The Lion King Experience

 Posted by Matthew Cutler at 9:39 am  Ghana
Feb 122013

Cue the music from “The Lion King”. Scene is set– as the lone African voice starts that well known song for Pride Rock, Cutler ascends to the edge of Mogo rock in the savannah. As music reaches the point which is synonymous with Rifiki holding Simba over head, Cutler does the same move. Instead of elephants trumpeting and animals of all kind bowing their heads, Cutler turns and sees the site guide and the driver just gazing at him… With that blank Ghana stare that says: “what the hell are you doing? Hey, I waited months to do this and I will be damned if I have to explain this. I smile– mental note: cross one more thing off my bucket list!

Mogo Rock is in the Shai Hills, an hr or so north of PramPram and 2 hrs north east of Accra. It is in the stereotypical savannah– waist high sharp tall grass, with hills doting the outside of the empty land. In the middle of the grass is a rock, raising about 25 ft in the air. This is MY Pride Rock. But the rock is now known as Baboon Rock because in the morning the rock is full of wild baboons (many greeted me when I entered the area and for 2 cedis, I bought 6 bananas and they ate out of my hand– well, one did, it seems the dominant baboon eats until he is full and then the next will eat; 6 bananas didn’t cut it for the big guy!) Now, Baboon Rock has piles of remnants of baboons presence on the top but still it was cool to stand there. I ascended thru ropes attached to the rock.

As I stood on the top, I noticed oval carvings into the rock. That was the previous inhabitants– the young women of the Shai tribe who went there once they started menstruating to “learn the way of women” and stayed for 6 months there. Old women taught them.. And though I could not get a straight answer, I think they were circumcised there. After the 6 months, they sat on antelope skin at another rock to test if they were virgins. If they failed, o man–

You see, the Shai tribe was the bad-ass tribe of the savannah. They believed in human sacrifice to appease the minor gods. And those who failed the antelope test were offered up to the gods… As were the enemies of the Shais: other tribes and a few Brits. In 1892, the “colonial masters resettled the Shai”.. I.e. the British invade and carted them off. (side note: I think that some of the rituals are still practices in the area, not circumcision but young women going to an area for a weekend once they start menstruating to learn how to care for themselves and get some sex education; certain grabs from the Shais are worn– the number of girls who go is small but all the girls know about it)

At the edge of the savannah field was some mountains with a series of caves. This is where the Shai lived. It was kinda cool– climbing thru tall trees and thick brush to find the cave. The enterance way was marked by a baobo tree which has been there for 400 years. Climbing up the pass, cluttered with rocks, (rocks thrown down from on high in case of invasion) I had to push thru vines and roots of a fica tree. The cave was big with chambers. One rock was the chiefs throne, one hole was made by the elephant spirit and served as the sleeping area for the chief. When entering the chief’s area, tradition had it that you put a leaf in your mouth so yours would not bother the chief. Above the chief’s area, soldiers perched on ledges to watch for invaders. If they were attacked, the women and children hide in a bat cave! The site guide threw a rock in and well, there was lots of bats– felt like I was in the Louisville Slugger factory! (get it? That company makes bats!… O don’t groan!)

Why do I tell this tale? Because African history is old, very old. It’s map is defined by the colonial European empires. But before them, there was a rich history of dynasties, migration and conquest. That history is not taught inthe US or anywhere else outside of Africa. It sure makes the Lion King seem realistic!


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