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A father who can’t mourn his child: Customs that bar Togbui Sri III from Rawlings’s funeral

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Jerry Rawlings

The overlord of the Anlo State in the Volta region, Togbui Sri III must not be informed about the death of anyone. He must not attend any funeral, not of his own children nor be added to chief mourners on a funeral poster. He is the Awoamefia of the 36 clans that form the Anlo state. Awoame literally means “seclusion” or a hidden/isolation which is made for him and him alone to avoid contaminating his body, his spokesperson, Agbotadua Kumasa, has said in an interview with ghanabusinessnews.com.

Despite Togbui Sri’s long-standing relationship with former president Rawlings, that friendship can only be in life, and not in death. The chiefs of the Anlo council excluding him (Togbui Sri III), will hold meetings and plan their role in the funeral rites of the late former president.

The former president died last Thursday November 12, 2020 in Accra at the age of 73.

Traditions and customs form an integral part of every community in the African setting and so is the case of the 36 traditional councils that form the Anlo State in the Volta region of Ghana, West Africa.

Chiefs are usually part of every custom, traditional rites especially, festivals and funeral occasions. On funeral announcement posters, they are duly recognized and acknowledged as the chief mourners out of respect even when they don’t know the deceased person.

The wind of sorrow that blew across Ghana on Thursday, November 12, has caused grief to all who knew Ghana’s first president of the 4th Republic, Jerry John Rawlings. Tributes from all walks of life keep pouring in to condole with the families.

In Ewe culture, family heads lead the various meetings on arrangements to the burial of a beloved one. In the case of former president Rawlings, he primarily belongs to his family and secondarily to the state in his service to the nation but on a tertiary level, to his political ideological party the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

The Awoamefia of the Anlo State, Togbui Sri III can be recognized as the father in this case. He enstooled him as Togbuiga Nutifafa (Chief of Peace) for his role in maintaining peace in Anlo land over the years. Aside making him a chief, Rawlings originally hails from Dzelukope, in the traditional area of Togbui Sri.

Rather sadly, tradition does not permit the family of a deceased to formally or informally inform Togbui Sri III about his death. Not even in the case of his own children when they die outside his home.

According to customs, should any child of the Awoamefia die in his presence, the deceased must be carried across the fence of his palace and not through the gate.

Per tradition, Awoamefia must be hidden. That’s the dictates of the stool he occupies. In the past, when anyone hears the announcement of Togbui Sri III in public, you must look away, turn your face from him, towards a wall. As the world transitions through phases, many are not happy about these traditions. Meanwhile, Kumasa holds the belief that, if the culture or tradition is not against any human right, there is no need to modify it.

“The food we eat, the language we speak and a number things we do identify us as a people. As long as it’s not against any human rights, there is no need for modification,” he added.

“If Togbui Sri III doesn’t see a dead body, what harm will it do to him or people around him?” he asked.

However, in the Vedome and Mafi traditions in the Volta region, chiefs are involved in funerals and even attend same to bid their loved ones farewell.

The case of Awoamefia has been no different since the days of Togbui Adeladza and his other predecessors.

Surprisingly, Togbui Sri III was invited personally by the late former president to the recent birthday celebration of his

Rawlings with Togbui Sri

Late mother, Victoria Agbotui. He chaired the occasion and shared pleasant memories with his long-time friend.

Few months down the lane, the passing of madam Agbotui can’t be communicated to Togbui Sri III. In the worse case scenario of defiance of customs where Togbui Sri desires to bid his friend goodbye, his face must be covered with a piece of cloth.

Rawlings who shot onto the country’s political stage through coups, in 1979 and 1981, was military leader from 1981 to 1992. When the country switched over to constitutional rule, he became the first president of the Fourth Republic, until the year 2000, when he handed over to John Kufour after the end of his second term in office as civilian Head of State.

Rawlings’s legacy is mixed. While some are eulogizing him and describing him as a great leader, victims of his brutal military regimes are not expressing sympathy. They are recounting the pain, agony, misery and losses they suffered under his leadership as a military Head of State.

By Fred Duhoe

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