Mamprusi also known as Mamprugu are Mole-Dagbani speaking ethnic group of people found mostly in the northern and upper east regions of Ghana and northern part of Togo. The Mole-Dagbani ethnic group comprises the Moshi (Mossi), Mamprusi, Nanumba and Dagomba.There are some 450,000 Mamprusi living in Ghana, and approximately 11,000 in Togo. In Ghana, the Mamprusis live mainly in Nalerigu and Gambaga in the northwest of the Northern Region but also inhabit parts of the Upper East Region.

        Mamprusi boy wearing Batakari dancing to traditional Mamprusi drum beats at a public function

 The people now known as the "Mamprusi" occupy the East and West Mamprusi districts of northern Ghana. Their name is linked to "Mamprugu," the name of the kingdom with which they are associated. Until recently, "Mamprusi" was a term mainly used by outsiders. They called themselves "Dagbamba," a term also used by their southern neighbors, known in English as "Dagomba." Mamprusi called these people "Yooba" (people of the forest) or "Weiya," in reference to the marshy areas also occupied by these neighbors.

                                 Mamprusi woman

 Similarly, their northern neighbors, the Mossi, were named for the grassy bush ( moo ) that characterizes the ecological zone to the north. Mamprusi usage of the term "Dagbamba" as an autonym, combined with their reference to their neighbors in terms of a characteristic habitat, reflects their view of themselves as inhabiting a central and civilized place in the universe of peripheral peoples. Since their southern neighbors have appropriated the name "Dagbamba" and its English equivalent "Dagomba," the former Dagbamba have become Mamprusi.

                            Mamprusi man with his traditional dondoo drum

 The East and West Mamprusi districts (formerly the South Mamprusi District) extend west some 320 kilometers from the international border dividing Ghana and Togo. Some 80 kilometers separate the Nasia River, in the south, from the White Volta River, which marks the northern boundary of this area. In the northeast of the region, the Gambaga escarpment rises 450 meters above sea level at the southward bend of the White Volta River, and continues eastward into Togo. It is likely that in the precolonial period, the Mamprusi zone of influence followed this escarpment.
                             Mamprusi household. By haunsinafrica

The region falls within the climatic zone of the Guinea Savanna. The rainy season falls between April and September, and there are no second rains. January and February are characterized by a harmattan season, during which a cold, dry wind sweeps through the country. South of the Gambaga scarp, wooded slopes contract with the arid land and lathyritic soils, lying immediately to the north, or the deforested continuation of the scarp to the northwest.
                            Mamprusi performing Damba dance at a public function at Nalerigu,Ghana

 In the south, southeast, and western margins of the districts, land is periodically flooded by tributaries of the Nasia, Oti, and Volta rivers. In the 1960s the Mamprusi districts marked the northern margin of the yam-growing region of Ghana. Deforestation, periodic drought, and increased population pressure have caused some damage to the environment since then, and yams are now said to be much more difficult to grow. Land-fallowing periods are generally shorter than they were in the 1960s, and there is less uncultivated land.

                               Mamprusi people at a public function at Nalerigu,Ghana

Demography and Settlement Patterns
The Mamprusi, although still less than a majority of the population, continue to constitute the largest single ethnic group. Mamprusi settlements, in contrast with those of neighboring peoples, are nucleated rather than dispersed; often they are clustered near a chief's compound. Larger settlements are divided into sections ( foanna; sing. foango ).
                                          Mamprusi house at Nalerigu

 In the neighborhood of Nalerigu, the present capital of the Mamprusi ex-kingdom, there are the remains of an ancient wall that appears to have partially surrounded the king's village, leaving it open to the north and northeast, where the land rises rapidly, but protecting the lower-lying parts of the village. The wall enclosed streams and farmland as well as a residential area.
                                      Mamprusi man with his facial Mamprusi tribal mark

The Mamprusi with their kingdom Mamprugu  is one of the earliest known states in the north of what is now Ghana. Their kingdom flourished in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The Mamprusi Kingdom was founded by the Great Naa Gbanwah/Gbewah at Pusiga, a village 14 kilometres from Bawku. The Kingdom spans most of the Northern and the Upper East Regions of Ghana, and into the west African nation of Burkina Faso. Thus, establishing this kingdom as the pre-eminent of its kind, and the only kingdom in present day Ghana whose relevance and authority cuts across national boundaries on the weight of its humble supremacy.
                        Nayiiri and his subjects. By Retlaw Snellac

They are believed to have descended from Na Gbewa also known as Na Nedega. Of the four people/groups descended from the loins of Na Gbewa, the Mamprusi are the leaders. The Dagomba, Nanumba, and even the Mossi recognize them as the final authority among themselves. As a result, the King of Mossi to this day is enskinned by the Nayiri – the king of Mamprugu. Mamprusis revere the hallowed grounds of Bawku as their ancestral home, their origin. That is why Naa Gbewah's tomb in Pusiga, is a shrine of repute to this day. It is believed that his disappearance was subteraneal, one of the marvels of Northern Ghana, and many ethnicities hold to agree with this uncommon historical account. It was after his death that his children moved farther afield and founded other kingdoms, namely: Dagbon and Nanum.

Na Gbewa’s progenitor was the legendaryToha-Zie or Red-Hunter believed to have migrated from Tunga (supposedly east of Lake Chad) to Zamfara in northern Nigeria, through Mali and then to Gurma in modern day Burkina Faso.
                                 Mamprusi chiefs. By chakaorleans.

Toha-Zie as his name suggests is reputed to have been a great warrior who fought in war with the Malian king. Pleased with his war prowess, the Malian king is said to have given one of her daughters called Paga Wabga in marriage to Toha-Zie. This marriage begot Kpogonumbo, who remained in Malian service for sometime, but later migrated southwards to the country of Gurma in present day Burkina Faso. The ruler of Gurma at that time was Daramani who also gave one of his daughters called Suhuyini to Kpogunumbo and they begot Na Gbewa from whom all the Mole-Dagbani ethnic groups claim descent.
       "Little Mamprusi boys, Boyeni."Circa 1910, [photographer] Fisch, Rudolf (Mr)

According to legend Na Gbewa settled in Pusiga the first place he settled and founded,for a very long time.  The legend continued that when he was very old, the succession was contested and his favorite son slain by a rival prince and the eldest son Zirili. On hearing the news of his son's death, Na Gbewa disappeared—he was swallowed into the earth at the site of his palace, a place in the bush where sacrifices are still made to his spirit. In the course of the conflict that followed his death, his kingdom was divided; elder and younger brothers became kings of the Mamprusi and Dagomba peoples, respectively. The configuration of relationships among Mamprusi, Dagomba, and Mossi kingdoms that arises from this history is expressed in the Mamprusi view of Dagomba kings as their junior brothers and Mossi kings as grandsons of their own king. This amounts to an assertion of Mamprusi seniority. In the past, this presumed seniority was translated into particular forms of conventional behavior held to be appropriate among kin when Mossi, Dagomba, and Mamprusi met one another, particularly in market situations but also in political/ritual contexts.

     "The Chief of Nasia and his youngest son." Circa 1910.  [photographer] Fisch, Rudolf (Mr)
Naa Gbewaa’s sons and daughter married from all the linguistic groups around Pusiga, Bawku, Fadangruma, Bongo, Zebilla etc, and his only daughter created Mossi Kingdom. Gbewaa’s senior son Tohagu is the father of all Mamprusi people and after the creation of Gambaga/ Nalerigu as capital, he moved from Pusiga to head it. He married from indigenous tribes and the other sons also did throughout their history.

In the eighteenth century, the Mamprusi people organized forces to protect the trade in slaves and goods with mercenaries from the Ivory Coast (now Côte d'Ivoire). The Frafra, Nabdem, Talensi, and Kusai are subject to them but things have changed nowadays with regards to subjugation as there is a protracted conflicts especially between the Kusasis and the Mamprusi people. The Mamprusi have five chiefs under their king.
  Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana,By Alfred Weidinger

The Mamprusi king's title, nayiiri, ( na = "king" or "chief"; yiiri = "house") is unique, and, unlike that of the provincial paramounts or those of the Mossi and Dagomba kings, it is not linked to the name of any particular territory. It implies his position at the very center of the polity, where he is the source of naam, the mystical aspect of chiefly power.

                            Mamprusi dancing Damba at Nalerigu,Ghana.

Linguistic Affiliation
 Mampruli is one of a number of Mole Dagbani languages spoken in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Many languages of this group are spoken by contiguous populations; neighboring peoples are likely to speak mutually intelligible variants of a common tongue. Given frequent intermarriage of Mamprusi with their non-Mamprusi neighbors, many Mamprusi speak several Mole-Dagbani languages. Those who have traveled south, in Ghana, often speak Twi. Many traders speak Hausa, and all schoolchildren learn some English. Familiarity with French is increasing. Muslims are learning to speak as well as to read Arabic.
                                          Mamprusi old man dancing at a funeral


Agriculture and animal husbandry provide subsistence for most of the population. Sheep, goats, pigeons, fowl, and guinea foul are kept by most households, and wealthier families have cattle. Chiefs may have horses for ceremonial use, but horses and donkeys (formerly important beasts for transport) are bred farther north, in Mossi territory. Increased population density has led to greater pressure on land.

 Grazing land, formerly used by transhumant Fulani herders, is now scarce. Fallowing periods are shorter, and, in some areas, drought has led to the destruction of ground cover. Traditionally, millet, guinea corn, and sorghum were the major cereal crops, but maize is now increasingly cultivated despite widespread recognition that it is of less nutritive value than traditional crops that require longer growing seasons. Rice, which has a long history of cultivation as a minor crop, has been introduced in new varieties as a cash crop.

                                     Portrait of Mamprusi farmer. By whaun

Division of Labor
 Mamprusi used to claim that their women did not farm, by which they meant that their wives did not hoe, as do women of neighboring peoples, but helped in the sowing and harvesting of crops; however, famine conditions during the early 1980s resulted in the use of all available labor in agriculture.
                                        Mamprusi woman at Namkpanduri Market

Men and women now both participate in all phases of the farming cycle other than firing the bush and clearing land for cultivation, which is the work of men. Dawadawa pods and shea nuts, collected by women, are still an important source of food, and their elaborate processing is a task for women. Building houses is men's work. Women finish the floors and walls. Baskets, pots, and locally woven cloth are made by neighboring peoples, and certain foodstuffs (e.g., smoked fish) are also bought from neighbors rather than produced by Mamprusi. Literate adults who have been through the Ghanaian school system are employed by local government offices or work for foreign missionaries and nongovernmental organizations. Local salaries are usually insufficient, however, and farming is a necessary adjunct to most other occupations.

                         Dr Mahamadu Bawumia,Ghana`s Politician,Banker and Econmist is a Mamprusi

 Women are expected to trade as an extension of their domestic duties. Traditionally, they received cereal from their husbands to make the staple porridge but were expected to collect or trade for ingredients to make soup to accompany the porridge. Shea butter and dawadawa flour, firewood, and millet beer were prepared by women, both for domestic use and trade. Some women are engaged in large-scale trade of grain and yams, cooked food, beets, kola nuts, smoked fish, and imported manufactured goods.

                      Mamprusi women at the Market in Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

 Mamprusi men may engage in trade as a full-time alternative to agriculture. Specialists trade in salt, kola, cattle, yams, and, now, manufactured goods. Although women own livestock, they never buy live animals themselves; even hens and guinea fowl are bought and sold by men. Local markets are held either on every third or every sixth day, and specialist traders follow particular sets of markets, which constitute local market cycles. Major market towns have a permanent market site, daily markets, a few small stores, and beer bars. Smaller villages have only periodic markets.

                                Mamprusi women coming back from Market,Nalerigu,Ghana.By Curly-Q

Land Tenure
 Traditionally, Mamprusi have regarded land as belonging to the ancestors and to future generations; hence, the sale of land is considered an offense against the ancestors. In urban areas, houses are sold, but this is considered sale of the construction alone. Use rights to cultivate land belong to the person who has cleared it. Usufructuary claims to land may be inherited within a family, but unused land reverts to the community, to be allocated by village chiefs and elders. Until the late twentieth century, there had been relatively little pressure on land, and the only major conflicts over land use occurred between neighboring village communities. Formerly, these conflicts might be resolved by the movement of farmers to unused land and the relocation of village communities. This has become more difficult with increased population density and capital investment in unmovable village infrastructure (e.g., school, clinic, government office, market, church/mosque, water pipes).

                                             Mamprusi woman at Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

Mamprusi Belief
Eighty-two percent of Mamprusis practice traditional religion. Naa-wuni is the supreme god, whose name is used by Mamprusi Muslims  and traditional worshipers. In the traditional religion he is not worshiped or referred to except in exclamations. Ancestors are believed to help in a crisis through various diviners who live in each village. The Mamprusi communicate with their ancestors through sacrifices and offerings. Fourteen percent of Mamprusis are Muslims, and four percent are Christians. Great social pressure is put on any who want to change.
                             Mamprusi men removing the skin of a slaughtered sheep. By haunsinafrica

Kingship. Mamprusi kingship is both a religious and a political institution. The king and royal ancestors are held responsible for the fertility of land and people. Respect for a village chief is a manifestation both of political allegiance and reverence for the kingship. The king embodies the royal ancestors and owns all the land and everything on it; royal chiefs replicate his powers on a more limited scale. The living king and royal chiefs delegate responsibility to members of other king groups, which have other divinities, and those, too, are regarded as having a part to play in providing for the general welfare.

Islam. The historical connections between the Mamprusi and Islam are unclear. In major market towns and the capital village, a few Muslim families are clearly distinguished from other Mamprusi. Muslim men marry non-Muslim women, and their wives tend to adopt Islam. They trace their origins to royals who did not achieve office or to immigrant traders. The oldest Muslim community is located in Gambaga, a major market in the precolonial period.

                             Mamprusi muslims

 Muslims there provided services for the caravan trade and were, until the late twentieth century, dyers. The king's liman resides in Gambaga. Liman Baba, who acted as a go-between for Na Barga, the reigning king when the British arrived, is also mentioned in reports from Kumasi. He clearly was an important and literate figure of the period. At present, Muslims participate at court and in domestic rituals performed at death and naming. It is traditionally forbidden for the king to be a Muslim, but, during the late twentieth century, kings have been converted to Islam. Since the 1960s, evangelical Muslims have been active and the number of mosques and the diversity of Muslim communities has increased in the Mamprusi area.

Christianity. The first Christian mission in the Mamprusi region was probably the Assemblies of God, established around 1925.

                            Mamprusi Christians of Baptist  faith. Courtesy:

 After independence, the Baptist Mission Hospital was built in Nalerigu, the king's village, with funds from the United States; since then, both British and U.S.-based missions have established themselves. Ghanaian churches have also founded congregations.

 Kin Groups and Descent.

                            Mamprusi kids
The calculation of patrilineal descent is significant at both the domestic and political levels. The royal patrician descended from the first king, Na Gbewa, is constituted at present by the five patrilineages that articulate the territorial framework of Mamprusi political organization (see "History and Cultural Relations"). Each royal lineage provides a chief for the capital village in its respective province; the centrally localized lineage provides the king. Chiefs of the capital villages in each province are selected and installed by the king and his court, but they, with their courts, in turn select and install village chiefs within their provinces. Although each lineage is localized in a corresponding province, its constituent segments are dispersed throughout the many small settlements of that territory. Villages may contain a variety of commoner kin groups and one or more segments of a royal lineage, or they may be made up of a single extended kin group consisting solely of either royals or commoners.

    Mamprusi man dancing traditional Damba dance by swirling his fugu. By -

The patrilineages that form the royal clan are subdivided into "gates" ( zanoaya; sing. zanoari ); many commoner lineages are similarly organized. A gate consists of agnates who trace connection through three generations of deceased patrikin. Within a gate, office is inherited, and gate numbers cooperate in the performance of funerals. Members of the same gate sacrifice together to their common ancestors. The distinction between royals ( nabiisi ) and commoners ( tarima ) depends on patrilineal filiation, and Mamprusi claim that all patrilineal descendants of kings, however distantly related, are royal. Large numbers of commoner gates probably have royal origins. 

                                     Mamprusi boy in his batakari dress

Although it is said that royals should not intermarry, neither at clan nor at lineage levels are Mamprusi royals an exogamous group. The exogamous unit is the gate. Beyond this range of patrikin, marriages occur, although one or both partners may relinquish royal status in establishing the union. Where intermarriage occurs between members of different royal lineages or different gates of a single lineage, one segment will be regarded as royal, while the other will be classified as commoner. If royal descent is not reaffirmed by tenure of royal office, royal status is eventually lost. Thus, the commoner population consists of descendants of royals who have lost claim to royal office as well as immigrants from a variety of different ethnic groups, most notably Tampollensi, Tchokossi, Kantonshi, and other neighboring peoples. Some commoners claim autochthonous origins. Commoners hold office as elders in the chiefly courts and may also hold chiefly office, although their chiefships, unlike those of royals, are not ranked; they are regarded as nonresident elders of a royal chief's court.

Kinship Terminology.
                          Elderly Mamprusi woman

 The Mamprusi classificatory terminology distinguishes three generations, and great-grandparent/great-grandchild relationships can be described. In Ego's generation, men distinguish senior brother ( bere ) from junior brother, who is classed together with sisters as junior sibling ( tizoa' ) . Female ( tizo-pwa'a ) and male ( tizo-doo ) junior siblings can be identified. Women class their senior sisters and brothers together (bere) and their junior brothers and sisters together (tizoa'). In the first ascending generation, Ego categorizes siblings of the same sex as a parent, depending on their age relative to the parent. The categories senior father ( bakpema ) and junior father ( bapura ), or senior mother ( makpema ) and junior mother ( mapura ) include all persons for whom Ego's parents use sibling terms. Special terms distinguish a mother's brother ( nyahaba ) and a sister's child ( nyahanga ). A father's sister ( piriba ) refers to her brother's child as child ( bia ). Ego refers to his own children and to those of persons he calls by a sibling term, as child (bia); male child ( bi-dibiga ) and female child ( bipunga ) may be distinguished. The child of any person called child will be called grandchild ( ya'anga ), for which the reciprocal is female grandparent ( yapwa'a ) or male grandparent ( yadoo ). The term for grandparent ( yaaba ) is also used for ancestor.
                                       Elderly Mamprusi man. by haunsinafrica

 Affines distinguished in Ego's generation include husband ( sira ), wife (pwa'a), sister's husband ( datyia; pl. datyisi ), and brother's wife ( pwaatia; pl. pwaatyisi ). A woman calls her husband's brother "husband" (sira) but usually specifies his relative age with respect to her husband ( sira-kpema = senior husband; sira-pira = junior husband). A man calls his brother's wife, wife (pwa'a). All the above terms are used both in address and reference and replace personal names in most contexts.
                                           Elderly Mamprusi woman with a tribal mark

Sociopolitical Organization
The king (nayiiri) sits with his court in his palace (nayiini ) at the village of Nalerigu, roughly in the territorial center of the former kingdom. Although aspects of the kingship are replicated in the paramount chiefship of each province, only the king's palace contains the regalia used to install the king and to invest the heads of the other royal provinces. 

Nayiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai, paramount chief of the Mamprusi people, at his palace in Nalerigu, Ghana.

Each king is regarded as embodying all preceding kings, and his court is, directly or indirectly, the source of kingship/chiefship (naam) throughout the kingdom. It is the most elaborate and largest court containing offices represented in smaller numbers in all other royal courts. Of these, the Master of Horses (wudaana ) and the Master of Spears (kpanaraana ) are most common. Courts also include gun bearers, drummers, and local earth-priests, as well as Muslims. Also numbered among the king's elders are all the household heads of a settlement, special drummers and officeholders responsible for his clothing and regalia, successors to the titles of former executioners, and eunuchs.

                                     Old man sitting under a hut in Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

Courts allocate land and deal with disputes arising from land claims and litigation arising from marriage, as well as other domestic and civil disputes. Most disputes are dealt with first in a chief's court rather than in government courts. Chiefly courts deal with funerals and succession to office, organize annual cylindrical celebrations, perform sacrifices on behalf of the community to earth and ancestor divinities, and mediate between the local communities and national government. Special commoner-chiefs deal with witchcraft accusations and have custody of convicted witches.

Commoner elders in the king's court play a crucial role in the selection of each new king and are involved in the selection and installation of royal chiefs. Succession to royal office is competitive; numerous candidates present themselves, and, through gifts and persuasion, attempt to influence the court in their favor. Office should circulate through the various gates of a royal lineage, and a son should not succeed his father in office. The participation of commoners—as king/chief makers and as followers of rival princes in competitions for royal office—balances the hegemony of royals and acts as a check on the abuse of power by one segment of the royal lineages. All offices are held for life; therefore much of the court endures beyond the reign of a particular king or chief.

                          Mamprusi chiefs of Walewale

Since 1957, numerous local institutions have been set up in the Mamprusi districts by the Ghanaian government to extend the processes of technological and social transformation begun during the colonial period. Police and army units represent the central government, as do schools and local government offices. Roads, a postal system, telephone communication, and bus transport connect the Mamprusi districts with the rest of the world. Increased trade with southern Ghana has resulted in the expansion of markets and increased distribution for commodities made elsewhere.

The north of Ghana has been the scene of numerous small-scale conflicts since the late 1960s, most of which have not involved Mamprusi. One of the longest-standing conflicts involves people resident immediately to the north who claim Mamprui identity and are descended from royal Mamprusi who emigrated to that area prior to the British conquest. They speak Hausa or Kusal rather than Mampruli, and, although they consider themselves Mamprusi, they should be considered separately from the ethnic group residing in the Mamprusi districts.

                                 Mamprusi kids outside near corn mill. 

Two-thirds of marriages are polygamous. Children are given both Mamprusi and Muslim names, and are circumcised. When a person dies, Mamprusis dig a temporary grave near the compound. At the next dry season they hold a special funeral, with food, dancing, and the determination of the cause of death, to honor the person. At this time the dead person’s spirit is finally released.

                           Mamprusi man performing traditional Damba dance of the North

Marriage and Family
Marriage. In theory Mamprusi royals must marry commoners. In effect, they seek to spread their matrimonial alliances as widely as possible. Among royals and commoners members of the same gate are forbidden to marry, and marriage to patrikin with whom precise genealogical connection can be traced is frowned upon. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriage—that is, marriage to a cross cousin who is not the child of a parent's own sibling—is regarded as a good marriage, particularly by Mamprusi Muslims.

                     Mamprusi man from Nalerigu

 Men aspire to polygynous marriages. Chiefs and important commoners have many wives. Mamprusi frown upon sororal polygyny, saying that marriage with two women from the same house leads to quarrels among the wives and difficulties in management for the household head. Marriage is established by gifts of kola. Two prestations of kola are sent by the head of the husband's gate to the head of the wife's gate. Both are sent via the chief or chiefs of the villages in which the partners reside. The first, message kola, establishes that the woman has spent the night with her future husband. If this kola is accepted, the pardon kola follows. The marriage kola is distributed to members of the woman's gate, and a portion of both prestations is taken by the chief or chiefs and distributed to elders. 
                                              Mamprusi man and his wife

Chiefs thus involved will subsequently mediate in disputes arising within or from the marriage. The exchange makes children legitimate members of the father's gate. A son-in-law acquires important ongoing responsibilities with regard to his wife's kin. He must attend the funeral of senior members of her gate and give her grain, a sheep, and cash to contribute. He must raise a group of dancers and gun bearers to celebrate the deceased. A husband's failure to provide the requisite funeral contribution is grounds for divorce. When, as frequently happens, Mamprusi men marry women of neighboring ethnic groups, they follow the woman's group's customs for establishing the marriage.
Memuna SandowMamprusi woman,Memuna Sandow is an assemblywoman in West Mamprusi District, Northern Ghana. She has a Mamprusi facial beautification marks

A determined woman can now leave a marriage she dislikes. This is said to be the result of modern government intervention, but it seems likely that even formerly, it was not impossible for a woman to leave one husband for another. It is more difficult however, for her to return to her kin. Men also cannot easily dismiss a wife of long standing. Although marriage is unstable in the first years, it becomes more stable after the birth of children. After a husband s death, his widow may choose to marry one of his brothers, but cannot be forced to do so against her will. Young widows may return home and accept gifts from suitors, which they will use to trade. They are then supposed to choose a husband and return the gifts to the rejected suitors. An elderly widow is household head if she has a married son with whom she lives in her deceased husband's house. A widow without sons will reluctantly return to her own kin.

                         Mamprusi girl outside of a corn mill in Nalerigu, Ghana.

Domestic Unit. The core of the household is the patrilineal family. Royal households normally include a polygynous household head, perhaps with his younger married sons and unrelated dependents. Commoner households more often include older married brothers with children, and often three generations of agnates reside together. Older men are often polygynous; important chiefs and wealthy commoners have many more than the maximum of four wives permitted Muslims. Marriage is invariably patri-virilocal. A woman retains membership in her natal lineage. Although she normally will be buried in her husband's house, a final funeral is performed for her in her natal home.

       Mamprusi women from Nalerigu showing her tattoo palms that she is married

Although women observe an etiquette of respect when dealing directly with their husbands, and the male 
household head is treated with deference by resident family members, women control the domestic domain. Significantly, a male household head is said to be subordinate to his father's sister if such a relative is in residence. The internal hierarchy of the household is based on the ranking of women in polygynous marriages. A senior wife has authority over junior wives, and their children sleep in her room. She supervises their collective performance of the major domestic tasks and may also organize trading enterprises. Mothers-in-law have authority over their husband's wives.

                                   Beautiful Mamprusi girl from Nalerigu,Ghana

Mamprusi Drums/Dance

                                      Mamprusi drummers

In the Mamprusi kingdom, drummers are custodians of history. Children in drumming families are schooled in the histories by their elders. The histories are sung to the accompaniment of the "talking" drums on formal state occasions. 
                                               Mamprusi drummer

A "talking" drum allows communication in drum language. The player squeezes the hour-glass shaped drum under the arm to change the pitch. According the Mamprusi drummers  "the histories tell of creation and of the reigns of previous kings which span more than 500 years. They state the norms and values of society through the use of proverbs and metaphors."

                                                   Mamprusi drummer

The kings are always praised and their stories are presented in a positive light in histories, which encourages their descendants to give money to the drummers- the economic side of the occasion.

                          Mamprusi drummer boy

Damba Festival
 The Damba festival is celebrated by the Mamprusis. The main venue of the celebration is Bawku and its environs. It is held between the months of July and August.
Mamprusi people doing their Damba dance

 Originally linked with Islam to mark the birth of Mohammed, the festival has gradually taken on a traditional rather than Islamic tone. The 2-day festival is full of pageantry and showmanship and is celebrated in the towns of Dagbon, Gonjaland, Mamprusiland and Nanumbaland.

            Encyclopedia of World Cultures | 1996 Drucker-Brown, 

                FACES OF MAMPRUSI 

Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana,By Alfred Weidinger

Mamprusi (Dagbamba)
c.1450 Mamprusi or Dagbamba state founded.
Rulers (title Nayiiri, also styled Mampurugu Naa)
1688 - 1742 Atabia Zontuua
1742 - 17.. Yamusa Jeringa
17.. - 17.. Mahaman Kurugu
17.. - 17.. Sulimani Apisi
17.. - 17.. Haruna Bono
17.. - 17.. Andani Yahaya
17.. - 1790 Mahama Kuluguba
1790 - 1830 Salifu Saatankugri
1830 - 1833 Abdurahamani Dambono (Dahmani Gyambongo)
1833 - 1850 Dawura Nyongo
1850 - 1864 Azabu Pagri
1864 - 1901 Yamusa Barga
1902 - 1905 Sulimanu Sigri
1906 - 1909 Ziniya Zore Abduru
1909 - 1915 Mahama Wubuga
1915 - 1933 Mahama Waafu
1934 - 1943 Badimsuguru Zulim
1943 Salifu Salemu
1943 - 1947 Abudu Soro Kobulga
1947 - 1966 Abdulai Sheriga
1967 - 1985 Adam Badimsuguru Bongu
1986 - 1987 Sulemana Salifu Saa
1987 - 2003 Gamni Mohamadu Abdulai
4. Jan 2004 Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga
               Damba dancer

                                Mamprusi people at a funeral. By haunsinafrica

  Beautiful Mamprusi girl.  By haunsinafrica

                                    Mamprusi elders

                           Mamprusi woman carrying load at Nalerigu. By  haunsinafrica

                                 Mamprusi people of Gambaga in group transport

                      Mamprusi man, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia

                              Mamprusi man performing damba dance

                                Mamprusi woman and child. By haunsinafrica

                                        Damba dancer

                          Boy with Damber armpit drum

                          Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana

                  Women at Gambaga witches camp with their kids

                Mamprusi man and politician Dr Mahamadu Bawmia wearing traditional Batakari dress

                                                   Mamprus woman

                                             Portrait of a Mamprusi boy

                                Mamprusi people

                                                      Mamprusi people

Photographs by:

The witches of Gambaga
Gambaga witches camp in Ghana  has housed 'convicted' witches for more than 200 years 

Sacrificial rites
Belief in witchcraft is widespread across Africa, thriving in regions inhabited by peoples with little knowledge of modern science and who have few effective methods for dealing with everyday crises such as sickness. Such suffering becomes the result of an ancestor’s spirit or the hatred of a witch – as solid a set of causal theories as those we’re given when we visit a doctor. When an accusation of witchcraft is made, the accused is totally ostracised from her community and often has to flee for her life. Once cast out, she must seek out an earth priest who, through the enactment of a sacrificial rite, will discover whether or not she is a witch.
                             'Ma' Asana Mahama, the head outcast in the Gambaga witch camp

If ‘convicted’, she has her power neutralised with a further ritual that only remains effective close to the shrine where it was performed. Hence the witch is effectively confined to the local area and is forced to live communally in a camp. Gambaga, a small market town in Ghana’s eastern Mamprusi district, has played host to such a camp for more than 200 years. Arriving red with dust from a long and arduous journey, I could see little to confirm that this was once the capital of the ancient Mamprusi kingdom. Instead, Gambaga, with its mixture of thatched and tin-roofed dwellings around the once important market, struck me as just a modest, sleepy town.

Accompanied by my local contact, Simon Ngota, who has worked for several years with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana’s GO-HOME project trying to repatriate the witches, I visited the town’s chief, Yahaya Wuni, essential protocol as the camp is on his land.

I found him sitting on a raised dais in his compound. Initially severe and unsmiling, he interrogated me closely, fearing bad publicity. I managed to reassure him, and Simon and I left the compound and walked around the back to the camp, a group of extended mud-built homesteads covering around 150 square metres. We were greeted by the kindly chief of the camp, or Magazia, ‘Ma’ Asana Mahama, who gave her blessing for me to talk to the inmates.
Yahaya Wuni, chief of Gambaga. An earth priest, he performs the ritual that decides if women are witches. The camp is on his land, and he women work in his fields and provide him with firewood.
      Yahaya Wuni, chief of Gambaga. An earth priest, he performs the ritual that decides if women are witches. The camp is in his land, and the women work in his fields and provide him with firewood.

Accusations and repatriations

During the next week, I spoke with and photographed many of the 70 women living as outcasts in Gambaga. Among the more outspoken was Samatu Sumani, who’d been in the camp for about a year. Her anger at her treatment was still palpable. “A neighbour got sick and accused me of bewitching her,” she told me. “I was very frightened and pleaded with her that it was not true. My daughter also appealed on my behalf, and even donated blood for a transfusion to make her well again, but still she didn’t relent.” The woman died of her illness and Samatu was convicted of witchcraft.
                            Dong Lari,a Bimoba tribe woman has been in Gambaga for around 13 years

Repatriation of outcasts is difficult but not impossible. I spoke to one of the GO-HOME project’s success stories, Salmata Achiri. Simon and I went to visit Salmata in a nearby village to hear her story. We sat in the shade with her son and daughter-in-law, surrounded by a throng of children. “A stepson from my husband’s side became ill. His relatives came to his bedside, and as he got worse, they began to blame me,” she told me. “I don’t know why, as the boy himself never accused me. I felt very sorry for him and angry with them but what could I do? He didn’t die, but I was still sent to Gambaga, where I stayed for eight years. It isn’t a bad place, but I was always hungry and I missed my family. One of my sons managed to get his own place and invited me to join him, so here I am, I’m so happy to be free.”

                                    Witches Camp,Gambaga

Some of the women in the camp haven’t themselves been accused, but have chosen to be there to look after relatives. “A young woman accused my mother of causing her illness but she had nothing to do with it,” said Ayishetu Isshaku, a large, friendly woman who has been in the camp with her partially sighted mother for five years. “When she was sent here I decided to accompany her as she needed me and I would have been accused next anyway; the woman recovered and now has three children.”
                                                               Witches of Gambaga

The only thing preventing most of the women from leaving the refuge is the lack of anywhere else to go. The majority of the accused are late-middle-aged women who became vulnerable after losing their husbands. Often they’ve had to move back to their father’s compound, where they may be seen as a drain on resources. While children are often sympathetic, it may be years before they can establish their own household and accommodate an outcast relative.

Challenging beliefs

There’s no escaping the fact that the segregation of women in Gambaga and other witch camps is a form of imprisonment. The outcasts are forced to leave their homes and families, and although they can work and trade, they are typically poor, demeaned and stigmatised by their situation. Education is key to tackling the situation, both in challenging people’s belief in witchcraft and in changing their attitudes towards traditional gender roles.

Mamprusi society is rigidly patriarchal, and women deemed to be subverting the established gender roles can become a target for witchcraft accusations by men seeking to re-establish control. It’s believed that women who achieve success without the help of a man must have done so by resorting to witchcraft. In the camp, I spoke with Asara Azindu, a confident and cheerful woman in her 50s. She had been a successful, independent businesswoman before she was accused following an outbreak of meningitis. Her conspicuously plump figure (compared to others in the camp) attested to her previous affluence. However, her assured manner evaporated when she told me her story. “I was living away from my husband, in Gushiegu, and was accused along with two other women of causing a sickness,” she said. “I had to come to Gambaga for my own safety, but lost my house, possessions and business.”

Ghana: Witches of Gambaga /

Despite the patriarchal nature of Mamprusi society, women have always been responsible for their own finances, and now there is ever more need for cash to pay for school fees, clothing and medicine. Women are supposed to be submissive and subservient to men, yet their autonomy is increasing as they are forced to farm, travel and trade more in order to provide for their families. This expansion of women’s roles began as a response to the famine crisis of the mid-1980s; indeed, the government actively encouraged it. Traditionally, Mamprusi men were primarily engaged in the raising and trading of livestock. But the famine devastated their herds, and the country has since faced stiffer competition in livestock and other trading markets.
The hunting of animals for sale as bush-meat, another male preserve, has also become less reliable due to a decrease in the abundance of game. Women eventually began to outstrip men in the productivity and income stakes, and the social order was unacceptably subverted. The increasing frequency and virulence of witchcraft accusations in recent years can be seen as an attempt to control women and re-establish normality in Mamprusi gender relations.
                                         Gambaga witches camp

Meanwhile, the Gambaga women caught in the middle endure with cheerful, humbling stoicism. Ma Asana is philosophical: “We make the best of it here and are grateful to have somewhere safe to be under the circumstances, but look forward to the day when we can go home.”


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