King Peggy: American Woman Reigns In Ghanaian Village An American secretary living in Maryland got a phone call at 4 a.m. informing her that her uncle had died and she had been chosen as the first woman to rule in Otuam, a fishing community of 7,000 people in Ghana. Peggielene Bartels, 57, accepted the job and now juggles two lives -- from the palace in Otuam and from a modest condo outside Washington, D.C.

King Peggy: American Woman Reigns In Ghanaian Village

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And let's talk, now, about another woman who's in power - in Ghana, in a small fishing community on the Atlantic coast of that West African nation. The village has a king, and the king is a woman, a Ghanaian-American woman. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton went to meet her.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: It was two years ago, at 4:00 in the morning at her apartment in Maryland, that Peggielene Bartels got the news. A relative was calling from Ghana to say that her uncle, the king of Otuam, had died.

Ms. PEGGIELENE BARTELS: And he said oh, no, no, no, no, dont hang up, Nana. We chose so many names, male and everybody. And then when we poured libation and we did the rituals, and as soon as we mentioned your name it started vapouring and we were surprised. So we did it three times. So thats when we got to know that you are the king.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI is her new title, but shes been dubbed King Peggy. This straight-talking 57 year-old is the first woman in her community in Ghana to be anointed a king.

Ms. BARTELS: When they told me, I was a little bit reluctant to accept it, because it comes with responsibilities and here is a secretary in the United States. I have my own obligations, bills and stuff, and then becoming a king, you have to be really rich. And then, as if someone was talking to me, he said, accept it, it is your destiny and you will be helped to help your people.

QUIST-ARCTON: She now juggles two lives - from the palace in Otuam and from a modest condo in Maryland. Since the 1970s, Bartels, whos a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been a secretary at Ghanas Embassy in Washington where she still spends most of her time, running royal affairs back home in Otuam, over the phone, and on trips to Ghana.

(Soundbite of drumming)

QUIST-ARCTON: On this sweltering day, King Peggy is overseeing her uncles funeral. A slight breeze is blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean and the freshly painted blue and white royal residence gleams. In the sandy courtyard, drums are beating while a man in a trance performs a frenzied dance before a sea of red and black - mourners dressed for a royal burial.

(Soundbite of trumpet)

QUIST-ARCTON: The former king died in 2008, but his body was kept in a mortuary until King Peggy could save up enough money to give him a proper send off. Today she's dressed like a king albeit with a touch of lipstick - wrapped toga-style in regal, red, traditional fabric and seated upon a royal stool. Dignitaries attending the funeral include another royal, Nana Boakye Asafo Adjei, the Sanahane of Asamankese in eastern Ghana. He said he had nothing but respect for King Peggy.

Mr. NANA BOAKYE ASAFO ADJEIL (Sanahane of Asamankese in eastern Ghana): I've been really surprised by what she has done, because I thought being a woman, you can't, but she has compete with the men, so I give her the congratulations. She is now a king, so she has a lot to handle.

QUIST-ARCTON: Peggy Bartels says most people are willing to work with a woman as their traditional ruler.

Ms. BARTELS: The women are so happy for me, they are really on my side. But it's only a few elderly men - because they are used to bossing a female around.

QUIST-ARCTON: What sort of things do they say to you?

Ms. BARTELS: Listen, you're a woman, so you listen to us. Then I will also say, Im in the States, I'm a woman, you chose me in the name of God, so shut up and sit down. And they will sit.

QUIST ARCTON: Back in the U.S., King Peggy is on the lecture circuit, talking about Ghana, its traditions, and her fishing community. While she's in Otuam, she presides over fisher folk and has confronted many hurdles, including, she says, tackling graft and dishonesty within the royal circle.

Ms. BARTELS: At first when I started it was a tough challenge, because we were just collecting our family fishing fees and they were misusing the funds, but I came on so strong. So I had a tough time straightening that out.

QUIST ARCTON: King Peggy insisted future proceeds go directly into an account in a rural bank they opened in her village. She rejuvenated her royal council, to include people she trusted, and has turned her attention to improving the lives of her community. The next project, she says, is to build a high school for students whove finished 9th grade.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Otuam, Central Ghana.

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