In the 11th century, the captivating Bouna kingdom thrived with the Lorhon people, the courageous ancestors of the Koulango. It was a time when the land was ruled by a noble chieftain, King Haïngère, who held not only the title of king but also the esteemed position of land chief (Goro-issie). His royal domain was situated in Kodo, a village nestled between Varalé and Doropo, approximately sixty kilometers away from Bouna.
King Haïngère had a sister named Mantou, whose life took a fateful turn when she fell in love with Naa Zakoli, a valiant King from Dagomba (now Ghana) belonging to the Dagomba ethnic group. Naa Zakoli and his troops had sought refuge in the kingdom, as guests of King Haïngère. It was in this sacred union that a legendary figure named Bounkani, the founding hero of the Kingdom of Bouna, was born around the year 1583.
The Birth of Bounkani
The name “Bounkani” is said to have originated from a remarkable misunderstanding. After bidding farewell and crossing the Volta-Noire River to reunite with his family, Naa Zakoli was intercepted on the opposite bank by a messenger from King Haïngère.
The messenger, amidst the roaring river, attempted to communicate the news of the newborn child and sought a name for the baby. Misinterpreting the messenger’s words, Naa Zakoli replied in the Dagomba language, “Bun bo nkane,” which loosely translates to “Do you still need something?” Assuming this response as the name for the child, the messenger reported back to King Haïngère, leading to the birth of Bounkani.
Bounkani’s Rise to Power
Bounkani swiftly emerged as a fearless and formidable warrior. With an army of young Lorhon fighters devoted to his cause, he organized them into a disciplined force and established his base in Lankara, a village now known as Dagboko, located southeast of the kingdom, twenty kilometers away from Bouna.
Blessed with audacity and cunning, Bounkani effortlessly usurped his uncle Haïngère’s throne and seized power, supported by his loyal comrades-in-arms. According to oral tradition, King Haïngère held great admiration for his nephew Bounkani, who dutifully shared a portion of the spoils from each conquest. During visits, the king would occasionally extend the honour of sitting on the royal chair (kondja), a symbol of power, to Bounkani.
Initially declining the offer, Bounkani, in collaboration with his comrades, devised a peaceful plan to seize power. When his uncle extended the same proposition once again, Bounkani swiftly assumed the throne. In response, his companions erupted in applause—an act reserved exclusively for the king—as a deceptive signal to claim power.
Confronted by his nephew’s coup and facing an impressive army at his disposal, King Haïngère had no choice but to yield. Bruised and humiliated by his nephew’s betrayal, he chose to embark on a journey of exile alongside his wife, Siti.
As they traveled towards their exile, precisely in Hîmbié, a village located between Niadegué and the Volta-Noire, King Haïngère disappeared mysteriously into the depths of the earth while singing the song of death—an invocation to God (Hiegossie)—with his finger pointed towards the heavens. Only his finger remained visible, covered by a calabash.
This tragic episode marked the end of King Haïngère’s reign. With Bounkani’s ascent, the Lorhon people experienced profound socio-political and economic transformations.
Socially, the Lorhon people adhered to matrilineal lineages, but Bounkani introduced a system of patrilineal succession. To foster a warrior spirit among his subjects, he bestowed upon them the name “Koulango,” meaning “those who are not afraid of death.” Bounkani established a hierarchical social structure, comprising:
• The Ibouo or princes (direct descendants of Bounkani and dignitaries of the Kingdom)
• The Koulango and other populations
• The Worosso (descendants of slaves)
• The Zaha (slaves).
Furthermore, after a disagreement with his mother, Bounkani decided to rename the locality of “kwonkouô” (meaning “those who never back down”) to “Gbona” as an act of revenge. According to oral tradition, Mantou, Bounkani’s mother, prepared his meals with beef, while her youngest son, Fignogori, received meals prepared with crickets.
The Transformation of Bouna Kingdom
Gossip reached Bounkani, suggesting that his mother’s cooking for his half-brother was superior to his. Fuelled by rage and long-standing feelings of neglect from his mother, who reproached him for his violent tendencies, Bounkani contemplated killing her.
However, just as he was about to act, his mother bared her breast and posed a question: “Bounkani, fouan gbona?” which translates to “Bounkani, is the cricket bigger than the beef?” At the sight of his mother’s nurturing bosom, Bounkani was overcome with emotion and fell from his horse. In commemoration of this poignant incident, he renamed the locality of Kwonkouô as “Gbona.” Over time, “Gbona” evolved into “Bouna.”
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Leading his formidable army, Bounkani laid the foundation of a new warrior state akin to the Dagomba kingdom. Swiftly subjugating the Lorhon people, he, with their support, conquered a vast kingdom situated between the Comoé and Volta-Noire rivers. Historians assert that this kingdom was the first in the region, which now encompasses Côte d’Ivoire, to establish centralized power.
Amidst violent conflicts with the descendants of Haïngère, who sought to reclaim the throne, Bounkani, to reconcile with his maternal relatives, appointed them as land chiefs while reserving political power for his own descendants. To this day, this agreement remains unchallenged.
Upon Bounkani’s demise, revered and adored by all Koulango, the kingdom extended its dominion from east to west, spanning from Volta-Noire to Comoé, and from south to north, stretching from Nassian to Diebougou (now in Burkina Faso). Bounkani’s descendants continued to expand the kingdom’s borders through further conquests, reaching as far north as Bobo-dioulasso, west to Marabadiassa, and east to Bolè (now in Ghana).
Divided into formidable military commands, the Kingdom of Bouna flourished, amassing wealth and power. It controlled not only the prosperous gold deposits within the Black Volta basin but also the vital commercial axis connecting Niger to Accra, passing through Bobo-dioulasso, Begho, and Koumassi.
Bouna Kingdom’s Decline and Legacy
Towards the end of 1896, the kingdom of Bouna suffered a devastating blow when it was sacked by the forces of Almamy Samory Touré, led by his son Saranké Mory. Almost 80% of the villages were forever lost, and the town of Bouna itself was destroyed on December 6, 1896. Its population, estimated at 10,000 by Binger in 1889, dwindled to around 1,000 inhabitants.
These immense human losses marked the beginning of the kingdom’s decline, a decline that would be further exacerbated by colonization and the gradual conversion of the Koulango people to the Islamic faith.
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