culture, religion, economy; Salaga and Kafaba
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Kwame, West African Traders in Ghana in the Nineteenth and Twentieth
Centuries Longman 1979 (note)
- 3 At
close of 19c Freeman wrote of Bonduku and Salaga that their inhabitants
were mostly immigrants from a foreign district and that their level of
civilization and their general character differed widely from those
which obtained in any of the contiguous towns. Salaga was a town
with a population of different races. Hosts were pagans. Strangers
were traders, often Muslims. Traders included landlords or innkeepers,
brokers, master and apprentice traders. Also goldsmiths, leather makers,
cloth weavers, dyers.
T. E., Mission From Cape Coast to Ashantee 1819 (extracts and notes)
- 172 Sallagha,
the grand market of the Inta empire, is 17 journies NE from Coomassie.
(1) Marmpon (Mampong?) - (2) five small towns to Aphwoguiassie (Effiduase?)
the largest market in the Ashantee kingdom. The 9th day the
rivers Kirradee and Oboosom are crossed each about 60 yds wide and
flowing so near together as to appear one in the rainy season, a high
mountain Aduorreckenase is just beyond them, the boundary of Ashantee
and Buoroom. The 10th day the R. Sennee is forded which afterwards
enlarges considerably and runs into the Volta. The Booroom country is
quite open and the Ashantees give this river the figurative name of
Birrinsoo, which means that its distance is so deceiving, that you will
cry before your reach it. The capital of Booroom is Guia, a
considerable town, noticed in the route to Odentee, a fetish sanctuary
of great repute and said to be splendidly furnished. The Ashantee
language is spoken commonly in Booroom. The 10th day the Adirrii
or Volta is crossed, more than a mile wide, but much interrupted by
rocks and described to be full of hippopotami (which they call sea
elephants) and alligators.
173 This river divides Boroom from Inta, Sallagha being one days long
march from it.
J. A. and J. R. Goody, Salaga: The Struggle for Power, Longmans 1967
STRUGGLE FOR SALAGA
157 HEINRICH KLOSE: JOURNEY TO SALAGA, OCTOBER 1894
The following is an extract from Klose's book Togo unter
deutscher Flagge: Reisebilder und Betrachtungen, Berlin 1899, page
285ff, translated for the Institute of African Studies, Legon, Ghana, by
Mrs Inge Killick. Klose was in Togoland from 1894 to 1896 as an
administrator. . .
170 Short description of the Gonja people
The language of the inhabitants of Salaga and of the Kingdom of Gonja is
a dialect of the extensive Guang language. Apart from the royal family
and a few notables, the Gonjas are mostly pagans, while the families of
the princes are Muslims at least in name. They practise circumcision and
the Imam has a very influential position in their courts. The Imam is
himself a member of a royal family. Although the adherents of Islam hold
strictly to the outer forms of their religion, they do not obey its
commands. Most of them love alcohol. . . All members of the royal
family can be recognized by the strange tattoos consisting of three fine
lines running from the temples down to the corners of the mouth. Apart
from those, they have a large variety of other markings, like
decorations. Although the members of the royal family, being Mandingos,
are actually strangers in the Gonja land, they have integrated
themselves completely, adopting the language as well as the customs of
The Gonja tribe itself is a conglomeration of many different peoples
which constitute a political entity and which have formed their own
language out of the various Guang languages. Because of the many slaves
who converge upon Salaga from many different parts of the continent, a
mixing of races has taken place. Thus the Gonjas have no distinct tribal
marks of their own. Everyone has a different mark, either on the chest,
on the cheeks or on his arms. Some Gonjas have a dark triangle tattooed
between their eyes and ears. The women have an especially large variety
of tattoos on both cheeks. On some women I noticed deep elaborate
markings on the neck, chest and right down to the stomach. Especially
favoured patterns are stars and bows and often (in conjunction with
these) three parallel lines. Unfortunately my time at Salaga was too
short to learn more about the customs of the Gonja people, since all the
other villages on our way were destroyed or abandoned. I did not see
much of their work apart from the cultivation of some fields with
various kinds of millet and some maize. I mentioned previously that the
Nchumuru people of this district do some farming, but mainly hunt and
fish. The main product of commercial value is shea-butter which is still
exported down to the Coast and which can be found in every market,
shaped like a sugar cone and wrapped in leaves. Shea-butter is very easy
to make, the fruit is roasted, pounded and then boiled in large pots.
The fat which swims on top is the liquid form of the product. In smaller
quantities, sesame seeds are also exported from Gonja.
171 Slavery, slave-raiding and the slave trade
It is only thanks to the slave trade
that Salaga became so famous. Its geographical position is even better
than that of Kete, for it lies still farther north towards the Niger
bend and is quite near the source of the big Volta river. Because of its
great distance from the coast, it is independent, and because of its
neutrality, it is less influenced by politics. Salaga was the main
centre in the Western Sudan for collecting the goods produced by the
The goods could easily be brought to the market by slaves, and for this
reason it became the centre of the slave trade. From here this human
merchandise, just as in times of the Portuguese (only now in secret),
was taken down to the Gold and Slave Coast on hidden paths, through the
districts occupied by the Europeans. In former times, it was estimated
by older travellers, there was a turnover of 15,000 slaves annually at
Salaga. It was mostly the Dagomba who kidnapped people from Grunshi and
other neighbouring districts and sold them as slaves. Because of their
good horsemanship, the slave raiders could suddenly attack a village,
set it on fire, kill anyone who tried to resist and drive away their
loot, mainly women and children, for sale in Salaga. Some Muslim
colonies, situated on the borders of the pagan areas, also took part in
the slave raids. Mossi caravans brought all their goods, woollen
materials and ivory, down to the market on the heads of slaves and thus
doubled their business. The transport of goods cost them almost nothing,
and they could sell their wares, together with the means of transport,
for a very high price. Depending on his age and build, a slave would
fetch 80 to 120 marks. On the other hand there is another kind of
slavery which originates in native law and which is nothing but a lawful
punishment for a criminal.
Slavery as a
Naturally, from our point of view, the slave trade is bad and has to be
abolished. However, the position of a slave is often better than one
might think. It is only the raiding for slaves which brings horror and
which will be the economic ruin of Africa. Murder, violence and arson
are the order of the day in this business. Large villages and whole
districts are ruined and depopulated because of the slave raids.
Although this human merchandise cannot be exported any more, courts
still need a large number of slaves. And almost all the chiefs and rich
people in our Togo district still hold large numbers of slaves who hoe
their fields and thus form the working class. It is not in the nature of
a negro to work hard of his own free will; he has almost got to be
forced to it. How could goods be transported from the inland if not
mainly on the heads of slaves? For this reason it is not looked upon as
a big crime in Africa to use the labour force in this way. Furthermore,
house slaves are not treated as badly as is generally believed. These
people become integrated into the tribe and family of their master and
even get into influential positions as, for example, the Grunshi slave
Okla, who belonged to the fetish priest of Krachi. They usually become
forcibly integrated through marriage. According to African law, the
slave inherits all his master's possessions if there are no relatives;
furthermore, he becomes free after his master's death. From this it is
clear that the whole existence and the well-being of the African economy
stands or falls with slavery.
172 Sudden abolition of slavery
The fetish extends his power into these affairs. As a rule, the fetish
priest gives a drink to the new slave which is actually quite
harmless but is supposed to kill him if he tries to escape. Although it
is the duty of the Government, of civil servants and missionaries to
destroy slavery - be it under the sign of the cross or with fire and
sword - it is neither advisable nor possible to do this too abruptly.
Thousands of people would suddenly be without food because most of them
are far too dependent to find food for themselves. The suddenly freed
masses would turn upside down age-old institutions and bloodshed
would increase. Only through gradual change can such a disaster be
avoided. It is quite impossible to punish slave-traders according to
European law; one has to consider the African circumstances. It is
especially difficult to influence the Muslims because in their religion
they are permitted to regard heathens as slaves.
Although the influences coming from
the Coast are good, they will inevitably cause the downfall of African
commerce and with this a temporary loss to local trade. It can be
assumed that a sudden change to different ways of life will not be
without great damage to the economic interests of the indigenous
inhabitants. Through the spread of Christianity, on the other hand,
slavery and the horrors of heathen beliefs will slowly but surely be
abolished. The Christian mission, under the protection of a strong
Government, has been called to act as apostle and bearer of culture and
will eventually bring an end to all evil.
Buss in Salaga 1878: A new route to the Upper Niger, in Geographische
Gesellschaft zu Bern III, 1880-1, translated from the German by K. J.
Salaga Papers acc. no. SAL/9/1
- . . .
On the next day Buss visited the markets of the town with his landlord.
First he went to the main market for foreign wares, which is half an
hour long and well filled with goods, but empty of customers. All the
merchants from the interior, especially the Moravas and Mosees were
completely absent. The horse and donkey market was quite empty. But when
the traveller came to the slave market, he saw that at least this branch
of trade had not suffered under the crisis. His account reminds one of
the well-known chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the inhuman cruelty
with which these poor creatures are treated is really horrible. Since in
Harmatan time drinking water is brought to Salaga from far away it is
understandable that the slaves who are set out without shelter in the
burning sun, get little of it. But food also is only given to them
very sparingly, and that of a quality, as Buss says, that European pigs
would despise. A slave trader told Buss that the food given to the
slaves was not really enough to support life and strength; but every
slave had a cut in the tongue and medicine was put in it so that it
healed quickly; then the slave ate little and still stayed of good
appearance. Our traveller's own researches confirmed the statements of
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 . .
9 By the late eighteenth century, Gonja came
firmly under Asante control and must therefore have paid a tribute in
slaves to Asante. These slaves were obtained through raids of . . .
14 The annual movement of merchants and their
dependants reached many thousands of people. This led to the
export of large quantities of kola from Asante through Kafaba and
Buipe. In exchange for kola, the Hausa and Mossi traders brought such
produce as textiles, livestock, leather goods, jewellery, dried onions
and natron from Sokoto and Borno. To this trade slaves were added.
(Der lists eight trade routes from Kano, Katsina and Ouagadougou, all
ending at Kafaba.)
15 . . . 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.
16 As late as the eighteenth century, Salaga was
not known to the outside world. Kafaba was the best known trading
place in the middle Volta.
18 Visitors to Salaga gave horrifying accounts of
the treatment of slaves. The slaves were sold in the open in the
slave section of the market. They were usually chained together in
groups of ten to fifteen by the neck, and exposed the whole day from
morning till evening in the burning sun. They were left hungry and
thirsty, naked, ailing, often sick and weak and were kept standing in
that condition till one after another had been sold.
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.
Admin 1/88 enclosure to no. 181, 28 June 1889 (1887) (Quoted in Bevin's
select documents 1874-1914) The Salaga Papers acc. no. SAL/39/1
Salaga Slave Trade in 1887
13 It was however during my residence at Salagha
that I learnt the magnitude of the slave traffic there, not only from
personal observation, but from information obtained in open palaver and
privately from the King and his principal chiefs, notably the princes of
Leppo, Sumprah and Sangla.
14 The large slave caravans consisting of from
500 to 2,000 slaves begin to arrive in the latter part of December and
continue until the end of March. They barter their slaves for cowries
and European goods and for Kola nuts at Kuntampoh, and then return to
their various countries.
15 From the evidence given by the King and
Chiefs which I verified by numerous independent inquiries, it appears
that about 20,000 slaves are disposed of in one way or another annually
. . .
16 I only arrived in Salagah on the 16 May 1887
when all the large caravans had left, but a belated Moshi caravan and
one from Sansane Mungo were still expected. So great however, was the
fear that the object of my presence in Salagah was to stop the slave
trade that it was with the greatest difficulty I was enabled to get a
sight of the slaves, many of whom had been sold before I heard of the
In the case of the Moshi caravan, the Maidugu or commander had
heard of the news of my arrival, and finding he was too late for the
Kola market at Kuntampoh, he had halted at every village where there was
a chance of disposing of a few slaves, even at a sacrifice, and it was
only upon the solemn assurances of non-interference by prince Leppo and
Prince Yusuf of Dagomba, that he brought the remainder of his slaves
into the slave market of the town. Dr. Easmon and I visited them and saw
exposed for sale, men with their right wrists resting on their left
shoulders and fastened securely at their throats by cords (and who had
been kept at that position for months so that the power of straightening
the arm was nearly lost), little children from two years old upwards,
and women young and old naked except for a bunch of leaves. We learnt
from some of the slaves that two men had been cut to pieces in front of
the whole caravan for attempting to escape. We also saw a very old woman
quite seventy years of age offered for sale and heard she was bought for
18 . . . The average price at Salagah for slaves are for a full-grown
man 120 heads of cowries, a boy of fifteen 100 heads, child, boy or girl
70 heads, girl (grown up) 120 heads; each head being 1,000 cowries,
value at Salagah one shilling, and at the coast six pence.
19 . . . The caravan from Sansane Mungo consisted principally of Grushi
slaves captured by Gajare, the self-styled king of Jaberime, who was
then waging a slave war against the inoffensive and helpless Grushi
nation to supply the slave markets of Salagah, Kuntampoh and others.
20 . . . Lord Knutsford will no doubt be aware that the country of Inta
or Gwandijowa, in which Salagah is situated, was formerly a tributary
state of Ashanti, which drew a very large revenue from it. It owes its
Independence entirely to the destruction of the Ashanti power by Lord
Wolseley. The people are industrious, agricultural and unwarlike to
timidity. They derive their wealth from the sale of foodstuffs to the
numerous caravans coming into Salagah, which is a free town. Their farms
which extend for miles are entirely cultivated by slave labour every
petty farmer being a slave holder, in fact, the slaves far outnumber the
21. . . With regard to the Akims (British Subjects) they supply
Kuntampoh market with the Kola nuts, taking in exchange slaves, ivory
and cattle, but principally slaves. These are partly disposed of to the
Ashantis. Some being sent as far as Gaman, or if docile are kept to work
the Akim farms.
Governor, Firminger's Mission, Confidential Despatch to S. of S. 17 Feb.
- . . .
In connection with my Despatch no. 49 of even date, reporting upon
Mr. Firminger's allegation with regard to the existence of slavery in
the Protectorate, that I have been informed by Native Officer Ali that
Mr. Firminger purchased a Foulah slave girl named Fatima from a Moshi
slave dealer name Mama Danwana Wurri for £6: 10, when he was in Salagha
in 1887, and it appears that she lived with him as his mistress until
his departure from the Coast. He had told Ali that he had wanted a
Foulah girl and the latter pointed out Fatima to him in a slave market .
. . If Mr. Firminger were really sincere in his abhorrence of slavery,
he would hardly, in my opinion, have set such an example to the Haussas
under his command when in charge of a most important and delicate
mission from this government to the interior . . .
- Francois, C von, Mitteilungen aus den
deutscher Schutzgebieten, Berlin, 1888. Translated from the German by M.J.
The Salaga Papers acc. no. SAL/18/1
The prices for slaves, horses and asses vary greatly. A grown up male
slave during my visit cost about 140 mk, a female slave nearly the same,
a ten-year-old girl about 70 mark, a horse 200 - 300 mk, an ass 40
- 100 mk, a mule 200 - 300 mk.
English quarter, half and whole shillings are current if the impression
is clearly recognisable and the Queen's head is on it. Pieces with the
heads of earlier rulers are not accepted.
1,000 cowries have the value of one
mark in Salaga, at the coast the value of about 40 Pf.
For slaves, Salaga is the largest market in the western Sudan. The
turnover here every year must be some 15,000.
Most of the slaves come from the
north-west, but caravans bring them also from all other directions. In
the short time of my presence I met some 20 caravans with from 50 to 400
slaves each. In the main trading time, which comes in January and
February, even more are said to come.
Timothy F. Akan Weights and the Gold Trade. London: Longman, 1980
By 1701 . . . Osei Tutu and his allies had
succeeded in crushing not only the pre-Asante states in the vicinity of
Kumasi but also the Denkyira kingdom. One of the motives underlying
these campaigns was clearly to gain control of gold-producing lands and
the two major trade routes running through the region, one going
north-west to Tekyiman and Begho, and the other north-east to Kafaba
(the predecessor of Salaga), a large Gonja market to which Hausa traders
were being attracted by the fifteenth century. Osei Tutu was evidently
anxious to enter the gold trade, and it is said that even before the
Denkyira war he had introduced the gold-dust currency into Asante and
appointed the first treasurer or Sannaahene of Kumasi, Amoa Pagya.
and KUHNE, Four Years in Ashanti (quoted by Ehrman, Globus xxx from 2nd
German edn p. 290) Translated from the German by M. Johnson The Salaga
Papers acc. no SAW32/1
trade before 1874
Ashanti has the monopoly of the great
market of Salaga (Saraha) at least so far that no other people of the
coast dares to go there. The whole year caravans go there with European
wares: materials and cloths, metal and glass manufactures, salt and
especially kola nut (also goro, Sterculia acuminata) which grow so
plentifully in the Ashanti forests and are bought by the Mohamedans in
the north almost as a sacred fruit. They are chewed, and the bitter
taste is soon followed by a sweet one, which makes the drinking even of
bad water more pleasant. These are exchanged for local produce;
vegetable butter (with which every African rubs himself after the bath),
local cloth, cotton thread, sandals and other leatherwork, African
glass, baskets, hats, hoes and axes from local iron, tobacco pounded
into balls and either balled or pressed into strips, etc., many small
and large cattle and especially slaves. These are brought by caravans
from "Mosi" north of the Konigs mountains* and Mariwa (Hausa),
which take quite two months on the journey before they reach Salaga.
Gold dust is accepted in the market, but cowries are the current coin.
These last have a high value there; for 15,000 which are worth 10 -11
marks on the coast, one can buy a fine ox; a sheep costs 1,000 to 2,000
cowries; a slave 36,000 to 70,000. A load of kola nuts is sold there for
about 12,000 cowries, so an Ashanti with three or four such loads, which
he can easily collect, at home, will enable him to buy a slave in Salaga.
*Literally King's mountains: presumably "Mountains of Kong"
- Wilks, Ivor. Forests of gold : essays on the Akan and the Kingdom
of Asante Athens : Ohio University Press, 1993.
Wangara, Akan, and Portuguese in
the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century.
31 There is much to suggest that the wars of
Ngbanya, or Gonja, expansion in the second half of the sixteenth
century, under Naba'a and his successors, were particularly brutal ones;
they involved the extensive displacement of autochthonous, the nyemasi,
from the land and their enslavement. (End note 134. In the early
nineteenth century a large region of western and central Gonja, scene of
the sixteenth century campaigns, was known as the "Desert," Sahra;
see J. Dupuis, Journal of a Residence in Ashantee, (London,
1824), Part II, xxxvi, cxxxi. The region remains virtually uninhabited
to this day.)
Armitage, Capt C.H.,
The tribal markings and marks of adornment of the natives of the Northern
territories of the Gold Coast London 1924
A., The founding of the Gonja Empire (duplicated)
Allan W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, London,
K.Y., Trade and Trading patterns of the Akan in the 17th and 18th Centuries (in
Claude Meillassoux (ed).The Development of Trade and Markets in West Africa, Int
Daaku, K Y, Oral Traditions of Gonja
report 1876 re Salaga. in Further Correspondence regarding the Affairs of the
Gold Coast, British Parliamentary Papers Cmd 3386 Colonial Office 1882
Overkingdom of Gonja (in Forde & Kaberry (eds), West African Kingdoms in the
19c, Longman, 1967)
Gill, J A, Short
History of the Dagomba tribe
J (ed), with J A Braimah, Salaga : the struggle for power Longmans 1967
A.., Festivals of Ghana, Accra, 1970
H., Jakpa and the Foundation of Gonja, Transactions of the Historical Society of
E F, The mythical and traditional history of Dagomba in Cardinall, AW Tales Told
Capt. H, C., D.C Gonja District, Essays by District Commissioners on Tribal
History: Salaga District, 1906 Archives of Ghana
Levtzion, N, Haight, Bruce M, Chronicles from Gonja: a Tradition of West African
Muslim Historiography. Cambridge: the Cambridge University Press, 1986 (Fontes
Historiae Africanae: Series Arabica IX), 258 pp.
of North America