The world is a small place indeed! Our mediation delegation from Sacramento, visiting Ghana for the Third International Africa Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference in July, had an opportunity to visit with six Queen Mothers in Kumasi and learn how they administer justice in their Districts. As a Brooklyn native, I was astonished when the youngest Queen Mother looked at me and exclaimed, "I live in Brooklyn!" She spends half of each year in New York, taking care of orphaned Ghanaian youth who are growing up in the US. She said that her mission is providing a place where they can learn about their culture and have a sense of community.
Kumasi is in the gold-rich Asante region. The Asante people are matrilineal, with descent and inheritance through the mother's side. They are ruled spiritually and politically by a paramount King and paramount Queen. The Queen has the power to appoint the King, who is ceremonially enthroned on a Golden Stool. If the Queen, who is usually not married to the King, should be dissatisfied with the King, she has the power to destool him.
Each District of Asante has a Queen Mother, who is not the "mother" of the King or Queen, but is a blood relative of the Queen. Queen Mothers are selected because they exhibit qualities that are required to make fair and sound decisions that will help to keep peace in the community.
With the assistance of a cultural translator called a Linguist, we engaged in a lively dialogue about the Queen Mothers' work at a community room located near the King's Palace. We listened raptly as each one described how she administers justice in her district. They hold court in their own communities on a regular schedule, varying from two days a week to once every six weeks. The cases they hear involve conflicts with neighbors, parent/child disputes, landlord/tenant issues, contract disputes and curses, which they said are the most prevalent type.
People believe in the power of putting a curse on someone who they believe has done them harm. The Queen Mother can order that a curse be removed--a task not entered into lightly. Following an extensive investigation into the background of the situation, each party to the conflict is closely questioned, as are family members and neighbors. The evidence is examined at length until the Queen Mother is convinced she understands the root of the problem. She then offers a solution designed to keep peace in the community--a win-win resolution.
If parties are not satisfied with the Queen Mother's ruling, particularly in civil matters, they have recourse to the legal court system. The Queen Mothers say this does not happen very often, because they work to make a most fair judgment. The Asante traditional system of alternative dispute resolution has been replicated in many other regions of Ghana.
Ellen Taylor, Associate Director
California Lawyers for the Arts