damba-dance-11The Mole-Dagbani, primarily located in the Upper and Northern regions of Ghana, make up 16 percent of the current Ghanaian population and accounts for the majority of the Muslim population in Ghana. Of the Mole-Dagbani there are five subcultures, four of which trace themselves to the same ancestry. They are the Mamprusi, Mossi, Dagomba, Nanumba, and Gonja. The languages they speak are classified as a variation of Gur.
It is said by oral tradition that the founding ancestor of all the Mole-Dagbani migrated from north-east of the Lake Chad to the south of the Niger bend, Zamfara, which is modern-day Nigeria. Due to the political and military superiority, the ancestors were able to easily wield smaller individual tribes into their kingdom. The Mamprusi, Mossi, Dagomba, and Nanumba all have passed down the same story of origin by means of oral tradition. The story begins with a warrior princess whose father restricts her from marrying in fear of losing her military knowledge. She flees on a stallion, becomes weary and finds refuge and sleep under a tree. A prince of another tribe finds her there, too beautiful to resist and rapes her in her sleep. From this a child is conceived who grows to later marry, producing a son.damba-dance-17
This son, Gbewa was to become the first leader of the kingdom. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his own son Zirile upon his death. At the death of Zirile conflicts erupted over his successior among his three surviving brothers and their supporters, which thus led to a civil war and split within the tribe. One formed the kingdom of Maprussi and the other two formed the Dagomba and Nanumba. The Mamprusi later divided, thus forming the Mossi. The fifth group, Gonja, migrated from what is currently Mali near the end of the 16th century.
The Mole-Dagbani are very reclusive due to their Muslim beliefs and cultural practices. Also, their culture is highly dependent upon oral tradition, so there is little text on the culture for researchers to obtain. These two factors make it difficult for one to report on the culture. It is puzzling however that more western anthropologist have not investigated this region and its people.


download (1)_compressedThe Mamprusi claim, by ancestry, to be the earliest known kingdom of modern Ghana, established circa 1480. They are considered by northern Ghana to be first of the Mole-Dagbani. The Mamprusi occupy the territory of Mampurugu, which lies in the Northern region of Ghana. This population is linguistically heterogeneous but the majority speaks Mampruli. Mamprusi settlements are known for their clusters of circular compounds, which are surrounded by farmland, where they grow Millet, the crop this region is most known for. Two-thirds of Mamprusi marriages are polygamous. Islam predominates the culture and beliefs of the people but traditional beliefs are evident in religious practices. Children are given both traditional names and Muslim names and are circumcised.History is highly reliant upon oral tradition as it is in the majority of Mole-Dagbani culture.However, oral tradition is dependent upon state elders therefore political law and rule over dispute lies in the hands of the elders.This is one reason that records of Mamprusi tradition are scarce and incomplete.

The social structure of this group is patrilineal and acts as the basic unit of structure for society. A person’s right to inheritance, property and privileges are defined through this structure.Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Mamprusi society is their political system, which is known as the Nam. This political system is constructed through a complex hierarchy of chiefdoms. The term Nam means office or political authority. When a new officer is installed it is said that he eats the nam signifying the incorporation of the nam with the physical person. Office eligibility is determined through the gate system. This gate system refers to the family lineage and signifies those who are eligible for chiefdom. Competition for office is held on two levels, first between gates in Gbewa’s lineage as well as between members of the same gate. Once installed the chief will have final say in all disputes, including marriages, witchcraft trials and succession. Chiefs are regarded as protectors of the Mamprusi.

The following is an abridged version of the history of Dagbon. We have tried as much as possible to present this write-up without commentary. The facts are laid bare for the reader. Some of the points raised might be disputed by one gate or another of the feuding parties of Yani. It is our objective to present the fact as we have found them. All inconsistencies and errors are those of the author. The page will continually be updated in an effort to make this write-up as impartial and as accurate as possible. All this within the limited amount of written and verifiable information.
The origins of Dagbon can be traced to Tohadzie, the red hunter. Tohadzie was a very brave hunter who mastered archery (the art of hunting with the bow and arrow).

On arrival in the Mali Empire he settled in a village in the middle of a drought. The villagers’ only source of water was a river taken over by a wild bush cow. The bush cow, believed to be an evil spirit, killed anyone who ventured to the river to draw water. Tohadzie led the villagers to kill the wild beast making the river accessible. This is also recorded in the Malian legend of Mali Sadio.
He then organised the people and made war on rival villages, who had constantly raided his new-found home, thus establishing himself as a successful warrior and leader. For his bravery and assistance to the people, Tohadzie was rewarded with a Malian princess called Pagawugba, for a wife. The Malian princess gave birth to a son named Kpognambo, who grew up and exhibited bravery and warrior acuity similar to his father’s.
After the death of his parents Kpognambo travelled westwards from the Mali Empire to Biun, in Fadan Grumah, where after defeating the Tendana became chief of Biun. Kpognambo ruled the kingdom of Biun until his death. He established the chieftainship of Biun.
Kpognambo married two women; Sihisabiga (daughter of the Fetish Priest of Biun) and Suhuyini (daughter of the King of Fadan Grumah). Suhuyini gave birth to Gbewaah while Sihisabiga gave birth to Malgimsim, Nyelgili, and Namzisheli.
After the death of Kpognambo there was constant war between his sons for the chieftainship of Biun. This, in the thirteenth century, led to the migration of Gbewaah with a large following to Pusiga. Pusiga is in the Upper East region of present day Ghana. Naa Gbewaah established the Kingdom of Greater (Ancient) Dagbon, which he ruled until his death. Other sons of Kpognambo; Nyeligili founded the chieftainship of Nangodi and Namzisheli founded the chieftainship of Tongo.
In Pusiga the chieftainship of the Kingdom of Greater Dagbon became known as NAM which was the preserve of the male children of Naa Gbewaah. After the death of Naa Gbewaah, there was once again power struggle among his sons for the nam. In the heat of the struggle, Zirli murdered his brother Kufogu and became chief of Biun, much to the displeasure of his siblings. This led to war between the brothers and finally the break-up of the Greater Dagbon Kingdom.
Sitobu, Tohagu, and Mantambo all children of Naa Gbewaah moved southwards from Pusiga with their followers. Tohagu founded the Mamprusi Kingdom, Mantambo the Nanun Kingdom and Sitobu the modern Dagbon Kingdom. This is the reason why the peoples of Nanun, Mamprugu, and Dagbon consider each other as brothers. They share the same ancestry in Naa Gbewaah. A daughter of Naa Gbewaah, Yentuagri, married a Grumah and they established the Kingdom of the Mossi.
more to come please


The Mossi Kingdoms, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Mossi Empire, were a number of different powerful kingdoms in modern-day Burkina Faso which dominated the region of the upper Volta river for hundreds of years. The kingdoms were founded when warriors from the Dagomba area, in modern-day Ghana moved into the area and intermarried with local people. Centralization of the political and military powers of the kingdoms begin in the 1200s and led to conflicts between the Mossi kingdoms and many of the other powerful states in the region. In 1896, the French took over the kingdoms and created the French Upper Volta which largely used the Mossi administrative structure for many decades in governing the colony.

Accounts of the origin of the Mossi kingdom and parts of their history are very imprecise with contradictory oral traditions that disagree on significant aspects of the story.[1] The origin story is unique in that a woman plays a key role as the progenitor of the royal line.

The origins of the Mossi state are claimed by one prominent oral tradition to come from when a Dagomba princess left the city of Gambaga because of a dispute with her father. This event dates in different oral histories to be anytime between the 11th and the 15th centuries.According to the story, the princess Niennega escaped dressed as a man when she came to the house of an elephant hunter from the Boussansi tribe named Ryallé. He initially believed she was a man but one day she revealed that she was a woman and the two married. They had a son named Wedraogo or Ouédraogo who was given that name from the horse that Niennega escaped from Gambaga on. Wedraogo visited his grandfather in Dagomba at the age of fifteen and was given four horses, 50 cows, and a number of Dagomba horseman joined his forces. With these forces, Wedraogo conquered the Boussansi tribes, married a woman named Pouiriketa who gave him three sons, and built the city of Tenkodogo. The oldest was Diaba Lompo who founded the city of Fada N’gourma. The second son, Rawa, became the ruler of Zondoma Province. His third son, Zoungrana became the ruler in Tenkodogo after Wedraogo died. Zoungrana married Pouitenga, a woman sent from the chief of the Ninisi tribes, and the resulting intermarriage between the Dagomba, the Boussansi, and the Ninisi produced a new tribe called the Mossi. Zoungrana and Pouitenga had a son, Oubri, who further expanded the kingdom by conquering the Kibissi and some Gurunsi tribes. Oubri, who ruled from around 1050 until 1090 ACE, is often considered the founder of the Ouagadougou dynasty which ruled from the capital of Ouagadougou.

Ama Ghana.

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  1. I am interested in history as a subject especially about the origins of people. What I find strange is the distortion of the history of Northern Ghana. The Gonjas are Guans, related to the Efutus and some other ethnic groups in the Eastern and Volta Regions. To group them as members of the Mole-Dagomba is to confuse the student. The Mole-Dagombas include the Mossi, Dagomba, Dagaaba, Gurni, Bulsa, and related groups such as the Kusal, Mamprusi, Nanumba and several others.

    The typical Mossi-Dagombas speak dialects that are very related. The Gonja language is not related at all to any of these dialects. History has it that the Gonjas came in from Mali and the northern countries as invaders and conquered some of the earlier groups. They took so much land and although small in population, occupy one of the largest land mass in the country from the Northern Region, parts of Upper West and into the northern parts of the Brong Ahafo Region.

    It is my believe that our inability to accept the truth will lead to a distorted history of this country as every writer tries to massage the truth to suit an interest far from the truth. It is possible that the invasion by the
    Gonjas resulted in culture and language modification among some of the Northern peoples. For example, the Dagomba and Dagaaba by their similarity suggests some closer relation than appear to be now. They pronounce the same words slightly differently but the common origin is evident. Yet between them is Gonja territory in which the Gonja populations are often a minority. It is suggested that the arrival of the Gonja warriors further caused a fragmented Dagomba people into two two, the Dagaaba moving Westwards into Lobi and new territory, meeting and settling in Lobi territory. They intermarried with these new people who altered their culture and language. Those Mole-Dagomba peoples who have not been separated like the Dagomba, Mamprusi, Gurni, Nanumba, Kusasi,etc., are still closer in both the language and culture. The Dagaaba have adopted the xylophone which is said to belong to the Lobi and Sisaala, the architecture of the Lobi, etc. Is it coincidence that Upper West is predominantly Dagaaba but the area they occupy is less than that occupied or belonging to the smaller ethnic groups?

    The migratory nature of the Dagaaba is suggestive of people on the move. Is will surprise most Ghanaians to know that the Dagaaba are said to be the fourth largest ethnic group in Ghana but so dispersed that the Upper West is the least populated region of Ghana?

    There is a strong need for research into the peoples of Ghana to correct the inaccuracies that is being forced down the students of this country. The tendency to ignore obvious truths of Ghanaian writers is seen in glaring and unpardonable mistakes in our print and radio media. Too often, Bolgatanga is the capital of Upper West and Wa is the capital of Upper East! No body comes to correct and offer apologies.

    History is increasingly going down the drain as its teaching has been swallowed by Social Studies which is nothing but jammed up Accra and Kumasi traffic!

    1. It is really saddening that many people have no clue about the northern tribes of Ghana. I am saying this not to be derogatory but a lot of people in the south especially have no clue of the geography, history or people of the north for that matter. It is not uncommon to hear all the tribes/ people of the north being lumped together as northerners; ” he is a northerner” that definetly is one of my pet peeves. For Heaven’s sake we have three regions in the geographic north of Ghana. A northerner to be precise is someone who hails from northern region, that is Tamale (as capital) and its surroundings. As you rightly pointed out in your piece , some people don’t even have a “flipping” clue that there is Upper East and Upper West not to evwn mention their capitals. You wouldn’t believe that a university student for whatever reason whether tribalistic or just because of sheer ignorance told me about half a decade ago when I was at KNUST that all territories from Bamboi northward are part of Burkina Faso. Anyway I seem to be digressing here but it was good you pointed out some ignoramuses need to learn a little bit of history or at least ask if you don’t know.

      1. I totally agree with you.History is the only way one can learn about these things

  2. Sometimes I blame the examination bodies and teachers at the various second cycle institutions. I wonder how someone gets to enter the university and has no clue on the regions and their capitals.
    Some refer to Tamale as northern Ghana.And that being a notthern means u are a muslim?Even the history of the north is coined in a very derogatory manner because it is left for people who have no noelrthern extraction.

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