Aboriginal Dagombas : Before The Advent Of Yananima

Aboriginal Dagombas : Origin

Both written and oral literature has it that the ordinary Aboriginal Dagombas arrived in ancient Dagbon before the rulers (Naa Gbewaa and his descendants). According to Tamakloe, when Naa Nyagsi and his father “Naa Sitobu” arrived in modern Dagbon about the year 1416, the ordinary man was already in Dagbon. Tindamba (Fetish Priest or Landowners) headed communities. According to Rattray, with the advent of the rulers of Great Dagbon, the common Dagomba like other tribes of Northern Ghana were already occupying the areas they are today.

By oral literature, the ordinary “Dagbamba” of Mamprugu, Dagbon and Nanung were already occupying the territories they occupy today when Naa Gbewaa arrived at Pusiga in the Upper East Region of Ghana. The inhabitants of Modern Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung were commonly known as Dagbamba at the time Naa Gbewaa arrived in Ghana.

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According to Ibrahim Mahama (a Tamale based lawyer and author of a book: History and Tradition of Dagbon), the name of these inhabitants of Mamprugu, Dagbon and Nanung is not just a historical fact, but also indeed a linguistic-cultural reality of our time.

He further indicated that, the inhabitants of the three sister states do not only speak the same language and possess similar cultures but they still sometimes, if not always, refer to themselves as Dagbamba (Dagombas).

Oral literature could not provide the period the ancestors of these aboriginal Dagombas arrived in Ghana. The only method of record keeping they could explore by then was oral tradition, which has been passed on from generation to generation. As such vital information has been lost and very little has been written about the aboriginal Dagbamba.

The absence of archaeological evidence also makes it difficult to know the probable time the aboriginal Dagombas arrived in Northern Ghana. The archaeological study conducted at Yani-Dabari (Old Yendi) by Shinnie and Ozanne only aided to determine the time of arrival of the descendants of Naa Gbewaa in Northern Ghana. Yani-Dabari is the first settlement of the later immigrants; the descendants of Naa Gbewaa who became the rulers of Great Dagbon about the 13th century.

Based on the scanty evidence we have as regarding the time of the arrival in Ghana of the aboriginal Dagombas, is to probably say that they arrived in Northern Ghana many years before the advent of the rulers of Great Dagbon. Ancient or Great Dagbon comprises the lands of the Kings of Modern Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung.

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Aboriginal Dagombas : descendants of Ad

Tamakloe, the earliest writer on Dagbon and Nanung considers the Dagbamba to be descendants of the Ad, a race that inhabited Arabia many years before the advent of Islam. “It is said that, after the confusion of tongues, the tribe of Ad; the son of Uz, the son of Aram, son of Shem, son of Noah settled in the Province Hadramout where their posterity greatly multiplied.

This tribe continued to worship God but with time, they fell from the worship of true God into idolatry. God seeing this sent them the Prophet Heber to preach and reclaim them. But when they refused to acknowledge his mission, God sent a hot and suffocating wind, which blew for seven nights and eight days together and which entering into their nostrils passed through their bodies and destroyed them all and saved the very few who had believed in Heber.

This tribe we learned were of prodigious stature, the tallest of them being said to be a hundred cubits or a hundred and fifty feet in heights and the least of them sixty cubits or ninety feet. This tribe, it is said wondered towards the East and the West, settling in uninhabited countries, till they arrived in the country which is today called ‘Dagbon’ and their progeny were called Dagbamba” Tamakloe attributed the name of Dagbon to the skin on which the Ad Fetish Priests sat.

Skin in Dagbani (language) is called gbon. He wrote: “The Chiefs or Fetish Priests among these settlers sat on cow skins and used various ornamented lion and tiger skins as their authority they called ‘Ada gbon’ meaning Ad’s Skin. Hence, the name of the country now corrupted to Dagbon and the inhabitants ‘Dagbamba’ so as far as Tamakloe is concerned the Dagbamba are descendants of Noah.

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When they arrived in Ghana, they settled at various places including Gunayili near Karaga and Yogo near Savelugu. After some years, some of them migrated to Nanumba and Adele in the Northern part of the Volta Region of Ghana.

Further studies on the aboriginal Dagbamba conducted in recent times revealed that, the aboriginal Dagombas first settled at Bagli community in the present day Karaga District. They came and met one man called Namogu whose clan was the legends before Namo-Naa Bizung, son of Naa Nyagsi.

After he was integrated into the aboriginal Dagombas society by marriage. The inter-marriages brought about different clans among the aboriginal Dagbambas as Gbandari, Nanmoglinsi, Langori and

Kpariba. The aboriginal Dagbamba got their Tindansili (Fetish Priest) from the Shengwan Tradition at the mountains of Kigali. They started spreading from Bagli to Namburugu and to other parts of great Dagbon such as Salaa, Gunayili, Yogo etc. After some years, some of them migrated to Nanumba and Adele in the Northern part of Volta Region of Ghana.

The Tindamba of Aboringinal Dagombas

It is based on this background that the Bagli Tindana is the head of Tindamba in the three sister states. Bagli Naa Mahama Wumbei Mahami with an interview confirmed that Bagli community was the first settlement of their ancestors.

After some years, some of them moved to settle at Namburugu and other parts of the three sister states of Naa  Gbewaa. According to him, the Bagli Skin Title is not only the head of Tindamba but also the most senior title over Yaa Naa’s title, Mamprugu Nayiri and Bimbilla Naa.

As such they appellate Bagli Naa as “Namazaa Kpema, Namazaa Biya” meaning “Bagli Naa is the senior-most as well as the junior title over the titles of the three sister states of Naa Gbewaa”.

The junior aspect of Bagli title is an expression that indicates the limited land, communities, and sub-titles under Bagli Naa’s jurisdiction as compared to that of Yaa Naa, Mamprugu Nayiri, and Bimbilla Naa. This means Bagli title is the senior-most but has limited resources and power.

Figure 1: The Aboringinal Dagombas – Diagrammatic Presentation of Tindamba in Modern Dagbon.
Tindamba of dagbon - - Aboriginal Dagombas : Before The Advent Of Yananima
Tindamba of Dagbon
Figure 2: Diagrammatic Presentation of Tindamba in Nanung
Tindamba in Nanung - - Aboriginal Dagombas : Before The Advent Of Yananima
Tindamba in Nanung

Again, some of them also settled in the present day Mamprugu. Since Tamakloe was writing about modern Dagbon, he limited his scope to the inhabitants of modern Dagbon. The Tindamba whom Tamakloe called Dagbamba inhabited not only modern Dagbon but also the sister states of Mamprugu and Nanung.

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These three sister states called themselves Dagbamba not because of their great ancestor ‘Naa Gbewaa’ but their predecessors “the Tindamba of Ancient Dagbon who called themselves Dagbamba”. It must be emphasized that, it was the progeny of these Ads that Naa Tohogu of Mamprugu, Naa Sitobu or Nyagsi of Dagbon and Naa Gmantambu of Nanung met when they arrived in Great Dagbon.

Tamakloe has offered only little evidence for concluding that the Dagbamba are descendants of the Ad. He referred to the fact that modern day Dagbon was once inhabited by giants known as Tiawomia or Kondor. Certainly, the presence of giants in ancient Dagbon without more is no proof that the giants of the Ad are necessarily progenitors of the giants of ancient Dagbon.

The Language of the Aboriginal Dagombas

Critical examination of the culture and language of the Aboriginal Dagombas, however, justified the view that the Dagbamba may in fact be descendants of the Ad of some other Arabian peoples. The language of the Dagbamba which is Dagbani, has a multitude of words originating from Arabic.

Some of the words are very fundamental, such that they may not be acquired in recent times when the Dagbamba had contact with Arabia at the advent of Islam. According to early writers, the history of Islam in Dagbon and the other two sister states started in the mid-17th century by Hausa people. The table below shows some of the Dagbani words with Arabic roots.

The Aboriginal Dagombas: Arabic Roots Of Some Dagbani Words

Saawara ConsultationMushaawaraConsultation
Albalaayi CalamityAl-balaayDistress. Misfortune
Alaafee HealthAl-aafiya Health. wellbeing
Halli TemperHaalaMake a great fuss
Ashili Secret Al-siru Secret
Alaɣiziba SurpriseAl-ajiiba Surprise; strange; odd
Gari To confuse GarraTo surprise, dazzle someone
Zuli TailZiilum A tail
NinsalaHuman beingInsaanHuman being
Zuliya Offspring, descendants ZuriyaDescendants
Niya IntentionNiyaIntention
Aniya Thought, to try NiyaIntention
Yigunaadam Human being Ibn Adam Son of Adam (Human Being)
Gaafara Excuse, pardon GafaraTo forgive
Yigsi To get up, wake IshiWake up

The Aboriginal Dagombas: Days of the Week In Dagbani

Alahiri dali Sunday Yawimi Al-ahad
Atani dali Monday Yawimi Alitan
Atalata dali TuesdayYawimi Altalata
Alaba dali WednesdayYawimi Al-Arba’a
Alamisi dali ThursdayYawimi Al-Khamis
Alizima dali FridayYawimi Al-Juma
Asibiri dali SaturdayYawimi Al-Sabt

These were some of the words the Dagomba language came with since the ancient Dagbon. It is our view that the Dagomba through Islam did not acquire these words but by virtue of their origin from the Ad people, who belonged to pre-Islamic Southern Arabia extending from Unman at the mouth of the Persian or Arab Gulf to Hadhramaut and Yemen at the southern end of the Red Sea.

Today, the words have significantly changed in their form and sound in the three sister states of Great Dagbon, but their meaning remain the same. Another convincing factor is the colour of the aboriginal Dagbamba, which gives credence to the view that they were of Arab complexion. Old school of oral tradition also indicated that the Tindamba were all “red”. Red is the word the Dagbamba use when they mean fair or coloured in complexion.

Tamakloe again considers the fire festival of the Dagbamba as a custom emanated from Noah’s time in commemoration of the day the Ark of Noah “rested on Mount Ararat and the people in the Ark came and made fires”.

Dagbamba tradition attributes the significance of the fire festival to Prophet Noah; they assign different reasons for the festival. According to the tradition, when Prophet Noah was about to set out with his Ark one of his sons got missing.

A search for him was commenced. The search continued until night when the son was not yet found. Searching lights were lit to look for him. The significance of the Fire Festival therefore is to commemorate the search for Prophet Noah’s son. Whatever the reason, the tradition agrees that the Fire Festival relates to Prophet Noah and the Great Flood.

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Furthermore, the lunar month for the Fire Festival (Bugum Goli) is the beginning of the year in the three sister states: Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung. The same month is the beginning of the year in Arabia.

New Year resolutions are made during the festival and also pray to God for protection, guidance, and prosperity. As part of the celebration, they cut bits and pieces of cooked food and put the same short on dividing walls in their houses. These pieces are supposed to be food for their ancestors and deceased family members.

This pagan practice is certainly one of the practices that Tamakloe refers to as their fall “from the worship of true God into idolatry”. Commenting on the Fire Festival, Blair wrote: “The big annual festival of Konkomba and other complete pagans’ is their Fire Festival, the burning of the bush and fire rites in general. We can comfortably assume certainly that the Fire Festival existed in Dagomba prior to Muslim immigration”.

The Dagomba, like the Arabs, have twelve lunar months in a year. Even though the names of their months differ, their year begins with the same month. They also end the year with the same month. The number of days in their months is equal.

A month is either thirty or twenty-nine days. There is no direct oral or written evidence as to the period the Ad lived. But it is known that the cousins and successors of the Ad; the Thamud lived in 715 B.C.

Some African writers claimed that, “some tribes in Africa such as the Yuraba people have lived in their present area for thousands of years, and are not migrants from Arabia or Ethiopia,” it may be so for some few African tribes and not generally all African tribes.

The few evidence provided about the origins of the aboriginal Dagombas justified their origins as descendants of Prophet Noah and for that matter the Ad.

The Aboriginal Dagombas Clan System.

The aboriginal Dagbamba were made up of the following clans and professional groupings: Gbandari, Langori, Kpariba, Nanmonglinsi, Luγipuna, Saγiyelsi and Karenchaγi.

Laabansi: The Laabansi in the present-day Dagbon were descendants of Arab migrants from Morocco. The Aboriginal Dagbamba had some form of administrative and professional structures.

Gbandari: They were the military for the aboriginal Dagombas. They were also, responsible for the construction of roads and footbridges. Today, the Gbandari can be traced to the worrier clans “Sapashinima” in Dagbon, Nanung and Mamprugu.

Kpariba: They are referred to us as “Dagbansabla”. Most people call them Zabaγakpariba. It is very wrong to call them Zabaγa-kpariba because they are one of the Aboriginal Dagbamba clans in ancient Dagbon. The area they occupy in the Gbewaa kingdom is called Kparigu. The Kparigu land can be located on the middle belt from Mamprugu through Modern Dagbon to Nanung.

It is important to put it on record that Gonjas do not have Kpariba. The Gonja clan mostly found in the East Gonja is called “Nterepu”. It is marriage relationship that exist between the Kpariba and Gonjas and not descendants.

Nanmonglinsi: They were the legends of Ancient Dagbon before Naa Nyagsi killed the Namogu Tindana and enskinned his son, Namo-naa Bizung. The present-day Tomtombeaters are descendants of Nanmonglinsi and Namo-Naa Bizung.

Luγipuna: They were descendants of the Aboriginal Dagombas and Slaves through marriage. It is very difficult to trace those who were Slaves and the Luγipuna clan in Dagbon because they were integrated in the society.

Saγiyelsi: They are Blacksmiths by profession and can be traced to Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung.

Read More: The advent of the lunsi in Dagbon State

Dagombas, Mamprusi and Nanumbas in the Gbewaa Kingdom are descendants of the Aboriginal Dagbamba and Naa Gbewaa. Naa Gbewaa and his children arrived in Ancient Dagbon with the Gurima language which they abandoned and adopted the Dagbani language.

Mr Fuzzy

Fusheini Yakubu is a Nanumba by tribe from Bimbilla. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Millennium Youth Skills & Development Centre (MILLYSDEC), a Non-Governmental Organization based in the Northern Region of Ghana.