The Frafra (also known as Gorse) are hardworking agricultural Gur-speaking people that forms a subset of Gurune/Gurunshi ethnic group in Northern Ghana and Southern Burkina Faso. The Frafra people who live predominantly in the north-eastern part of the Upper East Region of Ghana, called themselves in Gurune language as "Gorse,' whilst some historians refer to them as "Gurune." However, when a Frafra meets any Gurune speaking person he refer to him or her as "Mabia" (My family).
Frafra people of Zarantinga performing traditional dance,Ghana
Their popular name Frafra is a colonialist term given to them by the Christian Missionaries, who when they first encountered Frafra farmers were greeted with the common greeting to people working "Ya Fare fare?", which means "How is your suffering (work)?" The missionaries began referring to these Gurune people as Frafra, a derivation of the greeting, which eventually was adopted by the people themselves and has been popularized by the Southern Ghanaian peoples.
Frafra man from Upper East Region of Ghana showing elaborate tribal facial marks
The Frafra are also well known for their artistic craft products: straw articles like hats and baskets as well as feather products. Their products can be found all over Ghana in the major towns that tourists visit. Since the colonial era Frafra youth have been compelled to emigrate to the southern parts in search of menial jobs.
Frafra tribe man and Ghanaian musician and griot, Atongo_Zimba. His album Allah Mongode was recorded in Switzerland. His album Barefoot in the Sand was nominated "African CD of the Year" in 2007 by Amsterdam television. His recording of No Beer in Heaven was a major hit in Ghana in 2004. Click to watch and listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XS5goLOhS8
They were formally looked down upon by their Northern neighbors as well as the Southern tribes because of the lack of many literate people among them, their willingness to do all kind of menial work and also their habits of "eating dogs." However, in recent times, Frafra people are one of the most well-educated people from the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana. They have a formidable association, BONABOTO, (an association of Frafra people, notably Bongo, Nangodi, Bolgatanga and Tongo) which champion the political and socio-economic well-being of Frafra people in Ghana.
Frafra traditional dancers
Bolgatanga is the commercial center of the Frafra people. Other important villages and towns include Bongo, Tongo, Zuarungu, Zoko, Zuarengu, Somburungu, and Pwalugu. It must be noted however that Tongo is the principal town of the Talensi people who are ethnically different from the Frafra. Today, the Frafra can be found in many major towns and villages all around Ghana including Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Sunyani and Cape Coast. They are also highly mobile, often travelling south to look for work during the dry season. There are also some Gurune-speaking people (the Nankani) in Navrongo District, which is generally a Kasem-speaking area. Native Gurune are also found in Burkina Faso, in the Nahouri province, Eastern part of Tiébélé and in the region of Pô.
Frafra women weaving basket, Bolga, Upper East Region, Ghana
In the middle of the market of the regional capital Bolgatanga, lies a large flat rock. Quite close to this area is the site where the settlers dug clay for building and polishing their houses. Clay in the Frafra language is "bolga" and rock is "tanga"- thus the place was named Bolgatanga. It is also referred to as the handicrafts capital of Ghana, and is famous for its intricately designed straw baskets (Tehei), hats and smocks. If you find yourself here do visit the small interesting regional museum The main dishes of the Upper-East Region are similar to that of the Upper West, "TZ" or "Tuo Zafi" rice balls or Omo Tuo with groundnut soup or green leaves soups, beans, rice and cowpea or "Tubaani", koko with "koose". Beverages include pito and "Zom krom".
Frafra tribe man and Ghanaian multiple international award winner and the most popular traditional artiste of all time, King Ayisoba with his kologo or molo, a two-stringed calabash lute. Watch his track " I want to see you my father here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3_EBMsxyCQ
The Name Frafra
The term Frafra is an umbrella term that refers to a number of ethnic groups that share the same cultural heritage yet have some minor differences in terms of language and ritual action. The similarities, however, in their culture in terms of ritual, language and style of life are far greater than the differences. There are four major ethnic groups that make up the Frafra people. We have the Gurune speaking, the Nabdan speaking, the Boone speaking and Talleni speaking. The Gurune speaking group occupies the central portion of the district sharing a border with the Kesena to the west.
The Nabdan are located east of the Guruse and share borders with the Kusasi. The Boone speaking group is to the north of the Guruse. They are at the border with the southern part of Burkina Faso. The Tallensi, on the other hand, are to the south. There are also some Gurune-speaking people who are situated further south sharing border with the Tallensi. These are called the Paalse and their major town is Pwalugu. These are the four major groups that constitute the Frafra people. Extensive anthropological work has been done on the Tallensi by Meyer Fortes, but not very much study either anthropological or otherwise, has been registered for the other groups. Though each has its unique characteristics and probably did not originate from the same ancestor or even from the same area, they are usually seen as a unified whole because of their common cultural and linguistic traits.
Frafra girl showing her facial tribal marks
Actually, it is believed that the term Frafra is a name that the British colonials coined to apply to the Gurune-speaking people. It appears that they found it easier to pronounce the word Frafra rather than the proper name Gurune. The term Frafra is derived from a form of greeting in the Gurune language. The word fara-fara in Gurune has two meanings depending on the context. It could mean simply ‘thanks’ for a favour done or a greeting particularly to people who are working. It is, therefore, supposed that when the British found it difficult to pronounce the term Gurune, they resorted to this term, referring not to the greeting or the thanks but to the ethnic group itself. It is not very clear how the term came to be associated with the other ethnic groups discussed above since it is more prominent in the Gurune dialect than in the others. It may be due to the closeness of language, cultural practices and above all ritual action.
Frafra handmade woven basket from Bolga
According to George Asigre, Rattray treats the Gurunse under the name Nankanse in his book, Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland. Generally the term Nankanse is used by the Kasena to refer to the Frafra in general but more specifically to some Frafra speaking groups that do not fall within the political demarcation of the three Frafra districts, which are Bongo, Tellensi-Nabdan and Bolga Districts. Politically they fall under Navrongo District but are closer to the Frafra in terms of language, culture and ritual action. In fact they are generally referred to as Frafra and they see themselves as such. Their major settlements are Sirigu, Kandiga, Mirigo and Nabango to the east of Navrongo, capital of the Distirct, and Kulgo and Naaga to the south of Navrongo.
Rattray notes that the name Frafra is not what the people use to refer to themselves but, in his view, the term Gurunga (singular) or Gurunse (plural) is not very well received by their neighbours, because it has disparaging and derogatory connotation as it is linked with eating dog meat.George Asigre, has objected to Rattery’s assertion on the basis that, “the name itself has no disparaging or derogatory significance. It is rather limited in scope, and is specific in its application.” The name Gurune is limited in scope because as we have seen above it refers specifically to part of the entire ethnic group that is known today as the Frafra.
Frafra warrior dance
Frafra people speak Frafra or Farefare, also known as Gurenɛ, language. The Frafra language belongs to Gurma Oti-Volta cluster of languages of the larger Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken by over 600,000 people in the northern Ghana, particularly the Upper East Region, and southern Burkina Faso. It is a national language of Ghana, and is closely related to Mossi, aka Moré, the national language of Burkina Faso.
Frafra family, Bongo
Gurune (also written Gudenne, Gurenne, Gudeni, Zuadeni), Nankani (Naani, Nankanse, Ninkare), Booni, Talni (Talensi, Talene), and Nab't (Nabit, Nabde, Nabte, Nabdam, Nabdug, Nabrug, Nabnam, Namnam) together with some others are considered the major dialects of the Frafra people. However, Nab't and Talni could also be considered dialects of Mampruli; Mampruli, Kusaal, and Dagaare are in turn considered to be sister languages to Gurune. There are obvious linguistic similarities among these and the other languages of the Mabia language group (Bodomo 1994; St. John-Parsons 1960)
Frafra musician Bola, playing the kologo lute
The Frafra people are believed to have come from the Gur-language family of the Oti-Volta River. They occupy the Bolgatanga, Bongo and Tellensi-Nabdan districts of the Upper East Region of Ghana. They share borders with southern Burkina Faso and in fact are believed to have migrated from there to their present location. Their language is very close to Moshie, which is the language of one of the major ethnic groups in Burkina Faso.
The historical origins of Frafra people is very scanty and much research need to be done on them. However there are certain pointers to their historical migration. According to a legend narrated by Anthony Atarebore, the Frafra and the Dagaaba were both linked with the Dagomba and share common origin. This Dagomba connection re-echoes Hébert's legend about the first Dagara, an orphan who was accused of witchcraft and expelled by the Dagomba chief. The orphan accordingly fled towards the Black Volta and stayed near Babile, across the river. However, both legends do not account for the relationship with other ethnic groups, which are shown to belong to a common Mabia ancestry (Bodomo 1994).
According to Atarebore's legend, "long time ago, Dagomba, Gurune and Dagao were brothers, or rather cousins. They lived somewhere in Southern Africa among the Bantus. From Southern Africa, they began to migrate northwards through Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Then, turning westward, they moved to Sierra Leone, Northern Nigeria, and finally to Ghana. Historians differ in their opinion as regards to the nature and scale of these movements. For instance, Lentz (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Eyre-Smith's8 that the history of northern Ghana, indeed of the whole West African savannah, seemed to consist of 'constant' movements of people as a result of slave-raiding, internecine warfare, etc., whole sections of a tribe or family breaking away and migrating to a new territory. Instead, Carola Lentz suggests that migration took place in small-scale distances and in small groups.
It is not very clear whether the Frafra existed during the old Ghana Empire in the Middle Ages and formed part of that empire, since its present location is not so far from the location of the former empire. The facts, however, cannot be verified. According to some elders, the people of Zuarungu, one of the major settlements of the Frafra, migrated from Wuarungu in Burkina Faso. It is believed that the name Zuarungu is derived from Wuarungu. Even today, there is still a link between the people of Zuarungu and the people of Wuarungu.
For some Frafra chiefs their tradition trace their historical and cultural ties to Mamprusi kingdom. This is clearly the case of Namos of Tongo whose oral traditions recount how their apical ancestor- Mosore- had come to Tongo on exile from Nalerigu and had remained in Tongo. Similar traditions seems to exist in other Frafra enclaves. Bongo district is made up of two main communities. The original settlers are Gurune-speaking and the second group is the Mamprusi stock that settled mainly in the central part of the present. Some Frafra Nangodi people also share similar Mamprusi ancestry.
The typical traditional compound homestead among these people is one that combines huts that are thatched with mud and those that are roofed with grass. Huts are circular and the grass roofing is pyramidal in shape. Compounds differ in sizes often depending on the wealth and status of the master of the compound. The average Frafra compound comprises several dwelling quarters arranged in circular format with a single gateway. These days those who can afford it are likely to roof their huts with metal format with a single gateway. These days those who can afford it are likely to roof their huts with metal sheets.
Frafra people sitting in front of their traditional Gurunsi mud house
The Frafra, like all other ethnic groups around them, are basically agrarian, practising mainly subsistent farming. Land is scarce and naturally the farms are very small in size and generally poor due to continual use without much replenishment. Due to this, the yield is usually very poor. The rainfall pattern, which is erratic, allows for only one cropping season. The main cereal crops produced are millet, sorghum, maize and rice. They also produce beans, groundnuts (pea nuts), cow peas and vegetables of all kinds.
The biggest central market is at Bolgatanga and attracts traders from the entire town and beyond. Bolgatanga is the capital of the region, so the market even attracts traders from the eight districts in the region. Since the area experiences long periods of dry weather, the people engage in other economic activities such as leather works and weaving of straw bags and hats during the dry period. Areas that have dugouts and dams engage in dry season gardening where they cultivate mainly vegetables for consumption and for sale.
Frafra woman weaving tehei (basket)
Apart from farming Frafra people keep livestock including cattle, goats and sheep. These are animals are reared for commercial and domestic consumption. In some Frafra villages, cattle is used as a payment for bridewealth.
Zarantinga woman with Frafra tribal marks
Recently gold was discovered in the area and now many young people are engaged in surface mining as their main economic activity. This is gaining popularity but at the same time is also degrading the environment since all sorts of unorthodox methods are used to acquire this gold.
Socio-Political Organization (The family)
The concept of the family for the Frafra is much more than a modern nuclear family. Yiri, house and yiridoma, house members, refer to all the members living in a particular house, and that is the family. In a broader sense the family may also include all members of the same clan. Mbiti attests to this wider understanding of family among many African communities as he notes, “the family has a wider circle than the word suggests in Europe and North America. In traditional society, the family includes children, parents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who may have their own children, and other immediate relatives…”
Frafra woman holding her baby
It is also quite significant to note that, for the Frafra, the family is not limited to only the living. It also includes all the deceased members. The land of the ‘living-dead’ is merely an extension of the family on earth, and they are treated with great respect, as if they were still alive. Every Frafra family, therefore, still has links with its dead. For this reason it is difficult, if not impossible, to statistically enumerate people in this locality because the family even includes the unborn. Mbiti confirms this when he states, “the African concept of the family also includes the unborn members who are still in the loins of the living. They are the buds of hope and expectation, and each family makes sure that its existence is not extinguished. The family provides for its continuation, and prepares for the coming of those not yet born.”
Frafra kologo player
The Frafra lineage is patrilineal. The clan is the family in a much broader sense. The Frafra refers to the clan as yizuo, which literally means ‘house head’. Members of one yizuo trace their descent to a common ancestor. The common binding force for the yizuo is their taboos and their totemic ancestors. Even if they are not living within the same locality, as long as they have the same totem and taboos, they are of the same clan and, therefore, of the same family.
Marriage is forbidden between two people with the same totemic ancestor. The oldest surviving son of the common ancestor is always head of the clan. There are usually strong family ties among members of the same clan and “all members have the obligation to assist one another in such areas of life as marriage, funerals, sacrifices to the ancestors and the general well-being of the individual and the total clan membership.”
Marriages are exogamous and high bridewealth is taken by the families of pubescent girls when marriages are contracted. The legal guardians of the girl could demand as much as four heads of cattle from the wife-takers. Perhaps as a result of the high bridewealth marriages were usually stable in the past although this did not prevent separation of the married couple. Formal divorce could imply the return of a portion of the bridewealth. In some societies how much or what is refunded on divorce depends of whether the wife has given birth to any children for the husband and how many.
In the past Frafra people had no chiefs but clan heads and earth priest. When the Mamprusi people invaded Gurunsi land they planted chiefs on Frafra people. However, after the colonial era the Frafra people have asserted themselves over Mamprusi domination as well as Nayiri`s influence by enskinning their own chiefs. As a result Frafra people now have Bolga Naba, Bongo Na etc.
Frafra women, Zarantinga, Ghana
The maintenance of the social order, whether family, clan or village is the preserve of the chief and elders. “They ensure peace, harmony and the general welfare of the people.” They are referred to as Kimma from the word Keema, which means ‘older’. For landed properties and in spiritual matters, it is the Tindana, (the custodian of the earth shrine and cult) who is the overseer. It is his duty to see to the well-being of the entire village by offering sacrifices to the earth shrine periodically and appeasing it if the need arises. This man has great authority and is far more revered, feared and respected than any elder or chief in the village because of his links with the ancestors and the earth shrine of the land.
Bonaba, Chief of Bongo
As regards the political administration, the Frafra administrative system is under the umbrella of the paramount chief and his administrative machinery of sub-chiefs and elders. Among other things they settle disputes and conflicts among members of the village. In modern times, however, with the growth of the legal system, where cases are handled in courts and tribunals, the role of the chief is taking a new shape. Many people prefer to take their disputes to the courts rather than to chiefs for settlement. However, there are certain cases such as disputes concerning the dowry of a woman that are still very much handled by chiefs.
Frafra council meeting
Adaakoya is celebrated at Bolgatanga and Zuarungu by the Gurunsis. It is held between January and February cry year. The festival serves to give thanks to the gods for good harvest. The mode of celebration is through various sacrifices followed by drumming and dancing. The climax is a durbar of the chiefs and people.
Belief in the Supreme Being is very strong in Frafra cosmology. The Frafra refer to the
Supreme Being and Creator God as Yinε. The etymology of this term is not very clear but it is possible that it comes from the word ayina, which means one/alone with the connotation of only. Yinε may, therefore, imply
the Only One, one who is alone and above all. Yinε is often prefixed with na-a, thus Na-ayinε which implies chief. The na-a is a derivative of chief – naba. Na-anyinε, therefore, means the only Supreme Chief.
The abode of the Supreme Being is often viewed as being in the skies or even beyond the skies. As a consequence, the sky is call yinin, which means the abode of Yinε, translated in English as God. This can give the connotation that for the Frafra God is completely transcendent, and far removed from people. Such a conclusion will be a hasty one and will be far from the truth. Even though it may be true that the Frafra think of God as transcendent, it is also true that they consider their Yinε as one who is immanent and always with them. This can easily be deciphered from their daily conversation, and blessings and curses. It is common to hear the Frafra say, yinε ka zãe – God is not far or yinε yẽti – God sees. To wish one a good night, the Frafra would say yinε gã-re ho – which means may God bless your sleep.
Sometimes in cursing or blessing, God’s name is also used. One can curse an enemy with the words, yinε wan soke ho – literally, God will ask you, in other words, God will curse you or bless somebody with the words yinε wan sunge/maale ho – that is, God will help you or bless you.
Besides these, the Frafra have lots of attributes of God. For them, God is love, God is powerful, God is merciful, God is the creator of all there is in the universe. Indeed God is everything. These attributes of God are sometimes found in the many theophorus names among the Frafra. In fact most Frafra names are theophorus. Some of these names include Ayinongre – God’s love, Ayinbora/Ayindesum – God is love, Ayinbono – God’s property, Ayingagya – God is above all and so on. These theophorus names are a powerful expression of the Frafra concept of the Supreme Being who encompasses all that there is and who is the only one, Yinε who has no equal. Idowu underscores the importance of these theophorus names as expression of the African’s view of God when he observes: “The theophorus proper names that people bear all over Africa are a further evidence of how real God is to the Africans.”
In spite of all these, in a very paradoxical way, the Frafra do not offer sacrifices to the Supreme Being directly. To be sure, there is no shrine among the Frafra dedicated directly to the Supreme Being. This, however, is not a contradiction to the respect and honour the Frafra give to God, their Supreme Being. On the contrary it falls in line with their socio-religious life. We saw above that Chiefs play a very important role in the political life of the Frafra. This can be woven into the fact that the Frafra do not approach God directly in their sacrifice but only indirectly.
Among the Frafra like many other African communities, nobody approaches the chief directly. It is a sign of disrespect not just to the person of the chief but the whole chieftaincy institution. Such behaviour is usually punished with a fine. The chief is always approached through intermediaries such as the elders, and his
decisions and communications are given not directly to the people but through his elders who play the role of mediators. This indeed is reflected in the Frafra approach to the Supreme Being. We believe this is the reason why the Frafra do not approach God directly in worship and sacrifice but through mediators such as the ancestors, and other divinities.
Frafra tribe man and King Ayisoba is a hiplife performer and Kologo (guitar) player. watch his video here;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MN2cZPjijE
Divinities: Besides belief in the Supreme Being, the Frafra, like many African communities also believe that other divinities exist and they relate with them in their capacities as divinities endowed with some divine powers that influence their lives. These divinities can be viewed in various forms. They, unlike the ancestors were never once human. Their origin is not known or even talked about but it is fair to imagine along with their mentality that everything comes from the Supreme Being to say that these divinities may have their origin in the Supreme Being or at least share in the powers of the Supreme Being.
shrines dedicated to these divinities are located are protected areas. No farming activities take place there and the trees are not cut least the anger of the divinities is incurred. Thus belief in these divinities is ingrained in the Frafra/African religious worldview.
Ancestors: Belief in ancestors is the commonest feature of the African traditional religion, not least the Frafra. Thus ancestral veneration can be considered a central element of African traditional religion. Unlike the divinities we just treated above, ancestors were once human beings who lived on earth and have now joined the spirit world through the process of death. Like the divinities they are very much honoured and revered. The Frafra associate more with the ancestors than with the other divinities because they were once human and are believed to know the human condition and needs very well and are thus in a better position to solicit help and blessing from the Supreme Being. Moreover, for the Frafra there is a strong link between the ancestors and their living progeny, a link which death does not break. This is why the Frafra build the shrines dedicated to the ancestors within their homestead to emphasise this permanent link that exists between the living and the dead. These shrines are often seen dotted in front of peoples’ houses.
Ancestral cult among the Frafra is not limited to men but also includes women as well. However, whereas generally speaking the male ancestral shrines are located in front of the house, the female ancestral shrines can be found inside the house. This is very much in line with their pattern of life. Frafra funeral ritual, the place of the woman is inside while that of the man is outside. This is also acted out in their religious life since the Frafra generally do not separate the mundane from the religious. These ancestors are also mediators between the living progeny and the Supreme Being.
The criteria for qualification as an ancestor among the Frafra are not radically different from many ethnic communities in Africa. For one to be considered an ancestor he/she must meet certain qualities and requirements.
To be qualified to be ancestor, one must have raised a family, been responsible, grown old and become an elder in the family, clan or village community, and of course would have died a natural death. On a negative note, a wicked person who uses sorcery, witchcraft or magic to cause harm to people can never qualify to be ancestor. People who die bad deaths or may have been known thieves in the village community would also not qualify to be ancestors. The reason for this strict moral code is in the fact that the ancestor for the Frafra is a custodian of the people and in fact an embodiment of their moral code for they can punish deviance and bless good deeds. For this reason if one is not ethical him/herself, how could he/she punish or correct wrongdoing in the community or the family? If one was not responsible on earth, how could he/she effectively mediate between the living and the Supreme Being?
The ancestors are believed to inhabit the land of the dead, which for the Frafra is in the underworld and from there they influence the day-to-day lives of the people. Though they are perceived to inhabit the underworld, they are not confined there but are all around the vicinity of the house. They too like all other spirits are more active at night though their activities cannot be limited only to the night.
Ancestors play a pivotal role in the lives of the Frafra and it is for his reason that they revere them so much. Sacrifices are offered to them periodically to solicit their help and their intercession of the Supreme Being. They are sometimes also invoked in blessings and curses.
Other Spirits: Belief in the existence of other spirits besides the ancestors and divinities is an integral part of
African traditional religion. There is, however, a difference between these spirits and the spirits of ancestors and divinities. Ancestors are the spirits of people who once lived on earth and have now died and joined the spirit world. The divinities are also spirits that are connected in one way or the other with the family, clan or village community as we have pointed out. On the other hand, the spirits being discussed here are of a different kind. They are considered as free roving spirits that are all over and not confined to any particular place. These spirits are generally feared as they are believed to be malicious and can manifest themselves in various forms and cause havoc to the human society. Witches are believed to possess some of these evil spirits that make them kill and eat human beings through a spiritual manipulation. It is believed that some of these spirits have the ability to enter the womb of a woman during the normal intercourse with her husband and be born into the world. Generally babies with abnormal features are suspected to be this kind of children. Normally such children are killed and buried not in the normal family graveyard but in the wild for that is where they belong.
These spirits are usually imagined to be very small in stature and very swift in their movement. They can either have very thin voices or loud and rough ones. They have the power to cause accidents on the roads, in the water and in fact anywhere. The Frafra do not offer sacrifices to these spirits and there are no shrines dedicated to them. On the contrary, the divinities and the ancestors are usually asked during sacrifices to keep them far away from the community. These roving spirits are never anybody’s friends and very often people don’t even talk about them.
Though generally the Frafra consider these spirits as malicious and wicked spiritual beings, they also believe that there are good spirits among them. These good spirits can possess an individual in the community and reveal some secrets to him or her for the good of the community. This secret could be the power to heal various kinds of diseases and ailments, prevention of witchcraft activity, ability to divine and see the future, prevention of epidemics, drought and so on. These are considered good spirits that use their powers for the benefit of the community.
Divination: At various intervals, the elder in the family would go to the diviner to communicate with the ancestors and the other divinities to find out the state of the family and if there are certain things to be done. The Frafra never makes major undertakings such as building a house, travelling far away, marrying etc without consulting the ancestors through divination. The ancestors are the guardians and custodians of the
living and their permission and blessing must be sought before any undertaking. If the ancestors are against any intended journey or undertaking, it is usually abandoned.
Besides these moments that the Frafra would visit the diviner, there are other moments that call for divination. These moments are death, sickness, during epidemics and some other disasters in the community. During these moments the Frafra divines to find out the cause of these unfortunate incidence so that they can remedy the situation through sacrifices and offerings to the ancestors and divinities as the case may be.
Diviners are usually men or women who are possessed by one or the other good spirits with have talked about above or the spirit of a distant relation who died a long time ago. The possession can manifest itself in the individual in a form of fits or sickness or a strange and abnormal behaviour. In such a situation a diviner is usually consulted to find out the cause to the problem. It is usually during this divination that the intention of the particular spirit is made known and then the family will go through the process of creating the shrine for divination for the particular individual. Usually after that is done the problem disappears and the person becomes a diviner in the community and people can consult him or her. Thus divination can be said to be a life wire in Africa traditional religion.
Sacrifices and Offerings: Sacrifices and offerings are some of the constitutive elements in African traditional religion. For the Frafra there are two ways of offering sacrifices. These are either blood sacrifice or flourwater/flour sacrifice. The blood sacrifice involves the immolation of the victim, either an animal or a
chicken and the blood offered on the shrine of the particular divinity. Generally participants of the sacrifice consume the meat of the victim. The Frafra believe that blood signifies life so by offering the blood of the victim on the shrine, the particular divinity takes the life of the victim, which is signified in the blood. Besides this bloody sacrifice, there is also the bloodless sacrifice with either flour-water or only dry flour. For the flour-water sacrifice, the Frafra mixes flour in water and pours it on the shrine of the divinity. The dry flour sacrifice is done in very extreme cases. This is usually done during a period of long drought. The worshippers in this extreme case would pour dry flour on the shrine that is dedicated to the rain divinity to indicate that due to the drought they have no water to mix the flour with. Therefore, this form of sacrifice is only a symbolic sacrifice to provoke the divinity to act in their favour by giving them rain.
Broadly speaking, the Frafra have three forms of sacrifice namely, thanksgiving, pacification and supplication. The sacrifice of thanksgiving is usually done after harvest, childbearing, marriage, a successful expedition and so on. This sacrifice is offered to thank the ancestors for the blessings they have received during the year. A sacrifice of this kind is naturally one of a joyful celebration. The sacrifice of pacification is usually carried out as a result of a wrong done by an individual or a group of people in the village or in the family. Examples of crimes that call for the sacrifice of pacification are cutting branches in the shrines dedicated to a particular divinity, having sex in the bush or sleeping with somebody’s wife and a host of others. These crimes are believed to anger the divinities and the ancestors and thus call for some sacrifices to pacify them or else some misfortune may befall the individual or even the community. The sacrifice of supplication can be done at any time, but generally they are done before the individual or community undertakes a major event such as the beginning of the farming season, before harvesting, before embarking on a long journey and so on. This sacrifice constitutes a request for success and blessing from the ancestors.
Besides offering sacrifices, the Frafra also make other offerings that may not strictly speaking be considered sacrifices but are nonetheless important in their relationship with the spirit world. These offerings are usually food offering mostly to the dead including the ancestors. This usually happens when somebody dies and the post-burial celebration is not yet performed. In that interim period between burial and post-burial celebration, the family of the deceased may prepare food and leave it uncovered in the kitchen so that the deceased who has not yet been brought into the ancestral home through a funeral celebration may can come in and eat. Besides, during the funeral celebration there are moments that food is prepared and kept for the ancestors to come and eat.
Frafra handmade Woven fruit basket
Frafra are known for their Kologo sounds. There are a lot of traditional kologo player from a rural, pastoral background amongst Frafra people. The kologo is a little-known two-stringed instrument with a heavy bass sound from the Frafra of Ghana and Burkina Faso that Bola learned growing up herding livestock in Northeast Ghana.
Like the many other ancestors of the banjo that are scattered across West Africa, the kologo has a gourd resonator and a skin head. There’s a whole sub-family of banjo-like bass instruments in West Africa, and the earthy blend of gut strings, gourds, and kick-ass bass lines is nigh-irresistible. But all connections to the banjo aside, it’s just damn nice that we’re finally getting such a great influx of recordings of West African stringed instruments that aren’t the kora (the ubiquitous and beautiful harp of Mail/Senegal/The Gambia).
Frafra tribe man and Ghanaian musician and griot, Atongo_Zimba. His album Allah Mongode was recorded in Switzerland. His album Barefoot in the Sand was nominated "African CD of the Year" in 2007 by Amsterdam television. His recording of No Beer in Heaven was a major hit in Ghana in 2004.
THE FRAFRA CONCEPT OF THE PERSON
Four main components that make up a person in the mind of the Frafra. These are inŋa (body), sia (soul, spirit), deγro (dirt – mystical), and vo-osum (breath). These in a broad sense in the mind-set of the Frafra make up a person, not in a differentiated form as has already been stated but as a unity.
NERA/NERISAALA (PERSON/HUMAN BEING) : The Frafra distinguish between nera and nerisaala. Nera is used to refer specifically to a person. Here the term refers to the totality of the person. It includes his body, soul, breath etc. Nerisaala is a more generic term, which refers generally to a human being with all the characteristics that distinguish the human person from an animal – dunŋa. In actual fact there is no difference in the use of the two terms in the mind of the Frafra. Though they may be intellectually distinguishable, they
refer to one and the same thing, the person. For the Frafra like the Dagaaba, nerisal or ninsaala respectively “designates ‘man’ and any of the elements of mankind. It points to the intellectual, spiritual, moral humane aspect of man…Ninsaala thus implies the idea of reason, of humanity as opposed to animal.” On the other hand, nera or nir is this “concept incarnate and actualized. It points to man in his existential complex, man as concretely and physically describable, a complex being as a social being, man in his diverse activities and social relationships.” Nera is, therefore, the human person who is self-conscious and can integrate socially to a certain degree. This obviously includes his maturity, level of reasoning, intellect and so on. Otherwise he is termed a mina n ka tari yem, that is, one who has no sense, foolish or immature in his behaviour. Here age does not count. What matters is the level of maturity. The Frafra will say of a wicked person a daγ nera, that means he or she is not a human being. This does not mean that physiologically he/she is not a human being but his/her behaviour is not human and probably does not belong to the human domain. This underscores the fact that the human being is a moral being. This is connected with reason and the intellect, i.e. yem. Yem,
therefore, has moral implications. This brings us back again to the idea of the unitary perspective of the human person in the mind of the Frafra and many other African communities. To be considered fully human, nerisala, all the different units must be fully integrated into the spiritual, social and moral person.
INŊA (BODY): Nera, the human person is endowed with a body called inŋa. The inŋa is the physical and
physiological features of the person. This also includes the skin of the person, which is called ingane. In a very complex way the inŋa is also associated with reason/intelligence known as yem. This is similar to Dabaaba thought as Kuuknure explains, “nir, (person) is endowed with a body, yang or yanggan (literally body - skin). This is inseparably united to his yan (reason, intelligence or even spirit) and is construed to be the envelope” of the other constituents of the person. The body being the most physical of all the other aspects comprises all physically tangible constituents such as the different parts of the physical body, the bones, blood and all other tangible compositions of the person.
This is why it can be conceived as the envelope, as it is within this physical composition that the other units find their existence. In other words, the body is the reference point of the soul/spirit, the dirt and the vital breath. Death occurs when the vital breath ceases, the body decomposes, the spirit goes to God and the dirt dissolves. However, the person regains his body in the next world but a body that is not visible to the living.
.SIA (SOUL/SPIRIT): Probably the closest translation of the term sia in Frafra is the soul/spirit. The Tallensi and Nabdan call it sii. As already indicated the Tallensi and the Nabdan are also Frafra. As distinguished from the body, inŋa, the sia is intangible and imperceptible except to those who have so called second sight. (Some Africans believe that besides the normal eyes that everybody has, there are some people who have other eyes not visible to people. This enable them to possess a second sight and see things that others do not see. This second sight can either be through a natural gift from God or acquired through some magical acts. Witches and wizards are considered as people who possess this second sight that is why they can see the human soul. Senior undertakers are also people with the second sight, which they acquire through the initiation process of becoming undertakers.) The sia is described in various ways, and in a certain sense the Frafra don’t seem to grasp it fully. Their description of it is rather simple and very unsophisticated. It is “sometimes spoken of as if it were a double of the individual, accompanying him rather than being integral of him.
Correspondingly, the sii [sia] can wander about leaving its embodiment behind in sleep and appear in dreams to someone else.” The sia, however, is not identical with kuko (ghost). Unlike some African ethnic groups that seem to identify the sia with the ghost, the Frafra do not immediately identify it with the ghost. Kuko, which is the Frafra term for ghost is the spirit of a bad person that comes back to terrorise the living. Mostly witches are said to turn into ghosts when they die and come back to continue their nefarious activities on earth because they cannot enter the ancestral world easily due to their bad deeds while they were alive. In a certain sense we may say that the ghost is the soul of the witches but in their conversation the Frafra do not immediately identify the ghost with the sia. Consequently when someone who is suspected to be either a witch or a sorcerer dies, the undertakers have a way of burying that person to prevent his/her ghost from coming back.
In their view the sia is certainly part of a living person’s constitution that has its own identity. Though it can leave the body, it is an integral part of the person. The sia can be at risk and is often vulnerable and open to
dangers. It is that part of the person that can be injured or even killed by witches, sorcerers and evil medicine men. This same belief cuts across several African ethnic communities. We find it for example among the Dagaaba of the Upper West Region of Ghana. Like the Frafra they also believe that “during a man’s life the soul is capable of leaving its material support. During its peregrinations the body remains immobile until it returns and reintegrates with its body. These roving souls are the ones either eaten by witches or are themselves witches who eat other souls. But it is supposed to be the flesh of those souls that are eaten, an act, which precipitates the death of the person. The soul itself remains intact.”
The most mysterious aspect and that which is difficult to explain is their belief that “when a new grave is being dug, souls of people attending the mortuary ceremony are apt to be enticed into the grave without the person thus affected being aware.”37 It is only the bayaase (undertakers) who by their initiation that enable them to acquire a second sight can see these souls and aid them out of the graves. If they remain in the graves and are buried with the deceased they will also die shortly after the burial.
For the Frafra, one does not go to the funeral of his/her intimate friend for the simple reason that the friend may want to take him/her along, so that they can continue their life as it was on earth. Therefore, the friend can only come to express his/her sympathy after the funeral. Thus Fortes may be right. Nevertheless, it may also be possible to look at this custom from the perspective of curiosity. The Frafra do not dig new graves at every funeral. One has to merit it by virtue of one’s status. Therefore, the occasion of digging a grave can attract curiosity especially from young people who want to know how it is done. This curiosity may be translated into their souls going to the grave to ‘see’ what is going on. Even in normal everyday life among the Frafra, when a new house is being built, people come and go. Some come to help, while others come just out of curiosity. In the same vein, since the grave is the home of the dead, the souls of the people may just
wander there for the sake of curiosity. A somewhat more skeptical way of looking at the custom would be to deny any possibility of souls going inside the grave. It may just be a ploy by the undertakers to frighten people and keep them away from coming to the grave since they have nothing to do with the ritual. But this would be tampering with a core belief of the Frafra in connection with the digging of a new grave. Whatever the source of the custom, our interest here is to posit that the Frafra view of the soul forms an integral part of the person and what happens to the soul will have an effect on the person, either negative or positive.
The concept of the sia is even further complicated when it is extended to include one’s identity and belongings. These belongings generally include normal clothing, a man’s bow and arrows a hoe, an axe and a woman’s personal ornaments such as brass, amulets and beadwork. These are believed to be associated with the person’s soul. More specifically, a man’s sia (soul) is believed to be directly associated to his granary and a woman’s choicest selection of calabashes and storage pots. Sia (soul), therefore, can be conceived of as one’s personal identity that is objectified in his/her personal possessions.
This is so fundamental in Frafra thought that people are careful about how they handle their possessions, especially their most intimate ones such as their inner pants and dresses. This is because one who is wicked, for example a sorcerer or somebody with evil magic who wishes to cause harm to the person can use these intimate possessions, which are connected with his/her sia to do so. It is in this sense that an effigy made from a dead man’s clothing truly represents him.
In a very strong sense sia is connected with the idea of a natural attraction and aversion to people. An affinity to a person can be attributed to an attraction of their siisi (plural) and in the same way their aversion to one another can be attributed to revulsion of their siisi. In this sense, sia reflects character trait and disposition. It is very common for a Frafra to say of someone he/she does not like, n sia n yesi εn. In other words my sia is out of him/her. That means I simply don’t like him.
The notion of the sia is quite paradoxical. Though people believe that the sia is capable of existence in its own right, it still remains an integral part of the living person. It is, so to say, the source of the life – vom of the person. It is this component of the person that goes to the ancestral world after death while the inŋa – body decomposes. However, though the physical body decomposes the sia departs in the form of a corporeal body, a kind of a phantom that is recognizable as the person who lived on earth. These dead people can be seen and encountered in dreams. It is this sia that roams around waterless grounds until the final funeral rites are performed and he or she joins the ancestral world.
In view of the difficulty in defining exactly what the sia is, Fortes’ summary definition of this phenomenon is plausible. He believes that the summary definition of the sia:
"would be to say that it is their representation and objectification of the unity and continuity
of the individual as he experiences his waking and sleeping, in his relationships with others,
in his feelings about his most personal private possessions, in his image of his connection
with his forbears and with his expected posterity. As an individual he is identified to
himself and to other most commonly by his name or titles and often also by particular ritual
observances relating to food and clothing or permitted and prohibited activities that he does
not share with others."
This seems to me an acceptable summary of what the sia is in so far as it is part of one’s personality.
DENγRO (MYSTICAL DIRT): The notion of the denγro – dirt as an aspect of the person is the most difficult to explain. This denγro goes beyond the physical mundane dirt associated with cleanliness and hygiene. The dirt referred to here is best described as mystical dirt. This mystical dirt is connected to the most personal and intimate things of the person. They include, as both Fortes and Kuukure point out, intimate, private, bodily exudations such as sweat, sexual fluid, and body odor and one’s personal belongings, especially the most intimate ones such as the loincloth (triangular pants) of a man and a woman’s
traditional waist belt. As Fortes points out “other secretions such as saliva, tears, nasal mucus are not dirt in this sense. The excretory products (urine and faeces) are ‘dirt’ in a mundane and profane sense only comparable to the commonplace sense of the English word dirt.” This underscores the fact that the idea of the mystical dirt has nothing whatsoever to do with our ordinary and mundane understanding of the word dirt. The Frafra distinguish between the ordinary usage of the word and its mystical sense. When they use the word dirt in this sense, they do not mean its literal form referring to the hygienic state but its ‘mystical’ form, which applies to one’s personality.
In the sexual relationship between husband and wife, this ‘mystical dirt’ is shared through the contact of the most intimate parts of their bodies, their sexual organs, and through the sharing of their sexual secretions and sweat. This is so intimate and so dangerous that it should not be shared with another person outside the marital union. On face value this assertion may be considered an overstatement due to the fact that polygamy and levirate marriage systems are practised among the ethnic community under study. That apart, boy-girl relationships, which often result in premarital sex also take place. Indeed, these are facts but they can still be explained within the belief system of the Frafra. Considering the patriarchal nature of the community, it is the male society that sets up the system of morality. Therefore, a man can have as many wives as possible and these women are his legal wives and consequently they share equally their individual mystical dirt with him and him alone.
As for the levirate marriage, the widow who ‘chooses’ a brother of her deceased husband becomes his
‘widow-wife’ and, therefore, they also share the same mystical dirt. Her relationship with her deceased
husband having been abrogated by her purification during the funeral, she is now free to reunite with another man in the family. Once she has made her choice, she has no right to have any sexual relationship with another man besides the one of her choice. In that case the mystical dirt between her and the current man is considered normal. That is why she will perform her duty as a widow in case this man also dies before her and if she dies before the man, he will also perform his duty as a widower. As far as the boy-girl relationship is concerned, much as the Frafra tolerate the relationship, they strongly disapprove of any premarital sex. Young people are not expected to have sex before they marry even though in contemporary society parents know that it is happening and they cannot stop it.
That is, however, considered by traditional minds as an aberration and the rottenness of modern society. In this case there is no ‘dirt’ that is binding both partners since they are not married. They believe that if a woman commits adultery, she is sharing the ‘dirt’ of her husband with another man, thus exposing him to serious danger. He might die if he happens to have a sexual relationship with her unknowingly. This has to be normalised through a purificatory rite for the woman.
At the death of a person and before the deceased rejoins the ancestors in the life hereafter, all those who have had relations with him or her have to purify themselves from this ‘dirt’, which they had contracted during their relationship with him/her. Among the Frafra and many of their neighbouring communities, this is usually done during the final funeral rites, which the Frafra call the ‘dry’ funeral. This funeral is the process of ushering the deceased into the ancestral world. The purificatory rites are particularly evident in the widowhood rite and the rites for orphans. This practice is similar to that of the Dagaaba of north-westGhana, as Kuukure explains, “at a man’s death and before he rejoins the spirits of his ancestors, all those who have had relations with him must rid themselves of his deor by which they have been defiled. This takes place at the rites and ceremonies of purification and at funerals.”
Another aspect of the denγro according to Frafra mentality is the fact that it is a very powerful symbol of the mystical presence of the person, especially a deceased person. It is this belief that makes the presence of an effigy at funerals meaningful. Effigies are used mostly during dry funerals when the body has already been buried. These effigies are made of the loincloth (triangular pant) together with a dry piece of wood. This is laid in state to represent the person as a substitute for his/her physical absence. Full respect is accorded to it as if it was the body of the person present. Often the effigy is referred to as the person’s denγro. It symbolises the person in a very mysterious way. Secondly, when somebody dies far away from home, parts of his/her dress together with some earth from his grave will be brought home for formal burial. This is also considered as representing the person him/herself. We realise then that the denγro is closely connected to the inŋa – body and sia – soul of the person.
VO-OSUM (VITAL BREATH): Vo-osum translated as breath is also connected to the identity of the person. It is through the breath of theperson that life is adequately sustained. Once the breath ceases, life is terminated. The Frafra distinguish between vo-osum and nyunvori. While vo-osum is breath, uyunvori means life. Nyunvori in a certain sense is connected with nostrils. The Frafra call the nostrils nyuure, which can also refer to life. When a Frafra is wishing somebody a long life, he/she would normally say, yinε bo ho nyun woko (may God give you long nostrils – life). The connection, however, between vo-osumand nyunvori is the fact that humans breathe through the nostrils which is symbolic of the life of the person. Therefore, to live long is to have a long period of breath. The Frafra believe that during one’s sleep, when the soul leaves the body and goes out, it is the breath that sustains the body without which the soul cannot come back into the body. In this sense then the sia – soul depends on the vo-osum to remain part of the whole system of the person.
Frafra funeral in Bolga
Death is, therefore, caused by the cessation of the functioning of the vo-osum. Paradoxically, however, “breath is considered to be the expression, not the source of life. What is essentially lost by death is the soul.” This in any case is the mentality, but basically when people are referring to death – kum, they talk about the annihilation of the whole person in death. In other words, the entire life of the person is terminated from this life, but this person will continue to live in the same manner as he/she lived in this world with his/her corporeal body. Life in the next world, however, is a more fulfilled and perfect life than that on earth. In talking about the Frafra concept of the person, Edward Kuukure’s assertion concerning the Dagaaba concept forms a good conclusion to our topic since it also holds true for the Frafra.
According to Kuukure,
"Although their approach is unitary, the Dagaaba seem to be so impressed by the
constituents of man seen analytically that they speak of these constituents in a way hardly
reconcilable with their unitary approach. For lack of strict and developed philosophical
terminology, they clumsily express their vision of man as a being, a person, having, yangan
(body), yan (intelligence, reason or spirit), vuuro (vital breath), sie (soul), dasule (shadow),
and deor (impurity)…Man is all these constituents together, and they manifest and expose
him. They are aspects of the self and which are united among themselves, even when they
are dispersed in time and space…"
These constituent parts should, therefore, not be seen as individuated personalities but a unity that makes up what a person actually is in the mind of the Frafra.
Frafra funeral rite Bolga
THE DAGAABA-FRAFRA JOKING RELATIONSHIP
Joseph Yelepuo Wegru
The present article concerns inter-ethnic humour and its development between the Dagaaba and Gurune (or Frafra) tribes in Ghana. This is but one aspect/dimension of the total socio-cultural richness of these people, which needs to be researched and recorded for succeeding generations. For instance, Kropp-Dakubu (1988) deplores the unsatisfactory state of knowledge about the origins of the various languages of northern Ghana and the small number of people qualified to write about them. Kropp-Dakubu's lament about the state of northern Ghanaian languages can be applied, to some extent, to our present discussion.
Bonaba, Chief of Bongo in his traditional Batakari dress
None of the works on the life of these two tribes addresses the present topic. It is also important to note that until well into the 1960s, when Dagaaba intellectuals entered the scene, little new historical research was being carried out on the Black Volta1 region, either in Ghana or in Burkina Faso. The attention of earlier scholars was concentrated on only pre-colonial states such as Dagomba, Gonja, Wa and Mossi. The so-called 'stateless societies' remained marginal to the interest of most historians (Lentz 1994). This neglected area of academic research includes the two tribes of our present discussion.
Frafra people enjoying songs
The crucial matter of this article is based on a legend, narrated by Anthony Atarebore during an interview conducted by the writer himself, in the quest for an explanation to the Dagaaba-Frafra joking relationship in Ghana. However, it is essential to trace this development in the context of history, mythology, folklore, culture and traditions of these peoples. Aware of the limited and debatable documentary evidence available on the origins of these peoples, the article does not claim to be a final authority on the subject. Research on oral tradition regularly points out that migration stories and genealogies cannot be taken at face value. We can only attain certain levels of plausibility (Lentz 1994).
The first comprehensive ethnographic survey of the western Sudan, which includes the two tribes under our discussion, was made by Delafosse at the instigation of Clozel, Governor of the Colonie du Haut-Sénégal-Niger, within some twelve years of the final occupation of the area by the French (Goody 1967). Following this pioneering work, many other scholars, including Jack Goody, have done further extensive work on the Dagaaba at different times. Greenberg, Westermann, Wilks, Labouret, Rattray, Hamilton and Cardinall, Lentz, Somé, to mention a few, have done some general anthropological and historical work on the people of northern Ghana. St. John-Parsons D. has also compiled Legends of Northern Ghana. However, there is very little exclusive literature on the Frafra people in the Upper East Region of Ghana.
Frafra man in traditional dress playing kologo (banjo)
The origin of the Gurune and the Dagaaba
The Dagaaba is a predominantly agricultural tribe of a little over one million, living in the northwestern part of Ghana called the Upper-West Region, and in southwestern Burkina Faso. Although they speak a continuum of several dialects (Dagaare, Waala, Birifor), Dagaare appears to be the umbrella language for the dialects. The major towns of the Dagaaba in Ghana are Wa, Lawra, Jirapa, Babile, Nandom, Hamile, Nadawli, Kaleo, Daffiama, and Tuna. However, there are also many Dagaaba communities in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and most major towns and villages throughout the country.
Until recently the Dagaaba were subsistence farmers and hunters (Goody 1962). Farming is so central to the economy of Dagao that more and more people migrate southwards in search of better lands. It is fashionable for adolescent Dagaaba to move down south in the dry season to farm for money and the success of their first trip has become more or less a yardstick for measuring their growth to adulthood and their ability to live independently and raise a family.
The Gurune or Frafra are also predominantly agricultural people in the north-eastern part of Ghana called the Upper East Region. Major Gurune towns include Bolgatanga, Bongo, Zuarengu, Somburungu, and they also live in surrounding villages. Today, the Gurune can be found in many major towns and villages all around Ghana including Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Sunyani and Cape Coast. They are also highly mobile, often travelling south to look for work during the dry season. There are also some Gurune-speaking people (the Nankani) in Navrongo District, which is generally a Kasem-speaking area. Native Gurune are also found in Burkina Faso, in the Nahouri province, Eastern part of Tiébélé and in the region of Pô.
Gurune, Nankani, Booni, Talni, and Nab't together with some others are considered the major dialects of the Frafra people. However, Nab't and Talni could also be considered dialects of Mampruli; Mampruli, Kusaal, and Dagaare are in turn considered to be sister languages to Gurune. There are obvious linguistic similarities among these and the other languages of the Mabia language group (Bodomo 1994; St. John-Parsons 1960).
It is common knowledge in Ghana that the Dagaaba and the Gurune have an admirably cordial relationship. They can joke and tease each other in the public without either taking undue offence as they have mutual understanding as Mabia, or playmates. Either party's age, sex, religion, educational or social status does not influence this cordial relationship; being born in either tribe is the sufficient prerequisite. Active participation in the jokes is, however, not compulsory. Although there are some who neither initiate nor participate in the jokes, neither do they prevent others from joking.
The concept of playmates is not confined to the Gurune and Dagaaba tribes in Ghana. Several other tribes in the country share this concept and exercise it among themselves. For instance, the Kasena and the Sisaala are playmates. Playmates can also be members of the same tribe (Goody 1967). For instance, the Zage and the Naayile are two Dagaaba clans who are playmates. Similar groups can be found also among other tribes. Playmates are often in the position of an intermediary resolving conflicts and restoring peace among community members.
However, the focus of this article is not on the concept of playmates as a whole (a field that has been intensively studied in anthropology), but on the Gurune-Dagaaba playmate relationship, which recently has gained both national and international attention. Fraternity between these two tribes is a positive phenomenon amidst the growing number of ethnic and tribal conflicts that plague the African continent today. Having a relationship of playmates is healthy for ethnic groups, diffusing tensions in potentially dangerous situations.
The Origin of the Relationship
The origin of the Gurune-Dagaaba relationship is as yet undetermined. Little is known as to its origin. People accept joking as a common practice between the two tribes, their general concern is but to enjoy the jokes and live in harmony. However, fascinating stories and legends are told in connection with its origin. Many ethnic groups or sub-groups in northern Ghana have legendary history telling how their ancestors came from Mamprusi or Dagomba lands, but it is not clear whether these narratives reflect migration of whole peoples or the arrival of chiefly families to rule over previously chiefless peoples (Kropp-Dakubu 1988).
According to a legend narrated by Anthony Atarebore, the Frafra and the Dagaaba were both linked with the Dagomba. This Dagomba connection re-echoes Hébert's legend about the first Dagara, an orphan who was accused of witchcraft and expelled by the Dagomba chief. The orphan accordingly fled towards the Black Volta and stayed near Babile, across the river. However, both legends do not account for the relationship with other ethnic groups, which are shown to belong to a common Mabia ancestry (Bodomo 1994).
Bodomo (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Tuurey (1982) and Hébert (1976) that the Dagaaba are a splinter group from either the Mossi or the Dagomba (or both), who moved into the present area and assimilated (or got assimilated by) earlier settlers and/or new arrivals. As stated above, the work instead suggests all these belong to an earlier and larger parent ethnolinguistic group - the Mabia that broke up into many separate tribes probably due to hardships encountered during migration. Even though there is not any known legend connected to this hypothesis, Kropp-Dakubu (1988) seems to suggest how this might have happened.
If migration separates different groups or speakers of a language, for instance, by a big river or mountain frontier, then the speech of the group will change independently of the changes in the other. Thus we find different varieties of a single language - what we call dialects. If the dialects continue to be separated and to differ more and more from each other then eventually the speakers of each will no longer understand the speakers of the other, and we will have two distinct languages derived from one original tongue. Such languages would be said to be 'related' and the analogy of human kinship is used to describe them as 'descended' from the same 'parent' or 'ancestor' language. If the two descendant languages themselves split into dialects and then into further descendant languages then we can talk of 'sub-families' and of closer or more remote relationships. In this way we consider that all the languages which we call Gur which includes the Dagaaba and the Frafra may be the result of many, many centuries of change and migration and splitting up of what was originally one ancestor language.
We will elaborate further Atarebore's legend that a long time ago, Dagomba, Gurune and Dagao were brothers, or rather cousins. They lived somewhere in Southern Africa among the Bantus. From Southern Africa, they began to migrate northwards through Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Then, turning westward, they moved to Sierra Leone, Northern Nigeria, and finally to Ghana. Historians differ in their opinion as regards to the nature and scale of these movements. For instance, Lentz (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Eyre-Smith's that the history of northern Ghana, indeed of the whole West African savannah, seemed to consist of 'constant' movements of people as a result of slave-raiding, internecine warfare, etc., whole sections of a tribe or family breaking away and migrating to a new territory. Instead, Carola Lentz suggests that migration took place in small-scale distances and in small groups.
In general, there are some cultural similarities between the Dagaaba, the Dagomba and the Gurune, and some peoples living in the countries mentioned. These include wedding customs, bringing up children, respect for the elderly, etc. Similar food and clothing are also fair indicators of common origin, in addition to other social and cultural similarities, which also seem to indicate the validity of the legend. This is purely the writer's own assumption.
Phonetic similarities in some person names in these countries also suggest the plausibility of the legend. For instance, the name 'Abongo' is common both among the Gurune in Ghana and among some of the peoples in Kenya. Another name, 'Bayuo' or 'Beyuo' is also common among the Dagaaba in Ghana as well as among some of the peoples in Sierra Leone. Staniland (1975) suggests that the Dagomba were pagans of Hausa origin, possibly from Zamfara, one of the old Hausa 'Banza Bokwo' states located in northern Nigeria. Atarebore's legend suggests that from here, the family began to move westward and finally reached Ghana.
Upon arriving in Ghana, the family settled in Damongo, south of Tamale, exercising trade in hides and skin. They agreed to travel in turns to Upper Volta [current Burkina Faso], to buy goods to sell in Ghana. Dagomba was the first to go. He bought goods and came back. Next Dagao went, but he did not return. He got married and settled in Burkina Faso. He became both the chief [Naa] and the landlord [Tendaana, or Tengansob] there.
After a long time waiting in vain for the return of Dagao, Dagomba decided to send Gurune to look for him. In Burkina Faso he found the brother happily married and doing very well. He was the owner of vast farmlands and numerous animals. He was so well established that he could afford to marry fifty or more wives. Having many wives was a symbol of status in society. It turned out that the visitor like the host was not to return. Dagao kept him from going back.
Consequently, Gurune settled with his brother and the two worked together in Burkina Faso. They were both prosperous and hard working. Gurune got married and the two families continued to live together in harmony.
Dagao decided to share his authority with Gurune. He gave Gurune the title of the chief, but retained the title of landowner. According to tradition, the office of the landowner is more important than that of the chief.
A time came when they wanted to perform a thanksgiving sacrifice to God. Dagao, who was the Tendaana, consulted with the ancestors as to the best sacrifice. A dog was chosen. The sacrifice was to be held at dawn on a chosen day.
As it would be difficult to kill a dog at dawn, they decided to kill it the previous evening. Only the head and entrails of the dog were needed, so they took and hid these parts. But when everybody was sleeping, the oldest son of Gurune stole the sacrificial meat. He was eating it when the oldest son of Dagao found him. Together they ate all the meat, but decided to hang the skull on the family shrine.
In the morning when the elders gathered for sacrificing, Dagao went to fetch the meat, but the meat had disappeared. The whole house was searched and the compound swept to no avail. They found only dry bones hanging over the shrine. The poor elders were drowned in fear and wondered what to do next.
Then the youngest son of Gurune came forth as an eyewitness. He had seen his elder brother and cousin eating the meat. But Dagao could not accept that his son was a thief and put the blame on Gurune's son. This annoyed Gurune so much that he decided to move out of the house and go his way together with his family. Upon leaving he threatened to go east and prevent the sun from rising. Fearing what his brother might do, Dagao decided to move his family west so that he could prevent the sun from setting.
And this is why the Gurune is found in the east, the Dagomba in the south and the Dagaaba in the west of Northern Ghana.
Giant Baobab tree in Bongo
A legend may not provide factual information, yet it entertains and stimulates critical thinking. However, it provides a possible explanation of Dagaaba-Frafra jokes involving 'dog head' as in the following two stories. The main subject of the story usually depends on the narrator. The Dagao tells the story against the Frafra and vice versa.
A Fraframan was riding his motor bike without wearing his crash helmet. Instead, he hung the helmet on the handlebars of the machine. On his way, the police stopped him to ask why he was not wearing the crash helmet but rather preferred to have it hanging on the handlebars of the machine. «You should always wear a crash helmet to protect your head», said the policeman. «Exactly, that is what I have done to the head. I am protecting it with the crash helmet», replied the Fraframan. Surprised at the response, the guard grabbed the helmet from the handlebars and a dog's head fell out.
A Fraframan was cooking dog meat in his house when his Dagao friend visited. Meanwhile, the Fraframan had taken out, from the pot, some of the meat he was cooking to taste when he heard the friend's voice in the courtyard. He was greedy and did not want to share with his friend. So, he quickly removed his hat, put the hot piece of meat into it and put it back on his head. He then met the friend at the gate with the intention of not allowing him into the house. He wanted to receive the friend casually and dismiss him quickly. But the friend was in great talking mood and kept talking for a long time. The Fraframan then became very uncomfortable and began to twist his head sideways so as to ease the pain. In the process, the dog meat fell out of the hat.
The legend also describes the roles of the Tendaana and the Naa among the Dagaaba, Dagomba and Gurune. The distinctive functions of the Tendaana and the Naa among these tribes are respectively spiritual and political.
The influence of the Hausa language on Dagaare is another example to the point. The word barika for 'thank you' in Dagaare is, in actual fact, a Hausa word, not to mention the derivation of tuo zaafi and fitoo (pito) which are, respectively, the staple food and drink of the native people of Northern Ghana. However, Kropp-Dakubu (1988) suggests this could have happened due to interactions through trade and commence.
Growth and Development of the Relationship
Participation in the jokes has several benefits. They appear spontaneously regardless of place, occasion, or circumstance. The jokes are always similar in content and context, be it at the market place, the pito bar or the funeral house. Joking usually involves one-to-one informal play and takes place whenever and wherever members of the two tribes meet. In fact, knowing the other person to be a Frafra or Dagao gives a feeling of brotherhood. One can go ahead with play even if it be the first time they meet.
Frafra woman and her child
Benefit to brotherhood seems to be the main purpose of the jokes between the two tribes. Through jokes, social and moral concepts like love, peace, understanding, hospitality, generosity, concern for others, to mention but a few, are developed. Members of the two tribes have always supported each other in both good and bad times. They attend and take active part in each other's celebrations - weddings, funerals and other important holidays.
The jokes also help to lower initial communication barriers, establish trust and make it easier to approach each other. Consequently, sharing is facilitated and it takes place in the atmosphere of peace, trust and mutual understanding. Moreover, the general public also enjoys the joking. Sometimes 'foreigners' want to participate in the jokes.
As mentioned before, the Gurune and Dagaaba are very mobile. They travel to the southern part of the country in search for employment during the dry season after harvest. This common pattern makes the tribes allies in a way and probably also contributes to keeping the relationship between them alive.14
Such joking is similarly popular among members of the two tribes who are either Catholic priests or followers of the Navrongo-Bolgatanga diocese. During their annual Christmas and Easter picnics, a dog is usually killed and the head carried around in jubilation to show their unity and solidarity.
Up to this point, one may be tempted to conclude that the Gurune-Dagaaba relationship is all roses and no thorns. Unfortunately, there have been cases of conflict and misunderstanding due to the jokes. Sometimes jokes are focused on teasing, and not edifying or brotherly communication. For instance, calling somebody 'an ugly dog-head eater' is an insult rather than a joke. There was also an occasion in Bolgatanga where pieces of packing foam were mixed with scrambled eggs and served to some Dagaaba for breakfast. Extensive joking can create animosity between the best of friends. Therefore, participants have to be sensitive to the feelings of others.
Although there are some problems, it seems that both tribes are willing to continue the relationship; they want to know its origins and they want their children to keep it up. One way to strengthen this relationship would be via common cultural and sports events. Inclusion of cross-cultural differences in school curriculum and exchange projects of both teachers and pupils of different regions could also be organised. Such cultural and social activities have the potential of reducing prejudices among both tribes. Invitation to and participation in each other's annual festivals are also examples. Joking has also encouraged inter-tribal marrying.
Jokes should exclude elements affecting the dignity and welfare of any group. The joking relationship has the potential of resolving conflicts. Participants need to treasure and nurture it to let it mature.
This article has attempted to find origins of the Dagaaba-Frafra jokes, a modest contribution to the on-going debate about the historiography of 'stateless' peoples in the northern Ghana. It has also sought to stimulate the reader to further research in the subject: one can ask the elders, or search libraries, and when he writes down what he has learned, the rich oral traditions will be turned into well-written history.
Members of the two ethnic groups need to consciously work at reforming the relationship so as to make it more acceptable, enjoyable and dignified. They should continue to work together and organise more joint cultural and educational activities at all the levels to include their confreres in the neighbouring countries.
Tourists with Frafra tindanaa of Balungu, Ghana
Atongo sandwiched on the left by musician Elivava and Okore
Frafra Handmade Woven Baskets from Bolga