The ‘Chief Priest’ of Opoku Ware Hall of Akenten Appiah-Menka University of Skills Training and Entrepreneurial Development (AAMUSTED) passed away last two weeks at the Okomfo Anokye Teaching Hospital after his traditional regalia caught fire whilst performing rituals as part of the hall’s activities.
The ‘Chief Priest’ was engaged in incantations when his traditional regalia caught fire and he was severely injured. He subsequently died at the Okomfo Anokye Teaching Hospital on August 25, 2023. According to the students of AAMUSTED, they occasionally perform such rituals using fire as part of their hall week celebrations.
Following the incident, there have been mixed reactions for such activities in the universities to be discontinued, whilst another school of thought view them as a source of entertainment and socialising for students.
Much as the rituals performed by the students are deeply rooted in Ghanaian cultural traditions and customs, The Chronicle holds the view that it is high time we reconsider their place on university campuses, where the primary focus should be on education, safety and the well-being of all students.
First and foremost, The Chronicle believes it is essential to emphasise that university campuses are not just educational institutions; they are also communities where diverse groups of students, faculty and staff come together to learn and grow. In this context, safety must be a top priority. Fire rituals inherently carry a significant risk, as witnessed in the recent AAMUSTED tragedy. The performance of such rituals using fire has the potential to cause harm to oneself and others, making them incompatible with the safety standards expected on university grounds.
While it is vital to respect and appreciate cultural traditions, it is equally important to ensure that these traditions do not infringe upon the safety, well-being or beliefs of others. Fire rituals, by their nature can be disruptive and potentially offensive to some members of the university community, causing discomfort or even fear. In an era where inclusivity and respect for all are paramount, it is critical to prioritise practices that foster unity rather than division.
The Opoku Ware II Hall incident is not an isolated occurrence. Similar incidents have been reported on other university campuses in Ghana, especially among the male halls. This underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive reassessment of such practices. In recent years, universities have taken significant steps to enhance campus safety and, therefore, banning fire rituals by students would be a logical extension of these efforts, as it would help safeguard the well-being of all students while promoting a more harmonious and respectful campus environment.
Critics of a potential ban may argue that it infringes upon freedom of expression and cultural traditions. However, it is essential to strike a balance between freedom and responsibility. Universities have a duty to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all and sometimes this requires setting limits on certain practices.
Banning fire rituals on campus does not prevent individuals from participating in extra curricula activities where they can do so without endangering others or disrupting the educational mission of the institution.
In conclusion, the recent incident at Opoku Ware II Hall should serve as a wake-up call. It is time to reevaluate the place of fire rituals on campus and prioritize the safety and well-being of all members of the university community.