Badu Bonsu II was a Ghanaian king and the leader of the Ahanta tribe on the coast of what is now Ghana who was executed in 1838 by the Dutch, who, at the time, were in control of the Dutch Gold Coast. His head was also decapitated and shipped to a medical centre in the Netherlands.
Badu Bonsu II, a Ghanaian king and leader of the Ahanta tribe along the coast of present-day Ghana, met a tragic fate in 1838 when he rebelled against the Dutch, who held control over the Dutch Gold Coast at that time.
During the 15th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the area now recognized as modern-day Ghana. Later, around 1598, the Dutch also arrived on the scene. Over time, the Dutch gradually colonized the entire Dutch Gold Coast, which was a portion of present-day Ghana, with the colonization process officially commencing in 1612.
The Ahanta people, residing near the Dutch Gold Coast, engaged in trade with the Dutch, fostering a relationship that contributed to the region’s importance in the eyes of the European colonizers. Over the years, the Dutch established trading and slave posts, maintaining their presence in the area until the late 19th century.
In 1837, Badu Bonsu II rose against the Dutch government, recognizing their exploitative and harmful intentions. The reasons for his rebellion remain uncertain, but during the colonial era, similar uprisings often stemmed from longstanding grievances, including forced labor exploitation, discriminatory practices, arbitrary violence, taxation, and political illegitimacy.
The rebellion incited the fury of Hendrik Tonneboeijer, a Dutch colonial officer and Acting Commander of the Dutch Gold Coast. Despite warnings against it, Tonneboeijer assembled an expeditionary force to capture King Badu Bonsu II. Unfortunately, the expedition met a tragic end, with Badu Bonsu’s forces ambushing the Dutch army and claiming numerous lives, including Tonneboeijer’s.
In response to Tonneboeijer’s death, the Dutch government dispatched a much larger expeditionary force to Ahanta. A member of Badu Bonsu’s own tribe was also bribed to betray him, ultimately leading to his capture, trial, and execution by hanging.
Following the king’s execution, the Dutch colonial government disrupted the Ahanta state, appointing their commandant of Fort Batenstein at Butree as regent to assert control over the territory with an increased military presence.
In a distressing twist, after his execution, Badu Bonsu II’s head was severed from his body and sent to the Netherlands. It was intended to be studied by a Leiden scientist specializing in the discredited field of phrenology, which sought to deduce personality traits from human skulls.
The head remained in the Netherlands for over a century until it was rediscovered in 2005 at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands by Arthur Japin, a best-selling Dutch author. His research for a novel on 19th-century Africa led him to this extraordinary find, uncovering a chilling artifact that had been preserved at the medical center since its arrival in the late 1830s.
Upon learning of the head’s location, the government of Ghana requested its return, believing that without proper burial, the king’s spirit would remain incomplete and unsettled in the afterlife. Finally, in 2009, the Dutch government fulfilled their promise and returned the head to Ghana. An emotional ritual was held during the handover, with Ghanaian traditional leaders, including a descendant of Badu Bonsu II, pouring alcohol on the conference room floor while invoking the chief’s spirit in the presence of fellow Ghanaians dressed in red and black mourning colors.
This act of repatriation aligns with similar moves made by museums in recent years, where cultural artifacts and human remains have been returned to their countries of origin following appeals by indigenous leaders and communities seeking to reclaim their heritage.