Meeting the Nayiri

The tribal system is alive and well in Ghana, and we saw it first hand on Saturday. In this dual system of government there exists on one level the modern elected government with a president and parliament. On another level, the traditional tribal system is still firmly rooted in culture and practice. Nalerigu is the traditional seat of the Mamprugu Kingdom and so is home to the Nayiri or paramount chief. Each village has its own chief from among the royal family, but the Nayiri rules over them all.

European monarchs are enthroned, but the Nayiri is enskinned, a term that comes from the special skins that make the throne where the Nayiri sits when he grants audiences. And it just so happens that he granted an audience on Saturday, and Matt and I were in attendance. There is a volunteer group at the hospital right now led by a couple of men who served here as missionaries years before. They speak Mampruli well and know the Nayiri from their time here, so each year when they come to volunteer, they take their group to meet him, and they graciously included us when they went. I had just had a new dress made, and Matt donned his traditional smock and slouchy hat.

I was a bit nervous because there seemed to be a tradition of squatting and snapping (for the women) or clapping (for the men) that I wasn’t quite sure about. Americans aren’t even good at bowing, much less this.

No cars, motorcycles or bikes are allowed to drive in front of the Nayiri’s palace, so we parked off to the side and were ushered through the gate. It’s not a palace in any sense that usually comes to mind but rather is like a large African compound in which an outer wall encloses a series of rooms and huts that open onto a central courtyard. The throne room has tile floor and ceiling fans, and the Nayiri sits on his skins on a dias, surrounded by his advisors. There are big cushy armchairs for guests lining the opposite wall. All the men wore traditional smocks, and one carried a spear. The Nayiri was very friendly and laughed a lot. He is a big supporter of the hospital because it has vastly improved the standard of healthcare in the region and because it is a source of good jobs for local workers.

He told many proverbs and thanked the volunteers for helping at the hospital. A couple of them had brought framed photographs of the Nayiri from previous visits to give as gifts. They also gave him peanut butter granola bars. The packaging seemed to mystify him, but he said he enjoyed the taste once an attendant got it open. Odd gift, I thought, but maybe he does like peanut butter granola bars. They eat a lot of groundnuts, as they call peanuts over here.

One Response to “Meeting the Nayiri”

  1. HJ says:

    That’s so cool that you were able to meet the Nayiri. I share in his appreciation of peanut granola bars. they are good. Your site is wonderful. keep up the good work.