally ill people, nearly forgotten diseases, immense poverty, unemployment and use of drugs. But I was never ever discouraged until my friend, little nine years old Titus, died in 2004 because of a heart/lung complication. For about two years, we tried to save his life (I must thank Prof. F. Boateng and Dr. F. Fonder so much for their help) until his little heart stopped beating. That was one of the most touching moments of my life. I don't want to tell anybody that and how much I cried. The old tradition requires that if a queen is crying, a ram will be killed. But I was in the heart centre of Korle Bu and nobody else could see my tears. I will never forget that day, which for the first time showed me the limits of my work, the limits of everything.
But remembering Titus when he was still alive, smiling after a long period of being very sick, still makes me grateful and happy that I came to Ghana and that the people of Alavanyo, Akrofu, Saviefe and Sovie elected me as their Paramount Queen. In any case, at first I fell in love with the beautiful landscape of the East African countries, but when I came to Ghana, I fell in love with the smiles and the warm and friendly nature of the people. They all made it so easy for me to stay and to come back again. I tried to grab the moon, but I ended up between the stars of my second homeland Ghana. I would like to thank all the people who gave me the necessary assistance in broadening my mind. I also want to thank my destiny, which first led me to Africa and then to Ghana. I want to end my writing with a quote by the famous South African writer Rian Malan:
“I thought, if you really want to live in Africa, you must be able to look at it and say: This is the way of love, down this pad. Look at it hard, this where it is going to lead you. I think you will know what I mean if I tell you that love is worth nothing until it has been tested by its own defeat… I felt that I have being asked to try to love enough not to be afraid of the consequences. I realized that love, even if it ends in defeat, gives you a kind of honour, but without love, you have no honour at all…”
Rian Malan,“My Traitors Heart”
For further information, please go to the Internet site www.alavanyo.com or www.paramountqueen.com. My book: Cornelia von Wülfing “Mein Leben als Königin in Ghana” was published by Ullstein, ISBN No. 3-550-07547-2 and is also available in English since the end of this year.
06th, March, 2007