Since the early 1970s, Pat Pogson-Nesbitt has played many parts. In Bermuda she has long been a well-known actress, director, producer and playwright, as well as educator, company founder, and even talk show host. Indeed, in May the Bermuda Arts Council honoured her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her huge contribution to theatre in Bermuda. However, more recently, she has taken on a very different lifetime role in another country. She has been appointed an honorary queen mother by Nana Asante Kumi IV, the King of Aburi, a town north of Accra in Ghana. Throughout Ghana, there are many queen mothers who can wield great social power and influence. Indeed, it’s possible for a queen mother to destool (dethrone) a chief or king.

Although it’s not certain, it’s likely Pat is the first and only Bermudian queen mother in Ghana. Generally, a queen mother is selected from the royal family of each town and village, the role being handed down through royal lineage. So how did a born and bred Bermudian woman come to be chosen for this royal position? The answer lies with her husband, Graham Nesbitt, to whom she has been married for over twenty-one years. As Pat explains, his connections with Ghana go back to 1999 when he first stayed in the country. “While there, he met with several artisans, musicians and drummers, and villagers and maintained his relationships with them. He’s seeded into the lives of many people donating sewing machines to women who wanted to have clothing businesses, helping with college expenses, and offering sustainable development project ideas.”

In 2022, he was appointed chief and given the new name of Nana Amon Kwadjo with responsibility for developing the town of Nkumkrom at the base of the Nsawam Mountains in Aburi. Having helped with instigating water and sanitation, currently he is focusing on construction and teaching young Ghanaians to build houses using Bermudian skill sets and assistance from Bermudian friends. Because Graham is chief, his wife Pat is now an honorary queen mother, dividing her time between Ghana and Bermuda where her son and three grandchildren live. Her new official name is Nana Akua Ra Chuwa.

As queen mother, Pat will have a special interest in the upliftment of women, health and care, and education for the youth. That could involve introducing spas, yoga and counselling, especially for women.

Pat and Graham live in Ghana’s coastal town of Gomoa Fetteh, which has many beaches and is known for its fishing activities. Graham’s construction skills came into play and, together with two other workers, they cleared land of trees with machetes and built the house they now live in. “Farming is very evident,” Pat says. She takes pleasure in the abundance of food everywhere: fresh pineapples, mangos, coconuts and pawpaws. The couple intend to live off the land and with that in mind Pat has already planted an orange tree in their garden. They have plenty of help although Pat has adapted to a rule strange to her. Because women menstruate, they cannot serve royalty. For that reason, all their housework and cooking are carried out by men.

Since her appointment, Pat has been training for her new role under the mentorship of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Samah II who inherited her position from her royal grandmother rather than from her mother who had predeceased her. What form has the training taken? “It’s not like a class you take in an institution or a school,” Pat clarifies. “I’m learning through participation in their culture. I need to learn the language of the people and their customs by attending cultural and societal events like performances, celebrations and festivals, weddings and funerals.” On those occasions, she wears special queen mother sandals made by a local cobbler, who measures her feet to make the soles her exact size, and ceremonial shawls and headwrap made of a traditional hand-woven cloth called Kente. Pat has actually learned how to weave Kente herself, using a loom operated by hands and feet. “While weaving, you operate the strings through your toes. It’s like learning how to ride a bicycle. It’s a long process. Depending on the size and the weave and the number of colours, some cloth takes up to six months to make.” The cloth is therefore expensive for locals. Nine yards can cost $150, which may seem cheap to Bermudians but, as Pat points out, is relatively costly: “You can buy a bag of mangos for just 10 cents.”

Kente cloth is beautiful but, she says, quite heavy to wear. “You’re very happy when you sit down!” Jewellery is part of the regalia. Beaded bracelets in an array of colours, including black for funerals, are very much part of royal attire, as are locally made beaded necklaces. She has no gold jewellery as yet although she will acquire gold bracelets and two specific gold rings. One will depict her animal symbol, the dog. “Nana Yaa Samah is from the Aduana Clan whose symbol is a dog with a flame of fire in its mouth. It symbolises bravery and strength. According to legend, a dog led the clan in the migrations, and it lit the path with the fire coming from its mouth.”  Being allocated the dog symbol means Pat will become part of the Aduana Clan. The second ring will represent a porcupine with quills—the animal symbol of the Asante Kingdom, symbolising the fact that Asante’s army were strategists and the strength of their kingdom. Attending formal occasions also requires following the rules of etiquette to show respect. “When you stand before royalty, you bow and then are instructed where to sit. Royalty,” she adds, “don’t eat in public.”

While Graham is focussing on teaching construction, as queen mother, Pat will have a special interest in the upliftment of women, health and care, and education for the youth. That could involve introducing spas, yoga and counselling, especially for women. Her theatrical and educational experience will come in very useful, particularly as she would like to develop a performing arts school for the young. Already she has met with young people who are “awesomely talented.” She also would like to take an interest in developing tourism in Aburi, famous for both its botanical gardens and annual Odwira Festival.

Of course, leaving one’s own country and adapting to another has special challenges, language being one. While English is taught in most Ghanaian schools and is still the official language, twenty-three different languages are spoken in the region where they live. When Pat meets with royalty, a linguist is on hand to translate. However, she is in the process of learning two local languages spoken in her village that are similar to each other: Twi and Fante. Though Pat herself is of African descent, she is considered “oburoni,” the Fante word for foreigner. Nevertheless, she is making friends and enjoying the warmth and friendliness of the people.

Does living in Ghana mean forgoing her own theatrical and creative goals? Absolutely not. She is firm about that. “I will keep up with my trainings, writing books, creating and producing plays while moving more into film. I am currently editing a screenplay for Non-Stop African Entertainment. I am also interviewing other queen mothers for information which will be included in the second volume of my trilogy, Ascending the Throne. [Volume 1, The Lion’s Den has already been published.] So I am continually exploring the culture here and learning.” There is no question Pat will support the artistic ambitions of the young in Nkumkrom with the same passion and commitment she has for so long shown to Bermuda’s would-be performing artists.