peggy1Peggielene Bartels, 55, has been a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana for more than 30 years. She is separated and has no children and lives in a one-bedroom condo.

Bartels had never even lived in Otuam, but was born and raised in Cape Coast, a large city in Ghana about 90 minutes away. Bartels’s father had been a railway engineer, her mother – the late king’s sister – a shop owner. True, Bartels had visited her Otuam relatives from time to time, even after she left Ghana, in Western Africa, in 1975. But she had become a U.S. citizen in 1997. Nothing had ever led her to believe she had the slightest chance of becoming Otuam’s king. Going back for centuries, all the kings had been men.

Bartels’s uncle had been the king of Otuam, and when he died in 2008 at the age of 90, Otuam’s elders consulted genealogical records, discussed which of the king’s relatives had the characteristics required to rule, and came up with a list of 25 candidates. Bartels was the only woman. Then the chief priest poured libations of schnapps to the ancestors, intoning each of the names. When Bartels’s name was called, the schnapps, instead of sinking in the ground, steamed up – a clear indication of divine approval.

A relative of Bartels’ called her in the middle of the night with the news. “Congratulations!” he said. “You are the new king.”