Extract of the story “Journey to the Chest of Gold” from “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” by Dzagbe Cudjoe

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Dzagbe Cudjoe

Journey To 1be Chest Of Gold

“Would all passengers travelling to 18th century Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, please make their way to Gate thirty-one?”

A party of schoolchildren and I were going on a field trip. We would be travelling through time and space. We had been waiting for several hours at the Timeodrome and we were anxious to be on our way. Once aboard the time craft, we fastened our seat belts for take-off.

We knew that on arrival we would shed our physical bodies of bones, skin, tissue, and organs. These would not be necessary. The spiritual, emotional, and reasoning sides of us as human beings would give us invisibility and also keep us safe in the different conditionshat time travel would bring.

I was a little disappointed that we would not catch glimpses of world history as we flashed through time. Anyway I felt privileged to be taking a party of children to a time and a place that was rarely visited these days.

It seemed that we were no sooner seated, than we had arrived at our destination. Thelocal Timeodrome was actually in the midst of a grove of trees in a forest sacred to the local people’s ancestors. There was no transport to be seen and luckily we did not need any. We had only to think where we wanted to be and we would all be transported there. I instruct­ed the children that we would all meet in the outer courtyard of the Asantehene’s palace. No sooner had we all thought “Take me to the outer courtyard of the Asantehene’s palace”, than we were there.

None of us had ever seen such sights. Here was a clean, well laid-out city with wide streets and well-maintained houses. There was a great hustle and bustle with people pass­ing by all looking as if they had important things to attend to. It was easy to distinguish the well-to-do. The men wore beautifully woven, brightly colored patterned kente cloths thrown over the left shoulder like a roman toga. They were adorned with pure gold neck­laces, bracelets, and rings on their fingers.The poorer people wore bark cloth or plain hand-woven cotton cloths. High officials walked around accompanied by lesser officials. Gold staffs of office were much in evidence with these people so that any passer-by immediately recognized that person’s rank and of­fice.

I, as a teacher, knew something of the history behind what we were all seeing with our own eyes, but nothing had prepared me for such colorful splendor. I explained to the children that the King of this kingdom was known as the Asantehene. It was a kingdom that had grown rich trading in gold; at first across the Sahara to North Mrica, and from there onwards to Europe. In 1471, the Portuguese reached the coasts of what was later to be known as the Gold Coast. As a result of this contact, gold was transported southwards to the coast and sold to the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Swedes, the Danes, and the English.

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Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me

Trade had led to conflict. The Euopean powers quarreled amongst themselves and inter­tribal warfare became common. The wicked trade in slaves had followed the decline in the gold trade. Blame for this horrific period of history lies with both sides. The trade in gold led to great riches for the Kingdom of Ashanti. A strong system of government existed with strict laws, taxes, and tolls on the roads. Treasury officials were responsible for collecting and spending large sums of gold. Gold dust was used as currency to pay taxes, and for ceremonial purposes. Goldwas also used to make most of the regalia and the ornaments worn by the chiefs. Gold beads and nuggets of gold were used in women’s jewelery and in finger rings and chains for men. On the death of the Asantehene, his body was covered in gold dust.

We were all standing in the middle of a very large courtyard in front of the Asantehene’s palace. People passed by us, but we were invisible to their eyes. The palace was made up of a number of courtyards surrounded by buildings. The palace and the surrounding buildings were built of mud plastered onto a timber framework. The very steep roofs were covered with a thatch of palm leaves. The mud was made from the locallaterite soil, which gave the buildings an orange-brown color; the plaster had been smoothed and polished so that it gave off a dull coppery-red glow. 1he buildings were very richly decorated with raised designs modeled into the mud plaster. There were birds and animals, leaf motifs, flowers and geometric designs. The small windows had carved wooden shutters to keep the sun out and the room cool. The left-hand shutters were covered in silver and the right-hand ones were covered in gold. The upper areas of the walls and the columns of the buildings had been painted with white clay. The sight of the buildings took my breath away!

The children and I found ourselves standing wide-eyed and open-mouthed with amaze­ment. No reading of history textbooks had prepared me for these sights. I pulled myself to­gether and told everyone to cross the courtyard and enter the palace by the main entrance. The men passing us had removed their brightly colored kente cloths from over their left shoulder and had tied them around their waists. This is a mark of respect. No man may en­ter a palace, a shrine, or stand before someone of importance with his shoulders covered.

Some of the women were carrying young babies and children tied onto their backs with a cloth. The children seemed to be both snug and secure. As we walked through an au­dience chamber, we noticed what looked like a European straight-backed chair. But there was a very noticeable difference. The seat and the central area of the back of the chair were covered with what appeared to be elephant leather. All the remaining areas were decorated with round-headed European brass tacks set so closely together that their edges touched. explained to the class that it must be a chief’s chair based on a European model.

Around the room and propped at an angle against the wall so that the spirits cannot sit on them, were a large number of stools. Each had been carved from a single piece of soft wood. The area connecting the seat of the stool to the base was elaborately carved. The carvings were sometimes abstract shapes and sometimes of animals. I knew that the decora­tion represented a proverb or wise saying.

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