King Badu Bonsu II: The African King Whose Head Was Decapitated And Preserved In A Jar In A Laboratory

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An artistic impression of Badu Bonsu II made by a Dutch lieutenant, 1838

Badu Bonsu II was the King of Ahanta in the Gold Coast who etched his name in history as one of the few African leaders to stand their ground against European imperialism. Ahanta, a tribe along the coast of modern day Ghana had a conflict with the Dutch which resulted in the execution of Badu Bonsu and establishing Ahanta as a protectorate.

The conflict which began with a mere economic dispute between the Dutch and the Ahantaman would later become a brutal armed conflict. According to Tengbergen and Douchez, Chief Etteroe of Sekondi was trading gunpowder with Wassa; an enemy of Ahanta which had been forbidden by Badu Bonsu II. Badu Bonsu upon discovering this act demanded a meeting with Etteroe in the presence of the Dutch commandant Gerard Smulders of Fort San Sebastian at Shama. This meeting ended in Etteroe being fined six ounces of gold and to pay the process cost deemed eight ounces of gold, equaling the fourteen ounces of gold Badu Bonsu paid to Etteroe in a previous panyarring situation.

Etteroe accusation of extortion by Badu Bonsu led to him being summoned by the governor of Elmina; Hendrik Tonneboeijer on three occasion, none was honored. This act of defiance compelled Tonneboeijer to send Commander George Maassen of Elmina and Commander Adriaan Cremer of Fort Batenstein at Butre to summon Badu Bonsu II by force. Badu Bonsu eventually complied and arrived at Butre on October 23, 1837, but refused to negotiate according to the terms of the commanders which caused an altercation ending in both Dutch commanders dead.

An infuriated Tonneboeijer on a march to retaliate this act led his small band of men into an ambush on October 28, 1837 on a beach near Takoradi. Within a few minutes, thirty men were killed including Tonneboeijer himself and four other colonial officials.

This development reached The Hague by the end of February 1838, where it was received with utter shock and disbelief. General Jan Verveer and Lieutenant H.F Tengbergen who had just arrived from a mission from Ashanti were sent back to quell the insurrection.  

On July 25 1838, General Verveer with a force of 2,200 troops made up of mostly Elmina troops set out to Ahanta. Badu Bonsu plea for a peaceful resolution with two hundred ounces of gold was ignored. Verveer and Tengbergen’s forces met almost no resistance as most of the Ahanta indigenes had surrendered themselves. Their one month campaign was predominantly about chasing rebels and razing Ahanta towns like Busua and Takoradi.

It seemed Badu Bonsu had already lost before the campaign reached Ahanta, he was betrayed by one of his people for 10 ounces of gold. He was handed a death sentence on July 25, 1838 in an improvised open court martial. He was executed by hanging at the spot where Commander Maassen and Cremer had been shot. Ahanta was reorganized by the Dutch after the war and Anthony van der Eb was made commandant at Fort Bastentein.

King Badu Bonsu’s head in a jar

Badu’s head was severed by Schillet, a medical officer for preservation. The head was taken to the Netherlands where it remained lost for more than a century. Arthur Japin a Dutch best-selling novelist rediscovered the head in a formaldehyde filled jar locked in a laboratory cupboard in the Leiden University Medical Center in 2005. In March 2009 the government of Ghana led a delegation to petition for the return of the head. This was honored by The Hague on July 23 2009 after a ceremony. Funeral rites were performed for Badu Bonsu II on July 25 2009.

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