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Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 17:44 UK

Dutch return head of Ghana king

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and Ghanaian tribal leaders, 23/07
The Dutch and Ghanaians disagree over the circumstances of the king's death

Dutch officials have handed back to Ghana the head of a king who was executed by colonists in the 1830s.

Tribal elders led a ceremony in The Hague to hand over the head of Badu Bonsu II, stored in a Dutch museum for 170 years.

The king, who was leader of the Ahanta group, is believed to have been decapitated in retaliation for the killing of two Dutch emissaries.

Some believe the king would not be at rest unless his head was returned.

Several Ghanaian traditional leaders - including a descendant of the king - held an emotional ritual during the handover at the Dutch foreign ministry.

AFP news agency reported that they poured alcohol on the floor of the conference room while invoking the chief's spirit.

"It is because of the injustice meted out to our people that our great king, who was fighting for his people, was murdered," said Nana Kwekwe Darko III, who led the ceremony.

The Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement that King Bonsu had killed two Dutch officials in 1838 and was "handed over by his own nation" to colonialists.

'Hunted in the afterlife'

Arthur Japin, a Dutch author who researched King Bonsu, says the head was brought to the Netherlands, possibly by mistake, shortly after the king was killed.

A Dutch general had been asked to bring back "heads" from Ghana to be studied by a famous phrenologist - a scientist who believes the character of a person can be determined by the shape of the skull.

"He probably meant just some drawings of different types of people but the general took this literally and he took the head and put it in formaldehyde and put it on the ship," Mr Japin told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

During the voyage home the general died, and his body was also preserved.

On the expedition's return, King Bonsu's head was given to the Leiden University Medical Centre, where it has been ever since.

After hearing of the head's location in 2008, Ghana filed a request for its return, saying if it remained unburied, the king would be incomplete and therefore "hunted in the afterlife".

The traditional leaders are due to return to Ghana with the head on Friday.



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