How does one measure a life well spent? It might seem a simple question but still puzzling when closely examined. Is life measured by the actions taken over a lifetime? Or is it measured by the number of challenges one overcomes in life?
Nonetheless, religion and history agree on the same thing, a life well spent is that which leaves a positive mark on the sands of time. This is the major reason Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city literarily stood still when the world gathered to mourn the passing of Asantehemaa Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, Queen Mother of Asanteman and mother of The Nana Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, The Ashantehene.
A true offspring of the Royal Lineage of the Oyoko Clan of Kumasi, late Nana Afia Kobi who was enstooled in 1977 as the 13th queen mother of the Asante Kingdom died in November 2016 at the age of 111.
On November 24, 2016 a one week of mourning was declared in accordance with tradition at Manhyia Palace-and many turned out to commiserate with the royal household.
However, it was many weeks later in January 2017that her final burial was fixed and activities spanning four days were put in place to celebrate this great amazon of the Asante Kingdom. The Asantehene as tradition demands was present at all ceremonies and served as Chief Mourner.
Activities began on Monday, January 16, 2017 where her remains laid in-state after some rituals had been performed at dawn. This ceremony was strictly for the members of the Asanteman Council, elders and royals. They all filed past the body and waited for the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II to also do same. As it is norm, the colour throughout the mourning and burial rites was black-and everyone was appropriately dressed.
Later, the Otumfuo was heralded to the forecourt of the Manhyia Palace where he sat and received visitors who came to commiserate with him.Members of the public were given free access to pay their last respects to the revered Queen Mother.
On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, it was the turn of chiefs from other parts of the country including members of the National House of chiefs, various regional houses of chiefs and heads of corporate institutions to file past the Asantehemaa’s body and express their condolences.
Wednesday could be described as the highest point of the funeral ceremony as an elaborate funeral ceremony was put in place.
Her remains were majestically brought to the forecourt of the Palace by well-clad Military Personnel who gingerly walked through a sea of heads and a guard of honor mounted by another set of officers before her remains were laid at a special well-decorated area.
There was a prayer session before wreaths were laid by prominent Ghanaians including President Nana Akufo-Addo, Former Presidents John Dramani Mahama, John Kufuor and Jerry John Rawling also came to commiserate with the Asantehene.
That was not all, there were representatives from the diplomatic corps, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan and Nigerian billionaire businessman, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, a close friend of the Asante King, were also there.
This ceremony brought to fore the culture, customs and colour of the Kingdom as mourners were mesmerized by local traditionalists who performed assorted rites amid singing, dancing and firing of guns.
The whole of Kumasi literarily stood still, shops, schools and many commercial activities were suspended throughout the period and residents were even warned not to leave home at some times in the night too.
For many residents, it was a small price to pay in their quest to celebrate the life of the Queen Mother, whom they confessed was a mother in a million that they loved so much.
In a special tribute to his late beloved mother, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II exclaimed: “Woahene, Asanteman joins me in mourning the passing away of our Asantehemaa. You will in time be succeeded by a successor to be chosen by me, but in the meantime, I have lost that which cannot be replaced. I have lost the mother who gave me life, my fountain of advice and counsel and the anchor of my very existence.
“You were the centre of my life. I owe everything I have achieved in life to you, to the unbounded love that you always showed to me and to the gentle tutoring that I received from you. You have been the example that has guided me and the beacon by which I have steered through life. You were not just my mother; you were also a mother to many others.
“With your passing away, many have lost a mother and a worthy example. To me you are irreplaceable. You have been my rudder and my guide; the mother of mothers. Without you, life will never be the same again for me. ‘Old Lady’ will forever remain unique to me. You made me proud by the example you set, and you gave me confidence by your very presence.
“It gave me immense pleasure to observe the very easy relationship that you struck with all people, including the famous and well-known and the insignificant and obscure. You instilled in me true pride in my ancestry and joy in my pedigree; but you also taught me to show respect to everyone, regardless of their status in life. I shall miss you every day of my life.”
Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II was born into a family where Christianity as practised in the Anglican tradition was established.
Considering she was baptised and confirmed into the Anglican Church in her infancy, it was therefore not a surprise that her final journey would be tofficiated by Ministers of the Cathedral Church of St. Cyprian the Martyr in Kumasi.
The church service was overseen by a host of clergymen including the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi, Reverend Gabriel Anokye, Bishop of Asante Mampong, Rev. Dr. Cyrul Kobina Ben-Smith and Reverend Peter Akwasi Sarpong, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi.
In his sermon, Rt. Rev Prof. Osei Safo-Kantanka hailed the deceased, praising her efforts in uniting the Asante people. He implored the congregation to learn from the lifetime of the great woman who was an epitome of selflessness, hardwork and dedication to service.
The late AfiaKobi Serwaa Ampem II’s remains were buried at the Bantama Masoleum.
Nana Afia was born in a small room on a bright morning without traditional birth attendant. Her birth was heralded by an unusual incident of cocks jumping up and down with outstretched wings and continuous crowing. A traditional priest blessed her and foretold that she would attain an unusual longevity.
Her birth took place nine years after the exile of Otumfuo Agyeman Prempeh I, (Nana Kwaku Duah III) by the British, first to Elmina, then to Freetown, and eventually in 1900 to the Seychelles Islands.
The exiling of the King and other Royals resulted in the Oyoko Royals being scattered all over the Kingdom. This eventually affected Nana Afia, her mother, and her siblings. They stayed at Mmada in a shrine-house until King Prempeh I returned to Kumasi in 1924.
They then went first to stay at the Akwamuhene’s Palace at Asafo and then later to the Manhyia Palace, till Nana Afia moved to live with a stool wife of the Asantehene called Oheneyere Nana AfiaFookuo.
With a smooth dark complexion, Nana Afia grew beautifully and physically strong. She manifested virtues of humility, submission and hard work. In line with the prevailing climate that Royals should not go to school, she did not have the privilege of a classroom education, but was fully educated in matters of behavior, culture, hygiene, self-help, and so on. Her specialty was cooking various Asante dishes, such as adibia-nkyene-wom, apapransa, mfeho, and besoa. These were mouth-watering starters that she served her guests before they were invited to the main meal.
She was ushered into womanhood through the performance of the bragoro ceremony when she reached the age of puberty.
Even at that time, Nana believed in cleanliness of the body and clothing and surroundings as a veritable mark of a true cultured person. These traits singled her out as an Asante woman throughout her 111 years on earth.
Through her first marriage to Opanin Kofi Fofie of Besease, near Atimatim in the Kwabre District of Ashanti, she was blessed with three children – Nana Ama Konadu (popularly called Nana Panin, still alive, late Barima Kwabena Poku, and late Nana Ama Serwaa (alias Nana Ketewa or EnoAma).
Her second marriage was with Ohenenana Kwame Boakye Dankwa who hailed from Kentinkyiren in the Atwima Kwanwoma District of Asante.
Ohenenana Boakye Dankwa succeeded his father, Nana Kwaku Duah (Agari) as Brahyiahene, in charge of Otumfuo’s gun carriers and was also the grandson of Nana Kwaku Duah I, Asantehene from 1834-1867.
The marriage which produced two sons, Barima Akwasi Prempeh of blessed memory and Barima Kwaku Duah (the present Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II), had the full support of Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, her brother.
It is said that after the birth of Barima Akwasi Prempeh, Nana Afia was contemplating seeking divorce but Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II advised against it. Nana Afia listened to her brother and conceived Barima Kwaku Duah.
The day Nana Afia called on her brother to present Barima Kwaku Duah, the child wet Otumfuo’s cloth, whereupon Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II tapped the child’s head three times whilst saying ‘Kratumi, Kratumi, Kratumi, wo aba a tenaase’, literally meaning ‘Powerful soul, powerful soul, powerful soul, I wish you long life’ and prophesying that this young boy would be great one day, specifically that one day he would sit on ‘Banwoma so’. And truly, he became The Asantehene.
Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II exhibited rare qualities of humanity, friendship, love, and justice as a human being. She was a woman who loved her children exceedingly well but never excluded others within and outside the royal family from her kindness as the Mother of the Asantes.