Saturday, August 2, 2014

An Introduction to Builsa Royalty

As far as meeting royalty goes, I'm not terribly well-versed.

The Paramount Chief of the Builsa district and his elders
So, naturally, as we approached the palace of the Paramount Chief of the Builsa district, I had no idea what to do with myself. I don't think many of us did. Meeting royalty or anyone else of importance, in the UK often means conforming to strict customs, and is reserved for a privileged few. There's normally great ceremony, and an appropriate dress code. It was a quiet afternoon in Sandema, and we were all in shorts and shirts. We turned down the road to the palace, which was open to anyone, and passed a golden statue of the former chief, Azantilow - father of the current chief. We had been due to meet the week before, on Friday, but a sudden rain storm had postponed it until three days later.

The chief in Sandema, Naab Azagsuk Azantilow II, also acts as the head, or paramount, chief above all other chiefs in the Builsa district, and as such has a higher authority, influencing decisions in other towns, and making them in his own, alongside his elders. He also leads the planning committee for the local Feok Festival, which last year made history in the district by allowing people with disabilities to participate in festival events and giving them their own time slot, after which the chief encouraged other chiefs to follow his example. The public in Sandema regard the chief highly, saying he is kind, has good intentions, and takes an active role in changing the town for the better. Our experience with him has only proven them right so far.

The palace was a large, sprawling combination of bright, fairly modern buildings and traditional African architecture, with a scenic outdoor area covered by trees. We were directed to a small cluster of chairs and a bench, situated in the shade of two particularly large trees, where the Chief and his elders were already seated. Dropping our things and the gift we had bought - a crate of beer - we went around the elders, shaking the right hand of each, with our left hand resting under our right elbow, as is custom. 

During the conversation, everything we said had to be translated into Buli - the local language - by Maurice, one of the national volunteers working at CBR. The chief himself can understand English and speaks it fine, but tradition dictates he address us formally in Buli, through an elder, which is then translated to our own language. It took time, but the conversation moved fairly quickly. He told us we were welcome in Sandema, and hoped we would do well in our endeavors.  About halfway through, the chief addressed us directly, in English, asking where in England we were from, and asking Hattie if she had met the Queen as he discovered she's from London. His father, he told us, had attended her coronation, as a spectator.

The LIFE Project team with the Paramount Chief and his elders
He thanked us and our organisation’s for the work that has been done, and also appealed for us to aid in teaching IT in our spare time, if we were able. Having spent a year in college doing an IT apprenticeship, I've been more than happy to take up the task.

The meeting ended well, with us thanking the chief for his time and well wishes, and by him giving us his blessing. We took a few photographs, handed over our gifts and departed on a positive note.
A few days later, in town, we were approached by some people who said they had a message from the chief. Upon asking what it was, we were presented with a bag full of guinea fowl eggs. We must have made an impression.

Andy and Hattie with guinea fowl eggs
I'm not sure what I expected meeting a chief to be like, but between the sunny outdoor venue, the semi-casual, albeit slow conversation and the occasional light joke, it was far more laid-back and certainly far more fun than any formal meeting we had experienced at home.

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