Before moving to permanently settle at Odumase and Somanya, the ancient Krobos lived in the beautiful outcrops called Klowem, located just near the Akuse junction on the Akosombo Road. Every avid hiker, mountaineer or trekker worth his rank under the professional OAG knows the Klowem outcrops. The moderately challenging 10km diameter wilderness has steep trails, grassy passes, rocky valleys and half-wild cattle to provide the background to wonderful adventures, and the occasional cow chase.
I discovered Klowem while searching for abseilable cliffs in the area. In the first iteration of our search, my team and I were assisted by Kloma Gbi, leaders of Krobo Youth in the traditional area. These youths wanted nothing more than to see all Krobos united for development. And the sacred Klowem was a visible symbol of that sought-after development. My team would move off from that first search to organize over a hundred adventures to the site.
One of the chiefs slapped us with a calico, a couple of rams and the bones of a dead five-year old antelope plus Five Thousand Ghana Cedis in fines when they discovered we had been making money running adventures on the hills behind their backs. They claimed we needed to have performed some rites before venturing to explore the hills. At any point, the gods could have been offended and visited calamity on my clients and I, and potentially on the whole of Krobodom.
I don’t know if they knew then that the Yilo House, the twin paramountcy of the Krobo, had stationed a half-drunk farmer on the other side of the hills, and the dude was extorting 10 Cedis (30 Cedis if one was White) from anyone that would hike the hills.
I refused to visit the palace while the fines hung over our heads but continued to hike the hills, not unaware of the potential conflict that would erupt should we run into any Krobos, but using my knowledge of the hills to outwit any searchers. Eventually, the palace found out from Facebook that we were happily exploring the hills still. The chief himself called to offer a way out. Five Thousand became 500, and I could forget the rams, the calico and the antelope archeology.
On the day after I handed over the cash, I took another hike through the hills. The week before had been the Ngmayem Festival, and every true Krobo had gone to hike Klowem to pay homage to the ancestors. Plastic littered every rock, leaf and shrub. The greenery of Klowem had been violated by the indigenes, and empty water sachets, kasapreko gin tots, and ice cream wrappers desecrated the entire outcrop.
When the chief answered my phone call, my words were, “Your gods must be crazy if they find my adventures to Klowem offensive, but found no offense with the plastic littering and other environmental violations of your people. Your gods must be insane if they could threaten to punish me, who only leave boot prints, but do not punish you who have left these desecrations.”
Sadly, the litter remained from October of that year through the harmattan, where they remained a true eyesore when all the vegetation withered, until the rains of the next year. Running water, mud and new grass covered the shame of the Krobo People. I would not have paid the 500 Cedis if I had seen the mess before agreeing with the chief, and I said as much to him.
It wasn’t any love of the environment, or of the gods, that inspired the demand for money to explore what is really nothing more than an open wilderness. I absolutely do not begrudge any local authority or traditional ruler who tries to monetize natural or environmental resources; especially of the sustainable variety. But I take extreme exception to the extortion that is the stock-in-trade of most traditional authority in Ghana when an idea presents itself. No thought is given to business plans, or environmental impact assessments. Immediately, their default position is to slap fees in the names of gods as devoid of powers as my breath is devoid of the miasma of alcohol. Of course the money and the drinks or rams end up lining their pockets and pockets alone. Not a single indigene benefits from such extortion. As it turned out later, the whole area is Government of Ghana property due to the abundance of the mineral wealth of rocks for quarrying purposes. There are more than 10 active quarries in the area as we speak. And there are no angry gods either; just relics of ancient idolatry that employs the fear of unknown spiritual consequences to keep chieftaincy elites in power.
We had similar experiences in the Akwamu Traditional Area. The Trident shares a wall with the Akwamu Forest, otherwise known as Akwamu Pow. The Okumahene of the area had already sold this same land to my Landlord knowing full well it abutted their sacred grove but as soon as my team and I laid the foundational blocks for the facility, he and his chiefs came screaming themselves hoarse that certain purification rights needed to be done to ensure the safety of our operations around the grove and on the Volta River. The demand was for Twenty-thousand Ghana Cedis, plus two ram, and cartons of foreign and local gin. Never mind that while it wasn’t really needed, we had spent a lot of money building a 450-foot wall to keep their gods away from our side of the demarcation. When I asked why I would, in my right mind part with such an amount, they claimed that the gods could send crocodiles, water vipers and big waves to create unpleasantness for us and for our clients.
The anaemia in this kind of thinking was beyond me. Ghanaian ancestors and gods were not like the ancestors and gods of other lands. They send calamities and plagues. Not good will and prosperity and the brains others use to make planes and submarines. To say I treated the requests with contempt is an understatement. Six months later, the demand came down to 12-Thousand Cedis and I was still pissed off. Eventually, my Board stepped in and provided to their demands.
I returned from an adventure one morning and there they all were, wearing “collars” like we did when we were children in a village that had no electricity – a full-bodied cloth that is worn tied up around the neck. There were chiefs of big influence, and there was a drummer, and they came to the border with the forest to invoke the gods and ask for their blessings and avert their displeasure. They presented with one ram (my Board had provided 2), and they scattered mere fatty parts of the slain ram across the water. As they made off with the rest of the ram (99% of the meat) Derick, one of my Rangers ran after them and divested the sacrifice of one meaty thigh.
That evening, when Derick presented me with a bowl of ram soup, I declined. I don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, I said. Especially these ones that are devoid of anything resembling progress and advancement.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Ghanaian culture, but I have spent 23 years of my life living in nature and in the wild. There’s nothing here that is maliciously benign about forests, rivers, stones, trees and animals, other than the selfish heart of man. And living out here, I expect there will be more of such conflicts between me and traditional rulers over customs outmoded, and rites that don’t make sense, never mind that the only reason they hold on to these customs is to employ fear as a currency to line their pockets.
And to each new request, my answer remains: the Gods must be crazy!