The Ancestral stool: here is why it is revered by the West African Ga tribesmen

Stephen Nartey April 12, 2023
Ga tribesmen carrying the ancestral stool/Photo credit: Trip Down Memory Lane

Ancestral stools are one of the most revered regalia in some African Chieftaincy institutions. Aside from its ceremonial significance as a symbol of authority, its presence commands social and political unity among the people it represents. In the West African nation of Ghana, the Ga ethnic group has instituted days it cleanses its ancestral stools. When a chief or an elderly statesman in the king’s council passes away, aside from the Jamestown palace of Alata-Ngleshi being whitewashed, acknowledgment is given to the ancestral stool.

Mondays are generally set aside for the cleansing of the stools, but when an important figure in the royal circles dies, the ceremonial ritual is placed on hold to cleanse the palace. The requisite items used for such rituals are sheep, seawater, and herbs. Once these are prepared and readily made available, the family head sprinkles the mixture on the stool and its stool room as part of the cleansing process in the palace. The essence of this ritual is to remove perceived uncleanliness from it.

 If the stool was occupied by a king or a high-profile person who passed away, priority is given to the thorough cleansing of the ancestral stool, which is later kept in a safe room. The essence of this ritual is to break any form of association between the former occupant and the stool. It is believed that they may still have a spiritual hold of the stool; therefore the need for the stool to be purged before it’s used by the successor, according to Mitja Potočnik.

The ancestral stool is considered a part of the ruling class – this is the reason why the stools are fed on Mondays and Fridays. The exception to the rule in this daily chore is when someone dies in the palace. The feeding of the stools resumes when the remains of the deceased have been buried. In Ga customs, it is believed that the ghost of the deceased might by chance sit on the stool at night, and possibly harm people in the palace. As a result, all stools are horizontally positioned at night to discourage the spirit of the dead from coming close to the stool.

If the stools in question were used by a traditional priest, popularly known as wulomo or woyoo, who passed away, the customary practice is to ensure that the stools are not used by any other individual. They are stored in a particular safe room to prevent the temptation of anyone sitting on them. It is believed that though the physical body is dead, the spirit hovers around and may use them at a period that it deems fit.

The traditional priest or priestess is believed to serve during a lifetime and there is no transition to the afterlife for them, hence, the need to discourage anyone from desecrating their stools. Also, the stool is placed away to protect the living, who may not be spiritually fortified against any forces that may harm them when using it. There is a general belief that such disrespect does not go unpunished.

Among the krobos who are a sub-ethnic group in the Ga-Adangme tribe, when a priest or priestess passes away, a small native stool is carved in memory of them and is carried by elderly women to the burial ground and smashed into pieces or buried within their coffins to sever ties with the dead. Despite modernity eroding some of the taboos associated with the handling of ancestral stools, they are regarded as important traditional regalia in chieftaincy affairs.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 12, 2023


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