As a little child, my world was a welter of contradictions. My father, Okyeame Kwame Ade (a shortened form of Adade) was a practitioner of all the traditional beliefs of our Akyem people. He was in fact the okeyeame of "spokesman" of the queen (in Ghanaian parlance "queenmother" or "Ohemaa") of our town, Asiakwa. My mother, on the other hand, was a Christian. But she was related to the queen! So even if her faith had entailed that she must disregard the traditions of our society, she couldn't have done so.
Now, the ohemaa-of an Akan town, is a very powerful person. The chief or ohene (of a town), or king or omanhene (of a state) is selected from the ohemaas's children, or those of her maternal sisters. This is done to ensure that the royal blood-line is straight and undiluted. The idea behind this, though never made explicitm, is that you can always tell a person's mother but you can never be absolutely sure of who the father is. So the ohemaa rules the roost, though she never gives the appearance of doing so-in public at least. And my father was the "spokesman"of the ohemaa of our town.
This queen was in fact more powerful than most, because she actually acted as the chief of the town-a role mostly played by men-before stepping down and giving the stool to a male nephew or "son" of hers. (In Akan society, a man considers his "aunt" from his mother's side as his mother).
Because our ohemaa, Nana Afia Boatemaa, had been an ohene herself, she was accorded double respect by her people. As Nifahene of Akyem Abuakwa (chief of the right-wing of the Akeyem army), she had dealt personally with our king, Nana Ofori Atta I (the Okyenhene) as a member of his council, and knew all the British officials in Akyem Abuakwa-from the provincial commissioner (Komisan, as she pronounced it to my hearing) to the district commissioner (DC or Diisi).
Nana Afia Boatemaa also attended some of the meetings of the immensely powerful Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs as a member of the Akyem Abuakwas Traditional Council. So, as a child, I often heard the name Dodowa mentioned (that was where the Joint Provincial Council met). But, of course, I knew nothing about it. This added immensely to her prestige and increased the respect in which everyone held her. Whenever a chief went to Dodowa, everyone would hear about it: "Ohene ko Dodowa" (the chief has gone to Dodowa). And rejoicing broke out throughout the town when he returned home safely to be greeted with drumming and dancing.
In designating the office held by my father at the chief's court, I have put "spokesman" in quotes. This is because the English term does not fully do justice to the Akan term "okyedme". The English term denotes a person who speaks on behalf of another person; someone who conveys the thoughts of another person to other people, usually a group. But the Akan version goes beyond that: an okyeame does not merely convey the thoughts of his chief-and the chief's council or court of elders-but refines these thoughts and decisions before conveying them to the public.
So, an okyeame has to be both a creative person and a person well apprenticed in his trade. Creative in that he has to be able to use the choicest words to convey the thoughts and decisions emanating from the chief's council-an august body of elders each representing one of the families of the town-who embody all the accumulated wisdom handed down to our...