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Ghana: Visiting Jimmy Moxon

A bust of Jimmy Moxon
The late Jimmy Moxon

It was on Christmas Day back in 1998 that I first heard about Jimmy Moxon, the Gentleman Chief of Ghana. The family was gathered around the dining room table, tucking into another legendary turkey lunch, when the subject strayed onto my recent travels. This led naturally to the plans for my next trip, and when I mentioned that I hoped to travel to Africa one day, my Dad said, 'You should try to visit Jimmy Moxon while you're out there. He's a genuine African chief, you know.'

The Gentleman Chief

Jimmy Moxon's grave
Jimmy's grave is set into a beautiful flower bed in his garden

Jimmy Moxon is an intriguing figure from Ghana's colourful history, and although I had precious little information to go on, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a bit of journalism. The story, as far as I know it, is that Jimmy moved to Ghana to work for the colonial civil service during World War II and stayed on after the war to become a District Commissioner; when independence came in 1957 he was persuaded to stay on by President Nkrumah, who appointed him as his Orwellian-sounding Minister for Information. When Jimmy retired in 1963 he was made a genuine African chief, one of a tiny number of white men ever to be officially gazetted as such. There have been quite a few honorary chiefs in Africa, like Shirley Temple Black and Isaac Hayes, but I only know of two non-Africans who became real chiefs: Jimmy Moxon was one, and the other was the American Lloyd Shirer (who become Maligu-Naa of the Dagumba tribe, or 'Chief of the Preparations'). Jimmy died in 1999 and is buried in the grounds of his old home just a few miles north of Accra, and seeing as I was in the area, it seemed like a good idea to ask around for pointers.

The ahinfie
This small grassy terrace outside Jimmy's house is the ahinfie, or chief's palace, where he would have held court
Frank Eliott Apaw
Frank, Jimmy's caretaker and cook, posing outside Jimmy's house
The view from Jimmy's ahinfie
The view from Jimmy's ahinfie
Jimmy Moxon's house
Jimmy's house sits on top of its own private hill, overlooking the gardens
Jimmy Moxon's grave
Jimmy's gravestone

The Gardens

The gardens at Jimmy Moxon's house
The view from Jimmy's house over his luscious tropical gardens

Africa is littered with colonial graveyards that echo with the indignity of being left for Mother Nature to reclaim, but Jimmy's garden is not one of them. A sloping lawn of thick-leaved tropical grass weaves through a collection of trees and plants that hide the neighbouring houses so effectively you could be forgiven for thinking you're totally isolated, and just down from Jimmy's grave sits a tall, thin tree that might not be the most physically significant tree in the garden, but is easily the best-known.

The black pots from Jimmy Moxon's Black Pot Restaurant
The original black cooking pots from Jimmy's Black Pot Restaurant
A sign that says 'Palm Wine Bar'
Frank with a sign in Jimmy's back garden
Jimmy Moxon's caravan
Jimmy's caravan, where he lived while his house was built

The Lower Level

Frank's house
Frank's house

Peering over the edge of the cliff and down a crumbling set of stone steps, I spotted a dried-up swimming pool and started to walk down to it, but Frank yelled that the steps weren't safe and that we should walk down the grass drive to the lower level. But first he pointed proudly to the bungalow at the far end of the lower level's lawn.

Frank's children's house
Frank's children's house