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