The Netherlands gives back the head of King Badu Bonsu II to Ghana

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Badu Bonsu II, King of the Ahanta
Badu Bonsu II, King of the Ahanta

Members of the Ahanta kingdom, one of several kingdoms within the Akan group, Thursday took part in a ceremony in the Netherlands to honour the memory of King Badu Bonsu II, beheaded in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) 171 years ago by the Dutch. His head had been preserved in formalin and kept in the reserves of a medical center. The head was returned to the Ahanta people to enable them give their king a proper burial.

An extraordinary ceremony took place Thursday in the Netherlands. Members of the Ahanta kingdom in Ghana were in The Hague to identify and retrieve the head of King Badu Bonsu II, beheaded 171 years ago. Clad in red and black traditional mourning attire, they honoured the memory of the deceased by pouring a gin libation with Dutch officials.

Badu Bonsu II was beheaded in 1838 to avenge the killing of two Dutch settlers, after which General Jan Verveer transported the head in a jar filled with formalin to be studied. It was eventually forgotten in the Dutch University of Leiden’s medical reserves. When a writer researching for a historical novel in 2008 discovered it, the Ahanta people immediately sought restitution to enable their ancestor to finally rest in peace.


But the descendants of the former king want more. Thursday, at the ceremony, the head was not exposed. It was given to the Ghanaians on Friday. But, Ghanaian officials are afraid of breaking protocol: according to them, they have not yet been authorised by their reigning chief to bring back the head with them. Nana Darko Kwekwe III, who led the ceremony, mourned the deceased king and asked the former coloniser for reparation: by constructing schools and hospitals. The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Verhagen, used the ceremony as a platform to apologise on behalf of his country for the slave trade.

This is not the first time an African country has claimed back a Human trophy stored in Europe. In 2002, France gave the body of Saartjie Baartman back to South Africa. After her death, the South African woman’s corpse was cast in plaster and dissected, nicknamed The Hottentot Venus and displayed at the Museum of Mankind (Musée de l’Homme) in Paris. In her adult life, she was portrayed as a beast at freak shows and made to work as a prostitute, in London and Paris. She remained at the Parisian Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) until 1974 (1985, according to some) when she was moved into the museum’s reserves. The remains of Saartjie Baartman, including her brains and private parts preserved in formalin fluids, were sent back to South Africa in 2002.

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