How the dowdy Anlo and Asante kingship laws made me a pauper

Akotoe Farm 620x330 People working in a farm

Sat, 10 Feb 2018 Source: Kwaku Badu

My mother confided in me that I was only picking up words and my younger brother was yet to be born when our father met his tragic death.

Our father, a devoted cocoa farmer, we were credibly told, died from a mysterious and insidious illness whilst working on his cocoa farm.

Obviously, our father had toiled with a view to securing our future, yet we were whimsically unprotected by any pragmatic inheritance laws following the demise of our father.

It was, however, most unfortunate that there was no meaningful laid down inheritance law to ensure that the children or the love ones have a fair share in the intestate parent’s property.

In a nutshell, the deceased’s love ones were not considered as protected characteristics by the extended families and the state in general.

In our father’s case, the customary successor, who happened to be his younger brother, kept everything to himself and to the benefit of his children.

Consequently, all the caring responsibilities were capriciously passed over to our widowed and financially unsound mothers’.

It was, without mincing words, a crude idea to deprive the love ones of their entitlement, but then again, the state chose to look on unconcerned while the deceased’s immediate family continued to receive a raw deal through the strikingly odd and the unfair customary property law. .

Unfortunately, back then, the seemingly weird and dowdy matrilineal inheritance laws of Asante tribe for instance, to some great extent, handed more inheritance rights to men than women.

It was for that reason that the PNDC regime back then graciously intervened in 1985 and enacted the Intestate Succession Law-PNDC Law (111) to remedy the situation.

For instance, before the promulgation of the Intestate Succession Law, the Anlo and Asante tribes in Ghana relied largely on decree and kinship socio-cultural practices to give more inheritance and property rights to men than to women.

So, after months of unbridled moping and depression of the spirits over the demise of her husband, my mother braced up herself for a new life without her husband.

She subsequently moved to the farming village of Nyamebekyere in the Ashanti region.

As custom demands, my mother was temporarily allocated a meagre portion of my father’s farming lands where she used to grow foodstuffs, such as plantain, cassava, cocoyam, yam and a few other vegetables mainly for domestic use.

The customary successor, however, ungraciously prevented my mother from planting the more useful cocoa seedlings back then.

Suffice it to say that, the by-products- the lucrative cocoa beans would have given my mother some financial stability. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the intestate successor, my mother did not deserve financial independence back then.

All the same, in her quest to gain some financial freedom, my mother solely established a mini confectionary shop, and as time went by, she managed to extend the business.

She would occasionally retail from a nearby metropolis, either Kumasi or Obuasi in the Ashanti region to stock her confectionary shop.

She took to the trading, and it soon became her life, for she soon became sufficiently inured to her new environment and she was at home in the market than in the lush vegetation, so to speak.

In spite of the unforeseen exigencies, my mother took it upon herself and sent me to primary school.

I began my primary school education in Nyamebekyere Local Authority primary school.

My mother, was, of course, not well to do, yet through perseverance, she managed to put food on the table and also afforded the cost of my primary education.

Unbelievably, however, my mother eventually overcame the previously dwindled self-confidence and worked with dint of effort and succeeded in overturning the adversity into positivity.

On weekends, to be precise Saturdays, I would normally accompany my mother to her farm.

Although I was fascinated by the farm scenery, especially, the lush vegetation, I was not enthused with the long walking distance to the farm.

The farm was in close proximity to the customary successor’s cottage, which was approximately 12 miles away from Nyamebekyere .

We used to set out at dawn, and on a lucky day, we would get a lift to the cottage where the farm was situated.

The Ashanti Goldfields, (the mining company), used to have a base next to the intestate successor’s cottage, and anytime there were empty spaces on any of their trucks heading that direction, the warm-hearted drivers’ would stop and ask us to come on board.

It was, of course, always a great relief to get a lift, especially when returning home and carrying heavy loads of foodstuffs in the scorching sun.

As a matter of concern, I used to experience sleepless nights as I would repeatedly mull over the distance on Friday nights. Nevertheless, the sweet and sour experience became a part and parcel of my childhood life. And, inevitably, I sufficiently inured to the long walking distance to the farm.

Amazingly, the weekends farm trips saved me from an unfortunate and a serious accident on one portentous Saturday.

On that particular Saturday, I was hesitating to make it to the farm. However, my mother, a resplendent negotiator, succeeded in persuading me to change my mind.

When we returned from the farm, we were met with melancholic news.

My play mate, Kofi, had had an accident and had lost five fingers in total.

Upon hearing the disheartening news, I became extremely numb, albeit momentarily.

Strangely, though veracious, the explosive dynamite, which Kofi mistook as a benign fire cracker, had tragically dismembered his fingers. Kofi unluckily lost three fingers from his right and two from the left hand.

A witness confided in us that the village folks who were not privy to my whereabouts were enquiring whether I had survived the unfortunate accident, and if so, whether I lost any limb.

It was, of course, not out of place for anybody to suggest at the time that I was also involved in the tragic accident, in the sense that two of us were inseparable in those days. So, when the news got to the well-wishers that I was not involved in the tragic accident, my fellow villagers’ thronged to my house to verify.

There was indeed a spirit of shared responsibility among the village folks. I was ever so grateful to my fellow villagers’ for their unwavering solidarity.

Then again, I was filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was a great relief that I was not a victim of the lethal explosion. On the other hand, I was devastated that my best pal had to lose his fingers in such a bizarre circumstance.

Nevertheless, I took solace in the fact that Kofi did not lose his life entirely.

Occasionally, my mother would leave me with my father’s next of kin. My mother would ask me to help my late father’s brother on his farms.

Even though I was not enthused with my mother’s view point, I had to obsequiously accept and inure to such proposition so as to conform to the crude majoritarian African culture of respect.

Indeed, I would have been upbraided for being disrespectful to both my mother and the customary successor if I had turned down my mother’s proposal.

While in the cottage, I would join my paternal uncle’s two young children, Akwasi and Yaw and then help on the farms.

I have chosen to use the word farms because the customary successor had separate farms which were located on over one hundred and fifty acres of land.

My mother confided in me that my late father and his other siblings teamed up and acquired the farming lands.

My mother added that the next of kin blatantly refused to join his other siblings, with a flimsy excuse that he could not leave his tailoring shop behind, but only to turn round and assumed ownership of the farms after the death of my father and his other siblings.

However Unhappy I was, I showed deference to my mother’s command to a point and then decided not to stop at my paternal uncle’s cottage again.

This was because I realised that the customary successor was being unkind towards me, and corollary, I flared up.

I recall when I was about eight years old, my paternal uncle returned from the nearby forest with five life birds in a cage. All the children started jumping for joy, but to my amazement, my uncle shared the life birds between his two biological children and left me labouring emotionally. In fact, no words will suffice to depict my dejection.

It was a beggar’s belief. Without any iota of doubt, I would have been content with one life bird, for a beggar has no choice, but that was not the case.

Interestingly, however, the bizarre incident happened right in front of my late father’s youngest brother, Mr Gyamfi , an army officer, who was in the cottage on a short visit.

He saw the sadness on my face and was not enthused. To state that Mr Gyamfi was befuddled by the whole incident would be an understatement.

Unsurprisingly, however, Mr Gyamfi grabbed the bird’s trap and asked me to come with him.

We then perambulated the edges of the forest and Mr Gyamfi placed the trap on a miniature plant.

We subsequently laid ambush and waited patiently. After a few minutes wait, Mr Gyamfi went back to check, and to my surprise, albeit truism, he arrived with a colourful bird, which was pleasing to the eye.

It was indeed a joyous moment for me. I was extremely grateful to Mr Gyamfi, my paternal uncle, for his earnest gesture of goodwill. In fact, the memories have lived with me since that time.

I endured the crude and stoic behaviour by my late father’s next of kin for some time and then decided one day that enough is enough.

I masterfully articulated my grievances to my mother. I told my mother that even though I did appreciate her good intentions of trying to strengthen the family ties by asking me to assist my late father’s successor on his farms, I did not think it was in my best interest to continue the ostensible penal servitude.

I stressed that in spite of all the dint of effort I have put in helping my paternal uncle on his farms, he had failed to show reciprocity.

I therefore told my mother that I would rather spend my school vacations elsewhere, preferably, with either my sister Afua (of blessed memory), in the mining town of Obuasi or my sister Ama in Kumasi.

Even though, respect supersedes reasoning in our culture, on that occasion, my mother reasoned with me when I discussed my intentions with her.

Columnist: Kwaku Badu