Slave Trade And Its Resistance In The Gbewaa States

Slave Trade and its Resistance In The Gbewaa States — Both written and oral literature had it that the ordinary Dagbamba (Dagomba) man arrived in ancient Dagbon before the rulers, Naa Gbewaa and his descendants (Fusheini Yakubu 2013: 1).

According to Tamakloe, when Naa Nyagsi and his father “Naa Sitobu” arrived in modern Dagbon in 1416, the ordinary man was already in Dagbon.

BABATU TOMB IN YENDI -Slave Trade Resistance In Dagbon - SLAV
Babatu Grave In Yendi

Tindamba (Fetish Priest or Landowners) headed communities. According to Rattray, with the advent of the rulers of Great Dagbon, the common Dagbamba like other tribes of Northern Ghana were already occupying the areas they are today.


According to 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 history of the Gbewaa States which is referred to us by some writers as the Rulers of Great Dagbon, begins with the story of a man popularly known as “Tohazie” Red Hunter. He was the only son of Tiyawumya.

Tiyawumya came from King Shabarko family of ancient Egypt. Naa Gbewaa is a great gran son of Tohazie. The three main Gbewaa states in Ghana include Mamprugu, Dagbon and Nanung.

The other smaller states or chiefdoms include Sandema, Talensi, Nabdan and Wa. Bolga and Bongo got their chiefdoms from Nayiri as means of resistance to Babatu and Samori slave activities in Northern Ghana.

Mamprugu, Dagbon and Nanung resisted the slave activities of Babatu and Samori. Sakote also got its chiefdom from Nayiri through the influence of the British.

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Transatlantic Slave Trade

Cape Coast which is located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Coast Castle was one of the last points of contact for the enslaved Africans before they were taken away from the continent to work on the plantations of the New World.

When it comes to making slave-trade heritage, Northern Ghana towns such as, Paga have a lot to offer. Beyond the subliminal spiritual significance of the pilgrimage lies the economic potential.

Salaga Slave Wells -BABATU TOMB IN YENDI -Slave Trade Resistance In Dagbon
Salaga Slave Market – captured slaves were chained onto this Baobab tree.

Northern Ghana’s linkage with the transatlantic slave trade is too strong to be taken lightly. From Sandema to Yendi, Gwollu to Nalerigu the landscape is replete with relics. (Akpabli 2001).

READ MORE : Dagbani Proverbs – Dagbɔŋ ŋaha


What is striking in this statement is the fact that all the sites that are mentioned, including the Pikworo Slave Camp at Paga, Sakpali Slave City, Salaga Slave Market, Salaga Slave Wells & Bath, Juole Defense-Wall are primarily connected to the slave raids of the Zabarima traders, Babatu and Samori in the late nineteenth century.

By that time, the transatlantic slave trade had already been abolished for a few decades; the British slave trade activity officially ceased in 1807, France followed in 1848, and Brazil, which was reluctant to abolish the lucrative business, was forced to do so in 1852. Even though the official abolition did not lead to a complete halt in slaving activities but rather in an increase in illegal slave exports in some areas, the eventual ending of the institution of slavery in the Americas also marked the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

In the British colonies, this was done in 1834, in the United States in 1865 and finally in Brazil in 1888. By then the industrial revolution had changed the face of Euro-American economy and the major European powers began their scramble for Africa in order to facilitate direct colonial exploitation.

However, the inner-African and indigenous slave trade went on for a longer period. In Asante and the Northern territories of the Gold Coast, laws on the emancipation of slaves were passed as late as 1908, institution of slavery still operating illegally at least up to 1928 (cf Perbi 2002: 193 – 205).


Although the slave sites in Northern Ghana are primarily related to the slave raids of the late nineteenth century, the earlier transatlantic slave trade had made impact here, too. Mossi and Hausa traders operated in those areas long before Babatu and Samori entered the historical stage (cf Der 1998).

Resistance Of Slave Trade In Northern Ghana.

Before the passage of law in 1908, traditional rulers in the Gbewaa States resisted slave activities by Babatu and Samori among others by fighting them. This led to a war between Dagombas and Zabarima people in the present-day Niger.

Salaga Slave Wells -BABATU TOMB IN YENDI -Slave Trade Resistance In Dagbon
Slave wells In Salaga

The war was resolved by the signing of a peace treaty between Dagombas and Zabarima. This paved a way for the Babatu and Samori to continue their slave trade in the Non-Gbewaa States. In the light of this, Bolga and Bongo joined the Gbewaa States to be freed from Babatu and Samori slave activities.

The Builsa people finally defeated Babatu and Samori in a war between the Builsa and the Slave Traders (Babatu and Samori). They took their weapons and dumped them under a Tree.

READ MORE : Dagbani Proverbs – Dagbɔŋ ŋaha

The spot has become a shrine in the Builsa land and annual rituals are performed there to mark their success over the Zabarima slave raiders. Babatu did not return to his home country but rather went and settled in Yendi and that was where he retired from slave trade.

The grave of Babatu can still be found in Yendi with the slave chains and shackles. The construction of slave defense walls at Gwollu, Nalerigu (built with milk & human parts and Juole were part of the efforts explored by traditional rulers to resist the activities of slave trade in Northern Ghana.


Slave Trade Resistance In Gbewaa States (Dagbon) – Conclusion

Africans were themselves capturing their fellow Africans as slaves to the white man and seen as a lucrative business without considering the negative impact.

Salaga Slave Wells -BABATU TOMB IN YENDI -Slave Trade Resistance In Dagbon
Slave Wells In Salaga

Africans in the diaspora can be traced to the United State of America and Europe.

The question I could not find the answer to is Africans who were enslaved and exported to the Arabian. Where are they today or where can we find them? There was intra African slave trade or indigenous slave trade.

Since the laws on the emancipation of slaves were passed as late as 1908. By the 1930s slaves were integrated into society. Today in Northern Ghana, one cannot trace who was a slave in this modern society.

Slave trade had been abolished and Africa has gained independence from our colonial masters. The rhetorical question is, is Africa totally free from the white man? The answer is no because Africa gained only physical independence and psychologically African leaders have been remoted by the white man. Until Africans emancipate us from mental slavery before we can gain psychological independence from the white man.

Psychological independence is the key to Africa’s socio-economic development. Africa has a population of 1.2 billion which is very good for market attraction. The sad news is that Africa is performing less than 17% for trade among Africans (National Export Development Strategy, 2020).

African leaders have initiated African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). 54 out 55 countries have signed except Eritrea. This initiative is to boost trade among Africans. The head office is located in Accra, Ghana. AFCFTA is scheduled to start in 2021.

The number of slave sites in Northern Ghana is a clear justification that most African Diasporas came from Northern Ghana and not the Southern Part of Ghana.

Cape Coast which is located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Coast Castle was one of the last points of contact for the enslaved Africans and not their origins.

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Accra Declaration. 1995 on the WTO-UNESCO Cultural Tourism Programme “The Slave

Route, 4th April 1995, Accra, Ghana, Adopted on 29th April 1995, in Durban, South Africa,

by the 27th meeting of the Regional Commission for Africa of the World Tourism

Organization, Paris, UNESCO.

Akpabli, K. 2001. A Pilgrimage to Paga; The Tourist November 2001: N.P.

Bimbilla Lung-Naa, oral Literature source, 2008.

Der, B. G. 1998. The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana. Accra: Woeli.

Fusheini Yakubu, History of the Gbewaa States – Part I, New Edition, 2013.

Ghana National Export Development Strategy, 2020

Slave Route Projects: Tracing the Heritage of Slavery in Ghana. Article by Katharina

Schramm, University of Bayreuth, 2008.


Featured Article By: Fusheini Yakubu

Email: millysdec@gmail.com
Tel: +233-243418562 or +233-202833838

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.

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