Queen mother of Ghana's Ashanti kingdom dies, aged 111

Chiefs of Ashanti arrive to attend the official ceremony following the death of Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, the 13th queen mother of the Asante Kingdom (Asantehemaa), on 24 November, 2016 in Kumasi. Photo: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP

KUMASI - Dressed entirely in black, Tina Owusu Panin joined thousands making their way to a Ghanaian palace to mourn their "mother" - the revered queen of the powerful Ashanti kingdom.

Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II died on Monday last week at the venerable age of 111, plunging the West African nation into grief.

Built on the wealth of gold reserves, the Ashanti empire was the richest in Ghana. At its peak it even extended into neighbouring countries.

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The empire has wielded power in the region for over 300 years and put up fierce resistance to British colonial rule.

The Ashanti people trace their lineage through the female line, so the Asantehene, or Ashanti king, is appointed by the queen. Tradition dictates she has to choose a male relative.

"A very important person has died," 47-year-old Panin said, speaking at the Manhyia Palace in Kumasi, the Ashanti capital in central Ghana.

"Our mother, our mentor. She is all to us and all for us. She is Asantehene's mother so we have to come," Panin said, watching dancers deftly move their hips to traditional drums.

The mourners spurned the traditional colourful "kente" cloth for all-black outfits -- either toga-like traditional garments or T-shirts and trousers.

King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is the deceased queen's biological son.

Although the queen died last Monday, her death was not officially announced until Thursday, in-keeping with tradition.

Mourners included traditional chiefs as well as President John Dramani Mahama and opposition presidential candidate Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, who took time out of their campaigns to visit the king.

Pomp and ceremony

The Ashanti king was carried into the grounds on a throne by court attendants, shaded from the blazing sun by an umbrella held above his head –- higher than all the other parasols in deference to his status.

Former presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor also attended the ceremony.

Although the Ashanti king does not play a partisan role in politics, they help to shape public opinion.

As the symbol of the nation, the Asantehene receives significant deference ritually as they are seen to be a symbol of people -- living, dead or yet to be born.

The Ashanti monarchs preside over an area that is 10 percent of the country's total area and home to at least five million people.

Apart from nominating the king, the Asantehemaa -- or queen mother -- traditionally also resolves conflicts and disputes.

A court official, Nana Boakye Frimpong, 66, who has worked in the palace since 1997, said the deceased queen, whose reign spanned 39 years, held court twice a week but scaled down her appearances in recent years.

Most of the disputes related to land or insults and nothing of a criminal nature was heard, Frimpong said.

"Whenever the judgement is given, people respect it," Frimpong said.

It is up to the Asantehene to choose the next Queen, who will have to be a relation on his mother's side.

Several palace insiders told AFP the new queen would be announced by the end of December.

Modern-day Ghana is a republic with a democratically-elected government, but most Ghanaians are proud that their royal history has been kept alive.


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