Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Looking for a hammock

For a change, a request for help, to identify the 'hammock' which accompanied the boys sent to princess Carolina.
So far, this blog has addressed the issue of children sent from Ghana to Europe and the question if we could give Presto a place among the identified children, being procured, or serving in the castle of St. George d'Elmina.

However, there is something else to look for. After all, we are working with the hypothesis that Presto and Fortuin were the boys given as a gift to the Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau in 1748. That gift comprised of the two boys, and a 'costly' or 'richly adorned' hammock.'

Newspaper clipping mentioning 'een kostbare hangmat uit dat Weereld-deel;' 'a costly hammock from that Continent'

What was this 'hammock' made of, what did it look like, and what was its function? We soon came to the conclusion that what was described as a 'hammock' in the Dutch newspaper, must have been a so-called palanquin, a contraption in which Ghanaian Akan chiefs were and are transported during festivals. Nowadays the palanquin is usually constructed from a hollowed piece of wood, shaped in the form of a bed, with cushions to rest on, and covered with high-quality cloth. On the cloth there can be adornments symbolically depicting the identity of the chief and his personal or family history.

Chief of Elmina in palanquin at Bakatue Festival 2016. Photo by (c) Michel R. Doortmont

In Elmina we asked about the palanquin in history. My long-standing research assistant and fixer, Frank Kwesi Tweneboa-Kodua, came with a valuable suggestion. Frank noted that when he was a child, in the 1970s, a different type of palanquin was still quite common.

It consisted of two bamboo sticks, with in-between a plaited fibre mat. On both ends, two shorter bamboo sticks, secured with rope or fibre, allowed for it to be carried by four persons.

Possible form of the hammock / palanquin given to Princess Carolina. Drawing by (c) Michel R. Doortmont

The sketch gives an impression of what it could have looked like. So far, we have not found any real-life examples of this type of palanquin, or any drawings, for that matter. So we ask the question here, to fellow researchers and local parties: do you know of this type of palanquin / hammock, as means of transport for Akan chiefs? If so, leave your comments below.

Additionally: How does one 'adorn' a palanquin of this type, or what makes it 'costly'? Were there items (beads, brass bells or other objects, etc.) attached to it? Was it painted or carved?

It seems this type needs to be carried by four persons, so would one not expect four boys to accompany the hammock for the princess? Or is there a type that can be carried by two people too?

We are keenly awaiting your suggestions.


  1. The photo from Cote d'Ivoire museum is amazing. It may be a model of the kind of "basket" described by F. Douchez (pseudonym) in 1838 (p. 94) which it just happens I have been rereading. It was carried by two men. See point 4: "Un autre jour, nous fûmes témoins d'une autre cérémonie; ne me demandez pas des dates car je suis furieusement brouillé avec le calendrier; un jour, dis-je, les nègres forestiers de Commany vinrent nous donner le spectacle d'une de ces mascarades qu'ils nomment Costumes, Voici le cortège : 1°. un heiduque portant un sabre de cuirassier ; 2°. les musiciens de l'afdeeling dont vous connaissez la composition ; 3°. le bourreau et son aide portant chacun un gladium en forme de couteau de chasse ; 4°. un Cabocé porté , dans un panier à tourbes, sur la tête de deux nègres, 5°. un autre nègre marchant derrière cette litière et l'ombrageant d'un parasol d'une immense grandeur; 6°. une troupe de gens armés et des musiciens enragés, à la tête de chaque compagnie, 7°. un autre Cabocé dans son panier, mais entouré de moins d'éclat que le premier; 8°. la multitude fermant le cortège."

    1. Thanks Larry, with all this additional information it becomes more and more clear that a palanquin might well have been a hammock carried by two people. Also the description of the cortège here is quite valuable.