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Dutch University admits it has ancient Asante king’s head

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A Dutch academic hospital has admitted it has the head of a 19th century Asante king in its possession. When the story broke in October 2008, the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) refused to comment.

Reports in the media said the Ghana government had made a request to the Dutch government for the return of the head of Nana Badu Bonsu II which the University had in its possession as part of its anatomical collections.

Information reaching ghanabussinessnews.com say the Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen has written a note to parliament in which he said he sympathizes with the Ghanaian government’s request.

The LUMC has acknowledged in a news item on its website December 23, 2008 that it has received a request in that respect which is being processed but declined any further comment on the issue. The LUMC also said as a sign of respect for the dead, it would not allow any filming or photographing of the head.

The story gained public attention when a prominent Ducth writer Arthur Japin said in a television interview Tuesday October 28, 2008 that he discovered the existence of the head while he was researching a historical novel. He said he saw the head several years ago and it had troubled him ever since.

Japin was quoted as saying, “he’s got a little ring-beard, his eyes are closed as if he’s sleeping.”

“And my first thought was, this is not fitting. I felt deep inside the need to bring him home,” he said.

Japin then seized the opportunity when President Kufuor visited Holland in October 2008 to draw the attention of Ghana’s Embassy to the matter.

A minister at the Embassy, Eric Odoi-Anim was quoted as saying that the head must be returned to the Ashanti region where Nana Bonsu II once ruled. He said, “without burial of the head, the deceased will be haunted in the afterlife. He’s incomplete.”

Adding that, “it’s also a stigma on his clan, on his kinsmen, and him being a (high-ranking) chief. This is even more serious.”

The Dutch established trading and slave posts in Ghana in the late 1500s, and remained involved in the country — then known as the Gold Coast, until late in the 19th century.

According to Japin the head was taken by Maj. Gen. Jan Verveer in retaliation for Bonsu’s killing of two Dutch emissaries, whose heads were then hung from his throne as trophies.

It is not clear exactly when Nana Bonsu II was killed. But reports said Verveer was recruiting soldiers and slaves in Ashanti to serve in the East Indies in the late 1830s.

The head was brought to Leiden around that time at the request of a researcher who studied skull shapes.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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