Article - Winter 2021

The Afterlife of a Suicide

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And the royal sendoff for a queenmother of the Ashanti

By Alexandra Marshall | December 7, 2020
The author and her husband, Timothy Buxton, during their first year of marriage. They would volunteer together in Ghana. (Courtesy of the author)
The author and her husband, Timothy Buxton, during their first year of marriage. They would volunteer together in Ghana. (Courtesy of the author)

When Nana Afua Frema Tatuo II, the queenmother of Wenchi in the Ashanti kingdom, phoned from Ghana to relay the news of the death of her brother the chief, Nana Kusi Apea I, I sent a memorial gift for the library room in a building she wanted to construct in his honor. Just a year later, in 2016, when I received the news of Nana Frema’s own death, I responded, impulsively, that I would like to attend her funeral as long as the family would welcome my presence. The queenmother’s younger daughter, Nana Doris, didn’t hesitate either in extending an invitation.

Because of the extensive preparations necessary for a royal funeral, it is months later when my husband, Jim, and I are on our way. After too many hours in the white air between New York and Accra, the confetti of corrugated rooftops creates a multicolored mix of red and green and blue, matching the clay earth and the tropical vegetation and the ocean we’ve crossed. Since my last visit, the airport has been upgraded to generic, but I know where I am by the embracing way the arriving passengers are welcomed. One of Nana Frema’s 11 granddaughters introduces herself and guides Jim and me to the adjacent terminal to get tickets for the connecting flight to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom. The extended family is assembling from far and wide for this royal occasion.

Sentimentally, I’ve packed the long black dress that I wore for my first reunion with the queenmother after a 30-year absence, and Jim will wear the first black suit he has bought since leaving the priesthood nearly 50 years ago. We’ve been asked to provide a comprehensive list of our measurements and told that formal outfits will be sewn for us from commemorative fabrics. But that’s all we’re given to imagine about what will be five choreographed days of ritual mourning and celebration.

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