The histories of Nanuŋ kings provide intriguing glimpses into the political processes that shaped the kingship structure of the kingdom. The rise, fall and rise of Bimbila Na Salifu is a case study of human resilience, endurance and hope.
German Colonial Rule In Nanung
When the Germans invaded Nanung, Na Abalsi was the king of Nanuŋ who fought them. Bimbila Na Salifu reigned under the subsequent German colonial administration which was based in Karachi while an African agent was stationed in Bimbila.
The agent who was not a native had scant regard for the chiefs and indigenes. One day as the king sat in the sampaa with his elders, the wife of the agent sprinted from the direction of the agent’s quarters screaming with terror and being hotly pursued by her gun wielding husband. She run into the gathering and fell in front of the king ( Bimbila Na Salifu ) pleading to be saved.
Read More : The advent of the lunsi in Dagbon State
The agent arrived at the edge of the sampaa and fired into the gathering, engulfing it in gun smoke and causing injuries. The agent was overpowered. In those days there should have been no hesitation in beheading him instantly.
However, that would have invited unspeakable retribution from the Germans. On the orders of the king therefore, the agent was bound in ropes and sent to Karachi. The emissaries were to report his intolerable conduct to the German officer and inform him that the king wanted a suitable replacement.
Ironically there was no Nanuŋ language interpreter in Karachi.
It was the culprit agent who was asked to interpret. He lied to the German officer that the king said he would no longer accept German rule and that was why he had expelled him from Bimbilla.
As he spoke the emissaries nodded in agreement, assuming that it was their message that was being correctly interpreted. Not long after this encounter, a military detachment descended on Bimbila, captured the king Bimbila Na Salifu and took him to Karachi.
Trial And Deskinment Of Bimbila Na Salifu
He was tried for treason, deskinned and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour while a new king was installed. He survived the pain and humiliation of unjust deskinment and imprisonment up to the end of the 1st world war. With the defeat of Germany, he regained his freedom and returned to Bimbila. He was from the Bang Yili gate and it was Gbuɣumayili that was on the skin.
Having been the king of Bimbila, he could not be given any lower skin to occupy and it was odd for him to have no title to his name. He also faced some hostility from some of the royals, especially a prince by name Ablai who had a nickname Abla’ Biema which could only be whispered behind his back.
This prince openly taunted and called the former king an ex-convict and expelled him from any gathering of chiefs and elders he attended. Out of frustration Na Salifu withdrew from Bimbila into the bush where he constructed a collection of huts (suɣa) to form a settlement as a temporary step towards building a proper home.
Bimbila Na Salifu New Settlement
The settlement acquired the name Suɣa Ya and Na Salifu was called Suɣa Na. From king of Nanuŋ he had sunk to the lowest depths of a prisoner. Having regained his freedom he had been stigmatized as an ex-convict and compelled to move into self-isolation as a chief over a collection of huts. He took all these in his stride and was not broken.
The reigning king from Gbuɣumayili died and, in line with the system of alternation, it was the turn of Baŋyili to nominate a candidate for the skin. The eligible candidate at the time was the Dokpam Na Atta. The latter offered to relinquish his turn for Na Salifu to return to the Bimbila skin.
Re-Enskinment Of Bimbila Na Salifu
He pointed out that Na Salifu, inspire of his tribulations remained the eldest in the clan and that his deskinment had not been due to any violation of custom on his part nor any action for which he was culpable. Na Salifu was therefore enskinned as Bimbila Na for the second time.
Perhaps the only time in Nanuŋ history that this ever happened. The history relates that one of the first things he did upon sitting on the skin was to summon prince Ablai, his chief tormentor, before him. This however will be a needless digression here.
While recognising the resilience of Na Salifu, the Dokpam Na’s display of nobility of heart and sacrifice of personal interest to uphold justice, fairness and custom was a hall mark of greatness. This episode of Nanuŋ history holds lessons for all time.
Written By Ambassador Ibrahim Abass