The Gonja (also Ghanjawiyyu) people whose true name is Ngbanye (meaning Brave Men) derive the name Gonja from a corrupted Hausa phrase Kada Goro-Jaa (meaning land of Red Cola). There are over 285,000 Gonjas in Ghana. The Gonja people, are one of the twenty six or more Guan ethnic groups, appeared in modern Ghana very early in the 16th Century.
It is indeed common historical knowledge that the Gonjas or the larger Guan group were the first residents of the geographical area now called Ghana. It is worthy to note that Gonja history has been recorded by Islamic Scholars who were embedded in the Gonja army as it left ancient Mande in Mali and travelled through Segu in Southern Mali and approached the Bole area through La Cote d’Ivoire, the Sissala area and Wa in modern Upper West.
Gonja people: Ghana`s president John Dramani Mahama (middle) is a Gonja
Location in Country: Northern region, south; west central, upper branches of Volta Lake area; Black Volta River to White Volta area, both sides.(Source: Ethnologue 2010)
Gonja woman wearing head scarf
The Gonja language is a Kwa language spoken by an estimated 300,000 people, almost all of whom are of the Gonja ethnic group of northern Ghana. Gonja is related to Guan languages in the south of Ghana, it is spoken by about a third of the population in the northern region.
Several accounts of Gonja history have been published, all of them based very largely on the corpus of oral tradition which Jones (1962) has called the ‘Jakpa epic’. Jakpa, so the story goes, was a mighty warrior ‘from Mande’, who fought his way across Gonja from west to east, and then, before he was killed in battle, shared out the lands which were his by right of conquest among his sons. By the end of his death the present Gonja Traditional Area was established fully as a centralized state under his sole leadership in 1675. The earliest recorded version of the Jakpa epic, in substantially its modern form, Is to be found in an Arabic chronicle written in the 18901s (El-Wakkad and WMks, 1962).
Yagbongwura Tuntumba Sulemana Jakpa Bore Essa, King of Gonja, Damongo, Ghana
1. Kitab Ghunja version of Gonja History compiled In about 1751 (Wilks, 1966).
This work has been known for some time in an English translation made forty years ago and published later by Goody (1954:). Several manuscripts have been located over the last five years, and a definitive edition is in preparation. It can be shown by reference to this work that the Jakpa epic In its current form is a relatively recent development, summarizing something like a century and a half of early Gonja history. For the sixteenth and seventeenth century the Kitab itself based on oral tradition; but it is earlier than any other recorded version by well over a hundred years, and very much more coherent and convincing.
The arrival in Gonja of the Ngbonyo, the immigrant rulers, is described in a section of the Kitab which has become detached from the main body of the work but survives independently (Wilks, 1966). Naba, who was to be the first king of Gonja, had come south originally on a punitive expedition dispatched by the ‘Chief of Mande-Kabba against the trading-town of Begho. He then turned north to attack Buna, and across the Black Volta Into western Gonja. Here he built a fortified camp or stronghold called Yogbum. The Kitab Ghunja gives no dates as such for the early kings, only the lengths of their reigns; dead-reckon Ing would put the beginning of Naba`s reign at 1549-50. Wilks (1966) believes that this date may be too early, by as much as fifty years, pointing out that the reigns ascribed to these early kings are on average much longer than those of the eighteenth century rulers.
On the early history of the kingdom the Kitab has little to offer. Its author’s main interest, not surprisingly, was with the conversion of the ruling dynasty to Islam early In the reign of Mawura (1580-1599?). By that time the capital of the Gbanya kingdom was at Buipe in central Gonja, on one of the trade-routes leading northwards from the margins of the forest. It may be possible to distinguish a phase of consolidation in the Buipe area followed by a phase of rapid expansion to the east and north. By around 1600 Gonja had probably reached more or less its full extent. The next phase, which the difficulties of communication .must
have made almost inevitable, was one of progressive decentralization. In the Kitab this trend is reflected in the passage dealing with the long reign of al-Lara (1623-1667), of whom it is said that ‘he divided the
country of Gonja and gave it to his brothers’. It seems that the divisional chiefdoms, originally perhaps appointive, had by now become vested In certain families which were, or which chose to think of themselves as, cadet branches of the Gbanya dynasty. In formally recognizing the divisional chiefs as his ‘brothers’, al-Lata was at least by implication admitting himself as king to be only first among equals.
This tendency at work within the kingdom for the divisions to increase In power at the expense of the centre, compounded as it was with attacks from outside, led into a phase of rapid disintegration at the end of the seventeenth century. The reign of al-Lata’s son Sulayman was remembered as a time of continual war. He was deposed In 1689; and a few years later, the Gbanya kingdom finally fell apart with the outbreak of civil war In 1692.
Dr Forster Abu Sakara is a Gonja
The Kitab, though it is clear on the disastrous side-effects of the war, says nothing of the aims for which it was fought, or of the results it achieved. It seems apparent none the less that one of its results, and probably one of its objectives, was to overthrow the power of the Buipe dynasty. By 1709 Gonja was on its way to recovery, organized now on a confederate system which, with modifications in detail, survives today (Goody, 1967). The capital was transferred to Nyanga in western Gonja, where Naba has built his war-camp, and a paramount chief was installed there whose title now is Yagbumwura, but who seems originally to have been called Gbinipewura. Seven of the divisions, Tuluwe, Kpembe and Kong among them, but for reasons which can only be guessed at not Daboya, were made ‘gates’ to Yagbum; that is, their chiefs were eligible for promotion to the paramountcy when it fell vacant. The number of ‘gates’ has varied with the course of time, but the chief of Buipe has always been rigorously excluded. Though his position even today is one of considerable prestige, his political power is negligible.
2.History and Traditions of the Gonja
By: J. A. Braimah; H. H. Tomlinson et al.
The work covers the period from 1566/7 to 1711/12 during which time there was a struggle between two groups of Mandinka, the Manwura and his clan and the Lata Ngbanya whose leader was Lata (Lanta) Jakpa, for power. Ndewura Jakpa who is well known as the founder of Gonja was the son of Lata (Dii Ngoro) Jakpa. In Gonja we have the traditional drummers, the Kuntunkure and the Mbontokurbi drummers, who recite verses which give the history of the people most especially the exploits of the founder of the Gonja Empire, Ndewura Jakpa.The exploits of distinguished leaders or kings and of individual families, as given by the drummers are, in many cases, the repetition of some well-worn saga, adding to it events in recent history, which contains a modicum of historical fact.
Gonja is one of the lucky tribes which has had its history recorded by Arab Muslims who accompanied them to this part of the world. According to Arabic manuscript and oral tradition, the Gonjas, who were originally Mandingo (Gonja Dingo-ebi), or Mandinka, migrated from the country of Mande, that is, from the Mali Empire, many years before the Hejra Year 1000.
The Mandingo forces that entered modern Ghana with all the other allies, too numerous to mention here, arrived under the leadership of the leader of the Mandingo expeditionary forces from the old Songhai Empire in 1546. That was the climax of the Songhai Empire and even though oral tradition on this is totally accurate, one would expect that internecine tribal activities would have led to movements of some groups from the centre of power or conflict. We should also note that the great Askia Mohammed had been on the throne for thirty-five years by 1528. Owing to Askia Mohammed’s ill health and infirmity, his son Musa and his nephew Askia Bankouri and yet another son Askia Ismail fought over power and turned the throne into a political football. Instability in Songhai continued until the reign of Askia Daud which restored normalcy in the Kingdom around 1581.
In the course of these turbulent times at headquarters, the breakaway group in the diaspora was establishing herself firmly in present Gonjaland with the reign of Landa from 1546 to 1576.
After Landa, Wam reigned for nineteen years from 1576 to 1595. Chari reigned for forty years from 1595 to 1615, then followed Amoah (Alhaji Imoru Seidu) 1615 to 1634 and then to Lanta Limu, 1634 to 1675; the father of the legendary leader, Ndewura Jakpa. Indeed Lanta Limu abdicated in favour of Jakpa who reigned from1675 to 1697.
As Jakpa embarked on the conquest of the current vast Gonjaland and even beyond, he cultivated the practice of installing his sons in what has come to be known as divisions. These divisions which have survived conflicts, European rule and even modern governance are Wasipe (Daboya), Kpembe, Bole, Tuluwe, Kong, Kadia and Kusawgu. To this day the paramount chiefs who head these divisions refer to the Yagbonwura as their father.
One of the oldest surviving documents written in an African language is the Isnad of Al-Haji Muhamed from about A.D. 1736, a Gonja:
Kpembe’s ntunpana appellation, which is the appellation of all Chiefs of Singbing is:
Asante kotoko The porcupine of Ashanti
Singbinghene, brimpon The Sin barring king, the great
Wo na wa hwe ase It is he who when he falls
Na mpanini ba wu The elders will die
okum apem You kill a thousand [of his men]
Na apem beba And a thousand will come [as reinforcement].
The Singbing family are the direct descendants or close relatives of Ndewura Jakpa. Another Gonja ntunpana drum appellation is: 3
Kotoko Sin bra du The porcupine of Sin who brought a retinue
Sin bra du The Sin with a retinue
Amankwa And servant of the state
Wo fro dua If you intend to climb a tree
Wa hwe ase a If you then fall
Na ya ma wu due You will be sympathized with
Three Gonja proverbs refer to the Sin; they are:
1. Binypo luwe N’Sin-ba e la anyi The learned [people] We are half Sins [now]
2. Sin,kra ‘nu Eseng-iipo ni kafong ko Sin, hear again; It is an informer who worries.
3. Sin Bey niya ? [What about] the Sin sovereign’s (Bey) share?
Fa la dimadi If you call your-self a person,
A mink ba yuu so And you have no one to rely on,
Esi jigo e la fo You are a foolish person.
The Gonjas were in the Songhay Empire and were known to have been at Dza, Jenne, Gao (Kawkaw), Fio, Say and Sengu.
The Mbontokurbi travelling song of the Gonja leader Lata (Lanta) Jakpa is:
A stranger (toure) but he reigned;
Challenge to Manwu
He is forceful (kankang); but he reigned
Challenge to Manwu.
The hunting [warrior] king.
He again licks, and splashes away.
I am Dii Ngoro Jakpa,
The warrior king
Who follows the war trails.
Which people surrendered to an alien powerful prince?
It was the people of Gbirbi who surrendered to an alien powerful prince.
Which people surrendered to an alien powerful prince?
It was the people of Kachari who surrendered to an alien powerful prince.
He is the invading confiscator
The warrior leader (lan kpang)
He is the great solitary wasp;
He captures princes and turns them into slaves
And captures slaves
And turns them into princes
Behold the king who ascended hills [other sovereigns]
On his advance.
A wise man has to live with fools.
A stone does not walk
But it rolls.
Further evidence of the Gonja having come from the far West is to be found in the titles of kings (chiefs) in the West Coast of the Atlantic and north Africa such as “Burba” and “Bey” used in the Kuntunkure and Mbontokurbi drum verses. “Fari” and “Si,” which are titles of kings in the former Songhay Empire are also used in the drum verses.
“Bur-ba” is found in the Kuntunkure verses entitled “K’Borichulo,” meaning “In Praise of God” in the stanza:
Mbong-bi Mo-ano so nchu
N ya sa Lanta Bur-ba;
Ne e so m bulo ngbine
The streams [lieutenants] at the Mo boundary
Should confiscate the water [sovereignty]
And vest it in Lanta the Bur-ba
And he will fill his heart
And lie down.
Early Portuguese travellers show that by the middle of the fifteenth century the damel of Kojor, and barak of Wula, the ten of Baol, and the “bur-bar-Salum” were independent of the “bur-bar-Jolof,” although they recognised him a suzerain and would seek his aid as arbitrator.
“Bur” alone, without the “ba,” is also used as the title of king as in the Gonja titles “Bur Wura,” “Bur Manwura,” “Bur Lannyo,” and “Bur Kpembewura.”
“Bey,” which is the title of a native ruler of Tunis, is found in the Gonja title “Manwule Bey-so” “The sovereign (Bey) trapper of Manwule and in ‘Bey-so-bi’—The junior Bey (Sovereign) trapper” in the Kuntunkure drum verse “Manwul Bey-so.”
“Dey,” which was the title of a governor of Algiers before the French conquest of 1830 and formerly the title of a ruler of Tunis of Tripoli is found in the Gonja titles “Mo-Dey” (Mo sovereign) and “Wang-Dey” (Dagomba sovereign) in the Kuntunkure and Mbontokurbi drum verses.
“Fari” and “fa” (abbreviation of “fari”) are also used. Yagbongwura Nyantachi’s title is commonly known as “Nyantachi a’fari.” In the Tuluwewura’s Kuntunkure appellation, we find in one stanza the use of the word “fa” for “sovereign.”
During the period of the great Wolof state many small chieftaincies had been formed among the southern Serer. A little before the first Portuguese arrived Mandinka, migrating from N’gabu (Portuguese Guinea) region, settled among them and took over the chieftaincies of Sin, Salum, Baol, Uli, Niani, and N’gabu, which were linked by various political ties with those of the Wolof. The ruling class of Mande origin (known as “gelowar” in Sin and Selum and “garmi” in Walo, Kajo, and Baol) are said to have been Muslims of a sort when they took over the Serer states, but they soon lost their Mande characteristics and became pagan. The most important Serer states were Sin situated on the right bank of the Salum river, and Salum adjoining Sin inland, whose authority at one time extended to the River Gambia. The tiny Serer states of N’Dukuman, Kungeul, Pakalla, Mandak, Rip, Legem and Niombato generally paid allegiance to either Sin or Salum.
Greater initiative was shown by the Mande trading element who were definitely Muslim and spread Islam into upper Guinea and the Upper Ivory Coast. This region is peopled by Mandinka in the West (Beyla founded in 1763, Kankan c. 1690, Kurussa and Odienne region) and Senufo (Sienne or Sienamana) in the centre and east. Other Mandinka migrations came from the west, from the Upper Niger and upper Milo (Wasulonke, Futanke and Dyomane). These immigrants were pagans, but the trading classes among them were Muslims and Muslim Mande spread over the regions of Kankan and Beyla (in the east of Guinea) and in Odienne, Tuba, Man, Kong and Segela (upper Ivory Coast), Wa and Salaga (modem Ghana), and in Mossi country.
The Mandingo Expedition to Bono Manso
At some time between 1550 and 1575 the great Askia Dawud of Songhay found that the supplies of gold from the southern country were getting smaller. The main reason was that Akan gold producers had begun selling some of their production to Portuguese and other European traders along the Seaboard.
Askia Dawud accordingly dispatched a force of Mandinka armed cavalry to see what could be done. Dawud’s armoured horsemen, the bulldozing tanks of these times, rode south from the neighbourhood of Jenne until they reached the Black Volta bend of modem Ghana.
These horsemen were the ancestors of the present day Gonjas. The horse riders were armed with swords and iron spears. In war the horsemen acted as cavalry. The Gonjas discovered that cavalry could not operate in the dense forest where the Akan lived and smelted gold.
The Kuntunkure traditional drummer in some of the verses he recites gives us some information about the battles fought including those fought with the Akan.
In the verses entitled “Chari,” the Mo-wura’s (Manwura) appellation, we are informed that:
It was at Dja and Kong towns that he [the Gonja leader Chari, or Saara]
went and killed [defeated]
Limu, the Dja and Kong towns hunter [warrior].
They were two head hunters [war leaders]
They bent and discharged [guns and arrows].
This was before he [Chari Manwura] came to Manwule,
Before he marched to Manwule Manso.
It was at Long’s town [Long-Kuro] that he went and killed Longoro
[god] Bori Pasai.
Chari Manwura (1595/6 [or 1593/4] to 1614/5
As can be seen from the extract quoted above the Gonjas were traditionalist Mandingos and were converted to Islam by Mallam Mohamed Labayiru, who came to be known as Fati Morukpe, after their victory over the Kolo (Kawlaw) army. The Gonjas were partially converted and have remained nominal Muslims to this day, because the majority of them still worship idols, and it is a taboo up to this present day, in eastern Gonja at least where the Gonjas are more conservative, for a Gonja Chief to enter a Mosque to pray. The Gonjas were partially converted to Islam because they were impressed by the miraculous routing of the enemy at Kawlaw and wanted to keep the Muslims to make prayers unto Allah for them so that they could continue to win victory in all their wars. This would enable them to establish their own Kingdom and thereby increase their fortunes by accumulating more worth.After their conversion Chari Manwura asked Mallam Mohammed Labayiru (Fati Morukpe) to take service with him and offer prayers for him unto Allah so as to divert mishaps and evils which might tend to bar his advance and promised to reward him if he were successful in his adventure. An agreement was made at the camp, which was sealed by an oath taken on the Quran, binding both parties to keep the agreement. The agreement was:
i. That Fati Morukpe should go with the Ngbanya (Gonja) army and implore God for its success;
ii. That the articles of reward comprising;
One hundred slaves (men and women)
One hundred cattle,
One hundred horses,
One hundred donkeys,
One hundred sheep,
One hundred goats,
One hundred gowns,
Ndewura Jakpa (1675-97)
From the time of the taking of the oath on the Qur’an open hostilities between Chari Manwura and Lata Dii Ngoro Jakpa ceased. In 1675/6 Lata Dii Ngoro Jakpa abdicated and handed over the sovereignty to his son who was given the title of “Ndewura Jakpa.” Lata Dii Ngoro Jakpa became Burrewura in 1634/5 and therefore sovereign of the Lata Ngbanya (Gonjas) for 41 years when he died in 1681/2. It was Ndewura Jakpa who expanded the Gonja Empire by conquest. All the land he conquered was Dagomba territory.
Limu, Manwura’s brother who came after Amoah was still alive at the time Lata Jakpa(Burrewura) handed over his sovereignty to his son Ndewura Jakpa. Limu had expected that he would have succeeded Lata Jakpa. Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa the founder of the Gonja Kingdom was himself initially a trader from Malle or Made according to a source. At a point in time he became bankrupt. Just about the time he had consulted a certain Mallam about his fortunes in life. The Mallam bluntly told Jakpa that even though he came from the royal family he would never ascend the throne. Instead, his fortune was in foreign lands, where he would attain rises and would establish a kingdom for himself, his children and followers. Jakpa was so convinced of the Mallam’s prophecy that he mobilized tens of thousands of fighting contingent and other followers and set out around the sixteenth century.
From Mandi or Gizi, both sources affirm that Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa and his army on reaching Jah, the first town of call, Jakpa came into contact with Fati Morukpe, a very powerful Mallam of the worn and made friends with him. The Kpe in the Mallam’s name stands for his albino colour and features. Jakpa solicited his company for his impending adventures so that he would be an intermediary to offer prayers unto God so as to divert mishaps and evil in his exploits. If the offer was accepted, Jakpa promised to pay a tribute of a hundred pairs of every domestic animal including one hundred slaves, cattle, horses, and gowns. In the ensuring friendship that developed anywhere Jakpa conquered and left behind a son Fati Morukpe also replicated with a son. Fati Morukpe’s descendants now form the Nsuawura’s lineage in the Yagbonwura’s palace and also form the Sakpari (Mallam) section in every division.
Ndewura Jakpa began his conquests by first moving west from the Dibir country where his father founded his state. On reaching Bole he was told of a certain powerful Fetish or Shrine Priest who must be overpowered at Mankuma,the capital of Gbipe (Buipe) before he could settle down. Consequently he marched on Mankuma, and after a great display of black power and show of strength on both sides, he defeated the Fetish Priest and planted his sister and nephew there. The sister was subsequently given the title Mankumawuriche (Mankuma Queen) and the nephew Kakulasewura (meaning an eavesdropper to tap information from the Fetish Priest for Jakpa). Jakpa then over ran the Vagalla people who largely occupied the place. He marched through Sakpa into Ntereso-Gbanfu, western Gonja (the Bole Division). There was now open hostility between the Lata Ngbanya and the Manwura’s group, and one Sulemana became an active leader of the Manwura’s people. Limu might have been too old at that time to be able to give effective leadership.
At Sakpa the elders of Bel (Bole), Mandari and Gbenfu met Ndewura Jakpa and surrendered to him. The town of Bel was renamed Bole meaning “Submission” in Gonja. After he had settled affairs in Bole and appointed a chief (the Bolewura) for the area Ndewura marched north.
Jakpa now pushed into the Wala country defeated them and chose Nyanga as the capital of the conquered lands and named it Gbinipowura-pe. He then partitioned the land among his sons whom he made chiefs to administer these areas. This Wala country included Kong and Kandia areas.
Jakpa now turned his attention on the Tampruma people on the Western banks of the White Volta River. These Tamprumas were subjects of the Dagomba Kings who appointed their representatives to administer the area and also control the salt-making by the natives in Burugu (later to be known as Daboya by the Ngbanye). Jakpa went into combat with the Dagombas dislodging them on the western side and followed them up to the Eastern side where there ensued a fierce battle and very heavy casualy were suffered on both sides. In the end the Dagombas were defeated and their Kind Na Dariziogo slain. Many Dagomba towns were captured to include Gbirimani (Birimani), which came under the jurisdiction of Kpembi and Kasulyili under the Wasipewura.
Ndewura Jakpa then placed Burugu (Daboya) under the authority of his daughter who accepted the title Burugu-Wurche (Queen of Burugu). She was left with a small garrison under her command.
The strategic importance of Daboya to the Ngbanye and also to the Dagbamba was in no doubt because it was the gate-way to the western corridor of the food producing country of the Tamplumas who incidentally were also a very brave fighting force who must be conquered and assimilated strategically to act as a buffer to Dagbamba expansion bid to the west of the river. Beside Burugu/Daboya itself was economically and socially important due to the salt making industry and the resourcefulness of the river which earned the town its name Daboya (meaning our brother is better than us).
These benefits indicated above and other factors urged the Dagbambas to continue to make persistent military incursions into Daboya and surrounding villages. This necessitated the removal of the Wasipewura by Jakpa from Wasipe in the Bole area to Daboya to reinforce the garrison and control the salt-making industry. The Daboya chief continued to be called Wasipewura to this day.
Meanwhile Jakpa had conquered the Biegas (Beso Nsoko of the Banda people) after initial resistance before making in-road into the Bole area as mentioned earlier. And from Bole Jakpa also penetrated Bamboi area where the Mos easily submitted themselves to his authority by presenting him with 30 Kegs of gun-powder without a fight.
Jakpa and his men now pushed eastward between the White and Black Volta river routing Kahu (Laribanga) and the big town of Kurase, South-West of Damongo mostly occupied by a section of the Dagbamba. From there Jakpa traversed to Kaniamase the capital of the then Kania people and captured the town and in the process killed their king at the palace and renamed Kaniamase (Gbipe or Buipe).
The army now marched on Mpaha and encountered the Debre people, a fierce battle ensued at Kapiese near Mpaha in which the N’nyamase were conquered. Jakpa proceeded to Tuluwe through Tamanklan (a place Jakpa rested before crossing the river and in the process forgetting his mat on which he rested hence the village’s derivation of its name). From there he came to Nyilalan and met the Apere (Apir) people of Tuluwe area (Singbin) and over ran them.
He continued towards Kafaba and while still on the Western side of the Black Volta the leader of the town sent to meet Jakpa in advance with peace overtures and sending drinking water consisting of mashed Fura and fermented porridge drinking water and honey. Jakpa in appreciation of the leader’s overtures reciprocated by promoting him as peace-maker by giving him a blanket, redcap and a scepter as a symbol of authority for he the Kafabawura to have the power and authority to evoke peace and settle or reconcile any feuding parties or misunderstanding arising thereof in any part of Gonja with his presence.
At Kafaba Jakpa met a thriving cola-nut trade market. From there he subdued all the inhabitants along the way to Salaga which was then inhabited by the Nanumba people. The Nanumbas were driven away and kola trade transferred from Kafaba to Salage which later became an emporium for the slave trade and other products.
The Gonjas however, moved a little out of Salaga and built Kpembe town.
Jakpa’s insatiable spirit of conquest and land soon drove him again eastward to conquer the Kpamkpamba and Bassari people. He took prisoners and captured thousands of oxen, sheep and goats.
The captives taken were planted between Nchumuru, Salaga and Nanumba to till the land and supply the Kpembiwura with foodstuffs.
To consolidate his hold and also place a check on the Dagbamba expansion bid southward of Tamale, Jakpa’s fifth son living with his senior brother Tuluwewura Abass was then equipped and went and took Kasugu from the Dagbambas by conquest.
After years of rest Jakpa contemplated fighting the Asante but his men murmured owing to fatique of war. He later defied them despite warnings against fighting the Asantes. He crossed the Volta River towards Yeji to Kabako and encountered the Asantes. A raging battle then took place in which Jakpa was shot in the ankle and mortally wounded. Before his death Jakpa instructed that his body be sent to Mankuma the sister’s place for burial.
On reaching Aburumase (meaning I am now weak and dying) he was very sick indeed. When they got to Trekpa (I have now reached my end) he died.
On reaching Gbipe now spelt Buipe (Gbi meaning heavy or weight load) the corpse was getting bad he was therefore interred there (Gbipe).
Since it was Jakpa’s express wish to take his final rest at the sister’s place of abode at Mankuma, it has become customary since then for all Yagbonwuras to be entombed at Mankuma, a village on the main Sawla-Bole road.
The successor it was decided should be a prince or chief with large house-hold and plenty followers. The Chief of Kong was elected. Hence the tow Nyanga is called “Yagbon” i.e. “big household” and thus became the name of the skin and title “Yagbonwura”.
It was not until 1944 that the capital of the Ngbanye was moved from Nyanga to Damongo.
It will be noticed that before Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa’s exploited and conquests of the present day Gonja five (5) other kings had ascended the throne in the present Gonja area. Jakpa conquered them and became the first Ngbanye king, as confirmed by Mr. Blair below:
Mr. Blair, in an attempt to compare the histories of the Dagbamba and Ngbanye kingdoms writes, “In the former the Dagbamba came in as a tribe or group of clans, slew many of the Tindanas and impressed their language on the people of the land, aboriginal Grunshi and Guan, or driving them out as in the case of the Konkombas, etc.
“On the other hand, from the evidence at hand, the Kagbanyewere a mere raiding band of Mandingo stock, who conquered the Guan, Vagalla and Apir countries but owing to their small numbers could do no more than establish a ruling dynasty over adopting Guan, the language of one of the conquered tribes. The only evidence of their origin is in the few Mandingo words now surviving in the Gbanya language.”
Ghana`s President John Dramani Mahama is a Gonja
Sulemana Jakpa (1697-1709)
When in exile Sulemana 32 styled himself (Jakpa) the King of Yagbong and his settlement in Atebubu was a province under the chief of Mampong. Carl Christian Reindorf in his book The History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti (p. 83; 2d edn.) described this small Gonja settlement and states:
As already mentioned, Opoku Ware during the whole of his reign was actively engaged in completing and strengthening the conquests of his predecessors in the north and north-east countries. The Nta country then governed by the King of Yebo (Yabong), a nominal province of Mampong, Owusu Sakyere of Mampong, who had charge of the province, sent messengers there to levy men for sacrifice to his late father; but the King of Yebo refused to permit it. Owusu Sekyere appealed to the King Opoku and war was declared against the Ntas. Opoku, as usual, seized his opportunity, marched his army there and subdued the whole country.
Sulemana married an Ashanti woman and some of the children he had with her were, Asantewa, Kofi Gyedu and Ko Agyapo. This is why the Ashanti King is described in the Kuntunkure verse Bowlong quoted above as the orphan’s (Sulemana) “mother-in-law.”
The name “Nta” was given to the Gonjas by the Ashantis possibly because of the bow (and arrows) with which Ndewura Jakpa was associated. The bow in Gonja is called “K’ta.” Another reason may be that there were twin (two) Kings of Gonja at the time forming a condominium.
Sulemani Kpatakpari 42 is mentioned in three different songs in Gonja. During the damba ceremony the women singers call “Sulemani Kpatakpari to come out and dance damba,” at about 4 a.m. that is the time Kpembewura is expected to come out of his compound to take part in the dancing.
The Dagomba drum beaters will give any chief whose name is Sulemana the appellation of Sulemana ben Dawudu (Sulemana son of Dawud). It is of course, difficult to say what connection Sulemana had with Askia Dawud who dispatched Mandinka cavalry, the founders of present Gonja, to Bono Manso to see what could be done about stopping the Akan gold-producers from selling some of their production to Portuguese and other European traders along the seaboard.
Gonja man wearing traditional talisman cap
Kpanaliumni is the Gonja hunters dance which is performed when a hunter kills a big animal such as the roan, hartebeeste, buffalo, lion or leopard, or when a great hunter dies. Kpana can be said to be the funeral dance of a reputed hunter. “Hunter” is a metaphor for “warrior” in the Kuntunkure drum verses. The Kpana dance is opened by the song “Sulemani salamalaikum” (Sulemana Salutations). Most Gonja songs are in proverbs and so are the Kpana songs. The literal translation of Sulemani salamalaikum is as follows:
Sulemana offers salutations;—by soloist
Saluations are unwelcomed—Chorus
It is a stranger who is called “some body;”
Salutations are unwelcomed.
Tuluuwewura Abbass (and the Supposed Interregnal Period 1697-1709)
Ndewura Jakpa’s son was dead and so his brother Limu succeeded him. 34 Limu reigned for only two months. One Saywura (Senyonwura Lannyo) succeeded Limu and ruled for only eight months. Because Ndewura Jakpa was buried at Gbipe, the Lata Ngbanya decided to make the town their headquarters also, and it was here that both Limu and Senyonwura Lannyo were installed Kings. Senyonwura Lannyo was driven out of Gbipe by the Ashantis who had installed Sulemana as their protégé.
Senyonwura Lannyo returned to western Gonja and built the town of Bur’wurpe between Senyon, Nyanga and Mankuma where he settled. He assumed the title of “Burlannyo,” that is, “Burre Wura Lannyo,” because he was not now in active control of the Gonjas as sovereign; he was retired.
Tuluwewura Abbass, who was the son of Lanta (Lata-Dii Ngoro Jakpa) became the leader of the Lata Ngbanya (Gonja) when Lannyo was driven out of Gbipe but he was not installed King.
When the Tuluwe chiefship was created the Tuluwewura (Abbass was the first Tuluwewura) was stationed at Binyalipe, a place not far from Gbipe, with instructions to keep an eye on the Gbipe sovereigns. These instructions have become the Tuluwewura’s Kuntunkure appellation and the literal translation of the verse entitled “Ka lii Chari,” meaning “Chari’s vanquisher” is:
[This is the] home of the deserted Ngbanya [Gonjas],
Vanquisher of Chari.
Matters are pending,
The Gbipewura and the Kagbapewura
When Sulemana Jakpa died, the Gbipewura became the Wurkong (non‐ active Regent) whilst effective control of the state was in the hands of Tuluwewura Abbass who was the de facto Regent until his enrollment as King in 1709. Gbipewura was the keeper of Jakpa’s grave so he was revered by all the Gonja Chiefs. Abbass was killed by the Tonawa (Ashantis) and his funeral was performed in Gbipe where all the chiefs assembled to elect a new King.
Gonja chiefs lying down performing a traditional dance
After the funeral Kpembewura Mahama Labayiru was elected and installed Yagbongwura. Gbipewura found his position weak because of the numerical strength of the Lata Ngbanya and he therefore conceded defeat. He had to say something 37 to the new King during his installation, but because he was angry and disappointed he would not go personally to talk to him and therefore sent his twin brother, the Kagbapewura to go and deliver his instruction. The Gbipewura’s appellation in the Kuntunkure drum verses, is entitled “Dinkeri Wam‐ mu” (Dinkeri, Head of Wam’s family). He the Gbipewura was now like the king of Denkyera who was defeated by the Ashantis who were formally subjects of the Denkyeras. The literal translation of the verse is:
I am [now like] Dinkeri,
The head of Wam’s family.
I return to towns [to reconquer] as the feminine Chari [Sulemana] did.
When my deceased grand-uncle slackened,
His comrade was the Black-smith [Jakpa], the Dagomba Dey.
Gonja man with his bike and dogs
The Gonja people engage in cultivation of some fields with various kinds of millet and some maize. The Nchumuru people and some Gonjas also 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.
Gonja people are very religious. They are mostly Muslims and Islamic worshipers make up about 58% of the population.
Ancient Larabanga Mosque on Gonja land
Ethnic traditional religion worshipers constitute 38% of the Gonja population. The Gonjas has their belief in the Supreme Being, ‘Ebore’, nature spirits, and traditional powers.
The remaining 4% of the Gonjas are Christians.
Gonja man dancing to Damba festival sounds
Gonja woman with facial tribal marks
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.
Among the Gonja, chieftaincy occupies an important place in their lives. All Gonjas acknowledge one paramount who resides in the village of Yabum, the Yabumwura. Succession to chiefships is based on patrilineal descent. Such offices circulate among the descendants of Ndewura Jakpa, the reputed founder of the state. The process involves rotation and circulation between village gates. Gonja society is not however exclusively patrilineal. Patrilateral and matrilateral norms are at play in the affiliation of individuals to kin-groups. Kinship fosterage was practiced in the past and may continue to some extent.
The East Gonja District as a whole has a potential for tourism development. The district is endowed with a lot of natural attractions, historic places and cultural features that are of considerable interest to tourists. Salaga, the district capital is famous for the role it played during the slave trade era as the main market centre for slaves. The present township and its surrounding villages have a lot to depict what actually transpired in the past.
Although some of the artifacts of the slaves cannot be traced due to the ignorance of certain individuals, which has led to the destruction of these treasured items, quite a number of them have been preserved. The site for the actual market place still remains in Salaga. At this place, one can still find the huge baobab tree against which the slaves were chained.
Some of the shackles used in chaining these slaves can be located at the Kpembeaur’s palace, about one kilometer from Salaga. Most of the wells dug by the slaves can also be located in the various parts of the township.
Other attractions that can be found in the town include the river where slaves were bathed before they were led into the town and another one where dead bodies were deposited.
The traditional cultures of the people of the district are also an important attraction to tourists.The Damba and fire Festivals of the Gonja often associated with drumming and dancing, attract a lot of people. Other attractions of interest to tourists include traditional religious beliefs and practices that prevail in some rural areas.
At Akamade, a village across the Volta Lake, there exist a footprint believed to be that of the wife of Ndewura Jakpa, the great warrior and founder of the Gonjaland. Also at Lantinkpa, a village in the northeastern part of the district, a similar mark attributed to the same person can be found.
The East Gonja has one of the biggest slave markets in Ghana and also the highest density of Hand-dug Wells used for the bathing of Slaves and the Slave Raiders.
Kweku Darko Ankrah