Saturday, March 24, 2007.
Funeral for a monkey
By: JACOB OTI AWERE
ONLY recently, on a highway in the Brong Ahafo Region, wildlife officers and community volunteers intercepted a man on a bicycle with a bush-bag strapped to it.
On inspection, as enjoined by law, the carcass of a heavily pregnant black and white colobus monkey was found and confiscated.
Under normal circumstances, when the carcass of a protected animal is confiscated, it is supposed to be sold to the members of the public at an economic rate and the proceeds paid into government chest.
In the case of this black-and-white colobus whose size was that of a big dog but most exceptional in visual beauty, the body was not sold to the public but conveyed to Boabeng and Fiema, near Nkoranza where it had been secretly killed by a member of a Christian spiritual be sold as bush-meat.
The market price for such a monkey, as bush meat could be anywhere around one hundred thousand cedis, but in tourism sense, the value of the same monkey, alive, is more than one hundred thousand dollars – ($100,000.00) per year.
When the body of the monkey was brought back home to the village, the chiefs and elders called a meeting, as was done whenever a monkey died or got killed in these communities, then the fetish priest was brought in.
What followed next is something that never happens in any part of the world except in Ghana: rituals were performed, libations were poured, teeth were gnashed and then, the poor, dead monkey was placed in a small coffin, conveyed to the local cemetery for monkeys for burial, and then a funeral ceremony was held in a “monkey’s small way”.
Boateng and Fiema are two communities near Nkoranza. These communities are perhaps the only places in the whole world where monkeys are held in reverence, pampered and respected as citizens and co-tenants, and protected by the people who view them as ancestors of the highest order, and when one dies, it is accorded funerary honours.
The cemetery for monkeys is some 200 meters deep into the monkey forest of Boabeng, and is one of the most visited sports in the extensive monkey sanctuary that now encompasses ten communities. The monkey graves are given headboards with information about the type of monkey buried there and the date of death inscribed on them. For example, you could read: “juvenile black and white colobus, buried 21-August-1974” etc.
Also sharing the cemetery are the late priests and priestesses of the local shrine that links the local people with the monkeys: so, buried with the monkeys are Opanin Kwaku Amponsah, Fetish Priest of the Dwomo shrine who died on 4th March, 1974 at the age of 50, and Afia Bochi, alias Afia Fofie, who died at the great age of 120.
Recently, the Chiefs and people of Fiema and Boabeng were joined by the Chiefs and people of eight other communities to institute and celebrate the first festival in honour of the sacred monkeys of the area, and the tourism revenues and jobs that have been occasioned by the presence of these monkeys. The festival was so important that the Paramount Chief of the Nkoranza Traditional Area, Katakyie Agyeman Kudom was present to preside over the festival.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, was represented by no less a chief than a brother of yours truly, Okogyeasua Ofie Kwasi, Omanhene of the Kokofu Traditional Area. Of course the DCE of the area was present as was the Regional Minister, the Minister for the Interior and several other high – ranking indigenes of the Nkoranza universe.
When we arrived at Boabeng at Sam on the day of the festival slated for 10 a.m., we did not know that at 50 years as a nation, we still think that 10 a.m. can be translated to mean 1 p.m. The chiefs and dignitaries were ready and waiting in the palace by 11 a.m., but the people came to sit at 1 p.m. Being the first speech maker, I spent an unauthorized five minutes to berate the surprised crown that in Ghana @ 50, 10 a.m. means 10 a.m. or earlier, and nothing else.
The long wait for the festival to begin was spent in the high forest of Boabeng–Fiema with the monkeys and two busloads of members of the Ghana National Association of Private Schools, and students from Tepa Secondary School who came in their long Science Resource Centre bus.
The Students, however, disappointed everybody else woefully by their lack of respect for the environment. The Boateng–Fiema communities have always maintained a first class tidiness and cleanliness for their villages and their monkey forests. Everybody who visits therefore first notices the clearly labeled waste containers provided by the Wildlife division and the communities.
In spite of these visible containers, when students of Tepasco entered their bus ready to go, we had to stop the driver and order the students to come off it. Why so? They had literally covered the area around the long bus with empty water sachets, scraps of papers, and everything called rubbish by the English dictionary that they had thrown our of the vehicle’s windows.
It was amazing there we it very hard to get them off the bus to collect their own waste and put it in the bin under a tree only three metres away. That is our future leaders for you, but I was proud that they decided to go on an educational tour to Boabeng – Fiema on a lovely weekend.
The festival that was celebrated at Fiema by the ten monkeys – communities was dubbed: Mmoa No Nti Afahye, meaning For the Sake of the Monkeys. The festival was therefore instituted to celebrate the historically and culturally revered monkeys that are principally monas and black and white colobus. The people have come to realize that the monkeys alive serve a greater economic purpose than if they were killed and cooked and eaten.
Conservation has caught up with them with its numerous benefits and they respect it. This respect was the epitome of the speech by the Omanhene, Okatakyie Agyeman Kudom who at 67, says he will be around to see the monkeys prospering by the time Ghana celebrates her centenary. Nana mentioned a problem that the Wildlife Division, Technical Supervisors of the sanctuary had been managing for years with some degree of success.
Daily Graphic - Saturday, March 24, 2007. Page: 21