Prof. Jacob Plange-Rhule


Efua Baboa Opoku

A year ago, on Good Friday 2020, we lost a beloved family member to COVID-19. The initial news reports lamented the loss to the emergent pandemic, of “a top Ghanaian medical doctor”. And clearly he was. But seldom mentioned is the fact that, in his name, he bore the remarkable history of 300 years of Dutch-Ghanaian relations. Indeed, Professor Jacob Plange-Rhule appears to be part of a lineage that can be traced to two of the most-respected tapoeyer (Euro-African) families: the Rhules and the Planges. His namesake, Jacob Rhule (1751-1828), was the bi-racial son of a Dutch West India Company official, Anthony Rhule, and a local dame by name of Jaba Botri. Anthony’s fortune enabled his son, Jacob, to be the main financier of the local Dutch administration in the 1790s, and his descendants marked their times. Another Dutch West India Company official, Pieter Woortman, arrived in the Gold Coast in 1721 as a soldier with the company. While stationed in Apam, he met Afodua, a member of a prominent family in her hometown of Jumba. The pair had at least six children. All of the children were named Plange (Pieter’s mother’s maiden name) in a nod to the matrilineal traditions of the Akan people of the Gold Coast. According to the Dutch historian, Michel Doortmont, Pieter Woortman’s African descendants, the Planges, “did remarkably well, both economically and socially”, as one can gather from the biography of the businessman William Plange (1882 – 1928). As another historian, Stanley Alpern, remarks, “the Plange family really came to prominence late in the century with achievements in law, commerce and Christian ministry.” A Christian union of the two families in the 19th century gave rise to the patriarchal surname “Plange-Rhule” in Ghana’s coastal regions. Contrary to popular expectations, most of the well-known Ghanaian families with Dutch surnames (Nieser, Bartels, Van der Puije, Vroom, Huydecoper and others) stem from voluntary alliances (marriages) between Dutch officials and daughters of local elite families. These arrangements were mutually beneficial and intended to consolidate family wealth and excellence. Generations later, dear Uncle Paa Kwamena chose to shine and ascended in the field of medicine. We are thankful for his contributions, especially to African medicine, and medical research in favour of our continent. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.