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End of an era: Peggy Appiah, the well-known British-Ghanaian writer of books for children and wife of the late Ghanaian statesman Joe Appiah, passed away in Kumasi on 11 February at the age of 84. Her literary friend and collaborator, Ivor Agyeman-Duah, pays her this tribute.

Peggy Appiah spent over 50 years in Kumasi since she left England after her marriage to the Ghanaian lawyer, statesman and presidential advisor, the late Joe Appiah. For all these years, she chronicled both as a profession and hobby, traditional folklore of the Asante people--village lives as well as natural history--especially the behaviour of birds, in over 30 books.

Some of the books were reflected as text in the prescribed reading of primary and secondary schools in Ghana and of the West Africa Examination Council. At one time, and it is still the case, she had the best collection of Asante gold-weights in the world which featured in exhibitions from Australia to the US.

Peggy was highly respected in the traditional and national ruling classes--especially in the palace of the king of Asante where she had since 1954 been welcomed by the Asante kings Osei Kyeretwie, Prempeh II, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, whose wife was related to Joe Appiah, and the current king, Osei Tutu II.

More importantly, Peggy was also beloved by the working class of her adopted society who admired her simplicity, considering she was the daughter of the British chancellor of the exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, and Isobel Swithenbank.

Cripps, who was chancellor from 1947-50, was credited with the British economic reforms after World War II and was one of the avant-garde politicians who we could label today as cosmopolitan or globalist (a promoter of racial integration and harmony in London of the 1940s), an agenda which Kwame Anthony Appiah, his grandson, has taken to the world intellectual stage as a godfather.

Peggy Cripps, (Mrs Appiah's maiden name) was definitely aware of her political family in the English aristocracy and was therefore used to media exaggeration and negative publicity. Her marriage to Joe Appiah was one of the most sensational romantic expressions between a black and a white, a subject of the Queen in the evening of empire and leading daughter of a leftist Labour grandmaster, and was a puzzle in the British media at the time.

To champions of decolonisation, the class of student agitators (which included Joe Appiah) in the 1950s, however, it was a silver-lining or a rainbow coalition of God's children. At the time of the marriage, Ghana was on the cutting phase to independence and Kwame Nkrumah had assumed leadership of government business.


Nkrumah was supposed to be the best man at the wedding, but eventually passed the responsibility to George Padmore, his Afro-Caribbean advisor and eminent pan-Africanist. Ever since, Peggy Appiah lived more like a Ghanaian than a Briton and contributed to the socio-economic development of the country in ways little known because of her humility.

Late last year, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi awarded her an honorary degree; some few years before, Queen Elizabeth awarded her the MBE for her contribution to Anglo-Ghanaian relations and the Ashanti Region branch of the Ghana Journalists Association gave her its top prize.

Her works, apart from paintings of scenes of Kumasi, included bestsellers in the 1970s such as A Smell of Onions, Tales of an Asante Father, The Ring and Gold, The Pineapple Child and other Tales from Ashanti.

Her last major work was an epic dictionary of Akan proverbs (over 7,000 of them and the most updated), titled Bu Me Be which she edited with Kwame Anthony Appiah (her son and a leading world philosopher currently at Princeton University) and my good self.

Peggy's philanthropy was very much felt at the Jachie School for the Blind which she and her other children (Ama Appiah who works in Namibia for the SADC, Adwoa Appiah who lives in Nigeria with her husband, and Abena Appiah, a businesswoman) helped to establish.

This is apart from the many secondary and university students who owed their education to her generosity. Again not to talk of the St Georges Church in Kumasi where she made financial contribution towards the building of the chapel.

Peggy played an advisory role in the establishment of the Centre for Intellectual Renewal in Kumasi which I founded. According to her wishes, she would be buried at the Tafo Cemetery in Kumasi next to the tomb of her beloved Joe Appiah. May her soul rest in perfect peace.
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Author:Agyeman-Duah, Ivor
Publication:New African
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:6GHAN
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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