Howay the Chief! Newcastle upon Tribe . . . or How the Geordie Professor Was Enthroned in the African Jungle

Article excerpt

Byline: ROGER SCOTT

HOWAY he went from the urban jungle of Tyneside to the steamy jungle of West Africa. And in the remote village of Ikumfi-Atakwa, the natives knew a canny lad when they saw one.

Which was why they ended up proudly parading John Knapton high on a litter . . . to be enthroned as their new tribal chief.

Bedecked in robe, beads and ceremonial sandals, the bespectacled engineering professor was delighted to accept the honour.

It brought with it several emoluments not included in his other job at Newcastle University, including six acres of land, a herd of cattle, and - symbolically at least - his choice of the local virgins.

However, the real reason the 48-year-old academic was pleased was that it meant he could continue his task of helping the villagers into the 20th century by improving their health and living conditions and easing the grip of tribal customs which are stifling development.

The project began two years ago when Professor Knapton travelled the 3,400 miles from his home in Whitley Bay to the community on Ghana's Gold Coast. So when, for the first time, the villagers were allowed to pick a leader, the white Samaritan from a far-off land was the obvious choice.

Assigned to him during his installation ceremony was a 12-year-old girl called Naomi - symbolising the custom which entitles a chief to take his pick of the village's virgins. …