THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The descendants of an African chief who was hanged and decapitated by a Dutch general 171 years ago reluctantly accepted the return of his severed head Thursday, still angry even as the Dutch tried to right a historic wrong.
The head of King Badu Bonsu II was discovered last year in a jar of formaldehyde gathering dust in the anatomical collection of the Leiden University Medical Center. The Dutch government agreed to Ghanaian demands that the relic be returned.
On Thursday, members of the king’s Ahanta tribe, dressed in dark robes and wearing red sashes, took part in the hand-over ceremony, honouring his spirit by toasting with Dutch gin and then sprinkling the drink over the floor at the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
But descendants of the chief said they were not consoled.
“I am hurt, angry. My grandfather has been killed,” said Joseph Jones Amoah, the great, great grandson of the chief.
The chief’s head was stored elsewhere at the ministry and was not displayed during the ceremony. It is expected to be flown with the tribe members back to Ghana on Friday.
Tribal elders said after the hand-over that they were also angry because they had been sent by their current chief only to identify the head, not retrieve it. Taking it back without first reporting to the chief would be a breach of protocol, they said.
“We, the Ahanta, are not happy at all,” said Nana Etsin Kofi II.
The head was taken by Maj. Gen. Jan Verveer in 1838 in retaliation for Bonsu’s killing of two Dutch emissaries, whose heads were displayed as trophies on Bonsu’s throne, said Arthur Japin, a Dutch author who discovered the king’s head when he was working on a historical novel.
The elders demanded the Dutch government provide aid to their tribe to appease the slain chief.
Nana Kwekwe Darko III, who tipped the gin on the floor in a Ghanaian tradition of respect for the dead, dabbed tears from his eyes afterward and said he wanted the Dutch to build schools and hospitals for his people.
Ministry spokesman Bart Rijs said that 10 tribal chiefs who came from Ghana had agreed before the ceremony to take the head home. The official transfer was between the two countries’ governments, he said.
Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen used the ceremony to apologize for Dutch involvement in the slave trade. Ghana, then known as Gold Coast, was a base for Dutch slave traders.
“We are also here because of our mutual desire to lay to rest episodes in … history that were unfortunate and shameful,” Verhagen said. “Our common past also includes the infamous slave trade, which our traders engaged in and sustained and which inflicted so much harm on so many people in so many parts of the world.”
Ghana has lobbied for the head’s return since it was discovered.
“Without burial of the head, the deceased will be hunted in the afterlife. He’s incomplete,” Eric Odoi-Anim, a Ghanaian diplomat in the Netherlands said after the discovery. “It’s also a stigma on his clan, on his kinsmen, and him being a (high-ranking) chief – this is even more serious.”
It was unclear what would become of it once it reaches Ghana.
Berima Asamoah Kofi IV, a traditional chief who now lives in the Netherlands, said the Ahanta chief would ultimately decide its fate.
“Whatever he says, we are going to do,” he told The Associated Press.