Thursday, September 17, 2009

Queen for a Day, King for a Lifetime

Peggielene Bartels is a secretary at the Ghanian Embassy in Washington, D.C. That seems to me like it would be a pretty good gig. She is, however not a queen. She isn't even a queen for a day. She is, in fact, a full-fledged king, and she is a full-fledged king forever. How does that sound?
See, Peggielene is from Ghana, which although a democracy, still has a strong tradition of kings ruling individual town and clans. So when, about 15 months ago or so, when the king in Peggielene's home village finally passed at 90 years of age, the village elders who were left got together and performed an elaborate ritual to decide who would be the new king. They, not wanting to fall behind the womens liberation movement, considered all members of the departed king's family, both male and female. In an elaborate ritual that involved praying, pouring schnapps on the ground (party foul!), and waiting for steam to rise out of the ground while they recited the twenty-five names of the departed king's family. When the steam rose as the name of the kings niece was recited they knew they had found their king. So they got up and made a phone call.
Peggielene was, of course, that niece, and when her phone woke her at 4 am Washington D.C. time and the caller on the other end kept referring to her by the name "Nana," which is a Ghanian term used when addressing people of stature, she thought it was a prank. But it wasn't a prank. Peggielene was and is the new Nana of Otuam, which is a town of about 7000 people. She has an eight-bedroom mansion, which is in a state of disrepair to be admitted, and about 1000 acres of land to oversee, and the power to resolve disputes and appoint elders. She is, it seems to me, a reform minded King who plans to bring the Internet to local schools, complete a water delivery system, and build a library. She also wants to replace about half of the all-male elders with females, a battle that will most certainly draw waves and be very much uphill. She has, however, already lost one battle. When she asked if maybe it would be more appropriate that she were a queen, it was answered that the kingship was the position open. It's going to be a long road.
So as for now, Peggielene is a king in absentia, who is using her vacation time to visit Otuam and cement her power, as it were. Until she retires in a few years she will have to continue in this vein, until she can move there full-time. In the meantime, she is going to have to live with phone calls giving her reports and asking about problems that all seem to come at 4 am in Washington, D.C, which is mid-day in Ghana, which won't change no matter how many times she tries to impress that fact on her subjects. While no one knows how Peggielene will act and rule as king, one thing is for certain: Ghana is probably the only country in which the king answers the phone at the Embassy.

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