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  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  enlightened the Government as to the true nature of the reverence in
which the Ashantis held this ancient shrine — the shrine of the nation’s
soul .... From such a conflict the timely researches of Captain Rattray
saved Britain and Ashanti.’

  As soon as the Golden Stool affair was over, Rattray went off to Lake
  Bosomtwi for a fortnight. Like most people who have visited it, his
imagination was fired by this uncannily symmetrical volcanic bowl, about
five miles in diameter, surrounded by steep forest which gives it an air of
perpetual stillness. It feels like a place of origins, and Rattray’s specific
reason for going there was to investigate the origin of the ntoro exogamous
divisions, one of which was called Bosomtwe. Each Ashanti individual is
descended from two family trees: the first, for most purposes more
important, is traced through the female line and is usually called abusua.
Property is usually inherited through this line, which is why Ashantis are
generally referred to as ‘matrilineal’, and why they mystify more
patrilineal Europeans by paying more attention to their material uncles
than their fathers. But there is also ntoro which goes through the male line.
Several of the ntoro clans are named after lakes or rivers, including
Bosomtwe. It is hard to know exactly what Rattray expected to find there:
what he brought back was a hotch-potch of statistics about the Lake; stories
of the origin of its name; a rite at a sacred stone by the Lake shore and a
sacrifice to the Lake spirit; an account of the way the inhabitants fish from
roughly-shaped logs, called mpadua, boats and paddles of all kinds being
tabooed; a description of the mysterious occurrences known as ‘the Lake
conceiving’, when ‘the colour of the water in the lake changes to almost
black, and apparently quite suddenly, for they say this often happens at
night, the air becomes full of a choking smell of what they describe as
72 .... simultaneously, or soon after, the whole surface of the
lake becomes covered with fish, either dead or flapping on the surface so
that they can be readily caught’. Finally, there were soundings taken from
a trip three-quarters of the way across the Lake on a raft pushed by the
men on their mpadua — they refused to go any further because there was
another taboo on crossing the Lake. A modern anthropologist might find it
unsystematic, and it is hard to see what some of the information is doing in

  71E.W. Smith: The Golden Stool (1926) pp.13, 14.

72Rattray, Ashanti, 1923, p.67.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  a paper on ntoro exogamous divisions. But one can argue in his defence
that Bosomtwe is both a ntoro division and a lake at one and the same time,
and it is misleading to separate these aspects. The Ashanti believe, Rattray
tells us, ‘that just before death the sunsum or ntoro spirit, about to quit the
body for ever, flits from wherever the dying man or woman may be, to
this lake and says “goodbye”: hence the lake’s cognomen Akowuakra,
which he translated as ‘The Lake of the Last Farewell’. A sense of its
symbolic or imaginative importance led him to Bosumtwe and by including
everything that caught his eye, he succeeded in communicating it, to give to
the abstract notion of ntoro a local habitation and a name.

  After Bosomtwe, he went up to his old home at Ejura, to record an
  Afahye ceremony — the festival of the first-fruits of the yam harvest. It
had already started two days earlier and the day he arrived, a Saturday,
was a break in the proceedings, which would resume at eleven o’clock. The
next day, he watched the women preparing the temple with whitewash and
red clay, then went back to the rest-house he had built himself. At eleven
o’clock he went back to the town and

  ‘sat down at the foot of a great baobab tree just at the entrance of the
courtyard of the Konkroma temple. Not a soul was about and the whole
of the village seemed asleep. I had the usual West African hurricane
lamp beside me, and as I sat a man came out of the shadows, peered into
my face, and next moment had thrown both his arms round my neck,
saying, ‘Oboroni obofo’, ‘the European hunter’. It was Opoku, his
elephant-hunter guide from his first days in Ashanti — ‘We sat and
talked about the old days and I made him tell me all about sasammoa, i.e.
animals which are spiritually, not physically, dangerous’.

  On his return to Kumasi in December, he found that in a smaller way
  fate had once more stepped in to help on his work. A deputation of all the
Ashanti chiefs except two came to Harper to ask him to ban A Vanished
Dynasty: Ashanti by the previous Chief Commissioner, Sir Francis Fuller,
which had just come out. They complained that Fuller had said on the first
page that the Ashanti royal family came from Bona, which they said was
impossible because ‘the Bona people are all slaves’ and that their traditions
and histories should be compiles by the chiefs and elders who knew them,

  73Ibid, pp. 206-7.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  not by outsiders.74 Harper told them it was impossible to ban the book, but
he seized on the second part of the petition and asked if they would co-
operate in producing an official, authenticated history of each Stool. This
was the starting-point of the detailed stool-histories in Rattray’s Ashanti
Law and Constitution: it must be a rare example of a pioneer
anthropological work produced at the instigation of the people studies.

  Rattray brought Harper the six papers he had completed in the five
  months since he came official anthropologist. They were: (i) The Ashanti
Family System; (ii) Queen Mothers (iii) The Golden Stool; (iv) Gold
Weights; (v) NtoroExogamous Divisions, with a special account of Lake
Bosumtwi; and (vi) Neolithic Implements in Ashanti. The titles show the
heterogeneous, ad hoc nature of his work at this stage. The Family System
and ntoro would be accepted at any time as sensible points from which to
start a survey of Ashanti culture, but the other subjects had simply
‘cropped up. The interest in neolithic implements dated from his time at
Ejura: it was revived when he was forced to stay during the first days of
his new job at Obuasi, out of reach of the best places for social-
anthropological fieldwork but rich in remains of the old material culture.
Similarly with the gold-weights. Like almost every European on the Gold
Coast, he had collected these marvellously varied and attractive bronze
miniatures, reflecting in caricature almost every aspect of everyday life in
Ashantiland; and he had been in a good position to build up a fine
collection. I suspect that one motive in producing a paper was to cater to an
interest which he already knew to exist in a great many government
officers, and so draw their attention and approval to his other work. From
the first both he and Harper intended that the papers should be circulated
amongst ordinary officers, and they both knew that some resistance would
have to be overcome.

  The other two titles, ‘The Golden Stool’ and ‘Queen Mothers’, relate
  even more closely to what may be called the pragmatic basis of Rattrays
work. We have already seen how the report on the Golden Stool came
about. The paper on Queen Mothers arose originally from his study of
Ashanti Family System, but he soon saw its practical importance to
political officers. Europeans on the Gold Coast had discovered early on
that the female line was more important there than in their own societies,
but they had failed to follow its political implications, blinded by the

  74The Bona referred to by Fuller, and presumably by the chiefs, was the town in the
  Ivory Coast, north of Bondouku, and not the Brong area which is also often called Bona.
There may well have been truth in Fuller’s information.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  apparent prominence of males on public occasions: Mary Kingsley (‘That
great Englishwoman’, as Rattray called her) had kept here eyes wider open
when she watched British officials holding palaver with a chief, on the
Queen Mother — ‘The old woman you may see crouching behind him, or
whom you may not see at all, but who is with him all the same, and says,
“Do not listen to the white man, it is bad for you”.75 Rattray demonstrated
that in the old days the Queen Mothers were in every sense the ‘power
behind the throne’, and that successive generations of Europeans had
alienated them by giving all their attention to the chiefs. ‘Now’, he claimed,
‘it has been my privilege to have broken down in some measure the
barriers of the suspicion and distrust that divide us from these old African
mothers, and the reward has been a revelation which is till so fresh upon
me as to make it perhaps difficult to grasp its fully significance’.76 He
urged that the government should give the Queen Mothers official
recognition: it would ‘do more for the moral welfare of the Ashanti race
than by the expenditure of many thousands of pounds on a campaign
conducted through the medium of the comparatively small number of
educated African women .... Some recognition of this kind would, I believe
mark an epoch in African administration, and the results for good would
be very great. If, however, we really wish to break up the clan system,
then we are doing the right thing by ignoring the position of these women,
for they are the keystone of the whole structure’.

  Future generations of D.C.’s were to curse Rattray for giving Harper
  and Guggisberg this advice, which they were told to put into practice. Stool
disputes were blamed on the Queen Mothers getting ‘above themselves’.
And the disgruntled D.C.’s had a point. Recognition of the Queen Mothers
showed up the essential contradiction in Indirect Rule — that the
traditional forms of government were recognised without being given any
real initiative. It might even be argued that the British government had
won the co-operation of the chiefs by taking over the role of the Queen
Mothers — or else by taking the chiefs’ side in the sex-war! Nevertheless,
Rattray’s general point held then and holds even mores strongly now —
how many modern Ghanaians would disagree that their country has

  75Cited in Rattray (1923) p.81.


77Ibid p.85.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  suffered from its adoption of the European tradition of keeping women out
of politics?

  Harper was understandably impressed by Rattray’s work, as were the
  other Europeans in Kumasi. ‘Officials and their wives, and the Mercantile
community, are eager to read his papers’ he wrote in his diary. ‘There
would be a ready sale for his pamphlets and for albums of his photographs.
He is very interested in his work and can talk in an interesting way about
it. He is going to give lectures in Coomassie, and I propose to ask the
general community, Europeans and Native to attend. So far he has been
very successful in spite of a rather “artistic temperament”.’

  As Harper wrote these words, Rattray was already in the Bekwai area
  living in a small mud hut near the Queen Mother’s village and preparing
for a visit to the Sacred Grove at Santemanso. Like Bosumtwe, this was a
place of origins, where the first human beings were supposed to have come
forth out of holes in the ground. It was just off the main motor road from
Kumasi to the coast, but as Rattray pointed out, the myth of origin seemed
to be borne out by the place’s appearance:

  ‘In the vicinity of this spot is an area of dense primeval forest. The
  keen observer will note there are no clearings and no cocoa-trees, and if
the mounds through which every now and then the motor road cuts, are
minutely examined, they will be found not to be ant- hills but “kitchen
middens” from which project fragments of ancient pottery in which I
found many neolithic instruments. The forest around for miles is dotted
with these mounds, and the whole of this area along the banks of the
Asuben River must, at some remote period, have been the site of a great
settlement, larger by far than any Ashanti towns or villages of the
present day’.

  The grove itself was marked only by a few summe trees and an ancient
  wild-fig tree with eight pots half buried at its foot. A week elapsed between
his first and second visit, which he spent recording the history of the origin

  78Sir C.H. Harper, Memoranda etc.

79R.S. Rattray, Ashanti, 1923, pp. 121-2.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  of the people how ‘very long ago upon a certain Monday night’, a worm
came up through the ground followed by the seven first men, the first
women, a leopard and a dog; of the origin of the great Wukuda oath, when
Adu Ogyinae was killed by a falling tree as the first huts were made; of the
origin of fire and cooking, and the breaking of the clan into the Aduana
and Owoko. it may seem like a children’s fairy story, he said, ‘but it was
otherwise in the environment where I first heard it, and as it was told me
by the old Queen Mother in the presence of the chief (the leader of the left
wing of the Ashanti army), old Kobina Wusu, the little hunchback herald,
and other grey-beards’.

  After recording an impressive ceremony at the Grove, Rattray left for
  Mampong, where he spent Christmas. Harper visited him there on New
Year’s Day, and they had a long discussion about his work and the
possibilities of publishing it. They agreed that the Anthropological
departments and societies in England should be approached: Harper had
already approached Guggisberg about this and favoured Oxford. Rattray
then set about his next project, which was to investigate the famous talking
drums, using his phonographic equipment. The secret of the talking drums
has been discovered many times — as recently as the 1980s an article in the
Scientific American talked of it as ‘shrouded with mystery’.
81 But Rattray
really was the first to explain it adequately. He had already approached the
problem in his Ashanti Proverbs, establishing as the basic principle that
‘Tympanophony, or drum-talking, is an attempt to imitate by means of two
drums (a ‘male’ and a ‘female’) set in different keys the exact sound or
words of the human voice’.
82 But he had failed (rather surprisingly) to
connect this with the tonal character of West African language. Now, he
got Osai Kojo, the old court drummer of Mampong, to set up his drums in
his bungalow and go through the long drum-history of Mampong, and to
answer his questions. With the help of Christaller’s Grammar, he made a
phonetic analysis of the drum language, showing how the features of
speech — tone, vowel, consonant, duration, emphasis and even gesture —
are mimicked on the drums. He also pointed out the language’s limitations:
how it was not really possible for the news of the fall of Khartoum to
reach Cape Town before the telegraph, because the drum-languages were

  80Ibid, p. 123.

81J.F. Carrington, “The talking drums of Africa”, Scientific American, 198?, pp. 91-4.

82Rattray (1916) pp 121,22.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  co-extensive with the spoken languages, and in any case they could only
work with a tonal language, which most of the East African languages are
not. He suggested that the real explanation for these miracles was that the
telegraph had been intercepted: ‘How often in the little village in Scotland
in which I was brought up, have I had the news I was later to receive as the
contents of a telegram related to me by one of the villagers — and we have
no drum language in Galloway!
83 He also showed how much it depended
on a stock of conventional phrases: that it was not really flexible enough
for the drummer to communicate easily new combinations of words and
84 He may have been unduly influenced by the fact that he was
investigating a particularly formal and ritualised type of drumming. Dr.
A.L. Jones has shown how in Ewe music, words and music are virtually
the same thing, and that the drums have a range of an octave or more.
85 I
myself have seen Ghanaian students talking to each other by whistling,
when it was too far to shout (the language in this instance was Ga).

  In February, Harper visited him again and reported:

  ‘Had a talk with Rattray about his work. He is keen and responds very
  readily to a little encouragement.86 He has heard from a friend of his an
explanation of the phenomenon reported in one of his monographs in
connection with Lake Bosomtwe....’
87 Rattray had an attack of influenza,
and by way of convalescing went off with two fetishmen and a hunter
and lived in a cave on the Nkoranza road. One morning he was on the
trail of a couple of bull elephants and came across three Bongo, one male
and two females, within ten yards of him. He would not fire at them as
he wished to get the elephant. He could not come up with the elephant,

  83Rattray (1923) p.255.

84Ibid, 134.

85A.L. Jones, Studies in African Music, 19??, pp. ??.

86Guggisberg underlined this when he received the report.

87I.e. the Lake’s ‘conceiving’  (see p.69). The ‘friend’  was T. Robertson of the
  Geological Survey office in London.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  and so threw away the chance of being the first European on the Gold
Coast to shoot a Bongo’.

  The cave was at Epira, and the hunter was almost certainly his friend
  Opoku. The episode with the Bongo is most mysterious. It is a large
antelope, one of the sasa animals which he had discussed with Opoku when
he had met with him again at Ejura two months earlier. In Religion and
Art in Ashanti, he was to write:

  ‘Of all these sasa animals, the bongo is the most dangerous and the
  most feared. I can vouch for it being extraordinarily elusive. I have
hunted this noble-looking antelope for years; followed it through
swamps and under thickets where one hundred yards in half an hour is
good going; taken every precaution known to the hunter, e.g. never
mentioning it by name, and speaking of it by one of its sobriquets in a
whisper, and carried ‘medicine’ to further the quest’.

  This being so, the only reason I can suggest why he did not kill one
  when the opportunity was offered at point-blank range is greed: perhaps he
wanted some ivory to support himself when he got home on leave, and
Bongos, however sought-after, do not grow ivory.

  Harper raised the question of Queen Mothers again, and it struck them
  that they might use the occasion of Princess Mary’s wedding, much in the
news, for some kind of ceremony of reconciliation between the
government and ‘these old mothers of Africa’. With the Golden Stool fresh
in their minds, they decided to put it to the Queen Mother of Mampong,
Sewa Akoto, that a stool, not Golden but Silver, might be presented on
behalf of the Queen Mothers to the English Princess. Sewa Akoto, with
whom Rattray had long been on the best of terms, agreed readily, and the
stool was duly carved, decorated and consecrated. On April 4th

  88Sir C.H. Harper, Memoranda etc.

89R.S. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, 1927, p. 183.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  Guggisberg and his wife came up to Kumasi for the ceremony of
presentation outside the fort. Sewa Akoto’s speech began:

  ‘Lady Guggisberg, wife of His Excellency,

I place this stool in your hands. It is a gift on her wedding for the
  King’s child, Princess Mary.

  Ashanti stool-makers have carved it, and Ashanti silversmiths have
  embossed it.

  All the Queen Mothers who dwell here in Ashanti have contributed to
  it, and as I am the senior Queen Mother in Ashanti, I stand as
representative of all the Queen Mothers and place it in your hands to
send to the King’s child.

  It may be that the King’s child has heard of the Golden Stool of
  Ashanti. That is the stool which contains the soul of the Ashanti nation.
All we women of Ashanti thank the Governor exceedingly because he
has declared to us that the English will never again ask us to hand over
that stool.

  This stool we give gladly. It does not contain our soul as our Golden
  Stool does, but it contains all the love of us Queen Mothers and of our
women ....

In his speech of thanks, on his wife’s behalf, Guggisberg said: ‘The
  Queen Mothers are a great power in Ashanti, and long may they keep that
power and use it for the betterment of the people!’
91 Rattray could feel that
at last he was at the centre of events.

  There was a certain irony for Rattray in these celebrations, because
  besides seeing the establishment of his new career as an anthropologist, the
last few months had seen the end of his marriage. Already in Accra he had
suspected Connie of infidelity, but the essential fact of the matter was that

  90Cited in R.S. Rattray, Ashanti, 1923, pp. 294-5.

91Cited in C.H. Harper: Memoranda, etc.



  An Old Coaster Comes Home

  she was not prepared to sit in a lonely bungalow indefinitely while he went
off on hunting and anthropological expeditions, and if she showed any
signs of enjoying herself he suspected the worst. He blamed her to some
extent for holding him back in Togoland, and he was not going to sacrifice
his plans again to save a marriage which he thought she had destroyed. The
last we hear of her in the Gold Coast is when they visited Harper in
September. As soon as he started on his ethnographic tour she left for
England: whether because he suspected another affair or because she was
finding the new life intolerable it is impossible to say now. He would spend
the next seventeen years trying to get a divorce from her, but she would
not help him. In any case, the marital upset did not prevent the year from
1921 to 1922 from being the most productive and satisfactory of his life.

  His search for origins took him next to the North of Ashanti. His friends
  in Mampong told him to go there because it was ‘the home of the gods’ —
above all of Tano, the river which is also the greatest of the ‘Sons of
Nyame’. He set up in Nkoranza, where he stayed for a few days ‘making
friends with the priests and “old fetish women”, as Mary Kingsley’s
African friend ungallantly described these very charming, old and young
ladies’.92 On 11th April, with his guides and (when necessary)
interpreters, Kwaku Abu and Wisirka, he set out for Tano Oboase, Tano’s
source and ‘headquarters’. On the way he had to go through Tekyeman,
where he was delayed:

  ‘I had “a good press”, as we should say, for I was at once called upon
  by every one of note in their ecclesiastical world. A stroll round the
town, which included a return call upon the omanhene (chief) and the
presentation of letters of introduction from the Chief Commissioner of
Ashanti, an impromptu exhibition in the court-yard of the “palace” upon
the big talking drums, upon which I drummed out the prelude of one of
their set-pieces — the only one I knew — a certain reputation as an
elephant hunter that had preceded me here — all these combined to make
these people accept me as almost one of themselves.

  92Rattray (1923) p.152.


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