HISTORY, CULTURE, RELIGION, ECONOMY
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Kwame, Traditional Rule in Ghana, Past and Present, SEDCO, ISBN 9964 72 033
5 no date.
- 43 Succession
to Dagbon 'skins.' 'Skins' are material symbols of traditional
political office in the northern and upper regions, just as stools are
symbols of traditional political office in central and southern Ghana. .
. The state of Dagbon . . . was basically a union of autonomous states,
with the head of one of them elevated above the others as the 'first
among equals.' . . . the Na of Yendi was Na of all Nas.
44 . . . the officials of
the Na's court differed from those of ohene's court in being
T. E., Mission from Cape Coast to Ashantee 1819 (notes)
- 177 7
days from Sallagah NE according to the Moors through the Inta town of
Zongoo is Yahndi (Yendi) the capital of Dagwumba.
178 Yahndi is described to
be beyond comparison larger than Coomassie, the houses much better built
and ornamented. Ashantees lost themselves in the streets. The King Inana
Taquanee, has been converted by the Moors, who have settled there in
great numbers. The markets at Yahndi are described as animated
scenes of commerce, constantly crowded with merchants from almost all
countries of the interior. Horses and cattle abound. Yahndi
is named after the numeral one, from its pre-eminence.
179 One day from Sallagha,
towards Yahndi, and scarcely one journey westward from the latter is the
river Laka, described to be as large and as rapid as the Volta which it
joins below Odentee.
188 The bush
or country people of Dagwumba have three light cuts on each cheek bone
and three below, with one horizontal under the eye; those of
Yahndi three deep continued cuts These cuts are made during
infancy, to insinuate fetish liquids to invigorate and preserve the
Allan W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, London,
- 2. One
remarkable feature about the Districts is that nowhere is a town to be
found, not even a resemblance to a village. It is asserted that in the
past villages did exist, but there are today no signs of them, and even
in the thicker portions of the bush - in fact, everywhere - one comes
across ancient middens of which the origin is unknown and which are
situated at a distance one from the other as are the dwelling-places of
the people today. The distance from compound to compound varies from 50
yards to the recognised length of a good bow -shot, say 200 yards. But
the people are in no case the aboriginal inhabitants. These are unknown,
and, except for innumerable stone implements, have left no trace. The
middens in the bush are of more recent origin, as prove the trees which
cover them, the pottery lying exposed and in many cases the tailings
from ancient iron-smelting. Even in the clusters of trees which today
generally are the sacrificial places - clusters so much thicker than one
usually finds in the bush, as might lead one at first glance to believe
they were remains of the original forest - one can still find middens,
proving beyond doubt that the present forest grew over the land after it
had been cultivated by man.
Of the present inhabitants the history is vague,
and it is necessary . . . to know a little of the general history of the
Northern Territories to understand why and whence these several and
different tribes came to establish themselves in so small an area. For
this general history native tradition would seem fairly reliable, and in
some essential features it is corroborated by the written "Tarikh-es-Soudan,"
the work of an inhabitant of Timbuktu, one Abderrahman-Es-Sa'di, who
lived in the seventeenth century, and by the earlier manuscript
Tarikh-el-Fettach of Mahmud Kati. Both manuscripts have been recently
translated into French by O. Houdas, and serve to record that at least
two hundred and fifty years ago the oral traditions of these people were
the same as they are today. Native tradition is remembered and
perpetuated not at haphazard by stories told round the evening fires,
but by special families attached to the courts of the greater chiefs,
the sole duty of such families being to recite in chanting and to bring
up to date the epic of their race.
I learned some of the following story from the
traditionist attached to the court of the Na (king) of Yendi, and in M.
Tauxier's work is recorded a tradition, most corroborative to the one I
heard, which was related at the court of the Na of Wagadugu. For the
practical purpose of this study the following is the story.
Very early in the Christian era there lived in a
cave among the hills round Mali, which tradition places far to the east,
(let the reader beware! the reference is clearly
not to the ancient Mali empire - MH) a man most loathsome to behold. He is described
in details most revolting. He dwelt alone, but had acquired the
reputation of an intrepid hunter and one day, when the people were hard
pressed by their enemies and disaster seemed in sight, they sent for
this hunter to aid them in their need. He came, and his frightful
appearance alone so terrified the foe that victory came to the people of
Mali. The huntsman returned to his cave and refused all presents and
thanks for his timely assistance.
Once again his services were called for in
similar circumstances, and again he triumphed. This time the Mali people
insisted on rewarding him, and he received as wife their chief's
daughter. By this marriage a son was born a one-eyed giant of an aspect
even more revolting than his father. Inheriting his father's skill in
warfare and the chase, the young man soon made himself a leader over his
fellows and shortly after reaching manhood he led a band of them
westward to found a new country, as their own had been devastated by
This band eventually came to a town not far from
the White Volta. Here the young man sat down at the watering-place,
whither towards evening came the young women of the place. From them he
learned that the city was the abode of the great tindana of the
country - (tindana means literally "owner of the land")
- and he accompanied the girls back, accepting the hospitality of one
whose beauty particularly attracted him. She was the only daughter of
Arrived at her home, he was hospitably received
by the father and sojourned awhile in the house as an honoured guest
until the great day of the annual sacrifice. For this event people from
all the countryside foregathered, as it was, and still is, an event of
national importance. The tindana, as he does today, was to
perform the sacrifice, and retired early to his bed. That night the
young man murdered his host, and when morning came presented himself to
the people dressed in the sacred robes of his victim. (Rumour says these
are still preserved at Yendi and consist of a black cap, black gown, and
a string of yellow beads.) The populace was awed at the loathsome
spectacle of the one-eyed giant and afraid to touch the sacred emblems
of the office he had usurped. At the same time the youth's followers
loudly acclaimed their chief and threatened to massacre any dissentients
they heard murmuring against him. His triumph was complete. He married
the daughter of the unfortunate tindana, and so founded the royal
family of the Dagomba; with the aid of his own followers and the
over-awed townsfolk he raided and conquered the neighbouring country,
and thus there began an empire which is often called the greatest ever
founded in pagan Africa -the tri-dominion of Dagomba, Moshi, and
Mamprussi. . .
9 At some time, probably
towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the Ashanti power was at
its zenith, and in Dr. Claridge's "History of the Gold Coast and
Ashanti" the king of Ashanti, Osei Opoku, is named as the conqueror
of Dagomba. At Yendi the record of the defeat is passed over, but the
fact remains that there lives today at Yendi an Ashanti, a visitor to
his uncle there, who, before the advent of the Germans, acted as a kind
of consul and tax-gatherer. The tax, I was told, amounted to the annual
payment of 2,000 slaves. In 1821 the British Consul at Kumasi, Mr. J.
Dupuis, records in his "Journal of a Residence in Ashantee"
that the Dagomba capital Yendi, and other large towns of the country,
pay as an annual tribute five hundred slaves, two hundred cows, four
hundred sheep and cloths, and that smaller towns are taxed in
The Grunshi, Busansi, Konkomba, Tchokossi, and
other independent tribes were raided regularly to procure the necessary
number of slaves, and when hard put to it the Na of Dagomba asked his
relatives of Mossi and Mamprussi to help him in his payment.
Benedict G., The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana, Woeli Publishing Services,
- 8 In
1751-52 Safo Kantanka of Mampong, taking advantage of succession
disputes to the Kpembe skin, invaded that Division, captured the
Kpembewura Nakpo and two of his close relatives, his brother's son and
his paternal cousin, and took them as prisoners to Kumasi. He then
extended his campaign to central Gonja, capturing towns like Kafaba . .
The Kitab Gbunja noted that in about
February 1745, "the cursed unbeliever, Opoku, entered the town of
Yendi and plundered it."
10 The Ya Na, Gariba, was
taken prisoner. When he was being carried to Kumasi, his nephew,
Ziblim, the Chief of Nasah, interceded and redeemed him.
11 Each succeeding Ya Na
raided the Konkomba, Basari and Moba in order to obtain captives as
slaves to pay the debt. . . . Armed men would descend upon a
village at dawn or even during the day. If the raid was
successful, they carried away men, women and children and their property
like cattle, sheep and goats.
15 Some of the slaves
given to Asante as tribute or in payment of the debt (Dagbon) were sold
into slavery abroad. . . . it was in the mid-eighteenth century that the
records of European companies on the coast began noting the
presence of donkors or people of Northern origin among the slaves
brought down to the forts and castles for sale. Thereafter, slaves sent
to the coast from Asante invariably included men, women and children
from Northern Ghana.
29 On a conservative
estimate, it can be said that over half a million people or more from
Northern Ghana were sold into slavery in the period 1732 to 1897 while
thousands of others died or were killed in the slave raids.
32 The main effects of the
slave trade on Northern Ghana were depopulation, devastation, insecurity
and loss of life and property. Agriculture and the local arts were
disrupted while people lived in constant fear for their lives or of the
raiders. The long term effect of the slave trade on Northern Ghana,
however, was that it retarded development in the area. The roots
of African-Americans and West Indians of Ghanaian origins do not end at
the forts and castles on the coast, nor in the coastal states and in
Asante. They can be traced further to Northern Ghana.
- Fynn J
K, Asante and Its Neighbours 1700-1807 Longman 1971 (notes)
- 116 King
of Dagomba was Gariba. His nephew was Na Saa Ziblim of Kpatina. Na
Saa was defeated. He appealed to Asante for help. Kwame
Pete, Adontenhene of Kumasi, invaded Dagomba. Asante won in spite
of inferior numbers. As a result of this defeat Dagomba and its
dependencies became tribute paying vassals of Asante.
In early 19th Cent. Bowditch noted that the
capital and large towns of Inta and Dagomba supplied Asante with 500
slaves, 200 cows, 400 sheep, 400 cotton cloths and 200 silk cloths
during this period of vassalage. Adontehene of Kumasi was given
overall charge of the administration of Dagomba. Effective government
was left in the hands of traditional rulers.
Kambonse is the Dagomba word for Asante.
Also refers to Dagomba musketeers who were equipped and trained by
the Asante and who have Asante day names. Dagomba Kambonse
probably founded in or about 1770.
116 After 1770 Asante and
Fante traders met freely for trade in markets on N frontier of Fante.
Far greater number of slaves were exported in 1774 than in any one
year. 1776: peace in the Gold Coast and slaves are very plentiful.
Slaves brought down by Asante were known as
Duncoes, Donce, Dynkos. Considered industrious and faithful.
Asante donko (pl. Nnonko or nnokofo) applied strictly to a man or
woman, other than an Ashanti, who has been purchased with the express
purpose of making him or her a slave. Main physical attribute of
an Odonko in the Asante mind: bearing tribal marks. Bush or
country people of the Dagomba have three light cuts on each cheekbone
and three below with one horizontal under the eye. Many of the
slaves sold by Asante to the Europeans were from Dagomba.
Bowditch: "Most of the slaves in Kumasi were
sent as part of the annual tribute of Inta, Dagwumba and their
neighbours, to Asante, very many were kidnapped and for the few who were
bought, I was assured by several respectable Ashantee 2000 cowries or
one basket of kola nuts was the greatest price given - so full were the
markets of the interior.
Asante trade in gold, ivory kola nuts, slaves was
very well organized. Private individuals were not encouraged to
indulge in large scale trading activities because for the risks
involved. The Asante trade, in general, was a state enterprise
under the management of the Gyasewahene, who was overseer of the King's
trade and was at liberty to send the trade where he pleased. Asokwahene
(or Batahene) was responsible for trading on behalf of the Asantehene.
At the request of the king or Gyasewahene, he would be sent to the
coast to purchase salt, spirits, textiles, guns, powder, pewter, lead,
etc. Asokwahene was assisted by several fekuo (administrative
departments) generally subjects of the Gyasewahene, including
akyeremodefo (drummers) asokuafo (hornblowers) asoafo (hammock carriers)
agwarefo (bathroom attendants)
Asante officials - akwansrafo - road wardens -
were established at many points on all main highways. Ejura,
Atebubu (control of traffic on NE road to Salaga). They detained
all traders until enquiries had been made about them, when they were
allowed to pass on payment of 3 to 4 shillings worth of gold dust. Their
main concern was to prevent guns and powder from being sold beyond
metropolitan Asante. The purpose of this embargo was to ensure continued
Asante superiority in muskets over the bow and arrow wielding peoples of
F, A Vanished Dynasty: Ashanti Frank Cass 1921
- 34-5 Not many
years later the King of Yendi jealous of the power of Ashanti boasted
that he could overwhelm that country and moved an army south . . .
The Asante king hearing of this commissioned the Adentihene,
Kwamin Pete, to meet and conquer these northerners. The Ashantis
crossed the Volta River and owing to their superior armament gained an
easy victory over the enemy. Where the forces met is not known. An
annual tribute of 1000 slaves,1000 cattle, 1000 sheep and 10,000 fowls
was imposed on Yendi, one tenth of which was given to Kwamin Pete as a
reward for his services.
Christine Growing up in Dagbon Ghana Pub Corp 1973
- King of Dagbon converted to
Islam about 1700 (early 18c)
4 Asante under Opoku Ware
invaded 1744-5. Treaty. Dagomba given access to Asante markets in
return for an annual tribute in goods and slaves.
15 Slaves were mainly war captives seized
from militarily weaker acephalous societies -Bassari, Konkomba, Grunshi.
Tribute payments stopped in 1874.
Priests of autochtones (commoners) officiate at
Kings, chiefs and princes are descendants of the
mounted invaders who came from the NE over 400 years ago. These
marauding warriors were a scourge to the surrounding stateless
communities, the inhabitants of which they seized as slaves.
Kingdom of Dagomba lies in a fairly well wooded
plain of the savannah orchard type or Ghana savannah woodland, watered
by the white Volta and its tributaries in the W and Oti and its
tributaries in the East. Trees of economic importance are Shea
Butter, Dawadawa, Baobab, Kapok, Mango. Dry season October-March.
Crops Yams, maize, guinea corn, millet, rice, groundnuts, bambara
Markets every 6 days. Women brew pito, make
shea butter, spin, extract groundnut oil, grow vegetables, work in the
domestic sphere, help in harvesting.
Martin, The Lions of Dagbon: Political Change in Northern Ghana, Cambridge
University Press, 1975
the time of colonial partition the Dagomba kingdom spread over some
8,000 square miles of the savannah plains. The kingdom had then been in
existence for about four hundred years, ruled over by the paramount
chief, the Ya-Na, from his capital at Yendi . . . On the eastern edge of
the kingdom lay the Konkomba, a stateless people, treated as subjects of
3 The Dagomba kingdom was
one of a cluster of states created by groups of migrant cavalrymen
moving south and imposing themselves as a ruling class on established
stateless peoples. Of the latter, little is known: they spoke a language
belonging to the Gur group and had earth priests (tindamba). The
indigenous people figure in Dagomba myth as the `Black Dagomba'.
Although the name `Dagomba' itself may have been that of the indigenous
people, assumed by the invaders, the great body of mythology is clearly
that of the migrants and in this sense `Dagomba' history is that of the
kings since the fifteenth century . . .
The mythology . . . refers to a common
ancestor, Tohajie, `the Red Hunter', whose grandson Na Gbewa, settled at
Pusiga, near Bawku, in northeastern Ghana. The migrants seem to have
been pagans of Hausa origin, possibly from Zamfara, one of the old Hausa
`Banza Bokwoi' states located in the area of Nigeria to the north of
Borgu. According to Fage, they moved westwards and for a time supported
themselves by raiding the towns of the Niger valley . . . The raiders
were pushed south in the fifteenth century by the Songhai kings Sonni
Ali and Askia Muhammed.
4 The conquest of western
Dagomba was undertaken by the Dagomba cavalry, who killed or removed the
indigenous tindamba and replaced them by members of the royal
dynasty and captains of the army.
The conquest of eastern Dagomba took place later
than that of the west . . . The final settlement of this area may have
occurred in the seventeenth century when the capital was moved towards
present-day Yendi. The Dagomba pushed back the Konkomba and established
divisional chiefs among them. The main towns . . . had the character of
outposts, strategically located on the east bank of the River Oti.
Despite this assertion of suzerainty, the Dagomba kingdom seems never to
have exercised close control over the Konkomba: administration took the
form of slave raiding and punitive expeditions. The Konkomba were by no
means assimilated. Relations between them and the Dagomba were distant
and hostile: there was little, if any, mixing by marriage.
In the early seventeenth century Gonja was
invaded by a conqueror of `Mande' origin, Sumaila Jakpa.
5 . . . the `Ashanti
hinterland' was the meeting point of two important caravan routes. One
went north-west . . . to Djenne on the Niger; the other went north-east
. . . to Kano. These routes were linked at their northern ends to
the trans-Saharan caravans and along them passed kola nuts, gold, salt,
and other goods, not to mention the creed of Islam. The rulers of Gonja
and Dagomba were naturally anxious to profit from control of this trade
and it is probable that competition for control was an important factor
in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
For Dagomba, an important consequence was the
movement of the capital eastwards to Yendi (originally a Konkomba town
Zangina is . . . remembered as the king who
brought Islam into Dagomba (having, according to some accounts,
travelled as a trader to Timbuktu and Hausaland as a young man).
Islamisation was no doubt assisted by the location of Yendi on the trade
route . . . to Kano. . . . Islam was by no means universally adopted,
even at court: the generality of Dagombas remained pagan and the Ya-Na
himself never developed into a theocrat. Indeed, his regalia and the
ritual surrounding his office kept a substantial pagan element. Another
contribution of Islam to Dagomba culture is said to have been the
wearing of clothes. The `drum history' records this innovation: `At that
time everyone wore skins as clothing. When Zangina became chief, he went
to the Mosque at Sabali and prayed that God might grant the Dagomba
clothing. It was thereafter that God enabled the Dagombas to know the
art of weaving clothing.'
Very soon after the Gonjas had been expelled from
Dagomba, the kingdom became subject to raids from Ashanti. These raids
may have been spread over a period of as much as fifty years . . . They
culminated in an episode which reveals the same kind of internal
disunity as had been evident in the Gonja wars. The chief of Kpatina,
Ziblim (. . . grandson of Zangina on his mother's side) is alleged to
have invited the Ashanti to attack Na Gariba. Gariba, deserted by all
the major western Dagomba chiefs, was captured by an Ashanti army and
was to have been taken to Kumasi. However, he was released en route, at
Yeji, following an appeal by some of the Dagomba princes. In return, the
Ya-Nas were required to send a fixed number of slaves, cattle, sheep,
and some cloth to Kumasi each year. In addition, an Ashanti
representative was stationed at Yendi. The payments continued
irregularly until 1874, when they ceased with the decline of Ashanti
There was thus a period of perhaps 130 years
during which Ashanti was a strong influence in Dagomba. Historians
disagree about the strength and character of this influence. Wilks and
Fage have said that it amounted to the creation of a protectorate, the
payments being a form of tribute; Tamakloe described Dagomba as a
`vassal state'. Not surprisingly, the Dagomba `drum history' minimises
Ashanti influence, declaring that the incident of the capture and
release of Gariba `was the only occasion that the Dagombas came under
the Ashantis', though it admits that payments to Kumasi continued for
Duncan-Johnstone and, more recently, Iliasu have
argued that the Ashanti influence was more limited and symbolic and that
the relationship between the states was mutually beneficial. Duncan-Johnstone
reported that `the Ashanti always treated Dagbon with respect as a
powerful kingdom although tributary to their King'. Iliasu sees the
relationship as one of `politico-economic symbiosis rather than
conquest'. In his view, the Asantehene did not interfere with the
internal affairs of Dagomba and the payments made were not `tribute' but
rather instalments of the ransom paid for the return of Gariba. Iliasu
further remarks that the Ashanti presence was `highly profitable to both
sides'. Yendi was on the northeastern caravan route which became more
important in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries . .
6. For the internal
politics of Dagomba, one consequence of Ashanti influence was the
creation of a wing of Ashanti-trained musketeers within the state army.
It is unclear whether these musketeers (kambonse in Dagbane) were
originally trained in Kumasi or were trained in Yendi by Ashanti
`technical assistance'. In either case, the result was the formation of
five chieftaincies (the kambon naanema), within which the titles
of offices and organisations show marked Ashanti influence - the chiefs,
for example, sitting upon stools rather than the skins used by Dagomba
Capt C.H., The tribal markings and marks of adornment of the natives of the
Northern territories of the Gold Coast London 1924
A. W., (District Commissioner), The History and Organization of the "Kambonse"
in Dagomba, June 1948
P, Islamization in Dagbon PhD Cambridge 1973
D. C., An Introduction to the Traditional and Historical Architecture of Ghana
(In Maggie Dodds (ed) History of Ghana, American Womens Association, Accra 1974)
A. A., 1971, Asante's relations with Dagomba 1740-1874 Gh Soc Sc Journal 1(2)
A., Essays by Assistant District Commissioners on Tribal History: Dagomba, 1908
Gill, J A,
Short History of the Dagomba tribe
Rupert La Trobe, Report .. of his Mission to Coomassie, Salagha, Yendi, etc.
October 1881 to February 1882, dated 10 May 1882, PRO, Parliamentary papers
(C-3386, 1-082, XLVI)
St. John, More Legends of Northern Ghana Longmans 1960 (also Legends of
Northern Ghana) Dagomba -The Fire Festival, Moli Dagbani Empire, Kakara - Pin
A.., Festivals of Ghana, Accra, 1970
Christine, (ed) Female and Male in West Africa, G. Allen and Unwin, London, 1983
Labelle, Architecture in Northern Ghana a study of forms and function Berkely
Calif 1969 (includes a Konkomba hamlet - Yankezia, a Dagomba village -
Kasuliyfli, and a Gonja village - Larabanga)
Rattray R S,
Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland 1932 (vol 2 p 564 for Dagomba tribute to
David, A Sorcery Hunt in Dagomba, Jour Int Afr Inst 1334
F., The mythical and traditional, history of Dagomba in Cardinall, A. W., Tales
Told in Togoland
A., Brief History of the Dagomba 1931 (pp32-33 for Dagomba tribute to
The Northern Factor in Ashanti History Legon 1967 (p 14 for Dagomba tribute
A note on the early spread of Islam in Dagomba