“Stools and skins”. When I first saw these words in Ghana I was confused and a bit shocked. I had no idea what they meant. My cross-cultural training took over. In that training we learned to suspend judgment, do research, and try to understand from the other’s perspective. So, I talked to people, read documents and did internet searches. I found the rich cultural and political reality of traditional chiefs in Ghana. In the southern part of the country, the symbol of the chief’s authority is his stool – just like a king’s throne in Europe. It can be very ornate, one is even made of gold. In the more northern regions, the symbol of the chief’s authority is the animal skin he wears. Even the constitution mentions stools and skins. For example, it speaks to “Stool and Skin Lands and Property”. So “stool” or “skin” can be used to refer to the chief or the area he rules.
The system of traditional chiefs is still very much alive in Ghana. It is even written into the constitution. The symbol of the stool is found all over. For example, for those who can afford it, it is popular to have an arch over your driveway in the form of a traditional stool.
Often looking into things like this gives me general information. It is interesting and it helps me fit in. Only occasionally does it have direct, practical use. In this case, the information is so important that I would fail without it. The chiefs in Ghana are often educated and sometimes believers. Even when they are not believers, they most often support Bible translation and literacy as elements of development. They are the one’s who can mobilize people at the grassroots. Sustained use and impact of the Bibles translated into Ghana languages cannot be achieved without involving stools and skins.