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  • Sophie Messenger

From Secretary to Royalty: How King Peggy Changed the Community of Tantum



Imagine waking up one morning to a phone call that you have been chosen as the next ruler of Tantum, Ghana. Well that is exactly what happened to Peggielene Bartels, more widely known as King Peggy. She was born in Cape Coast, Ghana in 1953 and immigrated to the United States in her early twenties where she became a citizen in 1997. Peggy maintained a relatively normal life, living in a condominium and working as a secretary for the Ghanaian embassy in Washington D.C. However, one night in 2008, she received a phone call that she had been chosen as the next ruler of her hometown in Tantum, where she would become the first female king. Bartels’ Uncle was the previous king of Tantum and left behind no immediate heirs; therefore, when he passed away, the community elders gathered and performed a ritual to determine which of the late king’s 25 relatives would become their new leader. While at first, Bartels believed the call to be a prank, she took the next three months to think about her decision, and finally chose to accept her royal title. Now, 15 years later, King Peggy has made tremendous improvements to her Tantum community. This article will examine King Peggy’s transition to kingship and her contributions to her people, including advancements to education, clean water, and female empowerment. Her efforts have improved the lives of over 7,000 individuals in Tantum, Ghana, and her strength and self-confidence act as an inspiration to women all over the world.


King Peggy now splits her time between her secretary position in the United States and her royal duties in Tantum, Ghana. She refers to herself as a “commuter king”, as she travels to Tantum for about 24 days out of the year to address community needs and issues. Her transition to royal life was far from easy. She struggled to be taken seriously due to her distance from the community, and her womanhood. The people of Tantum had never before had a woman king: this made them reluctant to accept King Peggy as their authoritarian figure. King Peggy did not let these views affect her responsibilities and she worked hard to gain the respect of her people. She has proven to take her role very seriously, despite living half-way across the world. She calls Tantum every day to be informed and updated about what is going on in the community, and works to settle disputes remotely. Furthermore, her efforts to improve the quality of life and resources available to people in Tantum prove her love and dedication to her people.

In addition to King Peggy’s transition to Ghanaian royalty, she also had to learn how to balance her life between the U.S. and Tantum. In Ghana, King Peggy lives a life of luxury, where she is pampered, covered in gold, and resides in a palace. When she returns to the U.S., she assumes her ordinary way of life, working as a secretary, performing her own household chores, and driving an average car. She is living two entirely separate lives, and bridging two entirely different cultures. However, King Peggy believes it was her destiny to become king, and she loves every bit of her role, despite her initial challenges. While she had no idea that she could ever become king, it just felt right. She strives to stay humble and does not let her royal title affect her previous way of life. She admires the life she has built for herself in the U.S., but her kingship has allowed her to connect with her hometown and people on a deeper level, and create positive changes for them.


Some of the improvements that King Peggy has brought to her community include the construction of a water system, which gives her people access to clean water. She also introduced computers to classrooms, helped families in poverty to pay for their children’s school fees, and planned the development of a library. Furthermore, she has provided Tantum with its first ambulance and is working to develop a plumbing system with modern toilets. By improving access to healthcare, clean water, and education, King Peggy has greatly improved the quality of life for her people. Furthermore, new educational resources open the people of Tantum up to new opportunities and potentials outside of this small fishing village.


King Peggy is also very passionate about female empowerment and works to prove to the women in her community that they are just as capable as men: womanhood does not indicate weakness. She has replaced many male elders with women to give women a more active leadership role in the community. She preaches to women about standing up against violence and mistreatment from men. She also continues to title herself as king, rather than queen, because she believes that the role of a queen falls under the executive power of a king, and she does not want to have to ask anyone for permission. King Peggy exhibits the qualities of a strong leader, and she believes her ability to stand up against others makes her fit to take on an executive role of a king.


King Peggy took on a new, unexpected role with strength and bravery. She remained true to herself, her career, and her passions while still working hard to improve the lives of a community she deeply cared about. In drawing on both her U.S. and Ghanaian experience, King Peggy implemented a “go-getter” attitude that she had learned in the U.S. to help her village, and a humble attitude that she learned from African culture to support those below her in status. In taking on her role as king of Tantum, she developed a deeper connection to her Ghanaian roots, which ultimately grew her love and admiration for the community of Tantum. She overcame many obstacles to fulfill her responsibility to her people, and her challenges fueled her ability to develop positive changes to their health and wellbeing. King Peggy is an example of how unexpected news can change us for the better, even if the unknown is scary. She shows that we should jump on opportunities, rather than letting fear get in the way.


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