Meet King Bansah: Part-Time Monarch, Full-Time Auto Mechanic

King Bansah rules the Gbi Traditional Area of Hohoe, Ghana. But he doesn't live in Ghana. His home is in Ludwigshafen, Germany, where he works as a car mechanic.

by Mirka Laura Severa
Nov 3 2015, 5:00am

All photos by Mirka Laura Severa

This story appears in the November Issue of VICE.

King Bansah, or Togbe Ngoryifia Céphas Kosi Bansah, rules the Gbi Traditional Area of Hohoe, Ghana. His kingdom consists of roughly 200,000 subjects, but as superior and spiritual chief of the Ewe people, he also feels responsible for 2 million in Togo.

He doesn't live in Ghana or Togo, however. His home is in Ludwigshafen, Germany, where he works as a car mechanic in his own shop.

In 1970, his grandfather, then king of Hohoe, sent him to Germany to train as a mechanic. When Bansah finished his studies, he decided to stay. He opened his shop and lived a quiet and happy life until, one day in 1987, a fax from Ghana changed things forever.

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His grandfather had died, and Bansah's father and eldest brother were deemed unfit to rule because they were left-handed, which the Ewe people considered to be "unclean." Bansah was tapped as his grandfather's successor. He accepted and made it his goal in life to support the well-being and development of his people, while still working from nine to five in his garage. This is why the monarch rules his people via phone and email.

King Bansah returns to Ghana several times a year, often accompanied by his German wife, Gabriele, to devote his full attention to the issues of his people. The country has been a democracy since 1992, but its traditional kings remain important mediators and caretakers. King Bansah is building schools, bridges, and wells, and he donates water pumps and vehicles. To raise aid money he performs as a singer, appearing on national TV shows and at public events in Germany.

I met the king in 2009. I was studying in a city near Ludwigshafen, and I started documenting his life. We traveled to Ghana and Togo together, and I visited him regularly at his home, where he cooked delicious traditional dishes of oxtail, plantains, and yams. But when he travels to Ghana he brings typical German cuisine, like onion schmaltz, which he likes to eat for breakfast. To fund his aid projects, he also sells his own beer, called Akosombo, even though he never drinks alcohol himself.