The "Working in Ghana" Project

Village Chief

["Naba" (Chief), now in his mid-thirties, is believed to be the youngest chief in his traditional area. He assumed the position when he was a teenager; for the first 8 years or so a regent assisted him in runnin his village in Northern Ghana. Naba has three wives and ten children. He has completed middle school, and for one year as a teenager, was a "pupil teacher" (untrained teacher). He spoke to Philip Awekeya in an open shed in front of his large palace. They conversed in the Gurune language while one of the village elders looked on.]

My duties as a traditional ruler or chief of this village are multiple, ranging from maintenance of social norms to provision of basic social amenities for my people to creating political awareness among my subjects.

Being a traditional ruler I open myself up to all males and females whose rights have been trampled on by other members of the village. For example, I receive complaints from some of my subjects whose wives have been taken away by their in-laws and given in marriage to other men either within or outside the village. On the other hand, men or women whose sons-in-law (daughters' husbands) fail to pay the bride wealth (gifts given by a bridegroom to the bride's parents) also approach me to assist them to collect the right number of cattle and sheep from their daughters' in-laws.

I also receive complaints from some members of the village about theft, and quarrels over farm land. With the help of my elders I make a serious effort to settle the conflicting parties by making references to traditional rules as regards land ownership or traditional marriage procedures. Whenever I observe that any of the parties involved are not ready to compromise--especially in matters of land litigation--I advise them to proceed with a note from me to the paramount chief traditional courts for redress.

Apart from seeing to the settlement of disputes among my subjects I sometimes assist the literate youth association of the village in organizing community labor or fund-raising towards the construction of either a village community center or the roofing the village schools. I also encourage the literate youth association to organize the village youth to plant grass on the banks of the village dams to help save them from breaching during the rainy season.

I like being chief of my village because it gives me the opportunity to serve my subjects. I try to assist them in securing basic social needs for themselves, such as digging of wells to provide drinking water during the dry season. The position also gives me the chance to be chairperson of functions that take place in my village; I deem that as a big honor and an opportunity to promote peace and a cooperative spirit among my subjects.

In addition to being referred to as "Naba", some government officials and politicians pay occasional visits to me with gifts, which adds to my social status. Some of my subjects who work down south (in southern Ghana) call on me when they come home during Christmas or Easter. They offer me gifts ranging from imported drinks to clothing and sandals for myself and my children.

However, there are frustrations associated with my position as traditional ruler. For instance, two years ago I sided with the literate youth association and some of the elders to remove the village market from its old site, which is quite remote from the main road that links two other major villages with ours. Surprisingly enough, I received a bitter reaction from some of the village elders and by a few elderly literate individuals. The reaction was so violent that I was forced to drop the noble plan to maintain unity in the village to save myself from destoolment (impeachment) charges from some of the village elders.

As a traditional ruler, I have no prescribed working hours. By tradition I am not permitted to weed my fields or personally engage in any form of manual labor. Thus I have sufficient time to receive complaints from my subjects and to meet regularly with my village elders and literate youth to discuss plans to develop water facilities and school projects in the village.

Though I am excused from manual labor and should as a result be free from all forms of risk, I nonetheless sometimes suffer from other minor hazards such as open hate from some of my subjects. For example, some people feel dissatisfied when I settle cases against their interests. When this happens they come to believe I have not been fair. Sometimes I am accused of taking a bribe from one of the parties involved in a case.

On the whole, however, I consider my performance quite satisfactory. There have been only a few instances in which appeals to the paramount chief or the traditional courts have set aside my judgments. This confirms that I am performing fairly well as a traditional ruler.

I take pride in being chief of my village because I stand the chance of acquiring divisional status which is another step in the chieftaincy ranks in this part of the country. The process of advancement is quite slow but then with time and continuous pressure on my part on the regional house of chiefs I hope to succeed in being promoted.

The district assemblies in this region pay me and my fellow chiefs a very low monthly salary. They do not see the need to award us free medical care, though we play a major role in settling disputes in our respective villages and help create civic awareness amongst our subjects. For instance, we educate our people to take interest in local and national politics by coming out to vote for responsible citizens to the district assemblies and in parliament. We also ask our subjects to co-operate with the government by taking an interest in community development activities and paying tax regularly, yet we are poorly paid. Thus if it had not been for the good will of my village elders and the male youth who organize free labor to work on my farms, coupled with occasional gifts I receive from friends, my large family and I would have suffered, trying to survive on a small salary from the district assembly.

As any other chief in the region, I belong to the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs which is a wing of the National House of Chiefs. Being a member of this important union, I attend district as well as regional meetings and functions, and also pay membership dues to help it carry out its many activities. At all levels the union promotes the existence of a solid chieftaincy institution in the country.

Because I am a chief, my family enjoys certain privileges from the community. For instance, my children and wives also do not engage in manual labor such as weeding on the farms. They, too, enjoy free bus rides from the village to the nearby towns. They feel delighted that their head of family is chief of the village. This is shown through their cheerfulness.

I am proud to be the traditional ruler of my village. It is a big opportunity open to me to interact with people in government circles to obtain favors in the form of water facilities, bore-holes (wells), dams, market stalls, and school building projects. I do not regret being elected chief of my village and only pray for long life to be able to serve my people well in the coming years.