Dagaaba people of Jirapa celebrating their Bong Ngo festival. Courtesy http://adbarnes17.blogspot.com/
The concentration of their settlement is found on their land proper, called Dagaabaland. Dagaabaland stretches from the Northwestern corner of Ghana to the West banks of the Black Volta River in Burkina Faso and in the Ivory Coast. Kuukure (1985:23) aptly describes the location of the Dagaaba as follows:
"The Dagarti people... live on both sides of the Black Volta River, which at that point forms
the boundary between the Republic of Ghana and Ivory Coast and Upper Volta [now
Burkina Faso]. These people live largely in the Northwestern corner of Ghana, spreading
across the border into Upper Volta, right up to the 12 parallel north. They are
concentrated particularly around the area where longitude 3 west and latitude 11 north
cross. But they thin out along the Volta, practically astride longitude 3 west, southward to
latitude l0 north. As a result of colonisation, which split them up into zones of British and
French influence, they now live in two different nations, namely Ghana and Upper Volta,
not to mention the sprinkling of them cut off in Ivory Coast." Note: Upper Volta is the former name of Burkina Faso.
Dagaaba dancers at their annual Bong Ngo festival at Jirapa, Upper West Region, Ghana. Courtesy http://adbarnes17.blogspot.com/
The Dagaaba (Dagarti/Dagao) are renowned for being the last people in the modern world to trade and transact commerce with precious cowries. Cowries are still used as a form of security bonds just as people trade in gold, in barter trade as well as a form of bride-price in Dagawie (Dagaabaland).
The actual name of these people is Dagaaba or Lo Dagaa but most outsiders call them Dagarti. One historian, describing the former usage of "Dagarti" to refer to this community by colonials, writes :
"The name 'Dagarti' appears to have been coined by the first Europeans to visit the region, from the vernacular root dagaa. Correctly 'Dagari' is the name of the language, 'Dagaaba' or 'Dagara' that of the people, and 'Dagaw' or 'Dagawie' that of the land." They are related to the Birifor people and the Dagaare Diola. A person from Dagarti or Dagaaba tribe is known as Dagao.
Dagao woman from Bonduku in Ivory Coast
Historically, the origins of Dagaaba people has been a complex mystery to tackle. However, the evidence of oral tradition is that the Dagaaba are an outgrowth of the Mole-Dagbani group (either Mossi or Dagomba) which migrated to the semi-arid Sahel region in the fourteenth century CE. They are believed to have further migrated to the lower northern part of the region in the seventeenth century. In his article "Customary Law of the Dagara” of Northern Ghana: Indigenous Rules or a Social Construction," published in 2002 edition of Journal of Dagaare Studies, Vol 2, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor quoting other sources posited that "The dominant thesis has it that the Dagara are a rebel group that migrated away from the autocratic rule of Dagbon, under the legendary Na Nyanse (see Tuurey, 1982; Lentz, 1997).
Dagaaba people performing Bewaa dance Kakube Festival at Nandom
The Dagaaba people with total population of over 2 million people have the larger percentage of its population residing in Ghana. They are found in Upper West Region of Ghana and reside predominantly in Lawra, Nadowli, Jirapa, Nandom, Lambussie, Kaleo, Bole, Birifu, Tugu, Daffiama, Wechiau and Hamile. Large communities are also found in the towns of Wa, Bogda, Babile, Tuna, Han and Nyoli.
Burkina Faso has the second highest concentration of Dagaaba people and they can be found in Sud-Ouest Region, especially in Ioba Province, but also in Poni, Bougouriba, Sissili, and Mouhoun provinces.
In Ivory Coast where there are smaller concentration of Dagaaba; they can be found in the districts of Bonduku and Buna.
Dagaaba people dancing to gyil (Xylophone) music at Nandom, Upper West Region, Ghana
Among the ethnic groups in Northern Ghana, the Dagaaba or Dagarti are number one ethnic group known for their social mobility from the North to the South long before British colonization of Gold Coast (Ghana). There is a saying/proverb among the Dagaaba that "ka biε ba yor, u kun bang dunia (lit. if a child does not travel, he/she will not know the world). In his work published in Nordic Journal of African Studies 17(1): 1–19 (2008) entitled "”Ka Biε Ba Yor": Labor Migration among the Dagaaba of the Upper West Region of Ghana, 1936– 1957" Gariba B. Abdul-Korah asserted that Dagaaba migration to the Southern Ghana was nothing new, as it has been erroneously claimed by some historians that it started in the late 1890s, when the British colonial administration in the north gave impetus to Dagaaba migration by recruiting labour to work in the south. He posited that "Dagaaba migration to southern Ghana between 1936 and 1957 was an adventure – “to see the world” and gain experience. It did not begin with colonial conquest; it had its roots in the precolonial past – in the slave trade, but more especially, in the period following Asante’s defeat of Gonja (18th century) through the Zabarima and Samorian invasions of the northwest in the late 19th century. Although the imposition of colonial rule may have transformed the nature and pattern of migration, Dagaaba migration to southern Ghana during the colonial period, was not new."
The Dagaaba (Dagarti) are famous for steadily gained popularity of the gyil (xylophone) used in playing indigenous and folkloric songs. Although the land inhabited by the Dagarti is far from any major city, musicians have brought the gyil to national and international audiences. Communicating as performers and teachers across cultural divides is often challenging. In recent times one of their contemporary Hiplife music artist is "Batman Samini aka Emmanuel Andrew Samini, the MOBO Awards 2006 winner from Ghana.
Dagarti man and one of Ghana`s best Musicians, Batman Samini
Like the Tallensi and Sisaala, the Dagaaba acknowledge the value and the tremendous power of the land (Tengan 1989). The Dagaaba or Dagara further acknowledge that land belongs exclusively to the Tengan (Earth Shrine). They also see rain as an indispensable source of life. It is desired and accorded great respect. As with the Sisaala, the Dagara are subsistence farmers who depend primarily on rainfed agriculture (Tengan 1989). From this situation of dependence on rainfed agriculture emerge many taboos connected with the land, the rain and the Tengan. One of these taboos is the Tako daa.
The Dagarti are also known for their whirling "Tigari" dance (healing ritual dance) and Bawa dance as well as the Bagre and the Dyoro Secret Societies.
The Dagaaba shares friendly jokes based on "dog head" with their fellow Mabia group, the Frafra people.
Ethnic Dagaaba dancer
The Dagaaba people have produced some prominent people for Ghana as a nation. The list include Chief Simon_Diedong_Dombo, a King, politician, teacher and the Parliamentary Leader during the first Republic of Ghana, Cardinal Peter Proeku Dery, an assistant traditional (fetish) priest turned Ghanaian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Ambrose P Dery, former attorney-General of Ghana and Member of Parliament for Lawra, Naa Abeifaa Karbo, traditional ruler, astute politician and founding member of Northern Peoples Party, Jatoe Kaleo, traditional ruler, astute politician and founding member of Northern Peoples Party, Peter Tenganabang Nanfuri aka Naa Ansoleh Ganaa II, former Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Ghana and the Paramount Chief of the Jirapa Traditional Area, Bede_Ziedeng, Ghanaian politician and the former Upper West Regional Minister of Ghana, Professor Edmund Nminyem Delle, renowned dermatologist, astute entrepreneur cum politician and former chairman of opposition Convention Peoples Party (CPP) of the late Ghanaian leader Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Alban Bagbin, Ghanaian politician, former Minister of Health in the Ghana, former minority leader and the Member of Parliament for Nadowli West, Benjamin Kunbuor, Ghanaian politician, law lecturer, Member of Parliament for Lawra, former Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Minister for Health, Minister for Interior and currently minister of Defence, Prof. Adams B. Bodomo, professor of African Studies (African Languages and Literatures), prolific writer and publisher/editor of Journal of Dagaare studies, etc.
Chief Simon Diedong Dombo (SD Dombo), ethnic Dagaaba/Dagarti man, one of the Ghana`s earliest most celebrated and charismatic politician, renowned chief of Duori and the founding member and leader of the Northern People’s Party (NPP) and Pogress Party (UP), which off-shot is the Ghana`s biggest opposition party,New Patriotic Party (NPP). Dombo was one-time the only lone vociferous opposition voice in Ghana when Dr Kwame Nkrumah declared Ghana as One-Party State. His name was popularized as "Domocracy."l
Clusters of Dagaaba
The terms "LoDagaa" and "Lobi-Dagarti" (or Dagara) are used for a cluster of peoples situated across the frontier of Burkina Faso and Ghana, originally grouped together by Labouret, following the usage of Delafosse and other francophones. In this cluster, Labouret included the "true Lobi" (or those the Birifor call the "LoWilisi") around Gaoua, who (according to Westermann and Bryan 1952) speak a Dogon-type language (the inclusion of Dogon is disputed); the Birifor (or LoBirifor) to their east, who speak Dagara, a Mole-Dagbane language; and four smaller groups: the Teguessié, the Dorossié, the Dian, and the Gan. The Teguessié (or Tégué) speak a language of the Kulango Group and are sometimes thought of as the autochthons; they were Masters of the Earth in much of the area. The other small groups speak languages related to Lobiri, as do the Padoro and possibly the Komono; Dian and Lobiri (in the east) are more closely related, as is the western group.
Subsequently, Père (1988) adopted the francophone use of Lobi ("la région Lobi") to cover the peoples of the Gaoua District of Burkina Faso, including not only the Jãa (Dian); the Gaàn (Gan); the Teésé (Teguessié); the Dòcsè (or Dorossié, but also the Kùlãgo [Kulango]); the Dagara (divided into Dagara Lobr and Dagara Wiili [Oulé]); and the Pwa (formerly known as the Pugula or Pougouli), who speak a Grusi language. Indeed, because she is dealing with the region, she also includes the Wala and the Dagara-Jula in her account.
Alban Kingsford Sumani Bagbin, ethnic Dagaaba, Ghanaian politician, former Minister of Health in the Ghana, former minority leader and the Member of Parliament for Nadowli West.
The problems of ethnic classification in this area are several. In the first place, names differ, depending on whether they are used by francophones or by anglophones. The Lobi described by Rattray (1932) include the Birifor as well as the Dagara of Labouret. Second, the names have changed over time. People who were known as "Lobi" in the Lawra District of Ghana at the beginning of the nineteenth century are now "Dagara." Third, the names themselves often do not describe distinct ethnic groups. There are many differences in custom and organization between neighboring settlements, and these settlements may be referred to by the two quasi-directional terms, "Lo" (Lobi, west) and "Dagaa" (east), to distinguish different practices (for example, the use of xylophones). A settlement may identify with its eastern neighbors on one occasion (as Dagaa) and with its western ones (as Lo) on another. This actor usage has led Goody to identify a spectrum of peoples, the LoDagaa, who use these names for reference to themselves and others. They are, from west to east, the true Lobi, the Birifor or LoBirifor, the LoPiel (around Nandom) and the LoSaala (around Lawra), the Dagara (around Dano), the LoWiili (around Birifu), both DagaaWiili (around Tugu), and the Dagaba or Dagarti. The Wala speak the Dagaba language and constitute a small state that has its origins eastward in Dagomba. That state established itself as ruler over the southern Dagaba and some Grusi-speaking peoples. In the west, a branch of the ruling dynasty extended across the Black Volta to Buna, where they adapted the local Kulango language. The LoPiel and the LoSaala are known to francophones as "Dagara" (or Dagara-Lobr), and they now generally use this term rather than "Lobi" for self-reference because they have been forced to classify themselves unambiguously for administrative purposes. That change is widespread because "Dagara" is often a more prestigious term than "Lobi." The latter is associated in many people's minds with the large lip plugs of gourd or metal that are worn in the west (the easterners wear thin metal plugs) and with the stress that the westerners place on matrilineal inheritance, about which modernizers (church, schools, law, some administrators) generally feel hostile and ambivalent.
Dr Benjamin Bewa-Nyog Kunbuor, Ethnic Dagaaba man, Ghanaian politician, law lecturer, Member of Parliament for Lawra, former Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Minister for Health, Minister for Interior and currently minister of Defence
Given these contextual, overlapping, and changing usages by the peoples themselves, actor names are rarely satisfactory to indicate "tribal" groups, by which we refer to larger groupings of settlements with relatively homogeneous practices. These groups can be distinguished, roughly from east to west, as the Dagaba or Dagarti (around Jirapa); the LoPiel (around Nandom) and the LoSaala (around Lawra), both "Dagara Lobr" in French; the DagaaWiili (around Legmoin and Tugu) and the LoWiili (around Birifu), both "Dagara Wiilé" in French; the Birifor or LoBirifor (around Batié and in western Gonja); and the Lobi or LoWiilisi (around Gaoua). There are, in addition, the smaller populations of Gan, Dorossié, and Gian, who speak Lobi languages, and Teguessié, and who speak Kulango. These groups can be collectively designated as the LoDagaa or Lobi-Dagarti cluster, there being no reason to exclude the other Dagara-speaking peoples once the Birifor have been included among the Lobi.
Dagaaba kids coming from the farm in photo-shot with Kirstin, member of Vetinarians Without Borders, at Nadowli, Upper West Region, Ghana. Courtesy http://vwbvsfstudentghana2010.blogspot.com/
Dagaaba Creation Story/Myth
The Dagaaba creation story can be found in Bagre performance that demonstrates the spiritual importance of the environment to Dagaaba. According to Dannabang Kuwabong "Bagre informs us that humans were created from a combination of the soil (earth), okra (plants), God’s saliva (water), and the semen and eggs of flies and cats (animals). Seen this way, the human person is a configuration of the land, the animal, the spirit, and the plant and we owe our lives to a preservation of the balance between us and these first beings. In other words, animals, plants, spirits, and the land must constantly be negotiated with as they have a closer affinity with the divine who oversees everything. That explains why Dagaaba see spirituality in every creation and situation."
Dagao man from Burkina Faso
The Dagaaba speaks the Dagaare language ((also spelled Dagare, Dagari, Dagarti, Dagaran or, Dagao), which belongs to the Oti-Volta group of the Gur branch of the Niger-Congo language family (Swadesh 1966, Bendor-Samuel1971:144, Naden 1989).
Ethnic Dagao Cardinal Peter Poreku Dery.
Dagaare is a two-toned language also referred to as Mabia subgroup of the branch of the Niger-Congo language of West Africa. (Bodomo 1997, Bodomo 2000, Anttila and Bodomo 2001). It is spoken by about 2 million people, mainly in Ghana but also in neighbouring regions of West Africa, like Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Phonologically speaking, Dagaare and other Mabia languages, including Moore, Dagbane, Frafra, Kusaal, Mampruli and Buli, are marked by a preponderance of consonants and a scarcity of vowel sounds when compared to Indo-European languages, such as English and French (Bodomo, forthcoming). One distinctive phonological feature is the double articulation of some consonants. These include labio-velar
stops like /gb/ /kp/ and /ngm/. Such features, rare in Indo-European languages, are a common feature in
many African languages. The labio-velar and velar sounds are partially complementary, as in the alternate
causative/non-causative forms of the verbs k/ kp i, ‘die’ in Dagaare. Regular allophones often involve /d/ and /r/, and /g/ and // across the various languages. There may also be limited cases of free variation as it is between /h/ and /z/ in the Dagaare word, ha a / za a , ‘all’.
There is the typological feature of vowel harmony in Dagaare and many Mabia languages. Words like ko go
(‘chair’), bi i ri (‘(‘children’), and tu u ro (‘digging’) are pronounced with tense or advanced tongue root vowels, while words like k)b) (‘bones’), biiri (‘to brew “pito” the second day’), tuur) (‘insulting’) are pronounced with lax or unadvanced tongue root vowels. Front rounded vowels, found in languages like French and Norwegian, and back unrounded vowels are absent in these languages, except when phonetically realized in particular environments.
Syllabic nasality is also a typological feature in these languages. These are realized in some environments,
most often as pronouns and particles; as in the case of the Dagaare third person pronoun /N/ as in m `ba , (‘my father’), n`zu (‘my head’) and in the Dagaare particle, -N which is a cliticized form of the polarity
Peter Tenganabang Nanfuri aka Naa Ansoleh Ganaa II, Ethnic Dagarti man and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Ghana and the Paramount Chief of the Jirapa Traditional Area in his smock sitting in the middle. Courtesy FH Communications Bureau
Dagaare and other Mabia languages primarily have two tonal systems, high and low, (respectively marked
by acute and grave diachritics on the sounds with contain them) with cases of downstep in some of the
languages, i.e. subsequent high tones may not be as high as preceeding ones. These tones serve to express
both lexical and grammatical oppositions as in the Dagaare verbs, da` (‘push’), /da` (‘buy’), and as in the
declarative and hortative readings of pronouns e.g.u` kuli la yiri / `u` kuli la yiri ((‘He went home/ He should
Dagaare, and its group of languages, usually manifest open syllables. Both CV and CVC syllables can be
reconstructed, but it is usually possible to insert a final syllable. Thus, the Dagaare verb ‘to leave’, may be realized either as bar` or bar i`. There are also dialectal differences with respect to these two forms.
.An important typological feature of these languages is the system of noun classes. Noun class
manifestation is a common feature for Niger-Congo languages, but while most of these languages use a
prefixal pattern, i.e. cases in which nominal inflections occur before, rather than, after the root, Mabia
languages mostly use a system of class suffixes. These are typically based on singular/plural alternations.
Most nouns exist in three forms: the root, the singular, and the plural. An example is the Dagaare word for
‘woman/wife’: p)g- (root), p)ga (singular), p) gba (plural), with the further vowel assimilation in some
dialects to give us p)g)` and p)gb).
Bede Ziedeng, Ethnic Dagao and Ghanaian politician and the former Upper West Regional Minister of Ghana
Another important typological feature within Dagaare and its group of languages is verb morphology. In
most of these languages there is a regular form of marking perfective and imperfective aspects by adding
suffixes to the verbs, as in zoe` ‘have run’ and zoro` ‘running’.
As far as possible, the various texts associated with the music on this recording are presented with tonal
transcriptions. For phrases and larger chunks of data, we provide interlinear glossings. These glossings
provide interesting insights into the grammatical and communicative structure of the Dagaare language.
Finally, free translations follow the glosses to capture salient aspects of the linguistic and cultural meaning
behind these texts. This linguistic data transcription is an important aspect for the analysis and
interpretation of the music texts. The following is an illustration:
Ka` Ne3` bi`eng wa` b)ng ba`waa tenee` paal`ong bi`e naa
COMP person Child. FOC NEG know ba`waa 1. PL area child NEG
(‘If a child doesn’t know how to dance baawaa s/he cannot possibly be a child from our town.’)
Ethnic Dagao, Mr Ambrose Dery, Ghana`s former Attorney-Genera and minister of Justice and a former Member of Parliament for Lawra
The Dagaaba have occupied their present homeland for some three hundred years. H Labouret, in his study of migration in this area, suggests that the Dagaaba moved north, from south of Wa, in about 1680; G Tuurey (1982) holds that the Dagaaba were originally a group which split away from the Dagomba. See also Herbert (1976). Bodomo suggests that the Dagaaba, Mossi, Dagomba, Kusasi, Farefare, Mamprusi and others are directly descended from a common ancestor ethnolinguistic group, the Mabia.In his article "Customary Law of the Dagara” of Northern Ghana: Indigenous Rules or a Social Construction," published in 2002 edition of Journal of Dagaare Studies, Vol 2, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor quoting other sources posited that "The dominant thesis has it that the Dagara are a rebel group that migrated away from the autocratic rule of Dagbon, under the legendary Na Nyanse (see Tuurey, 1982; Lentz, 1997).
Retinue og Dagaaba chiefs, drummers and dancers at annual Bong Ngo festival at Jirapa
The Lobi-Dagarti peoples are without any overarching tribal organization or, strictly speaking, any territory. They move not as large units, but as family groups, sometimes into other ethnic areas, where they may be absorbed into the local population. Most of the groups to the west of the Black Volta claim to have been formerly settled to the east of the river, in what is now Ghana. From the eighteenth century on, they have moved across the river. There appear to have been Lobi as well as Dagaba in the Wa area when the ruling dynasty arrived; the Jãa were certainly settled in the Lawra area until, attracted by a sparsely populated region with plenty of farmland and forest produce and under pressure from other LoDagaa, mainly from the south and southwest (but even from west of the river), they crossed the Black Volta. A minority of clans trace their origins from other regions.
One of the factors leading to the movement has been the search for more and better land, following earlier hunting expeditions. Another factor has been the raids mounted by the states of the region (as well as by the occasional freebooters and adventurers) in their search for slaves, partly for their own use but mainly to supply the Asante and, through them, the Europeans in the south. The invaders on horseback terrified the inhabitants, who sometimes retaliated with poisoned arrows. Mainly, however, they fled, using the larger rivers. A number of characteristics—their dispersed settlements of fortress-type houses, the women's lip plugs, their rejection of cloth, and their general aggressiveness—have been attributed to the effects of such raids. In the late twentieth century houses are smaller, the manner of dress is more "European," and less hostility is displayed.
The establishment of the international boundary has brought about a decline in east-west migration. The main movement of the Lobi in the late twentieth century has been of two kinds. The first has been from the Lawra District to the vacant lands southward on the road to Kumasi, which many men have traveled in the dry season as migrant laborers. Settlements that produce food for sale in the markets have grown up from Wa south to the northwest of Asante. The second movement, beginning in 1917, has been eastward across the Black Volta from the francophone territories to Ghana, where there were fewer calls by the government on labor services. Many Birifor moved into the sparsely populated lands of western Gonja, which had been decimated as a result of Samori's wars at the end of the nineteenth century. These migrants have proved to be much more aggressive, market-oriented farmers than their hosts, with whom there has been some conflict over taxes and representation.
Beautiful Dagaaba girl grinding grain
Settlements in the area consist of named units that are usually centered on a specific parish or ritual area of an Earth shrine. Among the Dagaaba, most houses are made of mud and/or cement with either thatched, laterite or aluminum roofs. These settlements are inhabited by members of several exogamous lineages housed in fortress-type compounds with 2.5meter-high walls, a flat roofs, and entrances reached (at least formerly) by wooden ladders to the roofs. These houses are some 100 meters apart and contain an average of 15 persons, but they vary in size, depending on the state of the developmental cycle of the domestic group. Around the walls lies the compound farm, which is fertilized by human detritus and is used by the women to plant their soup vegetables. It is adjoined by home farms; bush farms lie much farther away. The settlements consist of some 250 to 750 inhabitants.
Each of these compounds is inhabited by, among others, an elementary family, consisting of a man, his wife or wives and children. Such a family is established through marriage.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The economy is essentially one of the hoe farming of cereals (sorghum, pennisetum [pearl millet], maize), together with some yams, especially in the southern areas that are occupied by migrants. In addition, people grow squashes, peppers, beans (including Bambara beans), groundnuts, and a little rice. Some of this produce is sold in the local markets, especially sorghum in the form of beer. Most compounds also possess a herd of cows, and some sheep, goats, guinea fowl, and chickens, which are mainly killed as sacrifices to be distributed.
Dagarti farmers in their farm at Jirapa
Industrial Arts and Trade. Lobi women produce a certain amount of gold, which finds its way into the hands of Dyula traders. Associated with earlier gold workings, it has been suggested, are the ruins of stone houses. Since the advent of colonial rule, the relative peace that it brought about and the cheaper iron tools that it provided have led to increased production, evidence of which can be seen in the markets. That increase is also true for livestock. Along with wage labor (performed either locally or as migrants), these developments have increased purchasing power. Whereas little was imported earlier except salt, now large amounts of cloth are brought in, and other manufactured objects, such as matches, bicycles, transistor radios, and household utensils, are used in considerable quantities. Local craft production consists of iron implements, brass bangles and other ornaments, musical instruments, some wood carvings, and woven mats.
Today migration—both of the uneducated, seeking work as laborers, and of the educated, who generally work in the towns—is frequent. The age of migrants is now much lower than formerly, and the duration of their absences is much greater. The result is that larger numbers of houses are inhabited by old men, women, and children who have to carry out the agricultural work without the help they would have received from the migrants. Thus, the sexual division of labor has been altered. The south, however, is beginning to lose some of its attraction as the international economy affects the recruitment of labor, potential recruits are frightened by tales of AIDS.
The LoDagaa (including the Lobi) were not themselves traders (except in the state of Wa), but major north-south trade routes of Dyula and Hausa merchants ran through the area from the forest to the Sahel.
Some of the differences that exist between the Dagaare-speaking communities are somehow subtle and not easily noticeable by the on-looker. For example, although the staple dish among the Dagaaba is saabo or Sao (called "to" in many other African languages), the constitution/texture of this millet, sorghum or maize-based meal may vary from one community to the other. In addition, the soup that is eaten with the saabo may be prepared in a slightly different manner in spite of the fact that virtually the same ingredients may be used in each case. Meat is not considered an important food, except in special meals for instance at funerals. Apart from these occasions, only guinea fowl are slaughtered for regular consumption.
Division of Labor
Farming was mostly done by men, but women helped with the planting and the harvesting. In some places, women would organize men to farm for a friend by brewing plenty of beer. Women cultivated soup vegetables, collected forest produce, carried loads, gathered firewood, fetched water, extracted oil, and prepared food and beer.
Dagaaba women of Lawra grinding grain with a pestles in a huge wooden Mortar
Grinding grain, in particular, was a lengthy process. Their workload is now changing as a consequence of the introduction of wells and mills. Men carried out the heavy agricultural work, looked after livestock, and hunted. Both sexes took part in house building during the dry season.
Dagaaba traditional ethics of property ownership is that no individual can really own land. Land ownership is communitarian, custodial, and spiritual. The power to use land is invested in the Tengdaana (spiritual guardian of the land). The Tengdaana guards the land on behalf of the people, and mediates among the people, the ancestors, the spirit world, and God. He is the High Priest responsible for leading the people in prayer in times of great need, thanksgiving, purification rituals of the land, and other spiritual matters. His position cannot be morally and spiritually challenged, even though he may lack the political authority or the power of legal coercion to carry out his orders and interpretations of the divine will that underpin Dagaaba ‘lesereng’ and ‘Nabaale Yele’ legal culture and customary practice (Yelpaala 1983:367-372, Yelpaala 1992:454-459). Nonetheless, the Tendaana is the only person who can, and who does, sacrifice to the Earth Goddess. The Tendaana’s role ensures that among Dagaaba land ownership is egalitarian, collective, communitarian, and usufructory (Nsiah- Gyabaah 1994). By extension, he oversees the security and sustainability of land use among the people. Accordingly and ideally, no individual traditionally has the moral or political right or power to completely invalidate another person’s entitlement to land use, or to destroy the land’s sustainability
through bad land use practices. For this reason, the highest office of Dagaaba is that of the Tengdaana,
and not that of the king.
At certain times, land tenure took the form of a hierarchy of rights distributed within the lineage. At one level, land was "owned" by the wider patrilineage, and if any land was not being farmed, other members had a claim to use it. Use rights were exclusive and more important where land was scarce or especially valuable (because of water). Where population density was low, it sufficed to approach the local Master of the Earth, who would perform a simple sacrifice.
Kin Groups and Descent. Across the LoDagaa cluster, roughly from east to west, there is an increasing emphasis on the role of matrilineal descent groups. In the east, the Dagaba are organized on the basis of patrilineal descent groups alone. Several of these exogamous units exist in each parish. These lineages, which trace patrilineal relationships between their members, belong to wider named clans, segments of which are found in widely dispersed settlements, even those of different "ethnic" groups, roughly tracing out lines of migration. Groups to the west also have matrilineal clans, and all except the Wiili (and formerly even some of the LoWiili) inherit land and immovables agnatically and inherit movables (wealth, cattle) through the uterine line. Hence, the patricians are locally based, but the matriclans are dispersed. These groups are therefore variants of classic double-descent systems.
Patrilineal clans are numerous, each with its own prohibitions, often against the killing of a totemic animal or the eating of foods in a particular way. The clans are paired in joking relationships, and their ritual foci are lineage shrines. Among the Lobi and, to some extent, the Birifor, although patrilineal clanship is concealed, it is significant in landownership and in some ritual affairs, especially in the Dyoro initiations. The matriclans, right across the cluster, are basically four in number—Some, Da, Hienbe, and Kambire. The first two and the last two are paired in joking relationships, which are particularly important at funerals. These dispersed matriclans have particular loci where sacrifices are occasionally performed.
Bewaa group performing at the Kobine festival in Lawra, Upper West Region.
Kinship Terminology. In a double-descent system, one can refer to any kin either in the patrilineal or in the matrilineal mode. The patrilineal mode is Omaha, whereas the matrilineal one is Crow. The dominance of these different modes depends upon the strength of the relevant groups. Kinship terms can be confusing to the casual observer of the Dagaaba. The terms “brothers” and “sisters” do not only refer to people one shares parents with but also to all cousins. There is no Dagaare equivalent of the term “cousin”. Similarly, wives of males of the same descent may refer to each other’s children as “daughters” or “sons”. There is no such word as “step-child” although children generally know who their real mothers are and women may sometimes treat step-children differently from the way they treat their own children.
Another confusing term is n pog, my wife, used by both males and females, in reference to a brother’s wife. There is usually a joking relationship between people and their brothers’ wives. A woman pretends to be a man when cracking jokes with the brother’s wife, hence the use of “my wife” or n pog, which she may also used in everyday language outside the joking context. N pog may also be used by a grandfather in reference to a granddaughter and n seere (my husband) used by a grandmother in reference to a grandson. Grandchildren and grandparents usually have a joking relationship that facilitates a special type of bonding, making it easier for the old ones to impart their knowledge and wisdom on the little ones. The above joking
relationships are different from what exists between all Dagaaba and one of their neighboring groups - the Frafra - which is referred to as loloroung. The Frafra are lolorobo or joking partners of the Dagaaba and this has nothing to do with the denie or play that exists between kinsmen as exemplified above.
Marriage and Family
Incest taboo is observed in all the Dagaare-speaking communities of West Africa. In some cases, the slightest indication of a blood relationship, no matter how distant, is enough reason for a prospective couple not to be allowed to proceed with their marriage plans. In other cases, matrilateral cross-cousin marriages are permissible and encouraged. Among the LoWiili, a woman’s first-born girl is encouraged to marry
(and sometimes, as an infant, betrothed to) her maternal uncle’s son (i.e. marriage between the children of a sister and a brother). This is supposed to strengthen the relationship between a woman’s patrikin and her husband’s kin, who are now her kin due to the marriage. Such matrilateral cross cousin marriages may also involve a woman’s sons and girls from the woman’s patrikin. These kinds of marriages give parents the peace of mind (knowing who their children are getting married to) and also help establish satisfactory relations between the in-laws.
In the eastern groups, marriage is strictly virilocal and is effected by the transfer of bride-wealth in cowries and subsequently in cattle. The transfers take place over time, as the marriage is consolidated with the birth of children. Traditionally, the groom also had to bring parties to farm for his inlaws from time to time, although among the educated this practice tends to get commuted into a monetary payment. Each marriage invokes the construction of a new sleeping room and cooking hearth. Among the Birifor and the Lobi, when a fiancé comes to farm, he may eventually be allowed to spend the night with his future wife and, later, to have her visit his own house in return for further work. She did not usually reside permanently in her husband's house until after the birth of their first child. Until death or divorce, she lives away from the main body of her agnatic kin. Due to the general lack of transportation, the need to keep in touch with one’s patrikin, attending every funeral, visiting the sick, etc., girls are encouraged not to marry to men from villages that are not a walking distance (seven miles or less may be considered as the preferred distance) away from
their agnatic home. Similarly, since in-laws are expected to attend each other’s relatives’ funeral ceremonies, parents are particular about how far away their sons go to seek marriage partners. In fact, all the kinsmen of a young man of marriage age keep their eyes open for the suitable would-be bride and may make suggestions to the young man as to who is available and ready for marriage in the near by villages.
In some cases, the selection of a wife and all marriage arrangements are made without the in-put of the groom. The groom is supposed to take their word for it, when his kinsmen bring home a lady and say, “this is the best woman for you”. According to the Dagaaba elders, an ideal bride is one that is hard-working, physically fit and strong enough to be a pog kura (female farmer, capable of all performing such activities as sowing, carrying large loads of firewood, giving birth to as many boys as possible, etc.), and comes from a family with good health and conduct.
Another type of arrangement for first marriages is elopement, which occurs at the age of puberty. The girl is persuaded to leave with her admirer to his home or she may be seized by his kinsmen/colleagues at a dance, market place, or while sleeping at night and forcibly brought to her would-be husband’s home. Although elopement is usually done with the girl’s consent, she is expected to resist and scream the loudest possible
to show that she is up-right, morally, and not a bitch. Similarly, although some of the girl’s relatives may have been aware of the plan to elope, they may express anger publicly. The resistance to elopement marks the beginning of a period of intensive interaction between the girl’s filial and conjugal ties, within which the necessary steps are taken to finalize the courtship and marriage process.
Other marriages may have less dramatic beginnings. After a young man declares his interest in a girl, his kinsmen accompany him to present his proposal formerly to the kinsmen of the girl. During this period of courtship, the kinsmen of the young man are expected to shower gifts in the form of pito, cola-nuts and money on their in-laws each time they make a trip to the girl’s village. When both parties are satisfied with
the way issues have handled during the courtship period, a day is fixed for the bride wealth (kyeru) to be brought to the girl’s family. After the transfer of bride wealth has taken place, the girl (who carries with her a number of accessories including calabashes, bowl/basins and baskets) is accompanied by her kinsmen to her husband’s home. This is known as pog bielle.
Bridewealth: In general, bride wealth among the Dagaaba usually involves some amount of cowries, cash, and livestock. The proportions of these various items may vary but will almost always involve a number of cowries. The cowries and/or cash portion is referred to as the pog libie. Among the LoWiili, the bride wealth consists of a cock and guinea-fowl to the in-laws, and the pog libie, a sum of approximately 20,000 cowries, usually, the same amount that was paid for the girl’s mother. Various rituals accompany the counting and transfer of bride wealth by the groom’s family to the bride’s agnatic home. Once the patrikin of the bride receive the bride wealth, they also perform a number of rituals during the counting, distribution and storing of it. In general, the bride wealth received for a daughter is used to get a wife for a son. Whereas paying the bride wealth of a young man’s first wife is the obligation of his family elders, if he wishes to become polygamous, he will generally be solely responsible for paying the bride wealth of these subsequent wives.
The various rituals performed during the counting and transfer by the groom’s relatives as well as those (the rituals) that go on during the counting and acceptance of the bride wealth, are tied to the fertility and fidelity of the bride. If some of the rituals are not well done, the woman could have difficulty bearing children during the marriage. It is also believed that once those rituals have been performed and the bride wealth accepted, then any infidelity on the part of the woman could result in her death if she does not confess immediately and go through purification rites/rituals.
Birth: When it is noticed that a woman is pregnant the husband’s father consults a soothsayer (baga) to know who should be asked to “throw water“ at her. She is then called out of her hut and the appropriate person “throws water“; from then on she and others may mention the pregnancy.
She gives birth in the chaani or kyaaraa (inner room) of her husband’s house, attended by old women and birth attendants.
A child may be named at 7 days old; in the case of a child who cries a lot the soothsayer may tell the compound head that an ancestor wishes to be the child’s segeraa; a segeraa must have died with white hair. People may then say that ancestor has “come back home“.
Boys are circumcised at a hospital or by traditional experts at the age of 1 or 2 weeks. Female genital mutilation was formerly practised between the ages of 5 and 10 years but was discontinued in the 1940s and 1950s.
The domestic unit is generally built on agnatic ties, given that wives join their husbands at marriage, but among the Lobi and Birifor, men do extensive bride-service, and some young children may grow up with their mother's brothers before their mother leaves for her husband's house. In most cases, the farming group is small. A man and his sons may farm together for a longer period among the groups in which patricians dominate. The dwelling group that occupies a compound may consist of several farming groups, and each farming group may be divided into smaller eating groups.
Among the Dagaba and the Wiili, a man's property passes first to his full brothers, if they are farming together, and then to his sons. Among the LoPiel, the LoSaala, the Birifor, and the Lobi, land passes in the paternal line, whereas movable property is transmitted first to uterine siblings and then to sisters' sons, leading to earlier splits in the domestic groups and to tensions between a man and his mother's brothers. A woman's property generally goes to her daughters if it is sex-linked, but livestock may go to her sons.
A man’s brother or other close relative may marry or care for his widow, look after his children, and inherit his gods and voodoo toys.
Dagaaba woman with her two kids, Jirapa, Upper West Region, Ghana
Young children are looked after by their mothers and are breast-fed until they can walk and talk, when they "become humans" and are thus entitled to a proper burial (see "Death and Afterlife"). Later on, they are cared for by elder sisters or relatives, who involve them in their play. Boys go off in groups to herd cattle, whereas girls play more domestic games around the compound, helping their mothers from time to time by fetching water or grinding and pounding cereals. Among the Lobi, girls also look after cattle, although boys and girls pass this responsibility to their juniors when they are initiated into the Dyoro society.
Dagaaba women of Nandom dancing
Political Organization. Except for the Wala and the Gan, as well as the Kaleo the peoples of this group lacked chieftainship and central political organization until the coming of colonial rule. Inferring from Yelpaala’s (1992) article, the political organization of the Dagaaba was, until the imposition of colonialism, decentralized in its general structure.
Dagaaba people of Nadowli
From the outside, it might have appeared amorphous and not easily susceptible to analysis, for its organization and institutions were not defined in terms of the total territorial unit but in terms of sub-territorial areas teni (villages) referred to by Goody as parishes, and by Fortes in his study of the Tallensi as settlements. The political organization of each teng (village) exhibited a certain degree of centralization of authority with a very limited vertical structure. The central authority was cross-hauled from the elders (ninbere) of different kin-based groups within the territorial area. This body was the basic institution dealing with most issues of general community interest. All elders with the exception of the custodians of the land (tendaana) in certain cases, were theoretically co-equals in all deliberations. However, in matters that related to the teng and the land deity (tengan), the tendaana was the final authority. Thus depending on the issues involved, the central authority was either circular with its functions based on consultation and consensus, or unidirectional, from the tendaana downwards to the rest of society.
In every village (teng), this basic structure more or less replicated itself. Each teng however, enjoyed an independent autonomous existence from the others. Therefore, the society was at the same time centralized at the unit level and decentralized at the total societal level. Centralization within the small units provided the useful check on the abuses or excesses in the use of centralized political power. On very important and
broader cultural or extraterritorial issues involving non-Dagaaba, such as warfare or resistance against slave raiding, these centralized institutions would coordinate, cooperate or deliberate as a larger central unit. However, these higher level organizations did not appear to involve the total territorial area of the Dagaaba. Yet, taking any territorial unit as a starting point, that unit was linked separately to all other contiguous units by a chain of common culture, common descent, and political or legal cooperation. Each of these other units was also separately and similarly linked to yet other contiguous territorial units until the chain of interlocking linkages involve the entire Dagawie. Depending on the issues at stake, contiguity, consanguinity, historical ties and the level of sophistication in the native art of diplomacy, cooperation or integration between different territorial units was great or small in amplitude. The basic philosophy which guided the interaction of all central authorities at the larger unit level was equality. All component units functioned as co-equals, for the Dagaaba say that doo bii pog ba gangna o to (i.e., no man or woman is superior to their peer). This then, has been and continues to be the basis of egalitarian thought among the Dagaaba, what is called the traditional level. Within the national political structure, Dagaaba political thought, like all other traditional systems, is relegated to an inferior status.
Social Control and Conflicts
The main causes of conflict were rights to women and access to forest products. Within the parish, conflicts of this kind were rare because of kin ties and respect for the Earth shrine. Strong sanctions existed against adultery, theft, and other delicts, which were settled within and between local lineages. More recently, local chiefs and headmen have exercised supervision on behalf of the government, and local courts of law have been established.
Crime and punishment are just as much issues of politics as they of religion. Until recently, theft was a rare occurrence among the Dagaaba. It was taken as a very repulsive and anti-social act condemned by all, including the spirits and the ancestors who could be invoked whenever necessary to punish a thief severely. Theft is so much looked down upon that it is not uncommon to hear a person trying to prove her/his integrity, say that (s)he does not steal or rob - N ba zuuro, n ba faara. In a society where houses have virtually no door panels nor to locks, there is understandably a general need for trust and social cohesion.
In Dagaare, the term iibo signifies the general normative value system covering established and accepted norms, principles, practices, procedures which govern life in general and disputing in particular. It is when a specific conduct is in conflict with the Dagaaba iibo that one may be characterized as deviant. In light of this concept of iibo, therefore, the Dagaaba may be viewed as a unified group, vis-á-vis other non-Dagaaba, including their neighbors.
Dagaagba women of Nadowli at their Nadowli Womens meeting
Dagaaba have strong believe in Naangmen (older spelling Naamwin), supreme God and creator og the Universe. He is good and omnipotent but has no shrines, so there is no means of communication with him. Mwin means “sun“, and Naamwin is sometimes identified with sun, sky, or rain. Goody, in The myth of the Bagre, maintains that God’s practical alienation from his universe is thought of by the Dagaaba as a function of the problem of evil. “If he were to continue in his primordial role“, says Goody, “our problems would not exist. With his aid, disease, evil, and misfortune could be banished“.
In addition, Dagaaba strongly believe and reverence the ‘Mother Earth’ (Tengbane). Tengbane or Mother Earth is the second most powerful deity after the supreme God, Naangmen. Therefore the Dagao sees the Earth or physical environment as sacred and divine; that they are born from the earth, live on and through it, will be buried in it; and that they will join the ancestors who, though invisible, are nonetheless located in the environment with other spiritual beings. This is well articulated in Bagre narrative, and shows that as our Mother, we owe our life to Earth. It is from her breast that the milk of sustenance is drawn, whether it is water, food, soil, wood, or herbal medicine, and it is to her womb that we shall return in death. Likewise, Kukure (1985:55) sees Earth as the ‘controlling agency in life, the source of fertility, of prosperity, [and] of survival [. . . .] Moreover the [Earth must give an account of all that takes place on [her] surface. [She] reports to God the actions of the living, not only of humans, but also of beasts. Hence, the person who is on good terms with the [Earth] (and ancestors) is also on good terms with God.’ This belief system has generated a conceptual frame in which the Dagaaba do not relate to their environment through an ideology of domination, but rather through responsive negotiation.
Dagaaba earth-priest (tengdaana)
responsible for many things that make human life what it is, Sagbane is responsible for rain, sunshine, and moonlight, and the unseen energies of stars, thunder and lightning. Even though Sagbane is the Father, he is secondary in importance to Tengbane during invocatory prayers of Dagaaba. Tengbane comes second to Naangmen. It is also on account of Sagbane’s secondary position that His priest, the Saadaana, does not feature very much in Dagaaba daily existence, and the office is not found in every settlement. It is to Tengbane that daily libations are poured. Tengbane is Goddess, and the Mother of Bagre; she must not be polluted. When Tengbane is polluted, efforts are initiated to perform the appropriate and necessary
sacrifices for the restoration of the broken balance between the self, the community, Tengbane, the spirit
world, and finally with Nangmen. Because Tengbane covers the earth’s surface, it becomes the universal
altar upon which humans, represented by Dagaaba, gather to pray for rain, cure to epidemics, victory in
wars, good harvests, or the settlement of a new village. It is to Tengbane that immigrants are taken for
induction into the clan. It is for these reasons and others too many to enumerate here that the High Priest of Tengbane, the Tengdaana, holds the highest socio-spiritual and moral authority in any Dagaaba village. Each settlement of, say, 300 to 1,000 people has an “earth-shrine” (tengbane) and an earth-priest (tengdaana) which is usually situated in a grove in a central part of the settlement. Sacrifices are performed by an earth-priest and his assistants, also by patriclan representatives. In addition, anyone may make sacrifices to the Earth simply by building a small mound by the path leading to the shrine.
Dagaaba “earth-shrine” (tengbane)
Certain prohibitions are linked with the earth-shrine; for instance large sacrifices must be made if people shed one another’s blood, or if someone commits suicide. It is also a serious offence to have sex out-of-doorsThe complex cosmological relationship Dagaaba have with Tengbane is reflected in the mediatory role played by the Tengdaana and Tengbane between the people and Naangmen. It must be stressed here that Dagaaba have as many Tengbama (plural for Tengbane) and Tengdaamba (plural for Tengdaana) as there are settlements. This does not in anyway indicate any conflictual relationships with the Tengbane. The various Tengbama represent settlement patterns, and must be seen as parishes of the same Goddess. Each Tengdaana then becomes a parish priest, performing the same functions, with local variation, to an omnipresent and omniscient Tengbane
Lesser spiritual powers include ngmimi or weni. Saa ngmin is the rain god (saa means rain); Bo wen is the Bagre god who looks after the granary and farming.
Dagaaba ancestral shrine wooden carvings
The Dagaaba spiritual realm is also inhabited by spirits, both ancestral and pre-human. For instance, the Kongtongbilii, what Goody (1972) translates as ‘beings of the wild’, exist within both the spiritual and environmental consciousness of Dagaaba. There are also the various deities who have been delegated territorial authority by Nangmen in the universe. It is Kongtongbilii and these other spiritual beings and deities who help humans to make spiritual journeys back to Nangmen and His wife in the sky to consort with them about the meaning of life and death. In order to make that journey, Dagaaba first invoke Tengbane, then the ancestors, and other lesser spirits. Together, they help them clarify their vision for the journey.
Medicine shrines (tiib), made for instance of dried sticks, may be placed at a house entrance. They are acquired as a remedy for sickness or some other problem.
Ancestor shrines are sticks carved roughly in human shape, and every deceased man who left a son to succeed him is commemorated in this way. They are kept in the cattle byre, which is thus the most sacred room in the house. Their jurisdiction extends to lineage kin, and in some ways also to matrilineal descendants; all important events are reported to them. When a woman dies her shrine is carried back by her clan sisters to her birth-place.
The ancestors are invoked with animal sacrifice at the beginning and end of the farming season and when any calamity threatens the community.
The soothsayer (baga) is appointed at birth and initiated when he is old enough to take up the duties
Dagaabaland, especially in northern Ghana is the Vatican of Ghana. Despite the fact that over 55% of Dagaaba are traditional African religion practitioners, the remaining population are unrepentant Roman Catholics.
Ethnic Dagao Cardinal Peter Poreku Dery in the wheel after a Pontifical High Mass at Dio Padre Misericordioso, Vatican.
Since the 1930s, mass conversions to Catholicism have taken place, beginning among the LoPiel population around Dissin. The pioneer missionaries, Frs Remigius McCoy and Arthur Paquet (both White Fathers from Canada) and Brother Basilid Koot (from Holland) began work at Jirapa in 1929. The treatment they gave for yaws and other prevalent diseases created immediate interest. Within ten months there were two catechumens, and despite some persecution the number grew quickly.Then in 1932 the rains failed. April to July, usually the heart of the rainy season, were dry. The ancestors were repeatedly invoked, and countless sacrifices were offered to the traditional gods, but to no avail. At last, on 24 July, the people of Jirapa turned to the little Catholic mission, promising generous payment if the God of the Catholic Fathers could succeed where their own priests had failed. In A short history of the Catholic Church in Ghana, Helene Pfann describes what happened:
"Father McCoy told them that God wanted no presents. He only wanted them to believe that he loved them and would help them. He took them into the church and all prayed together. The following night, on July 25th, clouds gathered in the sky over Jirapa and, for the first time in months, rain fell in torrents. The people were so happy that they ran out of their houses and sang and danced with joy, letting the rain soak them through.
Ghana Archbishop Peter Poreku Dery (in red) is carried by aides to be elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI during a ceremony at the Vatican March 24, 2006. He was an ethnic Dagaaba man
The next morning a crowd of Dagaaba, all demanding to become Christians, besieged the Mission House . . That rainy season 25,000 Dagaaba became adherents. No similar mass conversion had ever before taken place in Africa.
A four-year catechumenate was established, and the Fathers started on the daunting task of teaching this vast new community. Following the speedy growth of the work at Jirapa new parishes were opened at Kaleo (1932), Nandom (1933), and at Ko and Daffiama (1952). In 1959 the Dagaaba area was created a diocese, with the seat of the bishop in Wa. There are now 16 parishes, nearly all Dagaare-speaking, but hardly in Wa East and Wa West Districts.
As the numbers grew, three orders of sisters and two orders of brothers sent missionaries.The first Dagao priest was ordained in 1951; by 1959 there were six, and in 1984 there were in the Wa diocese no less than 53 African priests, 98 sisters, and 17 brothers, compared with only 8 missionary priests, 17 sisters, and 23 brothers. Fr McCoy, aged 89 when this book was published in 1986, continued to work actively at Jirapa and becane a legend in his lifetime. He died
Worship and church life tends to be based on large church buildings in the main towns, to which people come from the surrounding villages. For instance Ko, a small town some 10 km off the Nandom road, has a church 75 metres long (said to be longer than the longest church in Accra), with seating for 2,000. Even on weekdays the early morning mass is attended by over 100, and the church is comfortably full on Sundays.
The 14 Dagaare-speaking parishes probably have a total adult membership exceeding 40,000, which is over 15 per cent of the local population. A further 10 per cent would call themselves Catholics, though not full members.
Cardinal Dery, ethnic Dagao from Ghana in a wheel chair as Cardinal O`Malley rise to embrace him.
Whatever questions one may have about the depth of individual commitment to Christ, there is no doubt that 50 years of Catholic activity and a very large investment of money and personnel have made a big impact on the Dagaaba way of life. Already in the mid-60s the anthropologist Jack Goody found Catholic influence had significantly reduced interest in the Bagre initiation ceremonies in the area south of Lawra. Polygamy may not have been eliminated even among Catholics, but it has been greatly reduced. Early on there was a battle for the right to treat Sunday as a day of rest.
Why have the Dagaaba moved into the Catholic church in such numbers? Clearly a similar investment of personnel and money in other areas has yielded much smaller results.
Cardinal Archbishhop Peter Dery, himself one of the early Dagaaba converts, explains why his people so readily became Christians:
They are good farmers . . . Their moral code was very high and was strictly observed. Their sense of hospitality and generosity was superb. They never practised human sacrifices, and they feared God’s curse on those who did so. In short, they are a people of natural goodness with deep respect for their elders and parents, and a profound sense of worship which they consider a duty towards the ancestors and the “Naabilengmen”, the “god of the child of man”. These qualities and many more made a good soil, a people already prepared to accept the Good News “en masse”.
A missionary priest made the following points in addition: 1) it was easy to translate traditional sacrifice into the sacrifice of the mass, and prayer to ancestors into veneration of saints; 2) it was easy to translate the strict morality of the Dagaaba into the ten commandments; 3) the Dagaaba are not a proud, dominant tribe but a humble and hard-working one –- we preach good news to the poor, and the under-dog tends to respond more quickly; 4) the first missionaries, with their medical and educational work, lived very close to the people.
Other churches: Adams Bodomo has said that Dagao is one of the most heavily Catholic parts of the world outside of Rome. Until he left the area for college he was unaware that any other expressions of Christianity existed!
Indeed it was not till 1954 that another church, the Baptist Mid-Missions, started work in Wa and two years later in Lawra. By 1986 there was a growing church of 85 members and four times as many regular attenders. Though the Baptists had only half a dozen churches among the Dagaaba they seriously took up the challenge of literacy and Bible translation work.
The Methodists, who came to Wa about the same time as the Baptists, had a pastor at Lawra by 1986 and two other congregations in the Dagaaba area with a total membership of about 50.
Religious Practitioners. Practically every adult is an officiant at some shrine or another, but the main figure is the Master of the Earth (tengdaana). Some individuals develop special reputations as diviners (baga). All are involved in sacrifices to the ancestors, to the beings of the wild, and to medicine shrines.
Another powerful religious leader according to Bagre secret society functions, is the damdamwule among Dagaaba. The damdamwule`s sole life depends on rain-fed agricultural practices,is in its ability to know when the rains are due and to share this knowledge with humans to let them know that Sieong is here. The damdamwule also acts as an agricultural extension officer, telling the people through its song, when to sow what and when to stop sowing. Those who refuse to recognize its pedagogy of nature through its music sow in vain (Goody 1972: ll. 4611-40).
The weather-wise damdamwule is helped by the n birime (featherless fowl). He or she wakes up the people at dawn, during Sieong, to go to their farms. It performs this role by beating its wings early in the morning. The belibaar knows when Kpangkyaanee is near and returns ‘from the rain side / and flies / where the sun sets’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4651-53) to warn people to begin preparing their barns for harvest, and the Bagre. It is thus through the migratory movements of this bird that the elders are able to announce the Bagre and to place ritual prohibitions on the initiates.
Annual ceremonies are performed at household shrines, especially at the end of the farming season. It is toward this time that, among the central groups, neighbors dance in the marketplace to celebrate the flowering of the guinea corn. Not long afterward, lineages perform special sacrifices to clan deities, a time when they also poison their arrows. Traditionally, success in the hunt also elicited special ritual performances, as did killing someone in war, whether friend or enemy.
Birth and marriage were accompanied by little ceremonial. Death and burial, on the other hand, were occasions; the funeral ceremonies, which resulted in redistribution of the property of the dead (including sexual rights) and the creation of an ancestor shrine (if there were offspring), lasted for many months and brought mourners from far and wide.
The major ceremonial sequences, however, were those associated with secret societies: the Bagre in the east and the Dyoro in the west. The Bagre is performed by lineages when they have sufficient neophytes (and enough grain) to carry out a performance, with the participation of their neighbors as officiants. During the course of the long sequence of rites, the neophytes are placed under a series of taboos, from which they are gradually released. The rites are accompanied by an extensive recitation concerning the creation of culture. The Dyoro ceremony involves a visit by patrilineages to special centers, where the ancestors lived before reaching the banks of the Black Volta and where the principal rites of initiation take place. Indeed, the ritual reenacts the long-ago migration of the patrician and so preserves a little of its history. In the ceremony, which takes place every seven years, the initiates are killed off and revived.
Bagre Rite of Passage Initiation: Bagre provides voluntary entry into Dagaaba initiation rites of passage. As a medium in which a free association of neophytes that are called by the spirit can and are willing to journey in and with the spirit, Bagre is divided into two complementary denominations: Bag-Degre (Dirty Bagre) and Bag-Kaang (Oily Bagre), and only one of each type is located in a particular parish. The initiates of the Bag-Degre are usually painted with white stripes of ashes to show their states of impurity, while initiates of the Bag-Kaang are anointed with Shea butter. There are several reasons why a person may become an initiate, or be seized by the Bagre Ngmen. Some answer the call for health reasons, others for prosperity, others to get a wife or husband, children, or to become a teacher in the association. Thus, there are spiritual, social, political, psychological and emotional reasons for a person to become an initiate.
Through Bagre, we are sensitized to Dagaaba views of their environment. The natural environment for
Dagaaba, as embedded in Bagre narrative and observances, is a spiritual realm inhabited by spirits, both
ancestral and pre-human. For instance, the Kongtongbilii, what Goody (1972) translates as ‘beings of the
wild’, exist within both the spiritual and environmental consciousness of Dagaaba. There are also the
various deities who have been delegated territorial authority by Nangmen in the universe. It is Kongtongbilii and these other spiritual beings and deities who help humans to make spiritual journeys back to Nangmen and His wife in the sky to consort with them about the meaning of life and death. In order to make that journey, Dagaaba first invoke Tengbane, then the ancestors, and other lesser spirits. Together, they help them clarify their vision for the journey.
According to Bagre narrative Tengbane is Mother of Bagre, Sagbane is considered as Father of Bagre. How the two interact to ensure harmony in the environment is dramatized in Bagre narrative. First, the Father of Bagre sends rain from the sky, which falls and impregnates the Mother of Bagre, Earth. A tree is born and becomes the highway to Nangmen’s residence. But in order for humans to reach Nangmen’s residence to hold palaver, they need the help of other creatures. So with the help of Badare (Spider), they climb the tree to Nangmen’s house. This is how the Bagre narrative captures it.
He began to get up A slender tree
and when he’d done so, is brought forth.
he spoke again, It is the earth’s child
greeting the Earth shrine, that is born.
greeting god, [. . . ]
greeting the ancestors, And he was told
greeting the bein gs. That the slender tree,
When he’d done this, he must grasp
he saw something and climb up quickly
of great importance. To God’s house.
Earth and rain, He grasped the tree
the rain is male but he couldn’t climb it
and the earth is female. And fell on his back.
When the time comes, Then the spider
see the rain; galloped over
its penis rises With his feet flying
and bursts forth. And said that
See the earth, [... ]
a fully grown maiden, ATo God’s house
who is about to bear. We’ll climb.
(Goody 1972: Bag-Kaang, ll.443-502)
Badare’s importance as a culture hero in Dagaaba environmental and salvation thought is suggested here.
Human fragility in the interventionist role of animals animals, insects, plants, and invisible spirits is stressed. As
Bagre performance elucidates, humanity is precariously peripheral to the centre of God’s creation as the
absence of human residents in God’s house is startlingly unnerving. Worse still for humans, God’s palace is populated by insects, plants, and animals: the dog, the lion, the hippo, the elephant, the duiker, the tomcat,
the fly, the spider, and the leopard, to mention a few. This shows the gulf between humans and their creator. Consequently, humans need to construct a sensitive and meaningful relationship with the nonhuman beings of the environment.
In Bagre narrative, Nangmen and his wife dramatize the acts of procreation to the human male elder animal characters. Later on, when Nangmen and his wife give the man a wife, together with a child, and they return to Earth, the man still does not know how babies are made. The first earth woman, sent by Nangmen to earth learns the act of sexual intercourse from the boa constructors. Her learning is both observational and participatory, and she later teaches her husband the mystery of the act of procreation (Goody 1972: ll.1951-2219). Similarly, the importance of animals in human survival is reenacted in Bagre through the story of the buffalo woman and the hunter.Subsequently, Dagaaba Bagre initiation schooling, hunters are taught to kill for food, to kill mostly the male and old female animals, and to leave the young and their mothers alone. Unfortunately, the cash nexus economy that has been imposed on Dagaaba during the colonial period has since confused all that environmental way of living. However, colonialism has not completely eroded Dagaaba environmental thought and pedagogy, thanks to submerged Dagaaba environmental consciousness exemplified in their deep-seated beliefs in the presence of the ancestors and other spiritual entities in their environment. This ensures that they do not willfully degrade their environment, less they loose contact with the spirit world, and subsequently, lose the protection and mode of sustenance that the environment still gives to them (Somé 1998: 54-55).
In order to show how important the above relationship is, it is necessary to consider the role of the ancestral spirits in the environment as narrated in Bagre. The ancestral spirits work in alliance with or against the Kontongbilii, the first nonhuman creatures in the environment to come to the aid of humans. They teach Dagaaba everything about survival: how to grow food, hunt, make weapons, cook, make beer, and even start Bagre itself. Kontongbilii, together with the ancestral spirits teach the Dagaaba about their environment through dreams and visions. For instance, they teach traditional healers about the importance of certain plants as sources of medicine. Hence, Dagaaba perceive plants as living beings with spirits of their own. Plants also provide humans with food, fuel, and medicine. Subsequently, to disrespect and maltreat plants can be dangerous, because plants do strike back with diseases. For instance, a person who indiscriminately destroys woodlots can be sick from what is called ‘tree bite.’ Animals, the Bagre narrative tells us, teach about the medicinal and toxic values of plants from animals (ll.2320-2469). It is from plants that we get poisons such as strophanthus for poison for arrowheads, and to treat guinea worm infection. From the same plants we get medicine to stop birth blood, and facilitate childbirth.
As indicated earlier, Bagre performance coincides in most cases with Kpangkyaanee (autumn), and Uonii (Dry Season). With less work on the farms, and with plenty of food, people are in a festive mood. Bagre performance also is timed with moontide so that inter-clan and intra-clan socialization is facilitated. Consequently, Bagre calendars begin with the beginning of harvest, even though new harvests are forbidden to the initiates until they graduate. The most important crop’s first fruit is the shea, which becomes mature in June. In determining when Bagre season can be announced, the elders resort to the legend of the fruitbat. In this legend, the fruitbat, and other animals and birds as Bagre elders help humans in their spiritual journey:
"And in Bagre,
‘What do you mean by many?’
‘You saw that
there was the large fruit-bat.
He’s our Bagre
The belibaar bird
is one of our Bagre creatures.
The kyaalipio bird
is one of our Bagre creatures.
The large frog
is one of our Bagre creatures.
The damdamwule bird
is one of our Bagre creatures.
The crown bird
is one of our Bagre creatures.’
‘What’s an elder?’
‘I tell you,
all winged creatures
and the featherless cock.’
(Goody 1972: Bagre Degre-- Dirty Bagre ll. 4550-4579)
At this stage, initiates begin their education on the roles played by the various animals in Bagre, and thus in human survival. The large fruitbat knows when the first shea fruits are mature. By observing its behavior, the elders are able to know the exact time to announce the season without breaking any spiritual taboos. In this case, material science is of no significance since machines can only approximate time, which would still not be accurate taking into consideration the variables of uncertainties in nature. But the fruit-bat’s eating habits give the people a time precision in which to act. The fruit-bat ‘will know the time / to fetch the fruit / in the night’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4591-93), eats the fruit, leaves the seed for the elders to see, and then they will initiate their preparations for the Bagre.
The role of the damdamwule among Dagaaba, whose sole life depends on rain-fed agricultural practices, is in its ability to know when the rains are due and to share this knowledge with humans to let them know that Sieong is here. The damdamwule also acts as an agricultural extension officer, telling the people through its song, when to sow what and when to stop sowing. Those who refuse to recognize its pedagogy of nature through its music sow in vain (Goody 1972: ll. 4611-40). The weather-wise damdamwule is helped by the n birime (featherless fowl). He or she wakes up the people at dawn, during Sieong, to go to their farms. It performs this role by beating its wings early in the morning. The belibaar knows when Kpangkyaanee is near and returns ‘from the rain side / and flies / where the sun sets’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4651-53) to warn people to begin preparing their barns for harvest, and the Bagre. It is thus through the migratory movements of this bird that the elders are able to announce the Bagre and to place ritual prohibitions on the initiates.
Reenactment of the Hunt at the 2009 Kobine festival in Lawra.
The kyaalipio wakes up women at dawn during Bagre period to go and fetch the water used in brewing
the beer for the Bagre ceremony (Goody 1972: ll. 4670-88) before it is muddied by wild boars. Wild
boars are also considered spirit beings associated with Bagre. Bagre is a purgatorial journey to a rebirth
and hence it has prohibitions that include sexual abstinence for the neophytes, the eating of certain foods,
and general leisure. The male crown-bird calls the Bagre members to get up from their slumber and feed
the children at midnight, so that from then on they can begin a fast (Goody 1972: ll. 4689-4713). Then
there is the old male guinea fowl who tells of the flowering of beans. This way, the elders are able to
announce the arrival of Bagre. In a way, the old guinea cock’s discovery of bean flowers in his farm,
cross checks the accuracy of timing of Bagre with the large fruit bat’s discovery of shea fruits. Other birds
also function in the service of Bagre Mother, Tengbane, and Bagre Father, Sagbane.
In addition to the way in which feathered creatures are treated in the Bagre ceremony, other animals play important roles. Some of these animals are spirit animals and are thus prohibited to Bagre. They include the duo (wild boar), the sienee (porcupine), the sasere (grass-cutter), and mokpaangoo (bush guinea-fowl).
There are no reasons given in the narrative why these are prohibited, but we do not need to search far for
the reason. These are totemic animals, and it is not allowed for one to kill a clan totem animal under any
circumstance. In contrast to the prohibited animals, there are certain animals that are regarded as fit offering to the Bagre deity. They include, korenga (partridge), soangaa (rabbit/hare), kyie (squirrel), walaa (antelope). Reasons for selecting these as acceptable to the Bagre are uncertain.
It is clear from what I have said above that plants, animals, insects, and spirit beings play a very significant role in the Bagre performance. These roles help to form the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and cultural characters of Dagaaba youth. They also initiate the construction of a positive environmental consciousness among them. For instance, unless the ceremony of the shea butter is performed, any attempt at beginning the Bagre performance will be fraught with danger (Goody 1972: ll.780-960). Consequently, the shea tree and its fruits, and the role the fruit bat plays, cannot be considered purely from a materialist economic perspective, and cultural backwardness. Yes, the shea tree has a lot of economic importance to the Dagaaba. But its ritual importance is what has ensured its survival in the face of worsening environmental degradation. It is also important to recognize the spiritual links between the people, the bat, and the tree. Without this recognition the tree will be destroyed when its economic importance is no longer very relevant, and its role as protector of the soil will be terminated.
In addition, the fruitbat’s ambiguous location as a winged mammal, and as one who sees in the night, gives testimony to its importance in discovering the first fruits of the shea tree. It is carnivorous and herbivorous, and hangs upside down unlike other winged creatures. Thus, it breaks all the boundaries associated with animals and birds. For this reason, it is the eldest among the non-human elders of the Bagre. The fruit bat throws the seed of the shea fruit into the farms of humans. This enables the elders to see and begin the process of announcing the Bagre. The fruit bat’s action also helps disperse the seeds of the tree, and by that action it helps to expand the natural vegetation. Thus, the events carried by the fruit bat, and all the other animals, insects, and birds move humans toward a revelatory recognition of their total dependence on these other creatures. This dependence by humans on non-human subjects is what is then re-enacted in the Bagre performance toward securing human happiness, health, wealth, piety, and social mobility by Dagaaba in their otherwise harsh environment (Goody 1972: ll.922-29).
Batman Samini, musician and award-winner at 2006 MOBO Awards is a Dagao
While the music on this recording is the expression of a distinct ethnolinguistic group, the Dagaaba,
nevertheless, have had long historical, social, cultural and linguistic ties with other peoples of the northern
parts of Ghana, such as the Sisaala, the Waala, the Dagomba, the Frafra, the Kasena, the Builsa, the Kusaasi and the Mamprusi. Thus, the musical cultures of the region share certain features. For instance,
the main instrument of the northwestern part of the country is the xylophone, which may be supported by
a drum or a drum ensemble, and the scales are largely of the hemitonic and anhemitonic pentatonic types,
that is, five note scales that include half-steps and those that do not.
Music-making among the Dagaaba, like other peoples of the region, is an intrinsic part of social life.
Certain types of music and repertories of song may be associated with particular occasions, cults,
cooperative work groups and organized labour, age groups, and rites of passage. For instance, praisesongs
(danno ng) are performed regularly as a tribute to the chief while other types of music are exclusive
to the rituals and ceremonies of the royal court, such as an investiture, an assembly in the court or
audience chamber, or a funeral. Particular types of music are identified with the religious cult called Bagre which holds an annual festival; or with traditional associations, such as the kp 3ta a , which comprises
reciprocal help groups for young farmers. The "anle e " social dance is reserved for females; the fe roo is a
dance performed by the youth; while the "se3gaana a" is danced mainly by the elderly There are warrior
songs (zoore yi e le), as well as songs for farming, grinding, pounding, floor-beating, plastering, hunting
(waaron g yi e le) and herding.
There are special songs for initiation ceremonies, funerals (kobie), ritual sacrifice, weddings, and public naming ceremonies that occur seven days after the birth of a child (referred to as ‘outdooring’). On some occasions, certain types of music may be prohibited, for instance, the ba wa a is not performed when a member of the community is seriously ill or when someone has died. Music may also occur as the spontaneous expression of individual community members, such as the music for the solo bamboo flute (wu le e ), the harp (p 3na a or koriduo in Nandom), or the lullaby (bi-ya gleyi e le).
Finally, music is used to welcome and honour important guests and visitors.
The Bawaa Dance
Group dancing is intrinsic to ritual and ceremony and is an important marker of social competence. In
order, then, for an individual to participate in a ritual he or she must be able to dance. Group dancing is
also an important way of maintaining community solidarity. As a Dagaare song says: ‘If one’s child does
not know how to dance, it does not belong to the community’.
The bawaa is a call to young people to make dance and music together, indeed the term "bawaa " literally means, "young people, come together" (Kobina Saighoe:1984). The bawaa dance then, is a favourite
pastime among the Dagaaba youth. It often occurs simply as a spontaneous expression of young members
of the community when an opportunity arises. Mostly, however, the bawaa dance is incorporated into
various celebrations, including: rites of passage marking birth, puberty, marriage and death, or to honour
The bawaa dancers also make up the chorus which comprises both young males and females, including
children. One of the dancers, normally a male with the most skill or experience as a dancer or instrumentalist, takes the role of lead singer called the ba wa -ngmaara or the bawa-kye3r3 (‘the cutter’). The dancers are accompanied by two xylophonists, one plays a ‘male’ instrument (gyil-daa) and the other plays a ‘female’ instrument (gyil-nyanngaa), and a drummer who plays a single-headed drum (ganggaa).
The leader of the dance-chorus decides when one song ends and when a new one begins. The chorus,
called bawa-sagereba (or sagra: singular ‘one who agrees’), responds to the calls from the leader. The
dancers wear metal leg jingles (kyeem e), beaded girdles (l ebie ), metal finger cymbals (pe ra a pl. perre ) and
sometimes metal wrist jingles. Uniforms are sometimes worn by the dancers but this may not be so in other cases.
The call to dance normally begins with the clapping of finger cymbals. The two xylophone players, who
sit opposite each other with the drummer next to them, begin while the crowd gathers around the dance
area. The dancers then enter the area and form a circle around the musicians, dancing in either an anticlockwise or clockwise direction.
The main part of the dance consists of an alternation between two sections. The first section is called the See`o during which they perform a song in call and response fashion. This is followed by a more intense
section called a` emmo` (‘to put in’). During this section, the dance becomes more intense as the dancers
synchronize their steps with heavy syncopated accents and displays of skill. In Accra, a practice has
developed whereby individuals or pairs exit the circle for competitive displays of skill. The whole dance
ceremony often has a ‘director’ called the bawaa-naa who does not participate in the dance event itself,
but who oversees the entire performance. This cycle is repeated any number of times for each song, until
such times as the leader signals a new song and the cycle begins again.
When the dancers show signs of tiring one of the xylophone players gives a signal to end the dance. In the
village setting the dancers simply stop, while in Accra a more formal arrangement exists whereby the
dancers exit the circle in a single line. Generally, a performance lasts between twenty and thirty minutes. (click here for Bawaa dance: http://shelf3d.com/4pOzOarwnZI#Bewaa Dance Of The Dagaaba People.)
Dagaaba (Dagarti) dancers from Jirapa
Kobine is a traditional dance and festival unique to the Lawra area of north western Ghana. The dance and the festival named after it are celebrated in September and October to mark the end of a successful harvest.
The festival of Kobine lasts four days, with the first day usually reserved for visiting family and friends. The second and third days are the official holidays. A procession of the family heads is accompanied by groups of younger people dressed to represent hunters and elephants.
A number of speeches are made by dignitaries and other guests of honour before the Kobine dance competition begins.
Ethnic Dagaaba people performing Kobine dance atKobine festival in Lawra, Upper West Region
The Kobine music is produced from kuor, a drum instrument with a base made from a gourd, and dalar, a smaller drum made from the neck of a clay pot.
The men usually dress in beautifully decorated skirts, but are usually bare-chested to demonstrate their masculinity as well as their flexibility while they dance. Other ornaments such as headgear and caps are worn. The women dress similarly to the men, except they generally will wear a blouse. Both men and women wear a ring of bells around the ankles to accentuate their rhythmic moves when they dance.
The dance itself consists of quick rhythmic moves especially with the trunk or upper body. At the peak moves period of the dance, the women will generally cut in and dance in front of their favorite male dancer.
The Dagaare Xylophone (Gyil)
Dagaare xylophones are normally played in pairs, facing each other. The Dagaare xylophones (gyi l, pl. gy ile ) recorded in Kogri-Ullo have 18 keys while those in the Dagaare social clubs in Accra have 17 keys. The keys (gyi l bi `r, lit. "seed") are tied together with antelope hide and mounted over a hide cushion on a wooden frame. Gourd resonators (ko`or, pl. ko`o) graduated in size are suspended under each key. Two or three holes about 2-3cm in diameter are bored into each gourd and covered with a spider’s egg case ( pempenee)
to increase the resonance and to produce a buzzing effect.
The last and lowest key (za` ngbaal) does not have a resonator as it is used for playing a repeated rhythmic ostinato (kpaaroo) The other keys are played with a wooden beater (gyildoo`le) about 30cm long, covered with rubber at the head. The tuning of the Dagaare xylophone is pentatonic (anhemitonic) and has a range of two octaves. (further readings: http://www.michaelvercelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Vercelli_DMA_Document1.pdf)
The accompanying drums are normally single-headed (gangare ), though a gourd drum (koo`re) usually
reserved for funerals, was used in the Accra performances
Death and Afterlife
There is a general belief in life after death, and funeral ceremonies are the means by which the actual
passage of a human being from the Land of the Living (tengzu) to the Land of Dead (dapaarewie) is effected. The dead travel across the river of death with the aid of a ferryman; during the trip, those who have led evil lives may be punished for their misdeeds. In the course of the series of funeral ceremonies, a dead man also becomes an ancestor, with a shrine that will thereafter receive regular offerings of food and drink from his descendants, especially from those who have inherited from him.
Additionally, ancestor reverence and respect for the belief in the ability of the ancestors to protect, guide, and offer showers of blessing to the living, may be considered as the most important aspects of the relationship between the living and their supernatural agents. The ancestors are never dead. They merely
continue to live in the other world of spirits and serve as media between their relatives and the spirits and gods.
Funeral: Death, particularly of infants, was frequent. Those who have not yet been weaned are not mourned in the usual way, except by their mothers, because they are deemed to be wandering spirits, rather than humans. Precautions are taken against their return to this earth.
For all others, however, the funeral rites are long and complex, and they involve the participation of many people. All funeral rituals among the Dagaaba involve musicians, mourners and the assembled villagers and guests from neighboring villages. The music group usually consists of xylophonists, drummers and singers. The singers improvise, recreate and reproduce through their songs the history of the family up to the death that resulted in the separation. The theme of the songs is a combination of the deeds and sorrows of the family. The best singer is one who can stir the maximum level of grief in the chief-mourners (kotuodeme, the closest relatives of the diseased) by his choice of words. The effect of the words of the singers is echoed and amplified by the tunes of the xylophones and the sounds of the drums, moving the community to grieve freely.
Wailing, screaming, groaning, running, jumping, dancing and singing are all acceptable ways of expressing grief. Shedding of tears is highly recommended and admired. The kotuodeme are expected to shed a lot of tears and behave in a way that stirs sympathizers to share the grief to the fullest by shedding as many tears as
The dead person, dressed in ceremonial outfit, is seated on a high wooden stool called paala, and surrounded by her/his valuable possessions. The stool is constructed from a special kind of tree. The singers, drummers and xylophonists are usually not far from the corpse and the entire funeral area is marked by turmoil and turbulence, as people act out their grief while others try to control themselves in order to calm down some of the kotuodeme from time to time. The kotuodeme are tagged with ropes (much like leashes) for identification purposes and for easy control by people who may want to calm them down by holding on to the rope. The more contributions and ropes one sent to other kotuodeme in the past, the more ropes and contributions one is likely to receive when one becomes a kotuosobo (singular for kotuodeme).
Reciprocity is the guiding principle here. Although many people are likely to stop by at a funeral before continuing their daily business, the more funerals the deceased and kotuodeme attended, the more likely the funeral will be crowded by sympathizers from all walks of life. A well-attended funeral is an indication that the household has a high social reputation.
The length of funerals varies between one to five days. The final day is marked by the burial of the dead person. There are usually designated grave diggers and specially trained people who do the actual burying, for it is believed the dead is capable of preventing one from exiting the grave once the burial procedure is about to end. Renowned witches and medicine people are particularly notorious for challenging the under-takers. In such instances, only equally toughened witches or medicine people who have been trained to bury the dead will be entrusted with the task at hand.
Highly respected elders are usually buried in the middle of the family compound or in front of the family house rather than in the cemetery. This is to keep them close to the family who are constantly being watched over by the dead elder or ancestor. From time to time, libation may be poured and sacrifices made on the grave. On other informal occasions, the grave may serve as a resting place for naps and for relaxing and chatting. The elders do not play an important only after their death, but also while they are alive.
Economic and Sociocultural Aspects of Cowrie Currency of the Dagaaba of Northwestern Ghana Aspects
University of Guelph, Canada
The cowrie currency, the dominant medium of exchange in Ghana before the introduction of the West African Pound and, later, the Cedi, is now merely a vestigial relic in virtually all of modern Ghana except among the Dagaaba. This paper provides an insider's perspective on the economic importance and on the unique role of the cowrie currency among the Dagaaba that explains its perpetual presence. Cultural uses create a derived demand for cowries. Government policies result in debasement of the cedi and, together with monetary characteristics of the cowrie, lead to competition between the cedi and the cowrie.
In the history of monetary economics, various commodities have evolved as media of exchange because of their intrinsic characteristics and users' extrinsic beliefs. The traditional roles of the cowrie, a previously important medium of exchange, have faded away in virtually all of present day Ghana with the introduction of the national currency, the cedi. However, among the Dagaaba of Northwestern Ghana, cowries have been part of the people as far back as their history goes. Cowries are still used for both monetary and nonmonetary purposes. There have been very little (if any) documented studies on the history of the Dagaaba (Bodomo 1994: 40), and not any on the role of cowries among the Dagaaba. Johnson (1965: 37) notes that many studies around the world on cowrie currencies are generally examined as 'primitive money'. It is possible that this commodity-money may simultaneously play roles in both monetary and nonmonetary capacities in a society (Kiyotaki and Wright 1989: 941). This is the case with cowries among the Dagaare speaking people of Northwestern Ghana.
Forms of commodity-money, such as the cowrie currency of the Dagaaba, have been described in the literature as 'primitive money' (Einzig 1966). In addition, such simple acephalous societies have been erroneously equated with lawlessness or primitive law (Redfield 1965). Furthermore, where research findings and observations about such people or actions from similar subjects do not conform or correspond to orthodox methodology, the people or participants in the investigation may be perceived as irrational and lacking intelligence.
Yelpaala (1992) notes that part of the problem of socio-anthropological studies about simple societies like the Dagaaba "lies in the ethnocentricity of outside investigators"; though the native is often the focus of a study, the native "has rarely been the investigator of his own reality" (p. 431). Rather than explaining away this seemingly unexpected or unusual observation among the Dagaaba as 'irrational' and the people appearing to exhibit intellectual shortcomings, this paper examines the "sophistication beyond conventional behaviour" (Aaron 1994: 19; Sen 1977: 341), at least from Dagaaba perspective, for the occurrence of the cowrie currency concurrently with the Ghanaian cedi.
The purpose of this article is twofold: (1) to provide what Yelpaala terms an insider's perspective of the hitherto uninvestigated dual (monetary and nonmonetary) role of the cowrie currency among the Dagaaba; and (2) to discuss the unique roles and monetary characteristics of the cowrie currency which explain its continued presence in the area and which may perpetuate this presence into the future. The rest of the paper is organised as follows: A brief overview of the Dagaaba as a people is presented in the first section. Sections two and three together present a discussion on the nonmonetary and ethnographic roles of cowries. In the fourth section, the form and characteristics of the cowries used by the Dagaaba is described, along with a description of the arithmetic of cowries employed by the people. A discussion of the chronological evolution of currency money in Ghana is presented in section five. Section six discusses the economic importance of cowries in the region. The paper concludes with a summary and a speculation on the future of the cowrie currency.
Dagaaba people of Nadowli in a meeting with Kirstin Macdonald, a member of Vertinarians withou border, courtesy http://vwbvsfstudentghana2010.blogspot.com/
1. THE DAGAABA
The Dagaare speaking people or Dagaaba (singular: Dagao) dwell in the northwestern corner of Ghana. This area lies between latitudes 12 and 9 30' North. Variants of the Dagaare language are also spoken in Burkina Faso and in the Côte d'Ivoire (Barker 1986: 70). Barker estimates that 60% of the people are worshippers of traditional African religions, 30% Christian (of which 25% are Catholics) and a little over 3% are Muslims. Yelpaala (1992) estimates the population of Dagaaba to be a little over one quarter of a million. However, it is likely that Yelpaala's figure is an under-estimation due to either inaccurate census data or emigration.
Although inheritance patterns among Dagaaba vary according to clan, patrilineal descent largely dictates membership of a lineage. The lineage is the basis for the inheritance of property. Farming and trade or commerce are the main economic activities. The people have small, mainly non-mechanized farms and are dependent on diversified farms and/or off-farm wage incomes for financial sustenance. Commercial fishing is done on the Black Volta river which delineates part of the boundaries between Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, and Burkina Faso and Ghana. Trade takes place in markets, many of which follow a six-day cycle. Some other towns have market days only on Sundays. Banking services are provided by commercial, development, and rural banks in many district capitals. The Roman Catholic church has also established several co-operative credit unions in most Catholic Parish centres.
2. NONMONETARY ROLES OF COWRIES
Although cowries have been used in many different ways by the Dagaaba, few have been documented. The important nonmonetary uses of cowries by the Dagaaba may be categorised under three broad headings: adornments, quasi-commerce and spiritual/religious uses.
Cowrie shells may be used in adorning or decorating objects. Some of these objects or articles have cultural significance that is unique to the Dagaare speaking people. Cowries may be used in decorating traditional dancing costumes or even ordinary traditional wear. In addition, articles may be decorated for sale to tourists. Articles of importance for tourism include hats, baskets, calabashes and rattles. They may also be used for unique Dagaaba adornments, such as animal skins, animal skin-bags and cowrie beads. They are also used to adorn royal regalia.
2.2 QUASI-COMMERCIAL USES
There are other uses of cowries by the people in the form of 'payments' or contributions for some activities unique to Dagaaba. The Dagaaba do not traditionally regard these as payments. For lack of a better expression I refer to these as quasi-commercial uses. Cowrie shells cast at the funeral grounds of a deceased relative is an example. It is believed that a respectable adult who dies may be angry if the assets he/she acquired are all kept away from the funeral site; only to be used by prodigal relatives after the funeral ceremony is all over. Consequently, some cowries along with items such as preserved skulls of hunted wild animals may be displayed at the funeral of the deceased who acquired them. The LoDagaaba (in Burkina Faso) believe that heaven (dapare) is "behind the river of death" and the ferryman must be paid in cowries before the deceased is transported across (Goody 1962: 131). This may be one of the reasons for 'giving' cowries to the deceased during a funeral.
The marriage gift, sometimes inadequately or misleadingly given variants of appellations as 'bride-gift', 'bride-wealth', 'bride-price', 'lobola' or wrongly as 'dowry' (Mbiti 1969; 1975), is also considered by many non-Dagaaba scholars as payments made by the groom to the bride's family; hence the term bride-price. Mbiti (1975) prefers the term marriage gift(s):
"...they [marriage gifts] are the outward symbols of a serious undertaking by the families concerned...If the marriage eventually breaks down, many of these gifts are normally returned, as a sign of failure (p. 101).
On the customary significance of the marriage gift to the Dagaaba, Mbiti (1969) puts it very succinctly when he notes that:
"The institution of this practice is the most concrete symbol of the marriage covenant and security. Under no circumstances is this custom a form of 'payment', as outsiders have so often mistakingly said. African words for the practice of giving the marriage gift are, in most cases, different from words used in buying and selling something in the market place (p. 140).
Where a marriage fails and the woman remarries to a different man, all the marriage gift items given by the divorced husband are returned to him by the new groom through his in-laws. In this case, the marriage gift by the new groom is replicated to reflect, in particular, the cowrie component involved.
The Dagaaba believe that one cannot place a monetary value on humans. This belief is consistent with one side of the cost-benefit analysts' debate on the valuation of human life (Mishan 1988; Landefeld and Seskin 1993: 378). The cowries given to the family of the bride during courtship have spiritual and cultural values and significance different from the outsider's perception. An example is the role of the koo and a hen presented during a marriage gift-giving ceremony. Once this is presented and accepted by the bride's family, sex between the couple becomes customarily legalised and any issue arising after this, such as infidelity, has to be customarily arbitrated by the clans or lineages involved.
The role of the koo and the hen constitute the crux of the Dagaaba marriage gift ceremony. This ceremony also uniquely distinguishes the traditional Dagaaba marriage gift from similar marriage institutions within the Mabia ethno-linguistic group in particular and Ghana as a whole. The cowrie component of the marriage gift is a Dagaaba custom and is presently not observed in the other societies in Ghana. This role is an important element of Dagaaba culture and hence makes doing without the cowrie difficult.
Another quasi-commercial use of cowries was for gambling. However, it is important to note here that: (l) gambling with cowries is no longer practised; and (2) cowries were used as the tools or instruments rather than the means of payment for gambling.
2.3 SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS ROLES
The third category of nonmonetary uses of cowries are for spiritual/religious purposes. Cowries may be used as the embodiment of traditional shrines and gods as well as medicine bags. They are also used in divination and diagnosis as well as treatment and prevention of illnesses. In addition, cowries may be part of the paraphernalia in a healing process. All the uses under this third category are still practised in the present time.
Mzeka (1990) provides a similar identification of the uses of cowries by the Fons of the western grasslands of Cameroon. His classification of the Fon uses are connected with royalty, commerce and the treatment of illnesses. However, from monetary and nonmonetary viewpoints, it appears that the Fons have a relatively limited use of cowries compared to the Dagaaba.
3. SOME OTHER SPECIFIC ETHNOGRAPHIC USES OF COWRIES
The previous section described a categorisation of the nonmonetary uses of cowries by Dagaaba broadly into three classes. Some of these uses, such as for adornments, are essentially artistic and may not be unique to Dagaaba alone. For instance, other Africans such as the Fons of Cameroon along with the Aboriginal people of Canada also adorn many objects with cowrie shells. Specific examples were used above to provide a clearer understanding of the three broad classes. The aim of this section is to describe some specific ethnographic nonmonetary uses of cowries by the Dagaaba.
Dagaaba believe that death is the gateway to the land of the dead and funerals are important occasions in their society. Cowries are used in various stages of the funeral ceremony. Cowries may be part of the 'payment' to xylophone players and drummers at a funeral. They are also given to the owner of the xylophones and drums that are used at the funeral. Cowries may also be cast before the corpse. This use is similar to what Goody (1962: 77) describes for the LoDagaaba. Again it is important to emphasize that the outside observer may see this function of cowries as payment, but as Mbiti (1969; 1975) notes, the purpose is definitely not a 'money-making' exercise because such cowries collected are customarily restricted as to what it can be spent on. It may also not be exchangeable into Cedis (or any other currency).
Cowries are also used in various purification ceremonies and rituals among Dagaaba and LoDagaaba. One such role is the twenty cowries (lezare) given to the woman who conducts the purification ceremony of a widow by the widow's patrikinsfolk. This purification ceremony is important because it is a preparatory rite for the widow to continue to stay and be remarried as a leviratic spouse to a member of her late husband's lineage.
Another popular use of cowries is in divination with soothsayers and spiritualists; similar to psychic consultation in some western societies. Divination among Dagaaba is however different from psychic revelation in various respects. First, clients who consult a diviner are not just ordinary members of the society but must have a special skill to be able to 'work' with and assist the diviner in 'diagnosis' along with the ability to understand the symbolisms and 'language' in the rite. Second, the diviner usually consults a deity (ngmin), ferries (kontonne) or a shrine (b g ngmin) in the presence of his or her client, which in turn unveils to him what may be communicated to the client. Most importantly, the primary purpose of the divining rite is not a business or a money-making venture for the diviner. Many of such diviners usually inherit the skill from their ancestors.
In the soothsaying rite, five cowries (anuu) are cast by the client in front of both parties to formally initiate the divination rite. In most cases, if the client feels the diviner has not 'seen' or 'diagnosed' his problem very well, he informs the diviner and the anuu is returned to the client. The significance of the return of the cowries has a connotation similar to the return of the marriage-gift after a marriage fails.
The preceding cultural and ethnographic uses by the Dagaaba create a derived demand for cowries. However, from an economic perspective, these uses make the cowrie a commodity. That is, the derived demand for cowries makes the cowrie a useful commodity but not a currency. Before exploring the economic reasons why the cowrie is used as a currency concurrently with the cedi, it is important to note the arithmetic and characteristics of the Dagaaba cowrie. This is the subject of the next section.
VSO member in group photograph with people of Lawra
4. COWRIE CURRENCY: FORM AND ARITHMETIC
Johnson (1970) notes that the cowrie shells used for commerce in the West African subregion where the Dagaaba are located are mainly the sea shells of Cypraea moneta and Cypraea annulus, and not the species found along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Given the magnitude of the trade with cowries, Johnson suggests that it is possible that the local species along the coast would likely be insufficient in quantity for this purpose. However, scarcity is a virtue in a currency. In an economic sense, the cowrie currency would not have been feasible as commodity-money if such money could be recovered in sufficient quantity from the West African coast. The relatively larger crustacean shells found along the coast of Ghana makes carrying of headloads of such 'money' unprofitable for currency dealers. The cowrie shells used were imported from the Maldive Islands via Morocco and, to a lesser extent, from the East African coast and islands (Johnson 1965)
The cowrie shells used are of different sizes; as small as the size of a pea to an ordinary walnut. The average weight of a cowrie ranges between 0.8-3.5 grams. The value of a cowrie is determined by reciprocal consent and is the same irrespective of size. In other words, the exchange rate between the cedi and the cowrie is not fixed at any specific period, but varies from market to market according to demand and supply. This way of determining the value of the cowrie by demand and supply is consistent with the characteristics of McCallum's (1989) commodity-money. In addition, there are no legal claims on its acceptability for transactions or as a legal tender.
These hard crustacean sea shells are durable and can be stored for use by several generations in a lineage. Given the weight, cowrie shells cannot easily be lost through theft as in the case of fiat (paper) money. However, unlike fiat money, each cowrie is not uniquely verifiable.
The system of counting cowries is referred to as cowrie arithmetic (Johnson 1970). Historically, there are two common systems of counting in West Africa. Cowries are counted individually in groups of a specified unit. They are also counted in 'strings' by piercing and threading them on a string in a number according to the local convention. In Cameroon, Mzeka (1990) reports that cowries were usually arranged in strings of a hundred each to make counting and calculations easy.
Cowrie arithmetic among the Dagaaba consists of counting individual unstrung cowrie shells in units of five (anuu). In other words, the smallest denomination of the Dagaaba cowrie (libipilaa) is anuu. Anuu was small and flexible enough and hence preferred over the gold dust currency or other media of exchange for small purchases (Meredith 1958). Meredith, reporting after a journey in the 1800s had this to say about the flexibility of the cowrie currency along the coast of Ghana:
Cowries and gold form the medium of exchange; the former [i.e. cowries] are universally esteemed on the sea-coast, from the facility of their being reduced to a very small sum... Gold cannot be reduced in its native state to such a low exchange; which gives cowries the preference (p. 97).
This explains, in part, why the cowrie currency is still present to this day alongside the Ghanaian cedi in Northwestern Ghana. In counting large quantities of cowries, four units of anuu are grouped into twenty cowries (lezare). Five units of lezare gives a hundred (koo ) and ten units of koo gives a thousand (ture), etc.
5. EVOLUTION OF CURRENCY MONEY IN GHANA
The use of cowries in West Africa dates as far back as the eleventh century and possibly earlier (Johnson 1965: 37). For instance, Johnson notes that during the nineteenth century, the use of cowries in slave trade plummeted in favour of trade in palm oil. Einzig (1966) reports that other commodity-monies such as gold dust, slaves and several forms of iron currency were used at various times during the 17th century in Ghana. Among the Ashanti in central Ghana, pawn6 was used extensively as a medium of exchange, probably before the introduction of the gold dust currency.
At independence, Ghana was using the West African pound, the legal tender in the anglophone West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone. On 14th July, 1958, the ruling Convention People's Party (CPP) introduced the Ghana Pound, which exchanged at par with the West African pound. The same CPP government introduced a new currency, the cedi, on 19th July, 1965. The cedi is believed to be derived from a Ghanaian word sede for the cowrie. The new currency was also decimalised in which a hundred pesewas were equivalent to a cedi. During the introduction of the new currency, a pound and seven pence of the previous currency exchanged for two cedis and forty pesewas. The National Liberation Council (NLC) government replaced the cedi (C) with the New Cedi (NC) in February 1967. A unit of the new cedi exchanged for C1.20. However, there was a pro rata change with international currencies in which the rate of the New Cedi remained unaltered. The 'old' cedi ceased to be legal tender on 23rd May, 1967, while the appellation 'new' was officially dropped from the name of the currency on 19th February, 1972.
There has not been any changes to the name of the currency since 1972. However, a number of governments have replaced all existing currency notes with 'new' cedi notes or withdrawn some denominations of the currency from circulation as occurred during the Rawlings' government in 1982 with the C50 notes. Hutchful (1989) describes this incident as follows:
This [slow growth rate in money supply] was combined with several 'revolutionary' initiatives: confiscation of C50 notes [from the citizens] and their conversion into forced loans to the state redeemable over five to ten years; a freeze on all bank balances of C50,000 or over pending investigation of their owners... (p. 101).
Some of these policies resulted in heavy losses to individuals in their attempts to convert cash savings to the new currencies. On some of these occasions, some Ghanaians mostly from the rural areas were deceived with fake currency notes, while others could not exchange their savings within the specified dates. As a result of these experiences, coupled with the persistent high inflation rate and frequent devaluation of the cedi, many Ghanaians now have a very low esteem for the cedi and prefer to, and indeed do, transact some everyday business in other currencies. Yet confidence is an ingredient that is a sine qua non to any monetary system. According to Yarbrough and Yarbrough (1988: 585), any money can function in that capacity "only as long as the public has confidence in the monetary unit and in its acceptability as payment for goods and services". The value agents place on and use or hold money depends, in part, on their belief that it will perform the functions for which they hold it (Blanchard and Fischer 1989; Kiyotaki and Wright 1989).
As a result of confiscations and debasement of the cedi, many Ghanaians have resorted to other ways of saving for the future by investing in non-cash assets. Others invest by exchanging cash incomes for the more stable US dollar or British pounds sterling and saving this in preference to the Ghanaian cedi. Among the Dagaaba, converting the cedi currency to cowries offers a secure form of maintaining 'cash' savings. This is more so with the very high inflation rates and the persistent devaluation of the cedi against other currencies including the cowrie currency. For example, while in the 1960s ten cowries exchanged for C0.01, the current rate is ten for C20.00-C40.00.
It is generally accepted by monetary economists that these cowrie currencies function in a monetary sense as 'commodity-money' and are referred to in the monetary economics literature as 'primitive money'. However, Johnson (1970) disagrees on the monetary role cowries play among the Dagaaba in particular and in the West African subregion as a whole:
...the West African cowrie currencies ...are in no sense a 'primitive' money, but a sophisticated form of currency capable of adaptation to the particular needs of West African Trade (p. 17).
Marion Johnson's claim is supported by her field report on cowries made for Northwestern Ghana in 1965. Johnson contends that cowries used by the Dagaaba are
...not a primitive currency in the sense in which, for example, cattle provide a rough and inflexible measure of value in the absence of an organised exchange economy. Cowries ...have been money in exactly the same sense as pesewas and cedis are money today; they were [are] used as medium of exchange in ordinary trading transactions, both large and small (Johnson 1965: 37).
Among the Dagaaba, savings were, and to some extent are, made in cowries, put in storage pots and other suitable containers and placed at convenient places both within and outside the household unit; similar, in a sense, to the usage of (silver) coins in contemporary times. Cowries are also directly convertible into cedis and pesewas.
The use of multiple currencies as media of exchange in a given nation is not uncommon. The use of a foreign currency as a medium of exchange is known in the literature as currency substitution. It is usually "a by-product of high inflation" (Calvo and Végh 1993: 34). Calvo and Végh note that in many Latin American countries as Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay, the US dollar is widely used in especially 'big-ticket' transactions. Consequently, in these nations, the phenomenon is referred to as dollarization.
The economic importance of currency substitution relates to major and controversial policy issues as: (l) whether or not it should be encouraged; and (2) its impact on the magnitude and variability of inflation. There are few unambiguous solutions to these concerns. Quantifying the magnitude of currency substitution for any country is a difficult task because there is usually little (if any) time series data on foreign currency circulation in the economy (Calvo and Végh 1993). The cowrie currency of the Dagaaba is not different.
The above assertion on the economic role of cowries by Johnson does not imply that the cowrie currency, especially as used by the Dagaaba, is strictly fiat money. McCallum (1989) notes that ideally a monetary material, distinct from commodity-money which can have intrinsic value, should serve in that capacity to the extent that "no intrinsically valuable material is diverted away from consumption or productive uses" (p. 17). Other nonmonetary uses of cowries among Dagaaba make categorising it as money inappropriate.7
However, there are two important issues worth noting about the Dagaaba cowries. First, Ludwig von Mises (1963), an Austrian economist explained that all human action is an attempt to move from a less desired state to a more desired state. If trade with cowries was not mutually beneficial, it would not happen. If trade in some activities with cowries occurred (and still persists in modern times) in the presence of the Ghanaian cedi, then it must be the case that participants perceive
7 On the differences between fiat money and commodity-money along with the characteristics of each type, see McCallum (1989) and Kiyotaki and Wright (1989).
themselves to be better off in these transactions with the cowrie than with the cedi. Second, non-Dagaaba may be interested in an indigenized central hypothesis that provides a possible explanation for the continued use of cowries among the Dagaaba but not the other Ghanaian tribes who previously used the currency. Johnson (1965) after her epigrammatic report about cowries in northwestern Ghana suggests the need for a "serious study of this long-enduring and wide-ranging currency" because there has not yet been any significant research about the use of cowries by Dagaaba (p. 37).
Monetary policies have an overwhelmingly important impact on the economic life of a nation. Monetary economists recommend tighter control of money stock as the best way of fighting inflation. The presence of the cowrie currency can cloud operating procedures for controlling bank reserves especially where the cowrie currency has a significant monetary impact. Monetary planning is unpredictable in such a case. Thus, the cowrie currency may have important implications on (fiat) money demand and appropriate monetary policy.
The preceding concern suggests an additional important issue for Ghana as a whole. Macroeconomic and fiscal policies are usually influenced by external policy-makers. Such decision-makers may be unaware of the existence of other forms of 'money' in the economy for which they make their policies. Even in industrialised economies where such 'primitive' forms of money do not exist, currency demand is not well understood and a significant proportion of currency holdings simply can not be explained (Sprenkle 1993: 175). This picture may be more complicated for Ghana with the presence of the cowrie currency and the US dollar. Yet, the economics of household currency demand in standard formulations assume that economic agents desire currency for transactions as a simple function of household income and the interest rate forgone by holding currency. If the cowrie currency in circulation is not accounted for, it can have important consequences. Thus, microeconomic theorists may find it difficult to explain unexpected or unusual Dagaaba households' pecuniary behaviour.
Trade using the cowrie currency also has an international socio-economic dimension. The currency is used by other Dagaare speakers living across the Black Volta river in the Côte d'Ivoire and in Burkina Faso. As mentioned earlier, these people share common linguistic and socio-cultural values, and trade within each group and among the groups in the three countries; despite the international boundaries separating them. There can therefore be impacts on capital flows and exchange rates in the countries in which these economic activities occur (Sprenkle 1993).
The strategic location of the Dagaaba in an area that shares borders with the other two French-speaking countries, necessitates the movement of the cowrie currency across the borders for use among the various Dagaare-speakers. There are serious frictions in commuting across the borders of the three nations with unwarranted, illegal human body searches and seizure of large fiat monies by government border officials being a common, rather than an occasional, practice. There has been an artificially overvalued, fixed or pegged exchange rate of the
Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc and, until the 1980s of the Ghanaian cedi. Pegged exchange rates by the respective central banks tend to encourage an alternative market in currency exchange including a trade in cowries. Furthermore, traders who encounter unnecessary difficulties at the border check-points may resort to the cowrie currency as an alternative medium of exchange which is allowed across the border as a traditional commodity-money. Development and international economists therefore have to deal with issues on the implications for capital flows and exchange rates along with size of seigniorage losses and appropriate policy, given the competition of the cowrie currency with 'hard' currencies from the affected countries.
A description of the economic role of cowries among the Dagaaba may be deemed incomplete without a note on its role in exchange for bicycles. The bicycle is probably the most important means of transportation in the whole of Northern Ghana. Thus, every Dagaaba household unit in the rural areas acquires one or (usually) more bicycles as basic assets for the family. Some customers who cannot afford to pay in cedis may arrange to pay in cowries. Some Dagaaba who are not commercial farmers and have limited non-farm incomes may prefer this means of payment because they may have acquired cowrie incomes from traditional 'professions', trades, rituals, etc. Such purchasers may arrange for special payment schemes by instalments; similar to the 'lay-away' scheme in industrialised countries. However, there are numerous occasions in which non-commercial (i.e. occasional) sellers of bicycles sell to only buyers with cowries. This may be the case if the prospective seller needs cowries for a specific purpose as marriage gift.
7. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION: FATE OF THE COWRIE CURRENCY
The cowrie currency of the Dagaaba is important for an understanding of several economic issues about the Upper West Region of Ghana where they are located and, to a large extent, for the country as a whole. Use of the cowrie as money may have important macroeconomic implications for money demand functions for the Ghanaian cedi. Furthermore, appropriate monetary policy and definitions are concerns that may be clouded by the presence of both cowries and fiat money in the economy.
One of the important issues in monetary economics is why agents hold money. These questions are further complicated for the Ghanaian cedi because the Dagaaba continue to use the cowrie currency concurrently with the Ghanaian cedi. One would have expected that, just as the introduction of commodity-money replaced trade by barter, the introduction of the cedi would have replaced cowries, at least for the common functions for which use of fiat money is better. This expectation is consistent with the observed practice in most parts of the country. However, among the Dagaaba this is not the observed behaviour. There are even some transactions (such as exchange for bicycles, marriage gifts involving cowries for a woman who remarries, and some transactions involving agents from the three contiguous nations) for which use of the cedi is inappropriate or, at best, discouraged in favour of cowries.
A combination of internal and external (to Dagaaba land) factors affect the use of cowries as commodity-money. These factors seem to provide the raison d'être for the continued use of cowries by the Dagaaba and which may sustain their perpetual use. Externally, the persistent high inflation, frequent devaluation of the cedi and trade frictions along with low confidence in the cedi currency and government monetary policies of arbitrary currency changes are factors that tend to sustain and preserve rather than abrogate the use of cowrie as a currency. On the other hand, the infiltration of western religions into the area tend to convert some natives and hence reduce the proportion of the population involved in traditional Dagaaba religious and spiritual practices. This in turn may affect the use of cowries for spiritual/religious purposes.
Among the internal factors, neighbours who cross the international border northwest into Burkina Faso or west into Côte d'Ivoire sometimes trade with the cowrie currency rather than the local currency. First, it seems easier to exchange the cowrie (rather than the foreign) currency for their own fiat currency when the traders return home. When Dagaaba traders, for example, return home from across the border, the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc currency from the neighbouring countries may not provide immediate cash for use or may not be easily convertible to cedis.8 Second, there is a flexibility in trading with cowries over fiat money for small purchases or for some quasi-commercial activities. Such factors tend to perpetuate the continuous use of cowries in the region.
Numerologically, the numbers three and four are very symbolic in Dagaare culture. The number three is sacredly associated with males and four with females. As noted earlier about the appropriateness of the cowrie currency over gold along the coast of Ghana, libipilaa with its uniquely 'low exchange' is a more suitable unit of transaction for this cultural numeracy among the Dagaaba.
Finally, there are certain ethnographic nonmonetary uses of the cowrie which are an inherent part of the culture of the people. Uses for spiritual and religious or marriage gift purposes, for example, are not likely to die out for a long time to come; especially with the growing population. In addition, libipilaa being a common cultural currency among the diverse speakers of Dagaare, is preferred over and above the CFA franc and the cedi. In other words, culturally the cedi and CFA franc are perceived as foreign to the Dagaaba. Thus, in a marriage between two families, libipilaa would be a more acceptable unit of transaction as far as the culture of both families in the two nations are concerned.
Together, these internal and external factors tend to facilitate and sustain the continual use of cowries as commodity-money among the Dagaaba. Though the strategic location of the people is important, the traditional uses of cowries appear to be the most critical factor that accounts for their perpetual use among the Dagaaba. These uses are unique to the Dagaaba but not the other tribes located along the former cowrie currency trade routes. Religious conversion of the natives and the growing population, along with improved central government monetary policies may, at best, withdraw the cowrie from some uses to critical customary or ethnographic functions.
TAKO DAA RITE
Tako daa is the name of the phenomenon that Kuukure (1985:63) refers to as ‘the-day-of-no-hoeing.’There are other names (Na-mwaa daa, War daa, Tengan daa, zang daa, Birifu daa, etc.), which refer to the same phenomenon. These names can be classified under three categories for analysis. The first category of names is a direct prohibition. The popular names Tako daa and Na-mwaa daa fall into thiscategory.
In the opinion of many informants from Nandom and its surrounding villages, Na-mwaa daa is the very original name of the phenomenon. However, this name is known only in the Nandom area. Na-mwaa daa is a prohibition that, in a vague way, admonishes one to break or stop what one is doing. The action to be stopped is not specified in this name. Tako daa, which is also used in the Nandom area, is more specific in pointing out the kind of action that should be stopped. The prohibition out rightly stops farming (ta ko). This name is thus a combination of an adverb of negation, a verb, and a noun: the adverb of negation ta is used to negate the verb ko (to farm; that is, activities entailed in the cultivation of crops), and daa is the noun, meaning day or market.
Daa, which means market, appears in the second category of names. This category of names consists of
the phenomenon under consideration being used as the name of some Dagara villages. In this second context, Tako daa refers to the market day of the village that bears the name of the phenomenon.
Informants from Kaleo and its surrounding villages link Tako daa with a village in the east of Kaleo called Zang. Zang daa is thus a day of no hoeing. It is also the market day of Zang. The market days of Duong in the Daffiema area and Birifu in the Lawra traditional area always coincide with that of Zang. The market days of all these villages fall on the Tako daa. In Birifu, the popular names that are used to designate the phenomenon are Tako daa, Tengan daa, and Wer daa. This leads us to the third category of names.
The two names Tengan daa and Wer daa point out the close link between this day and the important realities of the Earth Shrine and (lack of) rain respectively. As already mentioned, in Birifu, Tako daa is also called Tengan daa, signifying that this day belongs to and should be dedicated entirely to the Tengan. The fact that the Dagara also call this phenomenon Wer daa, which literally means ‘drought day,’ suggests that the Dagara link this day with droughts. One hypothesis is that farming on this day angers the gods of the land with the concomitance of the punishment of droughts.
ORIGINS OF TAKO DAA
From what we have learned from the oral sources, the Dagara are not only concerned with the observance of Tako daa, they discursively seek clarifications to the origin of this taboo. Although the average Dagao does not know the origin of Tako daa, the elderly ones with good memory give three oral accounts of how the Tako daa came into being. Some of such elderly informants know one or two of these accounts, but not the three together.
The account that is popularly known to all the informants is a story linked with a severe drought. Some informants narrated that many years ago there was a very severe drought in Dagaabaland, causing great anxiety and fear. Some elders decided to go to the Tengan Sob (Custodian of the Earth Shrine) to request his intercession for rains. When the Tengan Sob was consulted, he made a petition to God through the ancestors. God listened favourably to the petition and it rained cats and dogs on that same day. The Tengan Sob declared that day as sacred. On the premises of the Earth Shrine, the Tengan Sob promulgated that day as a day of no farming (Tako daa). This event was interpreted as a salvific act of God and it is therefore imperative to dedicate the day to God.
A second account of the origin of the Tako daa is that all the ‘six’ days (the Dagara follow a six-day cycle of the market week) were used up, especially during the rainy season for working in the farms. This arduous task continued for a long time until some orphans complained to the Tengan Sob that they the children do not have any spare day to carry out their hobbies. The Tengan Sob reflected seriously on these boys’ caution and plea and a day (the Tako daa) was set aside for rest, and as an opportunity for children to farm on their zale (plural)1 as a hobby. Harkening to this plea offered the children as well as all and sundry a day of respite.
The Dagara used to practice shifting cultivation when arable land available was in abundance. The proceeds of the zale go directly to the child who cultivates it. Normally, when a child is cultivating a zale, he does it secretly. It is usually to the pleasant surprise of parents to find the crops growing on the cultivated piece of land.
The people of Birifu accord great importance to the third story of the origin of the Tako daa. They assert that God revealed it to them in a very miraculous manner. A couple of elderly informants in Birifu (viz Kpaari Gandaa and Tisip Gandaa) narrated that some men were hoeing on their guinea corn field when a mysterious man appeared before them and instructed them never to hoe on that day of the week again. He further instructed them to inform their colleagues about this taboo. After delivering this message, the mysterious man vanished. The emissaries of the taboo informed their relatives at home about the revelation, and died suddenly. One may surmise that they died of fright. The people of Birifu believe that this revelation was made on their Tengan and, therefore, their market day was fixed on this day, which became the Tako daa. This revelation became a pathway to respite.
It is doubtful as to how this revelation could spread through the Dagaabaland if it was manifested in Birifu alone. The Tako daa exists in the whole of the Dagaabaland. Instead of seeing this revelation as occurring at Birifu, the Dagara in general affirm that they had knowledge of and observed the Tako daa when all of them were still at their place of origin; the original settlement of all Dagara before they dispersed to the present pattern of dispersed settlements in Dagaabaland.
The universality of the observation of Tako daa among the Dagara gingers up the desire to examine what constitutes the prohibition. Hoeing on a piece of land cropped with any kind of millet, maize or beans is strictly forbidden. Similarly, if someone sows just a few seeds of the crops mentioned above among some bonkere (not-so-important-crops), s/he will not be allowed to weed them on Tako daa. Some informants, including Mr. Taare Kob of Betaglo in the Nandom traditional area, elucidated that because porridge (also known as T.Z. or sao) is made from millet or maize, nobody is allowed to prepare it on the Tako daa.
Significantly, the staple food of the Dagara is porridge. In the same way, any granary that contains millet, maize or beans is not to be opened on this day. Thus, all the processes entailed in the preparation of porridge are affected by the dictates of Tako daa.
Among the Dagara, a chicken is the bird that is often used for offering sacrifices at the Earth Shrine. It is explained that because of this importance of the chicken, it is forbidden to go to the bush to fetch termites, the favorite food of domestic birds, to feed chickens on the Tako daa. A person is only excused to look for termites on this day if s/he is using a piece of carved wood to dig out the termites. The normal tool, which is a hoe, is forbidden. The practical difficulties involved would make us conclude that the Dagara would prefer not to look for termites at all on this day.
An important aspect of communal life, which is also forbidden on Tako daa, is the burial of the dead. It is even considered a great sacrilege for a Dagao to die on this day. When somebody dies on this day, the Tengan Sob surmises that the deceased committed a crime against the Earth Shrine. Thus the relatives of the deceased are fined and the corpse is cleansed before the mourning process can commence. However, if the death occurred before this day and the corpse is already laid in stage, the funeral continues unabated.
According to the information we ascertained from the oral sources, there is no consensus on whether hunting, fetching firewood in the bush, and paying the bride price are allowed on Tako daa. Mr. Taare Kob, who is a staunch believer of Traditional African Religion, indicated that the mentioned activities are forbidden on Tako daa. Mr. Camillo Gobr, who was residing in Lawra at the time of the research, said the contrary. The divergence in opinion on these activities makes one to surmise that the prohibition varies from Tengan to Tengan. Furthermore, there seems to be modifications of the practical requirements of the taboo with the passage of time.
It may be postulated that the Tako daa law was very rigorous in the distant past but was later relaxed until nowadays when it is gradually disappearing from among the Dagara. Nowadays, one rarely hears about the Tako daa. Whether this theory is accepted or not, my informants, including Msgr. Francis Baghr, who was residing in Nadowli at the time of the research, affirmed that at a later date, people were allowed to hoe on their bonkere farms on the Tako daa. The bonkere include bambara beans, rice and groundnuts.
These crops, also known as bonfogle, are considered to be of secondary domestic and subsistence value, since they are not used to preparing porridge. Nevertheless, the condition under which one is permitted to hoe in these crops is that one is not to exceed the time that cows are normally brought out of the kraal to graze. It is usually children who take the cattle for grazing. Also, children are allowed to farm on their zale. It is probable that this permission for the children is closely linked with the modification that people can work on their bonkere farms till the time of releasing the cows from the kraal. If this is the case, they are allowed to work on their bonkere farms till it is time for them to take the cows out to graze.
Additionally, Tako daa is a joyful day, a day of rest and of family reunions. It is on this day that many transactions in the family and at the village level are carried out. It is a day earmarked for settling matters concerning the Tengan, arranging marriage affairs, modeling idols (Tibe meb), dancing and trading in the market. Msgr. Francis Baghr testified that the youth are always eager for Tako daa to arrive so that they can rest from farm work. The Dagara are generally happy to observe this law as a day of respite.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TAKO DAA
Tako daa is a day in the six-day cycle of the week on which the Dagara are forbidden to hoe and those who are caught violating the law are heavily fined. It is not just only because the penalties against the Tako daa violators are fantastic that few people break this law; it is also because this prohibition stems from an attempt of the Dagara to maintain order and harmony with what is conceived as spiritual realities in their sitz im laben as subsistence farmers. In the light of the first and third accounts of the origin of Tako daa, it is seen as a revelation from God and a divine law. It is not just perceived as a human precept.
In their milieu, the Dagara visualize land as a spiritual entity that makes possible their main economic activities. Tako daa is thus a form of veneration of the land. We affirm with Tengan (1989: 132) that ‘the ritualisation of the relationship with the earth through the establishment of the earth cults is significant for two reasons…. A means of coping with the powerful emotions that this reality evokes for them (Turner 1970: 43). Secondly, … people enter into a personal relationship with the source of their very being.’
The Earth (Shrine), which is revered, uses rain both as blessing and punishment. Some people claim that in the past it used to rain on every Tako daa. The lack of rain during the rainy season is seen as a punishment for an offence against Tengan. There is always the fear of being punished with droughts for misconducts (in the eyes of Tengan). There must be a cause for a drought. The fault must be discovered and the culprit punished. Droughts thus become a means of instilling social order.
Professor Adams Bodomo
PENALTIES ON THE TAKO DAAVIOLATORS
The fact that the Dagara are happy to observe this law does not rule out the possibility of transgressions. Among the Dagara, it is believed that God metes out an immediate punishment on anybody who goes to farm on Tako daa. It is believed that if somebody is farming in her/his millet farm, s/he will be affected gravely by something. S/he may be stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake and s/he may die. Such a person is not mourned because s/he has offended the Tengan and died as a result.
Naa Mone Jatoe, the Chief of Zang, narrated the story of how two friends established adjacent groundnuts farms intercropped with guinea corn and one of them used to weed his crops on Tako daa. Locust descended and devoured the Tako daa violator’s crops alone. The violator died in that same rainy and farming season.
A person who violates the Tako daa may sustain a cut from the tool used in the farm and the wound obtained from such an injury will never heal. The injured person will be compelled to consult the soothsayer who, after finding out the cause, will direct the violator to the Tengan Sob for reparation. The fine on such violators is fixed. Notwithstanding, it is subject to divine acceptance or refusal. The initial fine is three thousand cowry shells, a goat, and two to six hens, depending on the Tengan concerned. The fine varies from Tengan to Tengan. These birds and animals are usually sacrificed at the Earth Shrine. If the sacrifice is accepted, the culprit is given the actual fine.
The actual fine consists of twenty thousand cowry shells and a cow. These items are used to pacify the Tengan. The Tengan Sob for settling matters pertaining to the Tengan saves the twenty thousand cowries. The cow is sacrificed at the Tengan and the meat eaten there. All those present at the sacrifice partake in eating the meat of the cow that has been offered as the sacrifice. Although the culprit, the violator of the
Tako daa, is expected to be present at the sacrifice of the cow, s/he is forbidden to eat the meat of the cow sacrificed on her/his behalf. Archbishop Peter Porekuu Dery recalled the observance of the Tako daa taboo as a young man. He affirmed that very few people actually broke this law of the time.
The Dagaaba-Frafra Jokes
by: Wegru Joseph Yelepuo
This article is about the inter-ethnic humour among the Dagaaba and the Frafra in Ghana. I shall explore the aetiology and the development of the relationship between the two tribes. Then, look at the future of the relationship and conclude. The basis of the article, however, will be the synthesis of personal interviews and the results of some questionnaire on the subject. I shall also use relevant material from earlier works on the two tribes by other authors to enhance my presentation. These are shown in the bibliography.
It is a common knowledge that the Dagaaba and the Gurune (Frafra) in Ghana have a very admirable cordial relationship between them, both in public and in private circles. They are able to joke and tease each other publicly without either taking undue umbrage. They have mutual understanding as Mabia or playmates. A playmate, according to Collins English Dictionary, 'is a friend or a partner in play or recreation'. The Gurune (Frafra) and the Dagaaba have always regarded each other as good playmates.
Age, sex, religion, educational achievements and social status do not exclude one from enjoying the existing relational bond between the two ethnic groups. It is merely enough for one to be born into either of the two tribes in order to participate in the jokes. Active participation in the play is, however, not compulsory. There are some people who, for personal reasons, have opted out. Such individuals neither initiate nor participate in the jokes any longer but they do not prevent those who enjoy playing, to have a go at it. This point will be further clarified later.
In any case, who are the Gurune and the Dagaaba in Ghana? The Dagaaba (singular: Dagao) are predominantly an agricultural community, a little over one million people, located in the north-western part of Ghana called the Upper-West Region, and in south-western Burkina Faso. The people in this area speak a continuum of several dialects (Dagaare-Waala-Birifor). However, Dagaare appears to be the common language under which the other dialects are sometimes lumped together.
To the east of this language group, are the Sisaala people and to the south, they are bordered by the Gonja, Vagla, and Safaliba. To the west and north, this dialect continuum extends across the Black Volta and the international boundary into Burkina Faso where Dagaare is spoken in and around towns like Dano, Diebougou, Dissin, and Gaoua.
The major towns of the Dagaaba in Ghana are Wa, Lawra, Jirapa, Nandom, Hamile, Nadawli, Kaleo, Daffiama, and Tuna, which is in the Northern Region. However, due to high mobility, among other factors, the Dagaaba have spread beyond the limit of their traditional homeland to other parts of Ghana. Today, there are many Dagaaba communities in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and most major towns and villages throughout the country.
The Gurune (Frafra) on the other hand, like the Dagaaba, are also predominantly agricultural people in the north-eastern part of Ghana called the Upper East Region. Major towns of traditional Gurune speaking people include Bolgatanga, Bongo, Zuarengu, Somburungu, and other surrounding villages. There are also some Gurune speaking people (Nankani) in Navrongo District which other wise is a Kasem speaking area. In Burkina Faso, native speaking Gurune are found in the Nahouri province, Eastern part of Tiebele and in the region of Po.
Gurune, Nankani, Booni, Talni, and Nabt together with other minor ones are considered the major dialects of the Frafra people. However, Nabt and Talni may be appropriately considered as dialects of Mampruli. While, Mampruli, Kusaal, and Dagaare are considered as sister languages to Gurune. There are obvious linguistic similarities among these and the other Mabia language group as pointed out in Bodomo (1994).
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 a people of high mobility. They usually travel down south to look for work during the dry season of the north.
It may be interesting, at this point, to acknowledge how the name Frafra became the accepted name for both the people and the language of the area under discussion. The name Frafra originated from the first missionaries' interactions with the natives during the early parts of the 1900s. Each time the missionaries visited a compound and were leaving, the people always said, 'Frafra', meaning 'thank you' or 'well done'. Therefore, the missionaries started calling them 'the Frafra people'. The natives, on their part, did not take any offence or protest to being called the Frafra people. They accepted the 'new' name and also began using it themselves. That is how the term Frafra gradually became a general usage.
The concept of playmates is not confined only to the Gurune (Frafra) and the Dagaaba tribes in Ghana. Many other tribes in the country also have the concept and they exercise it among themselves. For instance, the Kasena and the Sisaala are playmates. They joke and tease each other whenever and wherever they meet.
There are even some playmates that are members within the same tribe. Playmates exist, in many cases, as a medium for resolving conflicts and restoring peace within and among community members. For instance, the Zage and the Naayile are two Dagaaba clans who are playmates. They joke and play among themselves without either taking offence. There are similar other groups among the different tribes in the country who are playmates and relate well with each other.
Nevertheless, the focus of this article is not on the broad picture of playmates but on that of the Gurune (Frafra)-Dagaaba relationship, which in recent times is gaining both national and international recognition. The Frafra-Dagaaba friendly football match played in September 1995 was telecast on GTV as part of the Sports Highlights Programme. The fraternity between these two tribes is a force to reckon with amidst the growing number of ethnic and tribal conflicts that plague the African continent today. It is healthy for the two ethnic groups to have a joking relationship with one another as playmates. One good thing is that it can diffuse tensions in potentially dangerous situations.
The Origin of the Relationship
The origin of the Gurune (Frafra)-Dagaaba relationship is very uncertain. Little is known about how it all started. People just accept the play as a normal practice between the two tribes and carry on with a strong desire that one-day the origin of the relationship would be revealed. Their general concern is the ability to enjoy the jokes and live in harmony. Nevertheless, the members of the two tribes have not stopped searching for the origin of the relationship. Some individual elders have fascinating stories or legends about the relationship, which are worth our consideration.
There is a legend, which tries to trace the relationship to its very roots. This legend suggests that, the Frafra and the Dagaaba have a link with the Dagomba. However, it does not account for the relationship with the other ethnic groups, which Bodomo (1994) indicate as belong to a common Mabia ancestry.
These other groups are the Birifo, the Mamprusi, the Nankani, the Kussasi, the Waala and of course, the Mossi. Bodomo (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Tuurey (1982) and Herbert (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 group - the Mabia. My own speculation about these other groups would be that some personal/communal experiences, which they encountered during the period of the migration might have caused the splitting up of the originally single family.
It is believed that, long time ago, the Dagomba, the Gurune (Frafra) and the 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 onto Ghana.
In general, there are some cultural similarities, between the Dagaaba, the Dagomba and the Gurune (Frafra) and some of the people in the countries mentioned. Take for example, the way we get married, bring up children, respect the elderly, mourn our dead relatives and later honour them as our ancestors. The food we eat and the clothing we wear are also good enough indicators of our common origin with the people in those countries. There are other social and cultural similarities, which also seem to indicate the validity of the legend.
Phonetic similarities in some of the names of people in these countries also suggest the plausibility of the legend. For instance, the name 'Abongo' is common both among the Gurune (Frafra) in Ghana and among some of the people in Kenya. Another name like 'Bayuo' or 'Beyuo' is also common among the Dagaaba in Ghana and also among some of the people in Sierra Leone.
The influence of the Hausa language in Dagaare is another obvious example. 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.
It is high time we started acknowledging our common origins. They have the potential of uniting us into one harmonious family and initiating peace in our rather troubled society today. It makes no sense if Africans in the Diaspora are returning to their roots and we at home continue to discriminate against one another. We are all Mabia, and therefore, brothers and sisters. Warring African countries should stop fighting and live together in peace. We are destroying ourselves and increasing our poverty. War creates more problems and makes us worse off.
Upon arriving in Ghana, the family settled somewhere in Damongo, south of Tamale, where they exercised their trade in hides and skin. They would usually travel, in turns, to Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, to buy the items and come back to sell.
The Dagomba was the first to go. He went, bought the items and came back. This suggests the etymological origin of the Dagomba. Da in Dagaare means 'buy' and gbang means 'leather'. Literally, therefore, Dagomba means 'the one who goes to buy leather'.
Next to go was the Dagao. He went to Burkina Faso, but did not return. He rather got married and settled there. He became both the chief and the landlord in the locality. In other words, he acted as both the Naa and the Tendaana or the Tengansob in the area where he settled. Etymologically again, Da means 'buy' and gao means 'to lie down' or 'to sleep'. Therefore, Dagao literally means 'the one who goes to buy and sleeps'.
Batman Samini is a proud Dagao
After a long time waiting in vain for the return of the Dagao, the Dagomba decided to send his brother, the Gurune, to Burkina Faso to look for their other lost brother.
In Burkina Faso, he found the brother happily married and doing very well in life. He was the owner of a vast property of farmland and animals. In other words, he was well established and could afford to marry up to fifty or more wives. Having many wives at that time was a status symbol in society.
When the two brothers met to discuss the purpose of the visit, it turned out that the visitor, like the host, was not to return in order to give account of his journey to their other brother at home. The Dagao prevented him from doing so. This act of prevention somehow suggests the etymological meaning of the name Gurune. Literally, it means 'the one who is prevented'.
Consequently, Gurune settled with his brother and the two worked together in Burkina Faso. They were both prosperous and hard working. Gurune also got married and the two families continued to live together in harmony.
The Dagao who was, by this time, both the chief and the landowner, decided to share his authority with his brother. He gave the chieftaincy to his brother Gurune but retained the land-ownership. According to tradition, the office of the landowner is more important than that of the chieftaincy, due to its spiritual nature.
A time came when they wanted to perform a thanksgiving sacrifice to God for being so kind to them in their settlement. The Dagao, who was the Tendaana, consulted with the ancestors as to the best victim they were to use for the offering. As a result, a dog was adjudged to be the best victim for the sacrifice. They were to perform the sacrifice at dawn before sunrise on the chosen day.
Knowing very well that it could be difficult to kill a dog at dawn, they decided to kill it in the evening before the appointed date of the sacrifice. They needed only the head and the entrails of the victim for the occasion. The whole victim was not needed. So, those essential parts were removed and kept aside for the next morning.
When everybody was asleep during the night, the elder son of the Gurune went and stole the hidden items. He was busy munching his meat when suddenly; the elder son of the Dagao appeared on the scene. The two young men ate all the meat, but decided to hang the skull of the animal at the family shrine.
In the morning of the following day, when all the elders of the family had gathered together for the sacrifice to begin, the Dagao went to retrieve the items, but they were no where to be found. It was a great mystery. The items had disappeared. The whole house was searched and the compound swept but to no avail. They found only, what seemed to be the remains of the lost items, the dry bones, hanging over the shrine. They were all drowned in fear and perplexity and wondered what to do.
Then the youngest son of the Gurune appeared with his eyewitness story. He had seen his elder brother and the cousin eating the meat last night. Do you think that the Dagao would accept that his son was a thief? Not at all and far from it! So he rather accused the Gurune's son of stealing the sacrificial items.
This annoyed Gurune so much that he decided to pack out of the house so as to go his own way, with his family. On leaving the house, he threatened his brother that he was going to the east and would prevent the sun from rising.
Fearing what his brother might do, the Dagao also decided to move his family to the west so that he could prevent the sun from setting. That is why the Gurune are found in the east, the Dagomba in the south and the Dagaaba in the west of Northern Ghana.
This legend, in the first place, provides a possible explanation to the existing Dagaaba-Frafra jokes involving 'the dog head'. Secondly, it provides some ideas about certain social institutions like the roles of the Tendaana and the Naa among the three ethnic groups - the Dagaaba, the Dagomba and the Gurune.
A legend may not provide us with factual information, yet it has the capacity to entertain and stimulate critical thinking of its audience. Therefore, It would be worthwhile if more research were done in the history of our own people or tribe.
The Growth and Development of the Relationship
The uncertainty about the origin of the relationship did not prevent it from growing among the members of the two tribes. They have accepted and nurtured the relationship down the years, though at times not very consciously.
Participation in the jokes has several inherent benefits, which both parties enjoy. It seems to come naturally and spontaneously regardless of place, occasion, circumstance. The jokes are always the same in content and context, be it at the market place, the pito bar or at the funeral house. It is usually a one-to-one informal play and it takes place whenever and wherever members of the two tribes meet. In fact, knowing the other person to be a Frafra or Dagao gives one a feeling of brotherhood or sisterhood as the case maybe. One can go ahead to play, fraternise even if that is the first time of meeting the other person.
The idea of brotherhood or sisterhood seems to be the main purpose of the jokes between the two tribes. Through the jokes, practical social and moral virtues like love, peace, understanding, hospitality, generosity, concern for others, communal feeling, to mention but a few, can be developed. The members of the two tribes have always supported each other during good or bad times. They attend and take active part in each other's celebrations - marriages, funerals and many other important occasional community celebrations.
The jokes also help to lower initial communication barriers, establish some measure of trust and make it easier for members of both communities to approach each other. Consequently, sharing is facilitated and it takes place in the atmosphere of peace and trust. One feels at home with the other person and both enjoy the play. Moreover, the general public also enjoys the humour created by these two tribes whenever they meet. Sometimes, 'foreigners' want to participate in the jokes but one has to take caution before drinking from a cup which is the preserve of the Mabia.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Gurune and the Dagaaba are very mobile people. They travel down the southern part of the country in search for employment during the dry season when they have harvested and stored away their crops. This makes them allies and probably contributes in keeping the relationship alive between them.
Another significant development worth mentioning is the joint sports activities between the Frafra and the Dagaaba living in Accra. These friendly games have become very popular in recent years, catching the interest of the general public. The games are fostering unity, peace and love among the members of the two tribes in and around Accra. The last jamboree was held on 4th September 1999 at the Elwak Stadium in Accra. The occasion was well attended by the members of the two communities and drew a large crowd of cheering spectators in the metropolis.
The joke is also popular among members of the two tribes who are Catholic priests or religious in 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 (Frafra)-Dagaaba relationship is all roses and no thorns. Unfortunately however, there had been some few isolated cases of conflict and misunderstanding in the past because of the jokes. Some individuals have been hurt and as a result have opted out of the play. Sometimes, the jokes are too narrowly focused on teasing about only the negative tendencies and not edifying or brotherly addressing. For instance calling somebody 'an ugly dog head eater' will be an insult rather than a joke. As such, people can be hurt and have been offended in the past. Expensive jokes can create animosity between the best of friends. Therefore, participants have to be sensitive to the feelings of others when cracking a joke.
There was also another occasion in Bolgatanga where pieces of packing foam were mixed with scrambled eggs and served to some Dagaaba as food for their breakfast. Such jokes are very insulting and should therefore be avoided and discouraged.
In addition to the above, is the increasing level of individualism and competition among different tribes in our Ghanaian society today. Many people are becoming self-centred with little or no concern for the welfare of the larger community. The language we understand and speak today is all about 'me' and 'myself' and no other person. No wonder the much so talked about extended family is no longer working, in many cases, in Ghana.
The Future of the Relationship
There are many indications from both tribes that they want the relationship to continue despite the few isolated cases of misunderstandings that have occurred in the past and might still occur in the future. They all want to know the history of the relation and pass it onto their younger generations.
The two tribes also want to continue with the joint sports and cultural activities initiated by those living in Accra. Through such activities, personal differences would be resolved and the comradeship strengthened.
Cross-cultural sensitisation in the school curricular and joint exchange projects between both teachers and pupils of different regions could also be organised. The value of such cultural and social activities cannot be overemphasised. They have the potential of reducing hidden prejudices and/or complexes between the two tribes. Invitation to and participation in each other's annual festivals are also examples of educational activities with social values. Through the joint activities, conscious efforts can be made to study the linguistic similarities between Frafra and Dagaare. Public debates on reforming the jokes can also be organised.
All these activities can help reduce the uncritical and whole sale acceptance of the jokes and make them more edifying. Participants can also go beyond simple teasing of each other to pertinent socio-economic and political issues like justice, environmental cleanliness, and functional literacy and poverty elevation.
To further strengthen and maintain the already existing cordial relationship between the Gurune and the Dagaaba, inter-marriage should be encouraged. This is already happening and will need to be encouraged. In fact, some bachelors and spinsters have got married through the Frafra-Dagaaba jokes. These couples are still happily married today. Traditionally and also in Christian Scriptures, marriage is considered as cement which binds together two families and make them one. 'What God has joined together; let no one put asunder' (Matthew 19:6).
With these proposals, let us now consider something, which is a serious concern for some Dagaaba. The Gurune now have less distinguishing tribal marks! How can we identify each other? This is a real anxiety. However, the solution does not lie in advocating that the people in question continue to mutilate their bodies for the sake of fraternity. Rather, we need to re-examine the content of our jokes and do away with any dehumanising elements, which may hamper the dignity and the welfare of the group. The relationship has the potential of being a tool for conflict resolution. Participants need to treasure and nurture it to grow into proper maturity.
This article has attempted to answer the frequently asked question on the origin of the Dagaaba-Frafra Jokes. It has also sought to stimulate the interest of the reader and invite further research in the area. Ask the elders and they will tell you, search the libraries and you will be amazed at the treasure they possess. Then, put pen to paper and you will be laying a solid foundation for future generations to build on. With combine and sustained efforts, we are capable of translating our rich oral traditions into well-written and preserved history.
In a nutshell, the 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 of society (district, regional, national and international) to include their confreres in the neighbouring countries.
Bodomo, A.B. 1994 'Language, Culture, and History in Northern Ghana: An Introduction to the Mabia Linguistic Group' In Nordic Journal of African Studies Volume 3 (2) University of Helsinki Press, Finland.
Bodomo A.B. 'Dagaare Language and Culture' Navrongo and Lawra Home Page: http://users.erols.com/johnston/lawra-language-culture.htm
Constancio Nakuma 1998 'An Introduction to Dagaare Language' On the DagaareLinguists' Home Page: http://www.hku.hk/linguist/staff_ab.DagaareLinguist.html
Ed. Grimes F. Barbara Ethnologue: Languages of the World (SIL International, 1996-99)