The Wood Badge Beads Legend

by Robin Clay (12/12/95), who has previously identified himself as BP's grandson


About a hundred years ago, there was an African chief of awful evilness, called Prempeh. He reigned over an area called Ashanti, in what is now Ghana. Life there was hard. The people lived in mud huts; they had no roads, no electricity, no drains; their drinking water was carried from the river in clay pots on the heads of the women.


The Chief wielded the power of life and death over his subjects, and he abused them very badly. He used occasionally to have a few of them slaughtered in order to bathe in human blood.


News of this reign of terror reached Britain, who decided to send an Expeditionary Force to overthrow him, and this was successfully accomplished.


The Commander of this Force was a young Army Officer, who subsequently wrote a book about the incident, which he called "The Downfall of Prempeh". As an introduction, he included part of a pamphlet which his brother had written, for public circulation, to explain to the public why the Government had decided to spend tax-payers money on this foray into Africa.


This is an excerpt from that introduction :

[ A Victorian's view of Colonialism ]

To set up the British idea and British administration over all this new area is bound to yield handsome returns in commerce and finance .... It is no mean advantage to our traders to discover in Ashanti a new market which, if properly organized, should take within a few years probably from two or three million pounds' worth of British produce each year. Moreover, in thus setting up strongly and definitively the Queen's peace over this great native area, in place of the degrading, demoralizing and pauperising regime hitherto dominant, we shall be bringing to perhaps four to five millions of natives all the advantages of peaceful industry and commerce and the high principles of order and justice and goodwill for all men - which are, after all, the guiding principles taught by our firm national religion.


Sir George Baden-Powell
Policy and Wealth in Ashanti, 1896.

Now, Prempeh was overthrown, and his people set free from tyranny. In the mud hut which served as his "palace", the Force Commander found various artifacts, some symbols of power. There was a special stool - a throne - and the "blood bath"; and a necklace which Prempeh used to wear. This necklace consisted of a large number of identical hand-carved wooden "beads", and it was one of the Chief's symbols of authority. All of these symbols of power were removed by the Force Commander, to prevent them being used again to subjugate the people, who were very superstitious.


A dozen years later, when that same Commander started the Boy Scout movement, he decided to break up this necklace, and use the beads, in pairs, on a lace, as a symbol for trained Scouters to wear.


Originally, he wore the first one, and, as each Scouter was trained, he would present the new WoodBadger with his own, experienced, WoodBadge, and then he would make another, from the original necklace, to wear himself. Eventually, the originals were all used up, and new ones had to be made.


It would be nice to know the whereabouts of the original beads ? Who knows ? Yours might be one of them ! For part of the tradition is that each badge is passed on.


At least, that's the version I know !



A Legend
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Revised: 2021/02/26