‘Why I Became An African Chief’ - a review
Bookplate host Rhodelle reviews a book by African-American Dr. Kwa David Whitaker, Esq (Nana Kra Kwamina II) on his journey to enstoolment as the chief of a village in Elmina.
I used to wonder why some African Americans and other Africans in the diaspora want to become chiefs and what informs our decisions in Ghana to grant them this wish. So the book ‘Why I Became An African Chief’ piqued my interest, particularly after learning that Dr Whitaker wrote the book in 2017, at the age of 73.
Dr Whitaker’s journey into chieftaincy has been eventful. It temporarily stalled when his guide and friend Nana Eduakwa IV - a well-respected chief in Elmina, Central Region and a principal contributor to the creation of Panafest, abruptly died. Thankfully, this did not derail Dr Whitaker’s course to becoming a chief.
His decision to enter into chieftaincy was fuelled by a desire to make a difference to Black communities. Despite achievements in academia, being a father, husband and a role model for others, Dr Whitaker felt his inner voice kept asking him what he had done that was significant.
He came to the conclusion that if he could, he would like to devote his remaining years to helping Black people free themselves from oppression and domination.
To achieve that, he decided to establish the Ashe Culture Center Ohio, USA where he lives in Cleveland. He also decided that becoming an Akan chief would cement his organisation’s aim to help Black people and help bring honour to both Ghanaians and African descendants throughout the diaspora.
Through the help of his former lecturer, friends and after a series of visits to Atonkwa – a village in Elmina, in Ghana’s Western Region, Dr Whitaker was enstooled as Tufohen Nana Kra Kwamina II. Tufohen is the chief’s legal advisor. In this role, he has authority to publicly question or criticise the chief, as well as bring progress to Atonkwa.
His real challenge started on his return to Cleveland. There, he started the process of fundraising $65,000 to fulfill his first pledge of building a two-storey community centre for the people of Atonkwa.
Dr Whitaker used scenes with escalating tension, empathy and real-life success to depict struggles and help to motivate and enlighten the reader. Memorable examples include how his parents’ words of encouragement helped him to face obstacles and pushed him to achieve his goals.
Dr Whitaker also recounts the day he woke up one morning knowing his idol - Muhammad Ali - would be in Pennsylvania, and his determination to meet him there. His determination paid off because after setting off, with his wife and children, to the camp where he believed Muhammad Ali would be, saw him there ‘ jumping rope’, hitting the heavy bag and talking to the crowd. Dr Whitaker took photos with him and his twin girls to prove it.
Readers interested in Ghanaian rites of passage and other traditions will gain these and more from the book. It highlights how the process of appointing a chief is linked to lineage to a royal family as opposed to democratic election – a process that Dr Whitaker was more familiar with when it comes to appointing an authority figure.
Dr Whitaker also flags up the importance of traditional African religion in Atonkwa and the significance of the Okomfo (priest) when communicating with the deities.
He shares his experience of witnessing the process of healing a dangerously-ill child. He highlights that the atmosphere around the sick boy appeared festive with ‘annoying’ drumming, dancing and singing as opposed to sombre and quiet.
Dr Whitaker later learnt that this practice was to ask for and receive specific information from the spirit realm needed to provide the proper treatment for the young boy.
The Okomfo served as the conduit of communication. Two weeks later, Dr Whitaker learnt that the boy was doing fine and had returned to school like nothing happened.
Since becoming Tufohen, Nana has made over 50 visits to Ghana to oversee the development projects at Atonkwa. He is also the chair of the Ghana Board of Trustees for the Atonkwa Development Company (ADC). He said the trips have helped to expand his knowledge base and deepen his understanding of Akan culture.
He says that understanding the rites of passage have helped him find closure following his mum’s death from breast cancer when she was 69 years old.
I must admit I wasn’t too enthused about the book cover. I wished the title had read: ‘Why I became a Ghanaian Chief’ instead of ‘Why I became an African Chief.’
I recommend this book for Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians alike who need encouragement, and enlightenment and would rate this book 8/10.
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