The heavy and beautifully handcrafted wooden door to a modest home in Ludwigshafen opens and The King greets me with a warm and friendly smile.
Welcoming and down to earth – Togbe Ngoryifia Cephas Kosi Bansah invites me to come in and have a coffee in his kitchen.
His kingdom is the Gbi region in Eastern Ghana and his people consists of about 300,000 members of the Ewe. There are a further two million people in Togo for whom he feels responsible, in his position as “Superior and Spiritual Chief of Ewe People”. Although Ghana is a democracy since 1992, the traditional Kings have an important function as mediator and caretaker for their people.
He was sent to Germany in 1970 at the young age of 22 by his King-Grandfather to start a training as mechanic. Ewe people are the best mechanics and craftsmen in West Africa – their ancestors learned their craft from German missionaries and colonial masters.
He himself earned two German Master Craftsmanship certificates – as a mechanic for agricultural machinery and as a mechanic for vehicles.
Cephas Bansah lived a quiet life until one day, a fax from Ghana changed his life forever. His grandfather had died and the elders had appointed him to be his grandfather’s successor.
Before he walks me around the car shop, he shows me photos on his smartphone from his last trip to Ghana. With his Charity Foundation he provides much needed aid to his people: he builds schools with solar panels on the roof, own toilet facilities and access to clean water. He provides school busses and bikes to help kids get to school.
To raise money he regularly has public appearances, performs as a singer and appears on TV Shows all around the country. Now he proudly swipes around the photos to show me the progress of building his new school.
The King is very passionate about helping people. Already in the first years of living in the Pfalz area of Germany, he learned that if you are doing well, you must not forget about the less fortunate.
That is why used bikes are piling up on his shop compound. He collects the bikes to donate them to the refugees that are coming to the area. To help them move around, run errands, find jobs.
Right now he is raising money to build a prison for women in his Kingdom. I wonder why there would be a need of an own prison for women. He tells me that if a woman abandons her kid or mistreats it, she is going to jail. And right now they only have mixed facilities. Women still have to be protected – that is why incarcerated women have to be brought outside the facilities for the night, to be protected from any male mistreatments.
In the past he has raised funds to build bridges, equip hospitals, supply homes with access to drinking water or set up electricity poles – all with the help of his hard work in Germany and his good contacts and relations from farmers to business people.
The King has worked as an auto mechanic since more than 30 years and he trained 14 apprentices. He stands in his empty shop and tells me that he thinks about retirement and that he wants to sell the shop to focus more on his work for his people in Africa. Nowadays he works here on his own, it is hard to find a successor or someone who wants to buy the shop – even from a King.
Tradition is very important. Pictures and souvenirs on the walls of the shop tell their stories about his life in Germany, about the public moments, the achievements.
But once you step inside his home, a mystic aura surrounds you: wooden figures, animals and symbols adorn the walls and remind you of the King’s heritage.
Religion is a big part of his life. Ewe people are Christians but Voodoo religion is still practiced and a celebrated. This kind of Voodoo has nothing to do with the idea of dark forces you get from all the Hollywood blockbusters.
The King strongly supports women’s and children’s rights. Ewe people respect the opinion of women, they always will ask their mothers for advice when they have important decisions to make.
The most important thing in life is to be able to live in peace. I found many figures and pictures of the turtle. The King explains, that the turtle is the most peaceful creature on earth. If people were more like turtles, there wouldn’t be so many guns in this world.
His jewelry and crown have been in the family for three generations now. Four gold crowns have been stolen from his home while attending a function last year. His tall crown is only a copy of the stolen one.
Capped and gowned: wearing his crown, his traditional costume and the jewelry, sitting on his throne and telling me about his heritage, I realize the cultural contrast and his passion and talent to live and work in this world to help his people in another. The colors and the rich symbolism of Ghana in the Tristesse of concrete gray and working class Germany.