THE ORIGINS OF ABURI
The aboriginal settler at Aburi on the Akuapem ridge facing the Accra plains was Baabu, head of the Nyago family (of the Agona clan). As time went on, he invited Opare Kwadwo Abutuakwa, head of the Beretuo family at Nsakye, to join him. The Beretuo family claim migrant origin from Bankam in Asante Akyem. They first settled at Nyanawase, but later moved to Berekuso. After a brief sojourn, they continued the journey to Nsakye, whence they came to join the aboriginal settler on the ridge.
Tradition has it that as Opare Kwadwo’s people were clearing the bush in search of drinking water, they discovered a stream in which was an extraordinary fish commonly called ‘Atwea’. The fish was caught and hacked into pieces (asin-asin) – hence “Atwea-asin-asin” became corrupted into Atweasin, which became the name of the town they built facing the Accra plains. The aboringinal settler who had his share of the fish settled permanently at a place which became “Abu de”, that is the portion of Abu” and Abu developed into “Aburi”.
Some time later, one Ankama Darimoa arrived from Bankaman. He belonged to the Oyoko clan, and claimed ancestral relationship with Juabenhene’s people then resident at Juaso in Asante Akyem. Upon arrival, he acquired land from Baabu and Opare Kwadwo. In the course of building his town, the dreadful disease called small-pox killed many of his followers. As a result, Opare of Atweasin sent a messenger to go and console him saying: “Kogyam Ankama ma me”, and from this expression the settlement was named as Gyankama.
The founding fathers of Kitase emigrated from Asafo-Akooko in Akyem Abuakwa after the Akwamu had been driven away from Nyanawase across the Volta in 1733. They belonged to the Asona clan and possessed an ancestral stool of their own. The Agona family at Kubesin, a suburb of Nyanawase, claim they migrated from Denkyira. The chief of Kubesin, Nana Obuobi, became a staunch member of the Twafo Division of Akwamu. The story adds that a nephew of the king of Akwamu intrigued by a wife of Nana Obuobi, consequently ceded from his administration and settled at Nkunkren with his subjects. The ruins of Nkunkren are at the foothills south-west of Aburi. This particular settlement was sited for the purpose of isolation and security, hence the Aburi traditional adage: ‘Nkunkren, Onana nsaa, Onana nsaa yen’, that is “a stranger cannot be found among us”. Nana Obuobi was succeeded by Odarme Asante whose reign was peaceful, but brief. His successor was Odei Kofi of whom little is known. Then came a woman ruler, Anobea Koturoma. (Okum-nipa), the defender of the defenseless.
In the first year of her reign, Akwamu mercenaries made frequent incursions into Nkunkren and its environs. On one occasion, she ordered the seizure of two of them and executed them. Thus hostilities came to an abrupt end.
Another woman ruler, Abuwa, said to be the sixth on the stool, was rather oppressive, and chose to betray her subjects to the king of Akwamu. This enabled the king to send some gunmen to Nkunkren to suppress the inhabitants. It happened that in the late hours of one Wednesday, when all the able-bodied men had gone to their farms, these gunmen started shooting at the defenceless old men and women. But Ohemmea Abuwa failed to recall her men to resist the attack. Instead she became a passive onlooker as the intrepid gunmen went from house to house to fill the guns of the men with water.
When the news reached the men on their farms, they rushed to the village only to discover – that their guns had been filled with water, and that the perpetrators had fled. The surviving Nkunkren people appealed to Akwamu elders through Oppong Tenten, the king’s nephew, and requested redress but to no avail. So they withdrew their allegiance to the king. However, Oppong Tenten supported the aggrieved people and went to stay with them. By this reprehensible decision, Queen Abuwa died in distress and was succeeded by Ofei Agyeman who was destooled his involvement in an act of indiscipline committed by Okwan Boe of his family.
In 1730, another fight broke out between Nkunkren and Akwamu which lasted for three days, resulting in the death of Oppong Tenten, the Akwamu Prince who had supported Nkunkren in their bid for self-determination to Aburi Amanfo (Old Aburi) where he was buried in a grave near the old post office square, marked by a tall palm tree. On account of this terrible ordeal, the Nkunkren people (now Aburi) instituted the now famous Oath of Wednesday (that is “Meka Wukuda”) to commemorate the painful death of their devoted companion. The defeated Nkunkren fled with the corpse of Oppong Tenten to Aburi Amanfo, (Old Aburi) where he was buried in a grave near the old post office square, marked by a tall palm tree.
At Aburi Amanfo they refused to fight for Akwamu when some coastal tribes combined to drive away the Akwamu from Nyanawase across the Volta in 1733. In this war, Nana Frempon Hansa of Akyem Kotoku was the mainstay of the coalition formed to overthrow the Akwamu; the allies were supported with heavy artillery guns by the Dutch. In order to appease Oppong Tenten’s family at Nsakye, the ruling clans at Atweasin and Aburi Amanfo entered into compromise with the Nsakye Abrade family to establish the ruling line of Abrade at Aburi to this day. Nsakye tradition says that when their forefathers left Nyanawase to settle by the river Nasakye which runs along the south-western part of Aburi, the royal Abrade stool was being carried by Obaapanyin Amene. She had two cousins, named Awo Agyaa and Aku Badu. Two descendants of Obaapayin Amene were Amfoa and Akua Oye. It was Akua Oye’s fourth child, Benjamin Brako Bismarck who became chief of Aburi by stool name Nana Osae Ntifu Ababio II. The story adds that Obaapanyin Amene installed her own son, Osae Ntifu, as chief of Nsakye.
The tradition further maintains that in the past, chiefs stayed at Nsakye from where they ruled Aburi. The royal mausoleum still remains at Nsakye where nomination and confinement of newly elected chiefs take place.
GROWTH SINCE THE 17TH CENTURY
Aburi’s growth was greatly influenced by its status as a trading centre since at least the late 17th century. It was an important meeting place for merchants from a wide area in the interior who wanted to trade for European goods. Aburi was and still is the most easily accessible gateway from Accra to Akuapem: it stands at the head of the long climb by the direct trade road form Accra. Aburi’s nearness to Accra was one of the major reasons for its selection from among the Akuapem towns to be site of a sanatorium for British officials in the nineteenth century. The town’s climate was believed to be healthier than many of the other towns.
Nevertheless, the one event which accounted for Aburi’s very rapid growth since the beginning of the last century was cocoa cultivation and the prosperity that accompanied it. The first agricultural station in Ghana was established at Aburi in 1890. The station was called the Aburi Botanical Gardens, and it was there that large quantities of cocoa seedlings were bred and distributed to farmers from all parts of the country. This phase of Aburi’s development is evidenced by the huge double-storied houses built by cocoa farmers before the Second World War.
The attraction that Aburi held for the surrounding areas was also explained by the town being an educational centre; the earliest schools were built and run by the Basel missionaries. The town’s large educational institutions receive students not only from Akuapem but also from other parts of the country.
By the 1930’s Aburi, with a population of over 3,000 was the largest town in Akuapem. It is necessary to stress that the tremendous pace at which Aburi was growing was closely related to the cocoa industry. Thus when swollen shoot disease began to destroy numerous cocoa farms in the 1930’s, it was inevitable that the rate of growth of Aburi (like the other Akuapem towns which pioneered the country’s cocoa industry) should decline, as the huge double-storey buildings began to decay as there was little money to repair them, and if Aburi did not actually decrease in size with the years, it was largely because of the many other functions it acquired mainly during the cocoa era. Now the town is slowly becoming an appendage to Accra, many people travelling daily from Aburi to work in the capital.
Who but the British would ever have thought of recreating a bit of England smack in the middle of the sub-Saharan Africa! This is exactly the impression given by a promenade through Aburi botanical garden, with its carefully-groomed sweeping lawns, typically English flower-beds and thousands of stately shaded trees. A favourite Sunday afternoon destination for Accra residents, the garden is a mere stone’s throw from the capital. Located approximately thirty kilometres from the suburbs of Accra in the foothills of the Akuapem range, and accessed by a winding road whose every turn reveals a new and glorious panorama of green landscapes dappled by sunlight and the immense shadow of fleecy clouds, both the botanical garden and the surroundings regions are blessed with a particularly mild, healthy climate.
Landscapes recalling those of Scotland and Ireland, combined with crisp, pure air make Aburi the perfect antidote to the heat and humidity of Accra and its outlying coastal plains It was near Kitase that Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, constructed an official country residence which motorists will pass on the road leading up to the garden entrance. The last towns before arriving at Aburi – Kitase and Gyankama – are typical African villages, complete with roadside stands selling fresh bananas and juicy, fragrant pineapples.
Upon entering the botanical garden, visitors pass the gatekeepers post, followed by a palm-lined road which leads to paradise. So complete is the illusion of England, that one half expects to come upon an old Lord of the Empire taking his tea on one of the shaded lawns, surrounded by cricket-playing grandchildren and pale young beauties in crinoline dresses.
Aburi Botanic Garden was in fact created by the British in the 1890s. Perfectly maintained over the following years, its young saplings and rare flora, imported from all of the far-flung outposts of the empire, have since grown into the stately trees and flower-bordered lawns that will contribute to the enchantment of present-day visitors. The garden officials have thoughtfully provided each tree with a small plaque giving both its common and scientific names. This impromptu botanical lesson will be particularly appreciated by those visitors unaware that the impressive Ceiba Pentandra near the garden restaurant or the delicious fruit berry Zizyphus are none other than the common breadfruit and jujube trees.
In many respects, the garden resembles a Noah’s ark of tropical plant-life, with specimens coming from as far afield as Malaysia, Mexico, Guatemala, India, and China, as well as many African countries.
The garden’s original purpose was threefold: to serve as the grounds for a school of agriculture, the testing-ground for the systematic transplantation of non-native plants species and to provide plants for agricultural, pharmaceutical and industrial applications as well as for decorative use. The building currently serving as the garden restaurant was originally built as a sanatorium, which is indicative of Aburi’s cool, healthy climate.