A Chief or a traditional ruler is “a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage”.
No person with circumstances that do not comply with the requirements of the above definition of a chief or a traditional ruler by the Ghana 1992 Constitution is qualified to be a chief.
As the definition implies, chieftaincy in Ghana cannot be put into a straight jacket or a compartment for purposes of an objective or a goal.
The 1992 Constitution definition of a chief or a traditional ruler will serve as the basis for an enquiry into the proposed College for Ghanaian Chiefs.
According to official sources quoted in a newspaper report last September, the objective of a college for chiefs in Ghana is “to equip chiefs to be able to partner government effectively for national development”.
A series of meetings had been held with the National House Of chiefs and House of Chiefs of some regions, and the modalities for the proposed college were deliberated upon.
The result of the various meetings with the chiefs had not been made known at the time of writing.
The import is that Ghanaian chiefs need to be educated in a college to enable them to make more meaningful contributions to national development.
As it is, the idea and the goal are laudable.
However, there are serious implications that will be examined in this article.
In many parts of Ghana, chieftaincy is a sacred institution and chiefs are sacred cows that need to be left alone in mattes of national politics.
That does not mean that chiefs or traditional rulers do not perform political duties in their areas of jurisdiction.
Ghanaian chiefs perform political, economic, judicial and spiritual functions as and when it becomes necessary.
Though the advent of national governance has eroded absolute functions of the traditional rulers, they have not lost everything.
They do perform some political, judicial and economic duties in their areas of authority.
The spiritual roles of chiefs have been left intact although certain spiritual and ritual practices that do not agree with the law have been abolished.
Chieftaincy, by tradition and custom, must not be tainted, soiled or perverted by foreign ideas and practices that are likely to desecrate the institution.
It is a requirement in both the centralised and acephalous or non-centralised communities in Ghana, that the chief or traditional ruler should maintain absolute religious purity to be able to perform his or her duties well.
This tradition applies more stringently to religious or ritual duties of the chief. For example, the chief is expected in many cases to strive to keep the traditional community in constant communion with the ancestors, the gods and the Omnipotent God.
For these reasons and others, certain taboos must be strictly observed. The taboos include the following:
• In Akan and some other areas in Ghana, a chief must not walk barefooted;
• a chief must not eat in the open;
• a chief must not behave in a way that will bring disgrace to his or her office;
• the death of a chief must not be announced or made public until it is sanctioned by “ahenfie” or the palace;
• the chief must not view or be made to view a dead body;
• there are kinds of food that the chief must not eat; and
• news of an illness of a chief must be kept a secret.
In many Ghanaian communities, to be a chief is a divine right.
A chief is, therefore, made by God, the Omnipotent, the gods and the ancestors. The kingmakers are expected to carry out the wishes of the deities mentioned above as expressed in laid-down traditions and practices.
Once a person is made a chief in accordance with established tradition and custom, he or she becomes a chief.
He or she needs nothing else, especially something that is foreign to customary practices, to make him or her a complete chief.
The kingmakers are discernible; they do not hesitate to elevate to the high office of a chief, highly educated royals who are in the line of succession.
Today, Ghana has chiefs with B.A, M.A. or doctorate degrees or professorships.
In maters of imparting information or knowledge that the chief is not aware of, the tradition is for someone with such knowledge or information to go to the palace to whisper the idea or knowledge to the chief linguist.
It is forbidden to assume in the open that the chief lacks knowledge or learning.
A typical story was told of an Asantehene who was asked by the colonial education authorities to send his prince to school. The king sent his servants to the white man’s school instead.
He did not want his prince to imbibe foreign customs. Asante customary and traditional knowledge is sufficient to make his son a good chief.
Do traditional rulers of Ghana need a college to make them better chiefs?
Source: Larweh Therson-Cofie/Daily Graphic