University of Otago professor Tony Binns has had an eventful
start to the year.
First he was made chief of an African town.
And now he has been invited to meet the Queen.
Prof Binns, of the geography department, was awarded an
honorary chieftainship of a small town in the far northeast
of Sierra Leone on January 27.
Prof Binns' links to the town - Kayima - go back to 1974,
when he lived there for almost a year, undertaking field
research for his PhD on links between diamond mining and the
Since that ''life-changing'' experience, Prof Binns,
originally from Britain, had stayed in touch with the town
and Sierra Leone, visiting about 15 times, buying supplies
for the local school and paying for the education of the
nephew of a local chief from the age of 4.
The chief's nephew, Bunduka Mondeh, who is now aged 44 and
runs a garage, contacted the chiefs of the wider area -
called Sandor - before the 40th anniversary of Prof Binns'
first visit, and they agreed he should be awarded honorary
Less than a month after being made chief, Prof Binns, in his
role as president of the Commonwealth Geographical Bureau,
was invited to a reception with the Queen, at Marlborough
House, in London, to celebrate Commonwealth Day on March 10.
He accepted the invitation, calling a meeting with the Queen
a ''once-in-a-lifetime'' opportunity.
His students were ''quite impressed'' when they heard about
him being made chief and his invitation to meet the Queen.
''They don't believe the chief thing. How can someone like me
become a chief?''
Receiving the chieftainship, in a ceremony which involved
much of the town's population of about 3000, was a ''humbling
''I felt I was coming home to a place that I loved and the
fact these very poor people had out the red carpet for me. It
was really quite humbling,'' he said.
The welcome to the town and ceremony involved traditional
dancing and music.
Prof Binns was given two titles, Chief Manjawah of Sandor,
meaning master farmer, and Sahr Kayima, meaning first son of
At one point, Prof Binns was asked to poke his head out
through the sunroof of a 4WD vehicle and wave to the town's
residents, who had assembled to welcome him.
''It was really quite overwhelming and humbling that so many
people turned out,'' he said.
As part of being chief, Prof Binns will stay connected to the
To help strengthen ties, a PhD student of his was visiting
the town, following up on the research he did 40 years ago.