There exist travel experiences which are objectively awesome, and everyone has to agree. If you don’t, you’re simply wrong. For example, if you claim that traveling to the bottom of an Icelandic volcano wasn’t very special, you’re wrong. It was an amazing opportunity, and you definitely loved it. You don’t get an “opinion”. Other experiences, though, are more subjective. And the Bodwease Shrine, outside Kumasi, fits squarely into this category. We had fun here… but if you didn’t, we’d totally understand.
After breakfast at the Moon & Sun Guesthouse in Banko, we said our goodbyes and left to hunt down the Bodwease Shrine, one of a handful of traditional worship centers found around Kumasi. From what we’ve read, these shrines are mostly obsolete, as the old ways make room for the new, and they’ve long stopped playing any real part in the culture of the Ashanti. Bodwease happened to be the nearest such shrine, so we found a shared taxi and made our way there.
Once in town, we approached a group of guys who were sitting around under the shade of a mango tree, and asked for the shrine. In unison, they stood up and directed us into the ramshackle building that we happened to already be standing in front of. At their direction, we took seats, and then endured about five minutes of the most awkward silence imaginable. Just us sitting on stools, with six Ghanaian dudes staring at us.
Eventually, I asked what was going on, and the one who spoke a few words of English, said “wait for chief”. So, we waited another ten minutes. A few more joined the party, and now eleven guys were staring at us in silence.
The English speaker disappeared, and when he returned, he informed us that “chief not come”, but that we should pay now. His initial suggestion of 100 Cedi ($20) per person, plus two bottles of schnapps, inspired our first genuine laugh of the day. The brazenness of it almost made us love the guy. We countered with 5 cedi ($1) apiece, and settled upon 10 ($2).
Preliminaries out of the way, the tour could begin. It’s hard to describe exactly what we saw, because nobody was really able to explain any of it, but the entire experience was both awful and extremely cool. This shrine comprised a couple rooms, the first of which held an old chair (the “throne”) and a few dust-covered swords and drums. We acted the part of “astounded tourists”, as he demonstrated how to use the drumsticks, and proudly showed off what was either a kingly robe or a tattered bath towel.
Our gang (which had grown to about fifteen by this point) continued into the patio, where the fetish priest once worked his magic. West African fetish priests are believed to commune with the dead, and are both respected and feared, as they can also apparently murder an enemy’s soul. Bodwease has apparently been without one for 30-some years; this is not a position passed down ancestrally, nor one voted upon by the community. Apparently, they’re just born, and everyone somehow knows that the new fetish priest has arrived, accepting the fact that this man (or woman) will now be dispensing the town’s juju.
The reason we loved this experience was its absolute weirdness. By the end of the day, we had managed to ingratiate ourselves with the crowd, which had come to include every child and adult male in Bodwease. We took pictures with them and flew our drone from the shrine’s yard, much to everyone’s amusement (Obruni juju is powerful).
After saying goodbye, we got into another shared taxi back to Effiduase, with this old guy dressed in a robe and cap, whose favorite English phrase was “THAT’S IT!” The conversation was like this: We’re enjoying Ghana. “Yes, that’s it!” We had fufu for lunch. “Hahahaha, that’s it!” It sure is hot out! “That. Is. It!” Each exclamation delivered with a full-throated laugh, and a slap on our legs.
Funny how one of the most unremarkable sights was the subject of one our most memorable days in Ghana. Did we like the Bodwease Shrine itself? Ehhh… I guess. But will we remember it forever? That’s it!