Maryland Woman Becomes African 'King'

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Host Allison Keyes is joined by NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton for a peek into her reporter's notebook and some of the stories coming out of the continent. These stories include the tale of "King Peggy" a Maryland secretary who was chosen by her fishing village in Ghana to be its first female king, as well as the latest on the upcoming presidential runoff elections in the Ivory Coast and the staging of one of Africa’s biggest music festivals ever, the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.


And now we turn to NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who's here in Washington for a brief visit. When she's here, TELL ME MORE likes to see if we can take a peak into her reporter's notebook - a chance to ask her about to some of the stories she's been covering recently. And we've asked her, too, to fill us in on one of the most anticipated world music festivals in Africa.

Ofeibea joins us now from Studio 4B. Welcome.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure to be with TELL ME MORE.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: Ofeibea, what's the cool drumming we hear in the background?

QUIST-ARCTON: The drumming is for the king and the drumming is for the late king, whose funeral we were attending in Otuam, a fishing village in Central Ghana.

KEYES: Apparently, a woman from here in Maryland actually got a call one morning and had to move to Ghana and now she's a king.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, she's still here. She's got a foot on each continent. She's secretary at the Ghana Embassy here in Washington, D.C., and she's also a royal, a king looking after 7,000 fishermen, farmers and a community in Ghana.

KEYES: Who is she and how did she get to be king?

QUIST-ARCTON: Peggielene Bartels is her name. She's 57 years old. And she got a call, as she said, at four in the morning. She said, you know, she was exhausted, she was going off to work, and she thought people were joking. They said, nana, and nana in (unintelligible) the Akan language, means king, royal.

And she said, look, don't joke with me. Hey, I'm tired. And I said, no, no, no. Hold on a moment. Hold on a moment. We have put all the names of possible kings into a hat, as such. You pour libation, which is pouring spirits. And no obvious name came up. Somebody said, now, why don't you put Peggy's name in? And when we poured libation, when we asked your name, the spirits started vaporing(ph). We did it four times to be sure and so we knew that she was our new king.

KEYES: So that means she's chosen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Was she a little surprised?

QUIST-ARCTON: She said she was absolutely flabbergasted. A king, me? A king? But, you know, I've got my mortgage in the U.S. I've got my responsibilities in the U.S. Of course, I'd visit Ghana. But, you know, being with responsible for 7,000 people, that's a tough call.

KEYES: She herself has said her life has changed a tad since this happened to her. Let's take a listen.

Ms. PEGGIELENE BARTELS (King, Otuam, Ghana): I've lost a lot of friends 'cause they don't want to come around. Not that they hate me, but they saw that, oh, now she's a king. We can't joke her around her like we used to joke. We say, you know, all kinds of things. We laugh and we walk and we go shopping. But now I have to have some kind of a respect for the things I do. So they say, well, now her interests is different from our interests.

So it's kind of a challenge, but I'm not worried about it at all, because if it's been bestowed on me, I have to go with the responsibilities and respect the traditional ruling.

KEYES: What are some of the other ways she said her life is different now?

QUIST-ARCTON: What she wears. You know, she says before you could - she felt like slouching about, you could slouch about. Now that she's a nana, she's got to always make sure. In the hot weather she wears a toga style wrap which is what kings in Ghana wear. And in wonderful colors, either kente cloth, which is that rich woven cloth or - and I was at a funeral for her late uncle, where she wore red. But otherwise, she said she always has to look very presentable, because of course, she's now representing a fishing village of 7,000.

KEYES: Wow. And she's also been getting some help from some donors in the U.S. I know you spoke to Pastor Be Louis Colleton from the Shiloh Baptist Church in Landover, Maryland, who went to visit King Peggie with some of the members of his congregation. Here's what he had to say.

Pastor BE LOUIS COLLETON (Shiloh Baptist Church, Landover, Maryland): We have covenant with nana, the king. We have a church to help her to better her community of people by bringing fresh water. And now we are moving towards the possibility of establishing a school and a church edifice for the people here, of Otuam, particularly in the Baptist faith.

KEYES: Briefly, Ofeibea, what kind of changes has she brought to her village so far?

QUIST-ARCTON: Peggielene Bartels and Shiloh Baptist Church and other donors here in the U.S., as well as in Ghana, they've been able to bring fresh water. It is by the Atlantic Coast, which is of course the Atlantic Ocean's seawater. But they've dug bore holes so that women and children don't have to walk for miles to go and get fresh water.

And they've got an elementary school, but the kids have to go away for secondary school education. They want to make sure that they build a high school so that everybody can stay put.

KEYES: Okay. Let's move on to a different topic. This Sunday, the Ivory Coast is holding runoff elections between the two leading presidential candidates. Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Ivory Coast. Talk to us a little bit about why that is so important to the U.S.

QUIST-ARCTON: Stability. Stability. Ivory Coast used to be a bastion of stability and also prosperity in West Africa. It's a cocoa growing nation, the top cocoa exporting nation in the world. And it had never had a coup d'etat, you know, for 40-odd years. And then on Christmas Eve, 1999, the military took over, which threw everyone.

A couple of years later, an elected president, but a, you know, a not very proper election, and then two years later, civil war. That was Ivory Coast, where everyone through the region had come to build the economy. Immigrants from neighboring Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, all over. Suddenly, this strong country was down at its knees.

So, now 10 years later, 10 years since they've had their last election, finally, Ivory Coast is going to have this runoff election. The stakes are very high. President Laurent Gbagbo has been in power for 10 years now, five years unelected because of the civil war...

KEYES: Right.

QUIST-ARCTON: Wants to stay in power and his main adversary, Alasan Quatara, who was a former prime minister says, no, I am the man who is going to unite Ivory Coast.

KEYES: Are there concerns about violence?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because the stakes are so high now. Because of the civil war, because parts of the nation are awash with arms, because not everybody has disarmed. So calls from everywhere, including here in Washington, please hold a peaceful election, that's the people of Ivory Coast and the future of Ivory Coast that matters, not just being in power.

KEYES: Switching gears once more to something that I'm so jealous you're getting to go to and I'm not, in December, the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures will take place in Senegal. It's been more than 30 years since the last one was held. Who's in this and why is it taking so long to put another one together?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, the first one was in 1966 in Dakar, which as you know, is my home base. And that was just after independence, Allison. So, you know, there was all that feeling of African nationhood and then Africans and non-Africans formed the diaspora, coming to Senegal to really celebrate. Then in Nigeria 10 years later in Lagos (unintelligible), it was called. And I understand, you know, I was still - probably not a school girl, but I'd just gone to university, but I really wanted to be there.

All of Africa and all in the diaspora gathered for music, for culture, for theater. And why has it taken so long? Because Africans have been too busy fighting wars and doing things that are bringing the continent down. But let's hope that in Senegal, from the 10th to the 31st of December, we're going to enjoy music, culture and everything good.

KEYES: On our way out, let's take a listen to Angelique Kidjo, who I believe is going to be one of the people participating in the festival.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. She joined us from our studios in Washington and she has got such a cool month ahead for her.

QUIST-ARCTON: Looking forward to it and will share it with TELL ME MORE. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ANGELIQUE KIDJO (Musician): (Singing in foreign language)

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