Introduction to Chieftaincy:
The chief is the first citizen of the town or village. As the ruler of the town or village, the chief has other office-bearers under him. Under them are other office bearers. The authority gets down until the ordinary citizen or subject is reached.
Let us consider the order or hierarchy with an illustration from the Akan system. Under the “Omanhene” (the Paramount Chief), the ruler of the traditional area, are the wing chiefs popularly known as “Mpakanfo” or Divisional Chiefs. Each traditional area is divided into wings such as the Vanguard, the Right Wing, the Left Wing and the Rear Guard. Examples of these Wing Chiefs under the Paramount Chief are Gyasehene, Adontenhene, Krontihene (Mankrado), Osomannyawa, Nifahene, Benkumhene and Kyidomhene. These wing chiefs administer the various sections of the chief’s territory under them.
In some communities, there are also two or more Asafo Companies. Each of these companies is headed by a “Supi” who works with the chief. Under the Supi are ‘Asafohene’ (Company Leaders). In the olden days these were officers in charge of various battalions of the state. In modern times, these companies are ceremonial. They help mainly in communal and other pieces of work in their communities.
The whole system of chieftaincy is based on wartime defense tactics. The chief is thus the supreme commander for his area.
Whereas the Omanhene or paramount chief rules the whole traditional area and his wing chiefs or divisional chiefs rule the divisions under them, each town is ruled by an Odekro (a chief). Thus each division is made up of a number of towns each under a chief. The various divisions, each under a divisional chief, make up the traditional area under the paramount chief.
The authority of a chief is shown in the form of symbols. For example, in the southern part of Ghana, chiefs sit on wooden stools and also hold wooden swords some of which are covered with gold. They have linguists who hold their staffs on official duties. Chiefs in the Northern and Upper Regions, on the other hand, sit on skins of animals. They also usually hold horse-tail whisks, instead of swords.
Chiefs are selected from the royal family. Those who select the chief are the kingmakers.
In the southern part of Ghana, especially among the Akan, the queen mother nominates the candidate. This nomination must be approved by the kingmakers. The kingmakers therefore determine who is to be the chief. After the approval by the kingmakers, the elected candidate is introduced to the community. He is carried shoulder high through the main streets of the town.
The chief-elect is kept in a room for some time before he is outdoored. During this period of confinement, he is taught the history, tradition, customs, and practices of his people. He is also cleansed spiritually for his new role.
On the day of enstoolment, the chief-elect is beautifully dressed and carried in a palanquin through the main streets of the town. After this he swears the oath of allegiance to his people. His sub-chiefs in turn swear to him, on behalf of the people. After this, he is taken to the stool room where he is made to ‘sit’ on the stool three times. He then chooses a stool name for himself.
Qualities required of a would-be Chief:
Before a person can be selected as a chief, he must have certain qualities. The following are some of the qualities:
i. The person should be mentally and physically sound.
ii. He should have no physical deformity.
iii. The chief should have good character
iv. He must be acceptable to a majority of the people.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Chief:
The chief has many duties to perform. The following are some of his duties and responsibilities:
i. He is the spiritual leader of his people.
ii. He is the administrator of political leader of the traditional area.
iii. He is the leader of all development projects of the area.
iv. He settles disputes among his people.
v. He is the link between the traditional area and the central government.
vi. He sees to it that all traditional rites and customs are duly performed.
vii. He is the custodian of all the land and other property of the traditional area.
Destoolment/Deskinment of a Chief:
Whenever a chief does any wrong, he is first spoken to by his elders. In the Akan set-up, the chief is sometimes advised by the queen mother. If he continues to do wrong, he is reported to his father to counsel him. When all these fail, charges are preferred against him, and he is summoned by the Oman (State) to answer the charges.
If the chief refuses to attend to the call, the people would go to him, remove his sandals, fire a gun, and then declare him destooled.
These days charges preferred against a paramount chief may go through the Regional House of Chiefs. Sometimes such cases may be referred to the National House of Chiefs. If the chief is found guilty, he is declared destooled.
What are some of the offenses which may lead to the destoolment or deskinment of a chief?
A chief must not show disrespect to his elders. He must not misuse money belonging to the traditional area. It is an offense for the chief to sell or misuse any state property. As a head of the traditional area, he should not refuse to perform the necessary customary rites. He is also not to fight in public or in privatge and he should not eat in public. He should not fail to attend to the summons of his people.
There are many symbols and ornaments that constitute the stool/skin regalia. The following are some of then:
i. The Stool/Skin
The stool and the skin of certain animals are the most important of the chief’s regalia. In Ghana, stools are found among the Akan, the Ewe, the Ga-Adangme, and other ethnic groups in the south. Skins, on the other hand, are used in the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana.
It is believed that most people in the Northern and Upper Regions in the past, moved from place to place tending sheep and cattle. A skin was therefore easy to obtain and keep. The owner would sit or sleep on it during his travels.
In the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana, the skin serves as the throne of the chief. It can be the skin of a goat, sheep, cow, hyena, buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant, etc. The chief can sit on any of these skins at any given time. His status is shown by the type of skin he uses. If he uses the skin of a fearful animal, he is then considered to be a powerful chief.
The stool also symbolizes the soul of the society and is very much treasured.
ii. Personal Ornaments
The most outstanding of the chief’s regalia is his ceremonial dress. In most communities in the south, the most outstanding ceremonial dress of the chief is the “kente” cloth. The other ornaments of the Ghanaian chief include jewelry. The jewelry is for the neck, elbow, knee, ankle, and fingers. These ornaments are made of gold or precious beads or talismans.
In the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana, the ceremonial dresses are the ‘robes.’ These are gowns or garments made up of various kinds of materials such as cotton, linen, silk, and locally woven wool.
The head-dress is another ornament for the chief. It may be a cap, hat, helmet, crown, headband, or turban. It is a taboo for a chief to walk barefooted. Sandals therefore form part of his personal ornaments.
Other regalia of the Ghanaian chief include umbrellas, palanquins, linguist-sticks, or staffs of office.