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Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin II , current Okyenhene!

Sankofa:A RITUAL MURDER TRIAL ( ..also known as Murder in the Palace at Kibi )


By A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT The story of the case, as reported at length in the Press of the colony, is briefly this. A native potentate, the Odikro (or sub-thief) of Apedwa, was attending the funeral obsequies of the well-known and enlightened chief, Sir Ofori Atta, when he suddenly and completely disaPpeared. Five months after- wards his remains were found in the bed of a stream. Eight natives were charged with his murder, and after a trial which lasted 26 days and included the testimony of 75 witnesses, all eight were sentenced to death. They had all pleaded not guilty and have now lodged an appeal against the death sentence. It is known that Sir Ofori Atta, who was a most distinguished and able West African, was at the time of his death devising ways of putting an end to the orgy of ritual murder that had accompanied the decease of all his predecessors. Unhappily, he died too soon, and at his own funeral ceremony an unusually distinguished victim, the Odikro of Apedwa, was sacrificed in his honour.

So great was the feeling in Accra about this case that the jurors were isolated throughout the trial and a guard was put over them. The Crown Counsel told the jury that the dead chief, the Odikro, belonged to a tribe which performs the Wirempe custom, i.e., the consecration with blood of the dead man’s eating-stool on the death of a chief. When Sir Ofori Atta died, the Odikro went to his palace to take part in the funeral rites. Two young men went with him, friends he met on the way, and standing in an archway of a court- yard in the palace they saw the Odikro struck down while he was drinking with the eight accused, who were stool-bearers in the funeral ceremony about to take place. The young men were frightened at what they had seen, and ran away and said nothing, but after the Odikro had been missing for some time they reported to the police. The Crown prosecutor told the jury that witnesses would be called who had seen the missing chief lying dead in the stool-room with a knife through his cheeks and blood still flowing from his mouth, and the eight accused standing round him.
One of the witnesses, a stool-carrier who had taken part in the funeral, gave evidence to this effect. The head stool-carrier picked up a bowl from the floor, and it was full of blood. With the blood from the bowl he smeared the stool which had belonged to the late chief. Among other interesting witnesses was a fetish man. “I live at Kibi,” he said, “and I am a fetish priest and a mechanical fitter.. .. All the people met and selected me to be the fetish priest about so years ago.” He told how one of the accused men came to ht secretly by night some weeks after the disappearance of the

Odikro and said, “I am among those who killed Akyea Mensah’ (the Odikro), and his ghost is haunting me all the time and I cannot sleep. Give me some medicine to expel the ghost.” The fetish man promised to give him some medicine to drive away the ghost if the man would show him where the body was buried. “I said that if I gave him a medicine I would have to pour the medicine after he had washed with it over the remains of Akyea Mensah to keep his spirit down.” He promised to prepare the medicine, and forthwith reported the interview to the police at Accra. Later the accused man came for his medicine, which the fetish man gave him, with the instructions that he was to wash in it for seven days and then bring it back. He returned in seven days, and by night took the fetish man to a place in the mausoleum, where he dug in the earth and uncovered some human remains. The fetish man poured the medicine over them and reburied them. Later he took a police corporal to the spot. A second fetish man gave evidence that another of the eight accused

had come to him with a similar story, saying that since the funeral obsequies of Sir Ofori Atta the ghost of the Odikro of Apedwa had been disturbing him and he would give up to £200 for some medicine to drive away the ghost.

Among other witnesses a native corporal told how, after interview- ing the first fetish man, he and other police officials dug in the bed of a stream and there found human remains, and the British Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police described the discovery of the remains. A police photographer stated that he had carefully examined enlarged photographs of the skull found in the stream bed and of the missing chief, and came to the conclusion that they tallied. A Government pathologist confirmed this view.

For the defence, the eight accused denied that they had anything against the murdered chief or any reason why they should do him ill.

They said that soot, white of egg, blood of sheep and drink were used

ID blacken the stool, and they had never heard from their ancestors that human blood was customarily used. One ol them stated that he

had been offered £too by the “white men” if he told the truth about the death of the Odikro, and two other defendants maintained that, as circumcised persons, they were by custom debarred from taking part in the stool ceremony in question. Most of the eight put in elaborate alibis to prove that they were elsewhere at the time of the murder.

The court-room was packed to capacity when Mr. Justice Fuad gave his summing-up, which was not allowed to be reported by the Press, since in a case where feeling ran so high it was feared that the reports might not be fair and balanced. When the jury gave a verdict of ” Guilty ” a great roar went up from the crowd of over a thousand packed into the court. The youngest of the eight accused, speaking in English, cried out: “I am not guilty. If British justice existed I should never be convicted.” The Accra paper, the Daily Echo, put it, “Relatives of the condemned men wept ; others maintained a strong silence ; many, too, thought of Akyea Mensah and hoped that justice had really been done.” Thus ended the most sensational trial Accra had seen for many years, and another blow had been struck at the loathsome tradition of ritual murder. That remains true whatever the result of the appeal in this particular case may be.

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