The African man who may be seen trimming hedges around Vancouver is essentially royalty back in his village in Ghana.
He received the call more than a year ago while working as a landscaper in British Columbia: The people he grew up with wanted him to return as chief of their tribe.
It came as a shock to Eric Manu, 33, who left Africa in 2012 to live near his Canadian wife’s family. His uncle, who had been the leader of their 5,000-person Akan tribe in the village of Adansi Aboabo No. 2, died in 2013, and Manu had gone back for the funeral. But he had no idea he was next in line to, ostensibly, be king.
Accepting the position wasn’t a difficult decision for Manu, who said in an interview that he has long worried about the welfare of his people. His parents had taken him to a neighboring city when he was a boy, and he saw for the first time how well people could live. After that, he started giving kids in his rural village his used clothes and shoes, he said.
Manu never planned to leave Ghana, where he worked giving museum tours in his village. He was passionate about extolling its virtues to visitors. But several years ago, on one of those tours, he met a young Canadian woman who was interested in African development. They exchanged contact information so she could continue communicating with him as a resource, and they through their correspondence they fell in love. They married in 2010 and, two years later, he decided to move with her to Canada. They have a 10-month-old son.
But when his relative called in July 2015 with the news that he was their tribe’s chosen leader, the opportunity to take care of his people was one he couldn’t pass up. When choosing a chief, the tribe looks for people with vision and passion, he said, and they picked him.
Manu returned to Ghana in December to assume the role with ambitious goals of improving the lives of the people who lived there. He saw how the African villages are often afterthoughts, with limited access to medical care and good education. He thought they could rehabilitate old structures and really promote tourism. He has plans to better harness the area’s natural resources to create income.
Which is why, eight months after his official January coronation, he returned to Canada, trading his traditional garb for blue jeans, a florescent shirt and a shovel. He’s back to trimming hedges and planting gardens around British Columbia, but now he has a different purpose. He’s trying to raise money and leverage relationships in the West to support his people.
“Some people are surprised that a chief is working and cutting their hedges,” he said. “People have to be humble. Even a chief can be doing this kind of job. I’m not going to change my attitude. I’ve been simple from day one.”
He also returned to say thank you, he said.
Before he left, Sue Watson, the owner of the landscaping company where he works, started a nonprofit group to collect money and goods to ship to Manu’s village. She called it To the Moon and Back Foundation, and through it she collected computers, boomboxes, clothes, shoes, school supplies, bicycles, baby essentials and more to fill a 20-foot shipping container.
“It was an amazing day for everyone in the community to see this magical stuff,” Manu said. “They never believed they would receive stuff like that from here.”
Watson traveled to Ghana with her daughter, who turned 26 while there, and a family friend for Manu’s two-day coronation ceremony, which culminated with him being carried through the village to be introduced as the new leader, as people sang and danced behind him. She was there when they passed out books to the children of the village. The tribe even crowned her its development queen, Watson said.
Watson described Manu’s village as “jungle-like,” and said that the soil that coats the ground looks like red clay. The dust from the dirt roads blows and coat the foliage, giving them a pretty reddish hue, she said. It feels remote, and the women several times a day haul large baskets of water to heat in tubs for laundry and cooking, both of which are done outside. The men are mostly farmers, harvesting cocoa beans, which are the primary crop there.
“The people there are extremely friendly and loving and receiving. It was a life-changing journey for me and my family to see where he came from and the hardship that country suffers under,” Watson added. “He’s very motivated to bring the spirits of his people up. His passion rubbed off on me.”
It is unclear how long Manu will stay in Canada before returning to his post in Ghana. But he’s busy helping Watson promote the foundation. Last weekend they held a beer and burger fundraiser to raise money to send another container of goods to his tribe. He’s hoping to find Western partners interested in the development of his village.
And, while he’s there, he’s taking some landscaping jobs.