Naa Gungobili -The destitute Prince of Dagbon Kingdom

Naa Gungobili was the 17th King of the Dagbon kingdom. He ascended the Gbewaa Skin of Dagbon around the 17th century. His reign lasted from around 1627 to 1648.

Naa Gungobili was the son of Naa Luro, who was also a King of Dagbon. This makes Naa Gungobili a Prince to the Gbewaa skin.

Before Naa Gungobili took over the lion skin of Dagbon as Yaa-Naa, he was the chief of a village called Yamo-kariga. This was the skin he occupied when the news broke out that, the Lion king of Dagbon, Naa Zokuli had passed on.

The death of Naa Zokuli reached the hut of Yamo-Kari Naa Gungobili through a messenger sent to him by his brother, Galiwee-Naa Kundoni.

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Galiwee-Naa Kundoni was a very wealthy man and a chief of a town known as “Galiwee”. He was also a Prince to the lion Skin.

He held so much respect across Dagbon because of his wealth. Having nurtured the ambition of occupying the Yani skin, he used his wealth to influence almost anyone who mattered in selecting a Yaa-Naa. When the lion skin became vacant, he was the obvious favourite of the Yɔɣu-Kpamba ( elders who select the Yaa-Naa).

When Galiwe-Naa Kundoni heard the death of Naa Zokuli, he sent one of his messengers to inform Naa Gungobili to come and accompany him to Yendi to perform the funeral rites of Naa Zokuli. He also promised to make Naa Gungobili Chief of ” Galiwee” when is chosen as Yaa-Naa.

But Naa Gungobili resented the invitation, saying ” Go and tell Naa Kundoni that, I refuse to be mocked. He knows that i do not own a proper smock, not to mention of a horse. How can I make the journey to Yɔɣu? ”

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Indeed, unlike Galiwee-Naa Kundoni, Naa Gungobili was a destitute. Eventhough he was a son of a former Yaa-Naa, no one thought of him. He had fewer friends and perhaps his only true friend was his wife; who looked quite older than her age as a result of constant hard labour and improper feeding.

When the messenger returned to Galiwee with Naa Gungobili’s reply, Galiwee-Naa Kundoni sent the messenger back to Yamo-Kariga with a white horse and a new smock. He also gave Naa Gungobili some money to enable him take the journey to Yendi to grace the funeral rites of Naa Zokuli.

Naa Gungobili journeys to Yani

It was in the middle of the rainy season and the rivers and lakes had swallowed enough water than they could contain. They broke their banks and spilled, and so the journey became more tedious for Naa Gungobili and his entourage.

The journey between thicks and thorns almost seemed impossible and at point, he contemplated on turning and heading back home.

Half way through their journey, Naa Gungobili stared at his loyal wife, who has stood with him through thick and thin. Then he told her, ” pray that I become the New Yaa-Naa and you’ll be addressed as Gbanzaluŋ”.

But his wife just laughed at his joke. ” You couldn’t even afford a smock and a horse to undertake this journey. Tell me! how do you intend to ascend the skin of your fathers?
please, let me be.” His wife replied.

And by the time Naa Gungobili reached the shores of the “Kulikpuni river”, the boat men had already finished crossing over all the Prince’s and were taking their rest when the son of Naa Luro emerged.

Read More: The advent of the lunsi in Dagbon State

When they saw Naa Gungobili, no one paid heed to him. ” we are closed for the day. All your colleagues came in the day time. Its almost dark and you have shown up. We have closed for the day” one of the boat men spoke out, looking at his friend’s faces with laughter.

Naa Gungobili then searched his bag and took out some money. He offered to pay more than the usual charge. With this offer, one of the boat men agreed and ferried the Son of Naa Luro across the Kulkpuni river.

When Naa Gungobili finally entered Sankara-Yili, he met a very busy town. Apparently, he was late!

Naa Gungobili gets stranded

Naa Gungobili arrived with his procession and led them straight to community known as ” Nayili fong “. He intended to pass the night there. When he approached the first house, he was met with a rather unpleasant welcome. ” There are no rooms here. All the rooms are filled up”, the house owner pronounced, rather hiding his face away from him.

Read More: Names of Animals in Dagbani Language

Each house Naa Gungɔbili entered, he was given the same message – all the rooms in this house are already occupied.

Unable to find a room to past the night at Nayili-fong, he headed to Balogu but yet again, he was told that Balogu people do not accommodate ragged Princes.

From Balogu, his next stop was Gagbuni. But the people of Gagbuni too rejected him.
Naa Gungobili then turned around and headed to Kumlan-fong. Kumlan-fong is a community where no Prince would dare pass the night. This is the abode of the man who’s responsible for executions at the chief palace. And so every Prince shun this community.

Naa Gungobili was tired and needed a place to rest his bones and at that moment, anywhere would do.

When Mba-Kumlana saw him, he shouted ” what sort of of abominable Prince are you? What sort of Prince will leave all the nice places in town and come and lodge in this community? You are not welcomed.”
With these words, Naa Gungobili, feeling more embarrassed than before, left Kumlan-fong immediately.

Perhaps the Zohi-Naa will take me in. He is father to all, he thought! And this was his next stop. But his own friend and brother, Galwee-Naa Kundoni had already taken over Zohi with his seemingly large following.
Unable to find a place to rest, Naa Gungobili made his way to a Gamanzi. And this was where Son of Naa Luro found a room to rest his body.

The house in which he sought refuge belonged to a konkomba woman. The old ratchet house had only two rooms. One room for herself and another room reserved for storage. And so, it was in this storage room that Naa Gungobili and his wife found solace.

And it was in this old ragged room, belonging to an old woman where the little lion went to slumber, waiting for the gods to decide his fate.

Naa Gungobili – The search for a New Yaa-Naa:

After the funeral rites of Naa Zokuli was finalised, the Gushe-Naa paid a visit to Naa Zokuli’s palace and started the preparation for the selection and installation of a New King.

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He circumbulated the palace and picked out a piece of thatch from the roof of the old King’s palace, as tradition demanded.
He then rode his horse to the house of Kuɣu-Naa and handed over the thatch grass to him.

He then told Yɔɣu-Kpamba to find him a grandson to occupy the Gbewaa skin.

As practised in the past and even now, before a new king is selected, the elders made consultations with the soothsayers to determine under which of the prince’s care Dagbon would prosper. When this is determined, the said Prince is seen as the choice of the gods.

He is then handed over for the necessary traditional rites and coronation.
So the Gushe-Naa approached Yani-Kpamba and demanded a new Yaa-Naa from them.

The kuɣu-Naa then sent Tuɣuri-Nam to fetch the soothsayer at Nayili-fong. And in no time, the Nayili-fong baɣa was seated in front of Yɔɣu-Kpamba with his bag of cowries.

He threw the cowries in to the calabash and chanted :

” Kpuŋ kotiŋ nɛrigu “
” N yɛn gahimla suma ka che biɛri “
” Mba turi pali piɛɣu, ka n dini pali ŋmani”
” M bi nya n dini, bɛ ti yɛri so dini yɛla”

He then raised his head and looked at Yɔɣu-Kpamba and said ” You’re asking about the Yaa-Naa. The gods have chosen no one but Yamo-karaga-lan Gungobili”.

“What! What sort of a lie is this? Have you connived with the ragged Prince to deny the kingdom a befitting king? You are definitely not speaking the message of the gods, one of the elders shouted.

“Let him get out of our sight, another exclaimed. No wonder! He has eaten too much of pepper that his eyes can no longer see well”, another elder said. And so, the soothsayer from Nayili-fong took his bag and left in a hurry.

Go to Yɛlizoli and fetch me the soothsayer from that town. He is an honest man and his words never fail.

Kuɣu-Naa ordered Tuɣiri-Nam. Jakpariga Tuɣiri-nam sped off with his horse, and in no time, Yɛlizoli baɣa was before the elders.
He brought out a calabash from his bag and some cowries. He then threw the cowries into the calabash and said:

” Kpuŋ kotiŋ nɛrigu “
” N yɛn gahimla suma ka che biɛri “
” Mba turi pali piɛɣu, ka n dini pali ŋmani”
” M bi nya n dini, bɛ ti yɛri so dini yɛla”

He continue, You ask of the lion king. Indeed, my elders, if Dagbon will be peaceful and cool like the clay, the new Yaa-Naa should be no other but son of Naa Luro. I mean Naa Gungobili. That is the message from the gods.

With these words, all the elders sat back in disbelieve. Could this be a conspiracy? They thought for a while and in anger, they sent away the soothsayer from Yɛlizoli.
” I am sure he has eaten too much wild berries and has lost his sight. Let him go” said one of the elders.

And so they invited another soothsayer from Duŋshɛli-yili. But the soothsayer from Gushiɛɣu carried the same message.
” Dagbon will only be peaceful and prosperous, if Naa Gungɔbli is made the new Yaa-Naa”. And again, he too was sacked.

Still not convinced, a fourth soothsayer was brought from Beemoni-yili. But he was asked to go back home, for he too carried the same message.

At this point, Yɔɣu-Kpamba were lost out of options. And so they sad back, murmuring !

A final decision is made

Finally, torn between disappointment and rage, Mba Duɣu sent for the son of “Kanjaŋ baɣa Naa”. His name was Baɣ’naa Tawumya.

Baɣ’naa Tawumya was believed to be the most powerful seer around Dagboŋ in that era.

This is the man who once told the king of Bimbila, Bimbila-Naa Suliga that, he shall not taste the meal right in front of him. And indeed, the king died when his hands touched the bowl.

The potency of this seer was therefore not in doubt and his words were considered sacred.

Days passed by and the Gushe-Naa waited at Maliʒɛli, waiting to hear of the selection of the new Yaa-Naa before he departs for home. The Gushe-Naa does not pass the night in Yendi. And so he waited at Maliʒeli.

And finally in the hut of Kuɣu-Naa, the Baɣ’Naa Tawumya arrived.

He sat on the floor with his bag. After sometime, he raised his head and looked at the faces of the elders and said ” Why have you called me here over something you already know? I am not a hypocrite ! Do as you have been told or there will be calamity ”
With these words, he took his bag and dashed out of the Hall of Kuɣu-Naa.

At that moment, all the elders got up from their seat, leaving whilst murmuring, “we have tried our best. Galiwe-Naa Kundoni does not have a good relationship with our ancestors. That is his fault, not ours”

Naa Gungobili ascents the Gbewaa skin of Dagbon:

After all avenues were exhausted, Mba-dugu called for a black cow and a white one.

He handed them over to Tuɣuri-nam and told him “Go to Gamanʒi and look for Gungobili. Tell him to appease his father, Naa Luro with the white cow and his grandfather, Naa Zoligu with the black one”
After that, ask him to come back home and take over the skins of his ancestors.

But when Tuɣuri-Nam approached Naa Gungobili with the two cattle, he rejected them saying ” So today Yɔɣu-Kpamba know that Naa Luro is my father and Naa Zoligu is my grandfather, yet I couldn’t get a place to lay my head. I will not be mocked further ”

” Naa Gbewaa does not reject a gift, neither does his anger last on his grandchildren. Your father, Naa Luro didn’t do that. Your grandfather, Naa Zoligu never rejected a call for his fathers skin” Tuɣuri-Nam appealed to Naa Gungobili’s conscience, kneeling before him.

Gbewaa zuu
Ban mali laamba zuu
Ban ka laamba zuu

Please follow me to the land of your ancestors. Come and wipe away the tears of your father’a orphans

With these words, Naa Gungobili accepted the cattle. He then used them to appease his ancestors and mounted on a horse. With Tuɣuri-Nam behind him, they headed towards Yoɣu.

And by dusk, a loud voice filled the entire town ” Henceforth, Yamo-Kari’naa Gungobili has become Naa Gbewaa”

Dim bang ku loonima”
” Koringkpeng gbali bang yingnima”
” Naansara bagyuli bi doli so, di dolila Kanwa”

When Galiwee-Naa Kundoni heard this, he stood up from his bed and sat back.
” I believe Yoɣu-Kpamba are making mockery of this poor man. that is usual of them. I have been assured that tonight, I will be coronated as Yaa-Naa”.
With these words, he returned to his seat.

But when night fell, the big drum was heard from the palace. Then came the rumors and finally, news filled the whole town. ” Yemo’Kari-Naa Gungobili has been coronated as Yaa- Naa”

The next day, Naa Gungobili was sent to Zohi-Naa’s palace, as custom demanded. There, he will spend the night before returning to the Gbewaa palace.

At the entrance to the Zohi-Naa’s palace, Naa Gungobili halted the entourage and called for Namo-Naa.

Let the whole Dagbon know my praise name from today onwards , he said!
From henceforth, I shall be known as;

” Beeŋa din leli mɔɣili ku yaɣisi palibu”

” Kum bini malisi mali-mali ni niŋ puuni galima- galima”

” Pakura yi Gaa n kuni zɔhi, di pala wɔri to naɣila sɔɣu ŋɔ n zaɣisi”

” kpaŋ ŋun nini bali ni maali buɣuli”

Galiwee-Naa Kundoni dies on his way home:
At this point in time, having realised that the Gbewaa skin has eluded him, Galwe-Naa Kundoni left Yendi with his large following in disappointment.

He was heading back to Galwee. The journey ahead was a difficult one. The distance between Yendi and his home seemed to have extended.

But he never truly wished to see home again. He could not live with the embarrassment.

Before nightfall, he and his entourage reached a town known as Gundɔwɔɣiri, So they halted their journey to pass the night there.

And there, Galwee-Naa Kundoni turned his back to the land of the living he departed for the land of his ancestors, leaving the traditional skin of Galwee vacant.

But before he died, he told his chief drummer that, he wants his descendants to know his praise names. And that he shall be known as :

” Saa Ninyiɣu saɣim tia ku saɣim nimdi”
” Bari jaangbee miri maŋa”
” Kulbɔŋ kɔɣu ni loo shiɛɣu”

He was laid to rest at Gundowɔɣiri.

Naa Gungobili teaches Yɔɣu-Kpamba a grave lesson

When Naa Gungobili sat on the Gbewaa skin as the 17th ruler of Dagbon Kingdom, he was worried that one day his descendants may face the same calamity that befell him. He was concerned that in future, another son of a Yaa-Naa will be denied the opportunity to ascend the Gbewaa skin because of his economic status.

So he decided to teach the Yani-Kpamba a great lesson.

On a clear Friday, a message reached the hut of all yɔɣu-kpamba, summoning them to the Gewaa palace.

At the Gbewaa palace, Naa Gungobili led them to the shrine of Buɣili Pabo and ordered them to dig out big stones.
After inspecting all their stone, he ordered them to carry them on their bare heads, all the way to the Kulikpuni river (River Daka).

On the second day, most of the Yani-Kpamba fell down and died, while others absconded, never to be seen.

When Naa Gungobili was certain that the lesson he wanted to teach was well undwrstood, he left the rest of the Yani-Kpamba to serve as testimony for the future. That if ever a Son of a Yaa-Naa is qualified to the Yani skin, he would be treated fairly.

Naa Gungobili then went back to Yɔɣu, sat on his ancestors skin and gave birth to his little princes;

Miɔŋlan Mahamaŋ
Kuduli-lan tɔbuʒia
Kuduli-lan Luro
Kuduli-lan kokpaɣu
Yɛmo-Karinaa Tiŋbɔbili
and many more.

And as time passed by, Naa Gungobili left Yɔɣutolandi for the land of his ancestors, having ruled the Dagbon kingdom for 21 years.

Naa Gungobili was succeeded by Naa Zanjina, Son of Naa Tituɣiri.

Abdul Malik Abukari

I have a strong passion for the diversity which exist between people from all walks of life. And same in the similarities which binds them together as human from the same ancestry. Indeed, I'm trilled 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

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