On a warm night in August of 2008, Peggy Bartels of Silver Spring, Maryland was awakened from a deep sleep by the annoying ringing of the telephone.
Peggy turned on the light and looked at the clock. Four a.m. Who on earth would be calling her at that hour?
“Hello?” she said groggily. It was her uncle, Kwasi Bernasko, in Ghana. “Your uncle, my brother, has passed away at the age of ninety,” he explained. “Out of all his relatives, the ancestors have chosen you to replace him as king.”
Peggy groaned. “Please don’t play games with me,” she pleaded. “I am tired and it is not time yet to wake up in Silver Spring.”
Her uncle’s laughter rippled over the phone. “I’m not playing games with you. This is real.”
Peggy rubbed her eyes as the truth sunk in. She was a naturalized U.S. citizen and had worked as a secretary at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington for more than twenty years. For the past two years she had been the ambassador’s social secretary. Now her whole life was about to change.
“I’m king?” she asked. She was so tired perhaps she hadn’t heard him right. “No female in our tribe has ever been made king. You’re sure you don’t want me to be the queen mother?”
“Accept it, Peggy,” said the voice 4,000 miles away. “And don’t let us down.”
On September 27, Peggy found herself hoisted on a palanquin with a massy gold crown on her head and the scepter of state in her hands, which was, admittedly, a far cry from secretarial work.
Now Peggy Bartels, otherwise known as King Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI, has teamed with Eleanor Herman, a New York Times best-selling author of books on women’s history, to tell her astonishing story to the world. Nana and Herman will return to Ghana in September 2009 for a busy stay of several weeks, which Herman will fully document.During her visit, the new female king must:
- bury her dead uncle in an elaborate royal ceremony
- preside over the ancient harvest festival
- rebuild the royal palace, which has fallen into decay
- render judgments on disputes in her kingdom
- meet with high-level Ghanaian officials, some of whom are her subjects
- seek to obtain financing for a high school for her kingdom, which currently lacks opportunities for higher education.
- increase loans and business opportunities for women
- meet with her ancestors in the royal chamber of ancestral spirits, where the dead will give her advice on ruling her people.
While doing all of this, King Nana must confront traditional prejudices against women, especially women in power. How cooperative will her council of elders – composed mostly of elderly men – be with a female king? How will they feel when she adds to their group several loud-mouthed women in their thirties? How will she empower women to support their families? How will she stop men from beating their wives?
King Peggy: The Remarkable Journey of an American Female King in Ghana will be a kind of non-fiction Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, full of outrageous characters, moving scenarios, and a resourceful African lady who knows how to meet every challenge.