In 2000 I was living in Ghana when my friend, a village chief, arranged for a small group of Americans to travel to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti tribe, for an audience with its king, the Asantehene. I was thrilled at this rare opportunity and fully intended to be on my best behavior—if only I had known how.
What makes the Ashanti people special is the amount of gold they own. Their gold mine is one of the largest in the world, and the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation (now AngloGold Ashanti), was the first African company to appear on the New York Stock Exchange.
The golden stool is part of the lore. It descended from heaven to the Asantehene’s lap, and is so valuable only a few people know of its location. When a man becomes King of the Ashanti people, his ceremony is not a coronation but an enstoolment ceremony at a secret location.
Our audience began with hand shaking, but the Asantehene’s arm was so heavily laden with gold bangles that his linguist, the okyeame, had to lift it for him. The okyeame, also spoke for him, even though everyone was fluent in English. Though at first fascinating, the conversation began to drag as it repeated itself through the channels to reach the Asantehene and then back again.
When the talk centered on another group, my friend, Stephanie, and I excused ourselves to use the restroom. While I waited for her, I wandered into the throne room looking for the golden stool but only found a plain throne. It seemed so unspecial , considering the king’s wealth. The back was a wooden frame around velvet-textured cloth. I had to know that it was at least super soft and luxurious, so I touched it.
Suddenly the guards stormed me and physically escorted me from the room.
When Stephanie found me I was apprehended and being scolded. None of which I understood. Stephanie explained that it is very bad luck for a woman to touch the throne. “Oh no,” I said.
“But don’t worry,” she reassured me, “the bad luck only comes if the woman is on her monthly.”
“Oh no,” I moaned.
Two weeks later it came to pass.
Word spread through Ghana faster than Twitter. Ghanaian paramount chiefs and queen mothers donned their red funeral garb and traveled to Kumasi to mourn the passing of the Asantehene.
I wasn’t invited, of course, but considered myself very lucky to have met him when I did. Would his spirit say the same about me?
Or—would it suggest that next time I come with knowledge of customs and traditions. Ignorance can be filled with bad juju.