Desmond Tutu Reunites with His Asante Kinsfolk
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
His September 23, 2010 final official public appearance in the form of an official visit to Ghana will, in fact, be the second time that South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu will be visiting the country which is strongly believed to be his ancestral home, at least on the paternal side of his family (See “Desmond Tutu Makes Final Public Engagement in Ghana” MyJoyOnline.com 9/17/10).
Several years ago, in the wake of his reportedly terminal illness with cancer, he had undergone a surgical procedure and chemotherapy, if I recall accurately, the African-American History Month Committee of the sprawling suburban community college where I teach, and on whose executive committee I served as a publicist, decided to host Archbishop Tutu and continental Africa’s greatest statesman in living memory, ex-President Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. The event never quite left the proverbial drawing board, due largely to the cost involved.
Back then, staunchly backed by Nassau Community College’s now-Emeritus President, Dr. Sean Fanelli, the proposed roundtrip ferrying of the two South African legends hovered in the vicinity of $ 100,000 - $ 200,000 (Between One-Hundred and Two-Hundred Thousand Dollars). It would have entailed chartering a sizeable and comfortable jet for the two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and their aides. In the end, we gave up this admittedly laudable enterprise because recouping the corporate investment would have meant publicizing the event in a manner that might readily have overwhelmed both of us, the organizers, and our illustrious guests, as well as potential audiences and spectators.
The event which would have been scheduled for the mega-dome of the landmark Nassau Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, a multi-purpose indoor arena located on the border between the Long Island, New York, townships of Uniondale and Garden City, where Nassau Community College of the State University of New York is separated from the Nassau Coliseum by the Charles Lindbergh Boulevard. In essence, this historic event would have taken place amidst legendary and historic monuments.
But that this African-American History Month fiesta was wistfully scuttled, may yet have something to do with divine disapprobation predicated, perhaps, squarely on the fact that we, the prospective organizers, had embarked on the venture primarily because we fervidly felt the glorious need to capture an indelible moment under the sun with these South African legends before time callously and assuredly committed them to memory, a purely pro-forma act of Nature and our human mortality, of course. For hasn’t it often been said that: “Man proposes while providence dispatches with sneering abandon?”
Anyway, on September 23 when, together with Mrs. Nomalizo Leah Tutu, the retired Archbishop of Cape Town confers with His Royal Majesty, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II, the Asantehene, history will be made in quite an intimate and personal way. And the latter, of course, hinges on our firm belief that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is, in fact, a descendant of Otumfuo Nana Osei-Agyeman Prempeh I. And on the latter score, of course, we are alluding to the 1896’s at once tragic and apocalyptic exiling of the Asantehene, first to Sierra Leone, where he had been reportedly revered as a divinity and profusely homaged, to the utter displeasure of the British colonial imperialist, and onward to the Seychelles, where Nana Prempeh would create a viable colony of illustrious progeny, very much against the original aim and objective of British imperialism.
Of course, we have yet to publicly hear the retired Cape Town Anglican prelate make the preceding kinship connection, although his very presence at Manhyia more than eloquently testifies to the unbreakable cycle, and circle, of kinship against even such apocalyptic odds!
For this writer personally, though, both 1896 and September 23 are significant calendrical landmarks of the human memory. For 1896 also marks the birth of the Rev. T. H. (Yawbe) Sintim-Aboagye, of Asante-Mampong, Akyem-Begoro and Asiakwa, another mnemonic landmark of Asante migration and dispersal across southern Ghana. Just the year before, another legendary grandson of Amaniampong, in the glorious personage of the future Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics, Nana Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye-Danquah (a. k. a. Dr. J. B. Danquah) had been delivered at Okwawu-Bepong, where his father, a future evangelist of remarkable passion in the service of the Christian God, served as Chief Drummer for Okwawuman.
Ironically, a little over a half-century later, the very people whose king his father had studiously served would roundly reject both the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics and the civilized democratic culture of which Dr. J. B. Danquah was his country’s greatest manifestation. Today, though, the Boakye-Danquah legend lives on and lives on more firmly and soundly than any narrative ever composed by devious propagandists in the guise of canonized historians.
September 23 is also the birthday of my only daughter and one around whose tender life has revolved the kind of lessons that exuberant, albeit grossly misguided pan-Africanists may do themselves great good to heed. It is a date that continues to criminally undermine a dear father’s affection for a daughter tragically held hostage by judicial travesty and emotionally contused and, perhaps, permanently scarred by bestial maternal greed – a rather paradoxical juxtaposition to make – and unremitting depravity.
Anyway, among New York City’s Jewish community, though (at least as I wrote about the same in January 1990 – See The New York Amsterdam News), Archbishop Tutu is both a personality worthy of reverence and celebration as well as a controversial figure who is not afraid to step on sacrosanct toes and flare self-righteous tempers, if only to champion the equally just cause of the systematically marginalized and effectively maligned. And so the year after a renowned rabbi inducted Archbishop Tutu into the comity of friendship and brotherhood, an adversarial faction belonging to the same community called for his head to be delivered on a diamond platter. The fiery anti-Apartheid prelate would choose the safe and honorable cause of avoidance, even solemnly vowing to promptly return the award if that would restore peace and calmness among raucously wrangling kinsmen and women, even while also vehemently insisting on his bounden obligation to defending the harried and defenseless.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author of 21 books, including “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/Lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.