HistoryDagomba Kings

Naa Bimbiɛgu: From Ridicule to Royalty – A Tale of Dagbon’s Unlikely King

Naa Bimbiɛgu – During the 15th century, an event of great significance occurred in present-day Dagbon. It was during this time that the grandson of Naa Gbewa, named Nyagse, launched an invasion of the lands belonging to the Tindaamba, bringing them under his authority and uniting them with the rest of the territories in Dagbon.

Following this conquest, Nyagse established a monarchy that endured through the passing centuries. This hierarchical system of governance was led by the male descendants of Naa Nyagse, known as the Yaanaa. However, as the number of princes increased over time, fierce competition emerged among them, leading to a state of anarchy in the process of ascension to the throne. The role of the Yogu-Kpamba, the kingmakers responsible for selecting the next ruler, became increasingly challenging.

Consequently, the procedures for ascension underwent changes over time. In some instances, the most powerful, wealthy, and influential prince succeeded in claiming the throne through might and influence. However, in other cases, the gods and ancestors of Dagbon had their own preferences, and it was the weaker and less affluent prince who emerged victorious.

Naa Bimbiɛgu mystic tree In Yendi - Dagbon Kingdom: Your Gateway to the Best of Culture, History & Tourism
Naa Bimbiɛgu mystic tree In Yendi

One such instance was the remarkable ascension of Naa Jingli. When Naa Andani Sigli emerged victorious in the renowned Battle of Sang-Chirizang against Kumpatia, he returned to Yendi to face a community with mixed emotions. They celebrated the triumph over Kumpatia while mourning the loss of Naa Zanjina, whose funeral had not yet been finalized.

Nevertheless, Naa Andani Sigli assumed the Gbewaa throne without the completion of Naa Zanjina’s funeral rites. As a result, Zuu Jingli, the rightful heir of Naa Zanjina, was deprived of the opportunity to assume the role of regent and perform the funeral rites for his late father.

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Zuu Jingli, the eldest son of Naa Zanjina, seemed to inherit certain traits from his grandmother, “Napaɣ’Nanga,” often described as “Saakuŋ mini Sabalnim paɣ’biɛɣu” (Naa Zanjina’s mother). Zuu Jingli was not a man who would capture the admiration of his fellow men, let alone women. His unattractive appearance not only made him the subject of ridicule among his peers, but he was also shunned by society.

No one desired his company. His physical features earned him the name “Naa Bimbiɛɣu,” which literally means the ugly chief. While Naa Zanjina was still alive, Zuu Jingli was sent away from the Gbewaa palace as per customary practice. Kings did not raise their heirs in the Gbewaa palace, and it was forbidden for a king and his heir to see each other in daylight. Thus, Zuu Jingli was entrusted to the care of the Zohe-Naa.

The Ordeal of Zuu Jingli: Overcoming Adversity in the Zohe-Naa’s Palace

Life in the Zohe-Naa’s palace proved far from pleasant for Zuu Jingli. The treatment he endured at such a tender age was indescribable. Perhaps his appearance played a part in it. He was assigned the task of caring for horses, venturing deep into the wilderness to gather hay. He often returned exhausted and hungry, barely clinging to life. The Zohe-Naa’s wives paid him little attention and provided him with meager amounts of food.

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The best he could hope for was a handful of Saɣim, a local dish, which he savored, knowing he might not have another proper meal for a long while. However, lack of food was not the only hardship Zuu Jingli faced. He rarely had the opportunity to bathe since there was no water for him to cleanse his body, except when rain fell or he ventured into the bush where there was an occasional non-dried-up dam. This was Zuu Jingli’s ordeal as the heir apparent of Naa Zanjina.

The Miraculous Cure: Zuu Jingli’s Redemption in Kpatiŋa

In the distant future, due to his poor hygiene, Zuu Jingli developed a peculiar skin rash that covered not only his body but also his entire face. Unable to find anyone willing to attend to his ailment, he secretly ventured out and sought help in “Kpatiŋa.”The chief of Kpatiŋa was a close friend of his father’s, so he approached him for assistance. However, when the chief of Kpatiŋa discovered that Zuu Jingli had left Zohe-Naa’s palace without permission, he hesitated to take him in.

Yet, upon further consideration, Kpatiŋ-Naa entrusted Zuu Jingli to a spiritualist—a knowledgeable Islamic cleric with expertise in spiritual healing. The cleric tended to him, and miraculously, Zuu Jingli was cured. Some believed it was the Gbewaa regalia that had brought about his healing. Meanwhile, Zuu Jingli remained in Kpatiŋa when his father, Naa Zanjina, vacated the lion skin and joined his ancestors.

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Naa Andani Sigli then ascended to the Gbewaa throne as Yaa-Naa, ruling over the lands of Dagbon for a decade. Time passed, and when Naa Andani Sigli’s spirit departed to “Bagli,” the lion skin became vacant once more. Upon Naa Andani Sigli’s passing, the elders of Dagbon faced the task of conducting two funerals simultaneously and installing two regents—the funeral of Naa Zanjina and that of Naa Andani Sigli. Tonglan Yaamusah served as the regent for Naa Andani Sigli.

In contrast to Zuu Jingli (Naa Bimbiɛgu), Tonglan Yaamusah, your grandfather, was a strikingly fair and handsome man. He had inherited his looks from his mother, Napag Puumaaya, the daughter of the warlord Kumpatia. She was renowned for her beauty. Although her given name was Mariam, Naa Andani took her as his wife after defeating her father at Sang and bestowed upon her the name Puumaaya.

From Mockery to Coronation: Naa Bimbiɛgu’s Surprising Rise to the Gbewaa Throne

When Naa Andani Sigli passed away and was laid to rest, the final funeral rites for both Naa Andani and his predecessor, Naa Zangina, were scheduled. All the princes, including Zuu Jingli, attended the ceremonies. The completion of the two funerals would mark the selection of a new king from among the numerous contenders. Although Zuu Jingli (Naa Bimbiɛgu) was qualified according to Gbewaa tradition as the son of a lion, deep down in his heart, he knew it was nearly impossible for him.

Apart from his physical appearance, which even the sand beneath his feet seemed reluctant to support, he was also poor and lacked many friends, both among the commoners and the rich and influential. Over time, the Gbewaa regalia, used to symbolize the crowning of a new king, was entrusted to the female children of the Royal Gbewaa Skin, while other important regalia were kept by the Yogukpamba, assembled for the selection of a new Yaanaa.

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During the funeral rites, the Gundo-Naa and her sub-lady-chiefs would summon Zuu Jingli and use him as an object of amusement. In their hut, they would dress him up in Gbewaa regalia and sing for him to dance. They mocked him, teasingly asking, “So an ugly prince like you wants to occupy the Gbewaa skin? If that were to happen, what would be your name? Naa Bimbiɛgu? (The Ugly Chief?)” They would burst into laughter, repeating this ritual every Friday.

Naa Bimbiɛgu tuwa mystic tree In Yendi - Dagbon Kingdom: Your Gateway to the Best of Culture, History & Tourism

This distressing occurrence further shattered the little confidence remaining within Zuu Jingli. One day, he voiced his grievances to one of the elders, who took him to a private chamber and gave him advice—a piece of advice that would lead to his redemption and rule. On the following Friday, they sent for Zuu Jingli, and he willingly presented himself. As usual, he was adorned with the Gbewaa regalia, and the ceremony of amusement began.

Zuu Jingli danced and danced, moving towards the door. When he was just two steps away from the door, he swiftly ran out, still wearing the Gbewaa regalia. Once Zuu Jingli was spotted with the Gbewaa regalia, the big drum was beaten, and the Namo-Naa (chief drummer) accompanied it with the Gingaani tune.

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Such a tune was only played for the Yaanaa, and the kingmakers were well aware that the decision to select a Yaanaa had not yet been finalized. The sound of the drum summoned all the kingmakers to the palace, and to their surprise, Zuu Jingli was seated in a state, wearing the Gbewaa regalia. “Bimbiɛɣu yi polo ku maan sɔɣi” (The Ugly Chief has risen above them all). Each elder took their place near Naa Bimbiɛɣu, just as they would with a Yaa-Naa.

When Zuu Yaamusah approached, Naa Jingli ordered him to sit farther away, and he willingly complied. Zuu Jingli was subsequently crowned as the king of the lions of Dagbon. He became Gbewaa Zuu, known as Tihi ni mɔrilana, Saɣim mini komlana, Ban’ mali laamba ba, Ban ka laamba ba.After his coronation, Naa Bimbiɛgu gave his appellations to the drummers. “Shiri kom kun suɣiri noli, di naɣi ni vali mi” (No one rinses their mouth with honey-water without swallowing some). “Dabɔba kɔbiga ku bi kurugu” (A hundred logs cannot cook a metal).

This conveyed the message to the people of Dagbon that no one acquires something good and hands it over to another. And no matter how many people dislike you, if the creator is on your side, no harm will come to you. Thus, the ugly son of Naa Zanjina went from rags to regalia, from mockery to majesty, transforming from a jester to becoming the lion king of Dagbon. His reign lasted from 1687 to 1700.

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Abdul Malik Abukari

I have a strong passion for the diversity which exist among people from all walks of life. And same in the similarities which binds them together as human from the same ancestry. Indeed, I'm thrilled to share with the rest of the world, the heritage of my people, the Dagbamba ethnic group from Northern Ghana. My name is Abdul Malik and I live in Tamale -Ghana