Krobo Mountain: the clash of tourism and culture
There are two things that come to mind when Krobo is mentioned—stunning beads and Dipo, the rites of initiation of young girls into womanhood. However, there is also a landmark that bears that name and stands tall on the Tema-Akuse road—it is hilly and blends harmoniously with the green vegetation around it —the Krobo Mountain.
On this mountain with steep sides and very few entry points, lived the Krobos for more than 100 years. It was once the site of a large settlement of Krobo people, who arrived in the mid 1700s and retained the land until July 1892 when they were ejected by the then British colonial Governor, William Bradford Griffith.
According to historians, the Krobos were ejected for a number of reasons, including the fact that being powerful suppliers of palm oil to the colonial powers and other ethnic groups, they hiked prices and for more than six years in the 1840s refused to sell the commodity to the British. That aside, they were accused of refusing British Colonial rule and also performed human sacrifices.
This ancestral home of the Krobos—both Manya and Yilo— is the subject of the latest controversy in Manya Krobo in the Eastern Region.
In October every year, the people of Manya Krobo return to the mountains to perform rituals to herald the Nmayem Festival.
Controversy is brewing over the digging of several historical relics at the Krobo Mountain. Several historical artifacts, some dating from the period the Krobo people lived in the area, between 1700s and 1892, have been dug up by people authorised by the Paramount chief of the Manya Krobo Traditional Area, Nene Sakite II.
While Nene Sakite insists that the work was to help clean the caves and turn them into a tourism sites that could bring revenue to the area, the Ghana Museum and Monuments Board (GMMB) says no permit has been granted for such an exercise which had to be done with tact and under its supervision in order not to damage the site.
The situation has led to division in the Manya Krobo Traditional Council, where sources who spoke to the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity said the paramount chief had not been forthcoming with his plans concerning the Krobo Mountains.
According to the GMMB, the Krobo settlers worked with iron and crafted pottery. Major excavations on the site were initiated in 2004 by the Archaeology and Heritage Studies Department of the University of Ghana, in collaboration with the Yilo Krobo Traditional Council.
Findings at the site included local and imported smoking pipes; old U.S. dollars; fragments of imported ceramic objects, such as, mugs, plates, bowls and bottles; local ceramic vessels for serving palm wine or ritual drinks; ceramic discs believed to have been used in the steam cooking of foods such as plantain and water yam; Schnapps bottles discarded after having been used as a medium of exchange and in local funeral rites; cowries shells - another exchange medium, later employed as jewellery; glass beads; iron bells that once adorned shrines and royal stools; terracotta figurines; iron hoes; wild and domesticated animal bones; and a structure believed to have been the Kono, or King’s, old palace.
“When the Konor called an emergency meeting a week ago, all he said was that it was for tourism. Even if it is for development, the Krobo people must know,” the source said.
This is a sentiment shared by the Director of the GMMB, Dr Zagba Oyortey, who said the board, in exercising its mandate as custodians of Ghana's material cultural heritage, works with the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that cultural relics or sites were protected in any activity that had the potential of disturbing the sites, be it construction or excavation.
“The EPA also requires people doing such work to hold stakeholder consultations. The fact that all the concerned citizens of Krobo who have reported the case to the GMMB have denied being informed by the Konor of his intentions does not bode well for community solidarity.”
At the site items including wooden sculptures, pottery, beads, old Schnapps bottles and polished stone axes could be seen scattered, broken or neatly packed.
Polished stone axes were important for the widespread clearance of woods and forest during the Neolithic period, when crop and livestock farming developed on a large scale. Such axe heads were needed in large numbers for forest clearance and the establishment of settlements and farmsteads.
A grave showing skeletal remains, plastic bottles and empty cement bags could also be seen scattered in the grave, which has been dug out.
What the law says
Section 12 (c-e) of the National Museum Act makes unauthorised digging of the country’s heritage sites an offence.
The law states that an offence is committed “by excavation or similar operations searches for any antiquity without a permit or otherwise than in accordance with a permit issued by the Board; or without the written consent of the Board, alters, destroys, damages or removes from its original site any antiquity, or attempts to do so; or defaces, damages or destroys any notice or tablet erected by the Board.”
The excavators have pitched camps on top of the mountain and closer to the caves working with wheel barrows, pick axes, ropes and shovels and scooping soil from the caves.
But the soil, Mr Prince B. Larweh, the GMMB Research Officer in charge of Archaeology, said contains artifacts, pottery and other items of historical importance that was being damaged.
“What they are doing should be done by archeologist. They are distorting the history of the people of the Kroboland and to some extent the entire country by tampering with the site without authorisation,” he said.
Nene Sakite speaks
Reacting to the allegations, Nene Sakite said the Krobo Mountain was part of a development plan to turn the economic fortunes of Manya Krobo by creating jobs for the youth.
He said he authorised the cleaning of the caves to make it more decent for tourists who had been visiting the place.
“Loads of buses bring students and go to the Krobo Mountains. People enjoy the place, let’s clean the place and make it look decent. We are not changing the configuration of the place.”
This statement is far from what is on the site where countless relics have either been collected out of the caves or have been left broken.
The Director of the GMMB said an assessment done by a team of archaeologists sent to the site after the digging started showed that “the unauthorised activity had disturbed artifacts and objects of historical importance.”
He said the board had no problem with the traditional authority developing tourism sites, but maintained that due process had to be followed to protect the sites.
“The people of Krobo have every right to develop the hills for tourism and by implication for socio-economic development, but this cannot be done without supervision and it may be better to locate tourism infrastructure away from the epicentre of the heritage property. We are always ready to advice and give technical support to all who seek these.”
The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, shared similar views and stated that the ministry was not against the development of tourism sites, but that the development had to be done not at the expense of culture.
“We cannot develop tourism at the expense of culture. We need culture to develop tourism,” she said.
The Minister told the Daily Graphic today (Monday) that after she received information about what was going on at the mountain, she called the Eastern Regional Police Commander to end it adding that “as I speak, he has assured me that they have stopped work.”
However, as at 1.34pm on Saturday, July 5, 2014, the people working on the site were still there.
The history of a people is the footprint of their past, at the same time, tourism thrives on history. The parties in this impasse must therefore find a middle ground not just to protect the Krobo Mountain and its content but also ensure that it yields revenue for the area.