Bulsa or Builsa erroneously called Kanjaga people are agricultural and pastoral Oti-Volta speaking people belonging to larger Niger-Congo language living in the Builsa Districts of the Upper East Region. Bulsa with indigenous Koma peoples inhabit the Savanna territory around the confluence of the Rivers Kulpawn and Sisil. Sandema is the main town in the area and the seat of the paramountcy.
Bulsa Feok festival Dancers at Sandema, Upper East Region, Ghana. Courtesy Alex Hadduck
Bulsa are known to be descendants of amalgamated ethnic groups including a Mampurusi prince Atuga from Nalerigu, Gur-speaking Kasena blacksmith (feok) known as Akana from Kurugu near Dakai in Burkina Faso who built Kanjag Pung (tanggbain) and some indigenous Koma people [kom dem, people of Kom] whom both Atuga and Akana came to meet on the land.
Bulsa girl at Sandema. Courtesy: Vicky Chase
Bulsa are similar in many ways to the other peoples of the Region with whom they share borders, like the Kasena and Nankana people, and with whom intermarriages have been a common feature. A person from Bulsa area is a Bulsa and not Kanjaga as many Ghanaians mistakenly called them as the colonialists did. They speak a unique language known as Buli and their nation as Buluk (land of Bulsa). As a distinct group from their neighbours, the Bulsa have a proud heritage of abhoring slavery with great distaste and hiding terzug shrine to fight fiercely against slavers. “When the slave-raider Babatu attacked them in the 19th century, they were able to stand against him and turn him back! That event is celebrated to this day with an elaborate festival called Feok just before Christmas.
Bulsa people who were seen as the best epitome of warriors and were once the best soldier recruits from the Northern Ghana for the British colonial Gold Coast army, have a documented rich repertoire of erotic folklore in Africa.
The Bulsa people live in several chiefdoms which though related historically, were at one time autonomous of each other. Today, the paramountcy is at Sandema and the other chiefdoms seem to be ranked loosely and based on ancestral legends which now serve as a kind of charter. Chiefs coexist with the tenyono or earthpriests. Each Bulsa chiefdom is divided into clan-elements which are exogamous kin-groups. These perform joint rituals and in the past acted in a corporate fashion.
In the past, a traditional Bulsa person had facial tribal markers. Like other Upper Easterners the Bulsa are cultivators; growing grains and legumes on compound farms and keeping livestock and poultry.
The capital of Bulsa North District is Sandema, of Bulsa South District Fumbisi; other villages / towns of note are Wiaga, Fumbisi, Kanjaga, Gbedema, Siniensi, Kadema and Chuchuliga.
Sandema, Bulsa capital town
Why Bulsa people were mistakenly referred to us Kanjaga
When men from the village of Kanjaga were recruited for the British colonial army, they were asked “Where are you from? What is your tribe called?” And since most of them were coming from the village of Kanjaga they answered “We are Kanjagas”. The British took the place name to be the tribal name, and this error has been perpetuated for many years.
Buli is the primary language spoken by the Builsa people. It is used in most oral situations. Not until recently, it was rarely used for reading and writing as few materials were available and few people had these skills. It is linguistically related to Mampruli and Konni. Konni is apparently the closest but little research has been done on Konni. Buli shares some roots with Frafra, but also has vocabulary that is not even remotely related. There are also some similarities of grammar, but again some very different feature as well.
Basic Buli Greetings
Greeting Buli Response
Morning Selouk SeloukNalo
Afternoon Kantwe KantweNalo
Evening Djunai DjunaiNalo
The Builsa people are believed to be amalgamated descendants of Gur-speaking Kasena blacksmith (kiok) from Kurugu near Dakai in Burkina Faso who built Kanjag Pung (tanggbain).” Other version also relates that the Bulsa people are descendants of Mamprusi man Atugafrom “Mampuruk.”
According historian and anthropologist Captain R S Rattery the origin of the town Kanjaga town makes it abundantly clear that the Builsa people came from Burkina Faso. In his work “Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland” (vol.2, p.400), Rattery writes “History of the ‘town’ of Kanjaga as told to me by the descendants of the original founder: ‘The name Kanjaga is derived from two words “Akana” and “jaga” or “gyaga,” to flutter like a tired bird. Akana was a blacksmith (kiok). His grandfather came from Kurugu near Dakai, in the Haut Volta. He was a Yullo (Kasena). From Kurugu, our grandfather moved to Chakani near Po. .. From Chakani he came here and built a compound on the side of the hill now known as Kanjag’ Pen. (Kanjag’ rock). Our ancestor got his name, Akana, in this manner. People heard him calling his wives in his language, ‘Akana’, ‘Akana’ (Wife! Wife!). It was a long way over the plains to his compound. And before people reached there they used to be so tired that they were rolling about (gyaga). Hence the name Akangyaga (Kanjaga).”
(John-Parsons p. 38): Atuga was the son of a Nayire [Mamprusi King]. He quarrelled bitterly with his father, and was banished from the Mamprusi state. With some followers Atuga wandered to the west…
He passed through Naga and at last found a good place for a farm [in Bulsaland]… (p. 39) …in time Atuga married the daughter of a man named Abuluk.
One day Atuga decided to name his sons, so he killed a cow and called the boys. When the cow had been skinned and cut up he told each boy to take the piece of the cow he liked best.
Atuga named his four sons according to these chosen pieces of the cow. The eldest chose the shin (karik) and was named Akadem. The second son chose the thigh (wioh) and was named Awiak. The third son chose the chest (sunum) and was named Asandem. The fourth son chose the bladder (sinsanluik) and was named Asinia. After Atuga’s death,”Akadem stayed on his father’s farm and gave it his name [Kadema].” The three others founded the villages of Wiaga, Sandema and Siniensi.
Only a few population groups who lived in the Bulsa area before Atuga are mentioned in Parsons’ text (p. 40): “They are the Gbedemas, the Yiwasis, the Bachonsas and the Wiesis, who together [with the Atugabisa] form the Builsa tribe.”
Hististorian R.Schott in his work “Sources for a History of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana” also narrates that “Whereas Rattray ‘s informants told him that AKANA, the founder of Kanjaga, was a blacksmith and originated from the Kassena in Upper Volta, my informants all said that AKANJAG or his father AKUNJONG came from ‘Mampuruk’, i.e. the country of the Mamprusi in the east.” On how Kanjaga town came by its name Schott posits “It is said that one day Afindem was hunting in the bush on some personal errands when he discovered a man in the hollow baobab tree. This man was asked by Afindem to come out of the hollow tree, but he said that he would not because he did not want his body to be wrinkled. Afindem persuaded him hard and he took him to a place where he, Akanjag, as he was called according to his expression that he did not want his body to wrinkle (Buli: kan = not, jagi = to wrinkle)…[from being exposed to the sunlight], would not wrinkle (Schott, n.d.: 2).
Judging from the two historical accounts, it is imperative for one to come into conclusion that Bulsa people were an amalgamation of Kasena and Mamprusi people hence the unique nature of their language which is neither of Grusi kind nor Mole Dagbani form. However, the history and origin of Bulsa people can be understood from the complex nature of the various founders of their villages.
The traditional Bulsa shelter is a compound of round and rectangular rooms, with courtyards and animal enclosures in between. The rooms are made of a mixture of mud, clay and sand. The roof is either flat, of the same mixture as the walls, or conical made of grass. These rooms last only a few years, and often collapse in heavy rains.
Each compound usually contains men who have a common father or grandfather. There are usually at least three smaller family units in a compound, each made up of about seven to ten people. Some compounds are very large, with over 40 people living there, while others may be very small. Compounds are normally three quarters of a mile apart.
The Bulsa have an open-side grass-roofed shelter outside the compound walls which is used for social activities. It is used as a gathering place for the family as a whole. Certain subsections of the family such as young mothers, children, older women, or men also make use of the shelter throughout the day. This is also the traditional place to receive visitors
Bulsa settlement at Sandema
Their economy is based mostly on Agriculture. All Bulsa are farmers, using farms as the main source of food. The main farming season extends form May through November. During the rest of the year other tasks which support the farmer take place. These include house building, funerals, hunting, and other work.
Most source of income generation is also through rearing of domestic animals and cultivation of ash crops. Other people may work at government jobs or engage in trading of Crafts, shea butter.
Products / Crafts; Two of the most common crafts are hat weaving (men) and pottery (women). Varying degrees of skills are acceptable and both are bought by other Bulsa people in village markets. There is not much income made from these or other local crafts. They merely enable the people making the item to recoup what they have put into it and earn an extra cash.
This sculpture was probably a lid for a (knobbed?) vessel. The janiform figure(s) is wearing arm-daggers on both left forearms.
Other locally made item include carved wooden stools used by the market traders, hoe and ax handles, calabashes made from cleaned and smoothed gourds, quivers made from the skins of small bush animals, and two kinds of baskets. All of these crafts can be made by anyone who has the inclination and the desire for small supplementary (and often temporary) income. There are blacksmiths and there were brass casters in the long-ago past, but both of these activities are more in the line of professions or in these days small-scale industries
Trading Partners: Trade is done through markets the majority are local, but some Bulsa travel as far as
Kumasi to trade for rare items. There are also traders (Bulsa, Kantosi, and from other people groups) who go between major Bulsa markets and Navrongo, the nearest large non-Bulsa town.
Trade partners: Frafras, Kasenas, Dagombas, Ashantis, Kantosis.
Modernization / Utilities There are several farming co-operatives in the area and at least one blacksmith cooperative. Ploughs, tractors and mills are all being used.
Family structure is basically the same as in other groups in northern Ghana. It is patrilineal but weakened by a greater amount of independence for women in the household. Because the bride price is low initially (a few gifts) men marry easily, but it is harder to keep a wife than it is to marry one. If a couple remains together, the husband is required to pay more animals to the wife’s family and organize work parties to help them in the farming season.
Authority in the household is with the presiding elder. A group of related households make up a clan which also has a clan elder. Several clans may be grouped in a section with its elder who sits among the chief’s advisors. The sections make up a village, which has a chief as its authority. The Paramount chief of the Builsa people is the Sandema naab.
There is a tendency then for Builsa women to keep whatever personal wealth they may accrue in their own father’s house. Men live in their own family houses with elders from their father’s generation and “brothers” of their own generation and any sons and their families. Cases are sent upward through the authority structures. A case is expected to start at the lowest applicable authority and pass up only as necessary as far as the village chief. If it is still unresolved it may be reported to the Police and enter the national justice system.
Social Habits/Groupings and Recreation
Visiting, especially between an individual and his mother’s family is a common pastime. Attending the market is another social activity. Within a compound, the open sided, grass-roofed shelter outside the compound walls is a center for social activity. It is a gathering place for the family as a whole or groups with a common interest (young mothers, children, older women, men) at different times of the day. It is also the traditional place to receive visitors. The courtyards of nuclear families within the compounds are reserved for the activities of that small group or for private matters with visitors. Older men gather under trees to enjoy their Pito and play games (oware, cards etc). Some also hold discussions, including politics, sports etc.
Within the house, storytelling is an activity which is enjoyed by the entire family especially the grandparents and the smaller children. Children have a variety of games which they enjoy, but they also like to visit with friends and relatives. Activities which might be regarded as recreational by other societies are not considered as such in the Builsa culture. These include hunting, gardening, pottery making and other crafts, singing and dancing soccer, radio, dancing, drumming etc.
The main Bulsa religious concepts are related to gods of earth (teng) and sky (wen or Naawen), also sacrifice of animals. Everyone believes in a Supreme Being, the creator of life and the moulder of destiny. Since Weni`s power is beyond limitation, he stands alone, and is usually not to be approached by mere mortals. No one seems to have imagined an appearance for him, but he apparently lives in the sky or sometimes is the sky itself or the sun. With no priests to inculcate doctrine there is, of course, much
individuality of thought.
In Wiaga-Zamsa (Bulsa area) people “hid” two terracotta heads under the big stones of an earth shrine. The time of the visit, the earth-priest (in the middle with calabash helmet) offered sacrifices only to the earth-shrine. Circa 1978
The word teng (earth-god) has a wide semantic field, denoting land, but also village, in an abstract sense also the origin and cause of things. Teng is not only a self-explanatory act but also the influential religious power: every violation of the customs of ancestors “spoils the land”.
A man cannot propitiate Weni’ a belief in fatalism alone would lead to such reasoning but one can appease the gods of the earth. These are many, and all have different names. They are invisible and abide in natural phenomena, such as clumps of trees, rocks of remarkable size or appearance, ponds, etc. Generally, however, the clumps of trees are the holy places.
The tindana (priests of earth-god), whose office is hereditary, performs the ceremony, which varies in size. Every year, however, there is a general sacrifice, cows or sheep being slain which are the proceeds of the sale of the baskets and calabashes of grain paid by the people to the tindana as rents for their farms. It would seem that there is no rule fixed as to the amount of rent to be paid. These holy places tangbai. It does not necessarily follow that a tangbai was there in the beginning. For instance, in Sandema there is a clump of trees of quite recent growth. It is said that the trees sprang up suddenly round a man’s compound. One can see the midden to-day.
The tindana has many other duties besides allocating land. He selects and marks out the sites of new
compounds ; arranges for the annual sacrifices ; introduces new Chiefs to the Earth-god ; is the chief peace-
maker when wars break out ; orders the sacrifices when blood is on the ground or vile offences such as incest (i.e., adultery with a female of too close a consanguinity or marriage connection) pollute the soil ; appoints the day when the new crops may be eaten generally by the community at large, since one is always free to cut an ear or two of grain to stave off starvation ; in short, regulates all matters touching his deity.
A wrap cloth for women with scarves and rubber slippers. Men wear smocks or locally purchased trousers, hats and sandals. The preferred colors for locally woven hats and smocks are black and white.
Western style second hand clothing is worn for farm work.
A variety of foods are such as Tuo Zaafi, yam with stew are available. The diet is mainly millet porridge with a variety of sauces including okra and bean leaf. A drink called flour water , bean cakes, fried millet cakes yams, groundnuts, and plantains are also eaten. Generally the diet is more on the side of starches than vegetables and meat.
Tourism and festivals
There are several important tourist sites in Builsa District. One is the place where the wife of Babatu, the notorious slave trader, was abandoned by her husband in the face of a heavy military defeat, and where she finally died. It is called “Akumcham”, meaning the creeping shea tree, metaphorically referring to Babatu’s wife’s agony at the spot, which is just opposite the Farmers Demonstration Centre on the Wiaga road at Sandema. When Babatu fled, he also left some of his soldiers behind who were captured and executed. Their weapons were collected and are preserved till today at the Fiisa Shrine. Fiisa is a small village about 5km from Sandema. The potential of this place is enormous, because even in its current undeveloped state, it was visted by over 200 blacks from the Diaspora in 1998.
The story of Feok is of great historical significance as it affects the destinies of millions of people not only in Ghana but also across the African Continent and in the diaspora. It is on this score that the event cannot be allowed to pass without some reflection. Normally, the festival is celebrated among the Builsa around the third week of December each year, to commemorate the defeat of Zambarima slave raiders led by a man named Babatu by the ancestors of Builsa in the 1880s.
By simple translation, “Feok” in the local Buli dialect, means abundance of food. In this context, then, the festival becomes one of thanks-giving by which the people of the area express thanks to God, their ancestors and the earth shrines for seeing them through another year and a successful farming season.
The climax of the festival is a public gathering bringing together chiefs, war dancers, and singing groups from the villages in the Builsa area. The festival commences with the pouring of libation to invoke the ancestors and shrines of the land for an uneventful and peaceful celebration.
Tourists on their way to Sandema to watch Bulsa feok festival. courtesy http://life.internationalservice.org/
This is followed by speeches by the Paramount Chief and key dignitaries present, interspersed by a variety of musical performances. War dancers representing various villages are given the floor to perform at this stage. Armed with shields, spears, short axes, bows and arrows, they relive battle scenes from yester-year. Scenes of resistance and the ultimate defeat of the marauding warriors of Babatu.
Babatu stands out for his prolonged career in slave raids and his prominent role in the history of slavery in the Northern Territories. Historical sources relate that he originally hailed from Indunga in present day Niger. Recruiting Hausa, Fulani, Mossi and Grunshie fighters, he embarked on a conquering spree. The area stretching from Ouagadougou in the north to the present day Upper East and even parts of the Northern Region of Ghana fell under his sword.
The tide, however, turned against him when he entered Builsaland. He and his warriors suffered a decisive defeat in the hands of the Builsa in the Battle of Fiisa, bringing to an end his two-decade career. (Fiisa is the name of a section of Sandema where the battle was fought).
Babatu fled the Builsa area following this defeat, and later took refuge at Yendi in the Northern Region, where he eventually died. Thus ended the life of the notorious Zabarima slave raider whose name became synonymous with the human trade in the Northern Territories.
Feok has become the most significant event in the Builsa area in recent times, giving the people a true sense of identity and solidarity. This is in direct contrast to what pertained in the early years of the Builsa which were characterised by mistrust, petty rivalry and intra-clan conflicts (a situation that rendered them weak, vulnerable and easy prey for slave raiders).
It has become a rallying point, an occasion that brings the people of Builsa together, providing them with a forum to express their collective view on important issues as embodied in the address often delivered by the Sandem-Nab. “When we meet each year to remind ourselves of the courage and bravery of our ancestors, we are at the same time drawing upon our spiritual and physical strengths to meet modern challenges that have replaced slavery,” declared the aged and venerable Sandem-Nab Ayieta Azantilow at the recent Feok celebration last month. He said, “In place of Babatu and Samori, we have the twin brothers of HIV/AIDS and underdevelopment,” adding that the challenges facing Builsa today are more complex than marauding slave raiders.
The impact of Feok is not confined to natives of Builsa alone. Outsiders too view it as an event that connects them to the past. African-Americans, for example, regard it as an occasion that enables them to come to terms with history and to identify more easily with their African origins.
To the increasing number of them who attend the festival each year, Feok depicts victory over the collaborators of slave merchants. It is in deed a story of emancipation.
From palace sources, a growing number of local scholars and expatriates have been interviewing the Paramount Chief and prominent elders in Sandema about the festival in recent times, which lends credence to the assertion that Feok is rapidly catching the attention of the larger world public. Which brings to mind the tourism aspect of the festival?
Builsaland abounds with important landmarks of the slave trade era. There are the Fiisa Shrine, slave routes, the slave market at Doninga, swords, spears and other artefacts left behind by slave raiders and many other attractions that would fascinate visitors both local and foreign. This side of the festival, however, has not been given the required level of development and publicity even though it is one area that could easily generate revenue for the District Assembly.
Ex-president Rawlings in Sandema feok festival wear with Bulsa people
Facts and Theories on the Origin of the Bulsa
INTRODUCTION: In the main part of this essay, different versions of the myth about Atuga, the first Mamprusi immigrant, and the forefathers of the indigenous population will be rendered, analysed and compared. Which of these versions is authentic or which elements of the stories are true is difficult to decide today. If one version differs very much from all of the others and if these differences justify some privileges of the informant or informing group, some suspicion should be substantiated.
Abbreviations: D.C.: District Commissioner; C.C.N.T.: Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories; R.H.: rest house; NAG.: National Archives of Ghana (Accra)
1. EIGHT VERSIONS OF THE ATUGA MYTH
1.1 Version 1 (v1)
When I started collecting data on the early history of the Bulsa, I asked several educated people of different ages what they knew about Atuga, the legendary founder of one part of the Bulsa population. I was surprised that all the stories told to me by educated people resembled each other, especially as concerns the episode of Atuga naming his four sons. When asked for the origin of their information, nearly all mentioned the small booklet, Legends of Northern Ghana (1958), by D. St. John-Parsons, an educational officer and secondary school teacher. In the 1970s this booklet was available in most school libraries and was even in the possession of some of the teachers and students. St. John-Parsons’ informants for the chapter “Atuga, the Founder of the Builsa” (p. 38-40) were three Bulsa boys, probably his pupils, who, according to R. Schott (1977:146), “could have had only a rudimentary knowledge of the oral tradition.”.
(John-Parsons p. 38): Atuga was the son of a Nayire [Mamprusi King]. He quarrelled bitterly with his father, and was banished from the Mamprusi state. With some followers Atuga wandered to the west…
He passed through Naga and at last found a good place for a farm [in Bulsaland]…
(p. 39) …in time Atuga married the daughter of a man named Abuluk.
One day Atuga decided to name his sons, so he killed a cow and called the boys. When the cow had been skinned and cut up he told each boy to take the piece of the cow he liked best.
Atuga named his four sons according to these chosen pieces of the cow. The eldest chose the shin (karik) and was named Akadem. The second son chose the thigh (wioh) and was named Awiak. The third son chose the chest (sunum) and was named Asandem. The fourth son chose the bladder (sinsanluik) and was named Asinia. After Atuga’s death “Akadem stayed on his father’s farm and gave it his name [Kadema].” The three others founded the villages of Wiaga, Sandema and Siniensi.
Only a few population groups who lived in the Bulsa area before Atuga are mentioned in Parsons’ text (p. 40): “They are the Gbedemas, the Yiwasis, the Bachonsas and the Wiesis, who together [with the Atugabisa] form the Builsa tribe.”
1.2 Version 2 (v2)
Starting in 1966, R. Schott collected data on the history of the Bulsa “in 64 interviews, eight of which were given by the Paramount Chief of the Bulsa and Sandem-naab, Mr. Azantinlow” (1977: 147). During his second stay in 1974/75, he supplemented the traditions he had collected before in 40 more interviews.
The following text of Azantinlow’s account on Atuga was adopted from R. Schott’s publication (1977:149f.) with his compilations:
Long, long ago our forefathers (lit. our fathers’ fathers) went out from Nalerigu [the capital of the Mamprusi kingdom] and came to settle [here]. Formerly all of us [i.e. we, the Bulsa, and the Mamprusi] lived at one place, but then our fathers and their fathers fought with one another.
The reason why we and the Mamprusi fought with one another was that our forefather’s wife became pregnant and they thought that the woman would give birth to a ‘good’ child [with magic powers], and therefore they seized the pregnant woman, killed [her] and tore the child out [of her womb]. This was the reason why we then fought with one another and shot at one another with arrows. They came to think that the woman would give birth to a male being or something that was ‘good.’
The woman was ATUGA’s wife. ATUGA came to be a real (good, generous) man; they [the Mamprusi] then wanted to drive him away, but they did not know how they should do this. They then thought that if they killed the woman, they would come to fight with ATUGA and subsequently drive him away…
At the time when our forefathers [i.e. Atuga and his relatives] and the forefathers of the Mamprusi came to fight with one another [against each other], they [the Mamprusi] surrounded ATUGA and all his followers, held them in their midst and they wanted to capture him. He [Atuga] then mounted a horse and it rose upwards, took him and went to land on the Gambaga scarp. The foot-prints of the horse are impressed at that place up to this very day. He had a spear; its mark is also left at that place up to now. The holes [of these imprints] rest still at that place. These things actually exist; people go there to see [them]… He then stayed on the scarp and assembled all his followers and then went on to the Bulsa country and became a Bulo.
1.3 Version 3 (v3)
In Wiaga-Kom, whose inhabitants claim not to be descendants of Atuga, R. Schott interviewed an old man called Awunchansa from the section of Kom on January 7th, 1967. He complained bitterly about the Atugabisa, whom he considered usurpers. The researcher was given the following story about Atuga:
AWIAGH’s father was ATUGA; ATUGA’s father was ANGURIMA. [In their original homeland among the Mamprusi] there was some misunderstanding and ATUGA and his father were driven away. ATUGA’s father had wronged his father. ATUGA’s father was driven away and he came here, but he [F.K.: Atuga?] had no child. He came here and married a daughter of the people already living here and had his children (sons). The people ATUGA met were the Kom (Komdem). They were Bulsa… (Schott 1977:157)
1.4 Version 4 (v4)
Olivier/Ollivant [see “Note”], assistant District Commissioner (DC) of Navrongo in the early 1930s, was most interested in local history and on nearly every visit to a Bulsa village, he asked questions about their original myths and migratory myths (Cf. also NAG: ADM Series, Diaries). He was told the following story about the Mamprusi immigrants (informants and places of inquiry are not mentioned by the author):
A man of the Na Mamprussi’s family, ATUGA by name, quarrelled with his brothers, one of whom took his wife from him by force. On appealing to the others he got no support and, enraged, he left the place. He wandered through the Tong Hills and became acquainted with the fetish there. He made a sacrifice asking the fetish to find him a good home [and] to give him a large family. From there he went to a place (now non-existent) situated between the villages now called Sandema and Wiaga. He met there a man called AWULONG who spoke a language called BULI… These two became friends but Atuga, being a Mamprussi, was not a dog-eater. Awulong was, and he asked Atuga to join in eating a dog to celebrate his arrival. Atuga agreed and swore an oath to this effect:
“Now [that] I have eaten a dog I am no longer a Mamprussi and none of my descendants shall ever set foot in Mamprussi country again on pain of death.”
This story has been handed down to the present day and no descendant of Atuga has ever been into Mamprussi unless ordered to by the British to [attend] a conference at Nalerigu or for some other reason. The incident at the Tong fetish has been kept up however, and representatives of the fetish priests come every year to collect the sacrificial cow, etc. from Sandema.
To continue the story: Atuga married a daughter of Awulong and had four sons: ASAM, KADEM, and WIAG and SENIEH. He then went and settled at what is now Kadema, leaving ASAM behind at SANDEMA, taking KADEM with him and leaving WIAG at what is now called WIAGA. Atuga died at KADEMA and KADEM remained there and formed the place. SENIEH went to what is now SENIESSI and ASAM to SANDEMA (Ollivant 1933:2).
Note: The author of the typescript of 1933 appears in the spelling “Ollivant”. In the files of the NAG (National Archives of Ghana, Accra) I could read clearly his signature as “Olivier”. As in both sources the author mentions his experience in Kunkwa on August 17th, 1932, Ollivant and Olivier must be the same person. Nevertheless, inthe following text I will use “Ollivant” when quoting from the typescript, “Olivier” when from NAG. – Cf. also C. Lentz 1998: 307: Lawra-Tumu District Commissioner Olivier…(1931).
1.5 Version 5 (v5)
When Olivier (DC) was in Kunkwa on August 17th, 1932, he happened to meet Pitadina, the Ex-Chief of Passankwia [Kpasinkpe] who gave him information about early migrants from Mamprusiland:
(NAG, Diaries, 17/8/1932, p. 225). To Kunkwa… Talked about their history, etc., and was just getting down to their relations with Passankwia when Pitadina, the ex-chief of Passankwia, appeared on the scene, having come over for the Kunkwa market. His information proved very interesting and [he] told me a long story of their ancestors, mentioning Na Atabia as the father of the man who came here from Mamprussi. This was the 1st time the name of a Na has been mentioned in my investigation…
However I considered myself lucky to knock up against the very man who had made claims to nearly all [of] Builsa Country in 1919, and who was destooled, owing to Captain Armitage (then CCNT [Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories]) finding that his claims were groundless.
In his typescript (1933:3) Ollivant gives more details about the early Bulsa settlers and their relation to the Mamprusi of Kpasinkpe:
When Na Atabia was Chief of Nalerigu, he had a son called Wurungwe. This man was banished from Nalerigu for mis-conduct and came and settled at what is now Kadem in the Builsa division of the Navrongo district. He had three sons, Atuga, Atado and Uaraga. Atuga’s sons SANDEMA, WIAG, KADEM and SENIEN formed the villages now called after their names. ATADO formed KUNKWA, and UARAGA formed UASSI.
After Wurungwe had been at Kadema a number of years, his wives went to the river near Passankwia for water. They told Wurungwe to come and stay as there were good fish to be caught from the river. This he did and settled at Passankwia, bearing a son Na Kopuse who became Chief of Passankwia.
There is some truth in this story but I am sure that Wurungwe (if such a man existed) cannot have come to Kadema as there is no recollection of his name in any village in the Builsa division. Even the old men at Kunkwa who heard the story told to me, say that Wurungwe is a fetish at Nalerigu and is no ancestor of theirs – not even the name of a man.
I think the true story is that Atuga, Atado, Uaraga, three brothers, sons of some unknown Mamprussi, possibly Wurungwe, settled at the places already mentioned. Atado then moved from Kunkwa to Passankwia and his sons carried on both places…
…the family tree would run as follows:
The first three of Wurungwe’s sons being born at Kadema and the fourth at Passankwia.
Asavie, mentioned above as Atado’s son, appears also in the founding history as told to me in 2011 by Richard, the Regent of Kunkwa. According to him, Asavie, the first leader though not chief of the Kunkwa people, travelled from Nalerigu. He was accompanied by a Mamprusiman from Wulugu, who settled in Kpasinkpe and became chief of that village.
1.6 Version 6 (v6)
After finishing the raw form of this paper, I was sent a typescript of nine pages titled “Sandema Skin and Divisional Skin” (quoted “Sandema Skin”), the product of a group of authors of the Bulsa Traditional Council. Most of the text, written during the lifetime of Chief Azantinlow, concerns the political structure of the traditional state. On the first page, a historical account describes origin myths of some Bulsa villages. The sources of this account are not mentioned, but I surmise that data were not only acquired in interviews but also by making use of publications (perhaps Parsons and Schott 1977).
Atuga, the founder of the Builsa nation, left Nalerigu, the capital of the Mamprusi Kingdom, after a quarrel with its chief and wandered to the Builsa country. The migration was motivated by the murder of Atuga’s wife. The Prince who was called Atuga first settled at a place between Wiaga and Sandema where he met the Builsas. He intermarried [with] them and had many issues [descendants]. There were frequent misunderstandings between the children. One of them, Asam, left and settled among some Builsas at Sandema. Akaasa, the eldest son, left for Kadema where he met some Builsa settlers too. Asinie also left and settled at Siniensi where he met some Builsa settlers, and Awiak settled at Wiaga.
1.7 Version 7 (v7)
In the early 1970s, Robert Asekabta from the Sandemnaab’s family, then a teacher at Afoko Middle School (Sandema), handed me the typescript of his drama called “Atuga, the Founder of the Builsa.” Pieces of art are usually allowed a wide range of license and are generally not suited for historical analysis. Nevertheless, I am trying to compare some basic historical facts, as they become evident in the drama, with the other versions of Atuga’s migration and settlement in the Bulsa area. A kind of historical introduction especially suggests R. Asekabta’s knowledge and interpretation of the Atuga myth.
…We believe very much that our great ancestor Atuga was a son of the Nayire Paramount Chief of the Mamprussis. There was a clash between father and son and the son became a banded outlaw who was not to be seen in Nalerigu, the Paramount seat of the Mamprussis. This became the beginning of a big tribe. Atuga then left Nalerigu with his wife to [for] an unknown destination. This later was called Akadem after Atuga’s first son. They had four boys and these chaps grew up to be the offspring of four villages. Before then there were already in Southern Builsa, people who are the real Builsas. There was inter-marriage between Atuga’s sons and these inheritants [inheritors? indigenous people?]. The four villages are presently called Sandem, Wiaga, Siniensi and Kadema…
1.8 Version 8 (v8)
In A.W. Cardinall’s book on “The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast” we find a story about the origin of “Sandema, Siniessi, Kadima and Wiaga” (1920: 19) without any mention of Atuga:
A certain son of a Na of Mamprusi, one Wurume, committed adultery with one of his father’s wives. He was banished and came with a few followers to a place called Kassidema in Builsa country. There is no such place to-day, but the site of the former compounds is pointed out. He then set himself up to rule the people… To carry out his intentions appointed his sons to rule over Sandema, Siniessi, Kadima, and Wiaga. He himself grew tired of Kassidema, and after moving to Kunkwa, where he left a son to rule, re-crossed the Volta and settled in Passankwaire…
2. ANALYSIS AND COMPARISON OF THE SEVEN VERSIONS
2.1 Atuga and the Mamprusi dynasty
Most versions agree that Atuga was the son or grandson of a Mamprusi king or at least a member of the royal family. Only in Sandemnaab Azantinlow’s version, the Bulsa as a whole group lived in Nalerigu and had a conflict with the Mamprusi (though not necessarily with the royal family). This version might have played a role in the early years of Azantinlow’s reign when the British regarded the Bulsa as descendants of the Mamprusi and should therefore be subjects of the Nayire (Mamprusi king).
If Atuga was related to the Mamprusi dynasty, it would be worthwhile searching for the name of his royal father and, respectively, grandfather. According to R. Schott (1977: 56) as well as my own research in Sandema-Kalijiisa, Atuga’s father was Akam, and Akam’s father Banyare, but both names cannot be found in the family of the Mamprusi kings and do not appear in one of the seven versions examined here.
The only name of a Mamprusi king that appears in one version about Atuga’s migration is Na Atabia. According to version 5, written by Ollivant (p. 3), Atabia was the father of Wurungwe, Atuga’s father, and both Wurungwe and Atuga left the Mamprusi kingdom in search of new land.
The name Wurungwe appears also in version 8 (Wurume), but none of my Bulsa informants mentioned it. Ollivant doubts if Wurungwe had ever come to Kadema, as his name seems to be unknown there as well as in Kunkwa, and the author is not sure whether somebody of this name has ever lived. The argument that Wurungwe is a fetish in Nalerigu does not refute his being a man, too, since children are often named after a shrine (Ollivant: fetish). Wurungwe plays a great structural role in establishing a tie of the Kadema people to Kpasinkpe, which he approaches quite accidentally when fishing in a river. Perhaps Wurungwe married another wife in Kpasingkpe, for his son Kopuse (ibd.) became chief of that town. This means that a brother of Atuga’s became head of Kpasinkpe and this fact holds true for the historical connections, claims and conflicts between Kpasinkpe and Bulsa villages and chiefs.
Proof in favour of the conjecture that Wurumu had been a living man who was not quite unknown to informants of the 20th century is the note of S.D. Nash (27.5.1919) in the NAG (Accra, Adm 63/5/1,) stating that Wurume was the ancestor of Atuga’s four sons. This information I found on a loose fragment of a page where the name of Atuga is not mentioned:
Wia, Sandema, Senissi and Kalarsi [Kadema?] – This was long previous to the raids of Babatu. The present Chiefs of these villages are descendants …. of the grandson[s?] of WURUME…
Ollivant’s version resembles that of Cardinall (v8) in that it is Wurume (Wurungwe) and not Atuga who had a conflict with this royal father. Ollivant collected his data by field research in Kunkwa and does not mention Cardinall’s book. Cardinall could not copy from Ollivant, who conducted his field research in the 1930s, because his book appeared before in 1920.
Awunchansa, Schott’s informant in Wiaga-Kom (v3), mentions Atuga’s father, whose name was Angurima, and Angurima and Atuga, in his version, were both driven away by the king of Nalerigu to settle in the Bulsa area. Atuga had no children before he married an indigenous Bulsa woman.
2.2 Reasons for Atuga’s exodus
In most versions (v1, v3, v4, v5, v7, v8) the reason for the emigration of a group around Atuga lies in conflicts within the royal family.
It is either Atuga himself or his father who has a quarrel with the Mamprusi king. In versions 2 and 4 there is a conflict over a woman, either between brothers (v4) or between people of different ethnic groups. A quarrel over a married woman is more likely to happen if the two conflicting groups are not related, as it is supposed in version 2, for brothers would regard their brother’s wife as “their” wife who strengthens their family by giving birth to more clan-members.
In version 8 Wurume committed adultery with his father’s wife, a deed which is regarded as the most heinous crime modern Bulsa can imagine. This might be the reason that this incident is not mentioned in any version collected among the Bulsa.
The motif of a pregnant woman whose belly is cut open in order to remove the embryo is, however, so wide-spread in West Africa that we may surmise a subsequent interpolation into the Atuga-story. R. Schott (1990) described and analysed 24 versions of this motif, eight of which he had collected in the Bulsa area (Sandema, Wiaga-Kom, Wiaga-Chiok, Kadema, Kanjaga and Fumbisi).
It is not surprising that the informants from Kom and Kpasingkpe (i.e. from Non-Atugabisa) put the blame for the conflict on Atuga’s father, a man who had “wronged his father” (the Mamprusi king) and been “banished for mis-conduct,” while others blame Atuga’s brothers or make the envy of a Mamprusi group the cause of the conflict and its ensuing fights (v2).
In contrast to the versions 1, 3, 4, 5 and 8, where the conflict takes place within the royal family as an inter- or intra-generational conflict, in Azantinlow’s version it has an inter-tribal character. In the first group, Atuga and his father are of royal blood, which may strengthen their authority among the indigenous Bulsa population, but this also means that their descent creates a certain dependency on the Mamprusi kings, who then might be regarded as the “fathers” of the Bulsa chiefs. Because of the last argument, such versions will find the agreement of Mamprusi chiefs, especially so if they, like the Kpasinkpe chief, had tried to derive a certain overlordship and the right to install Bulsa chiefs from these genealogical ties. These versions, in which the Atugabisa – in contrast to the indigenous population – are somehow dependent on the Mamprusi kings, will also be agreed to by members of the indigenous population, especially if, like Kom, they bear a certain grudge against the Atugabisa.
Chiefs of the Atugabisa, however, and of those Bulsa villages which would not like to live under the overlordship of Mamprusi chiefs, emphasize the non-kinship of Atuga with the Mamprusi.
Myths about the emigration of Mamprusi princes, escaping the overlordship of a king or chief after a quarrel in order to settle in an area far away, have been handed down in the oral traditions of several other villages of this part of Northern Ghana. These villages include Tongo (Tallensi, cf. Fortes 1945 and 1949; and chapter 3 of this paper) and, according to Perrault (1954:61), the villages of Datoko and Tenzugu. According to Lentz (2003:143) the theory that descendants of ruling families emigrated from their home kingdoms, mostly because of conflicts over the succession, is widespread in West African historiography and in many oral traditions.
We also find examples of whole ethnic groups leaving the neighbourhood of their hosting king. In the history of the Koma (Kröger and Baluri 2010: 72-91), a neighbouring group of the Bulsa, Koma clans who had lived near Nalerigu or Gambaga to avoid Babatu’s slave raids, left their hosts to settle in the present Komaland as one tribe.
2.3 Sojourns during the Emigration
The route of Atuga’s migration is not irrelevant because mentioning the name of a town or village may mean that the group stayed there for some time, that alliances, friendship and intermarriage or religious connections were established, or that the reason for leaving that village was another conflict.
As intermediate stations, the following places are mentioned: Naga (v1), Gambaga (v2) and Tongo (v4). The phenomenon of the holes in the Gambaga rock may have been the starting point of finding an explanation for them in history and were thus connected with Atuga’s emigration. In fact, man-made holes in granite rocks, big and small, round and oval shaped, can be found in the whole of Bulsaland and certainly in other parts of Northern Ghana.
The custom of Sandema giving a cow to the Tallensi every year was certainly the consequence of a promise made to the big Tallensi shrine (Tongnaab) and of this promise being fulfilled by the spirits of the shrine. It was not quite out of place to connect this vow with Atuga. It is, however, extraordinary that only Sandema has to give a cow to the Tallensi group that visits the Bulsa area every year. The consequences of fulfilled vows are usually taken over by the eldest son – here it would have been Akadem – or by all sons.
2.4 Farming activities
In none of the seven versions did Atuga’s migratory group invade the Bulsa area as conquerors who, by means of their weapons, brought the indigenous population into a kind of dependency. On the contrary, if they were given a piece of land for agriculture by an indigenous land-owner, they even started a certain kind of dependency. It is, however, more probable that they could take hold of unclaimed pieces of bush land and cultivate them. But even in this case, they would have been obliged to sacrifice to the relevant tanggbain (earth-shrine) and recognize the teng-nyono (priest of the earth), in whose ritual area they had settled as one of their ritual leaders.
Given that Atuga’s farming activities are only mentioned in version 1 and indirectly in version 7 (“scarcity of land”, “agriculture is encouraging”), we may surmise that it was a matter of course for the authors or narrators of the other versions.
Today we find Atuga’s descendants as chiefs in all four villages where Atuga’s sons had settled (Kadema, Sandema, Wiaga, Siniensi), although descendants of the indigenous sections form part of that village. We have no knowledge of when and how they took possession (or created?) the chief’s office. One reason for the peaceful occupation of land can perhaps be found in the following chapter (2.5).
2.5 Intermarriage with indigenous people
Although there might have been women in Atuga’s group, the majority of the group probably consisted of men. Moreover, the unmarried women of the group were certainly relatives and as such were not considered as potential marriage partners. Marrying indigenous people had important consequences: marriage alliances between the two lineages made for a peaceful co-existence. Furthermore, in later centuries there have never been any marriage-prohibitions between the two groups, which means that nowadays probably all Bulsa are descendants of Atuga as well as of the indigenous population. If today some Bulsa feel to be Atugabisa, this refers only to their patrilineal descent.
As regards language, the very small group of immigrants had no chance to force their Mampruli language on the local population, and they probably adopted the local language very quickly.
2.6 Naming his sons
The episode about naming the four sons has a very aetiological character, i.e. a given fact (the names of the four villages) is the starting point for constructing a suitable story that explains how the villages got their names. After this the present facts function as a proof of the authenticity of the story.
In R. Asekabta’s drama (III,1), Atuga’s family is aware of performing the name-giving ceremony, which is different from Mamprusi customs:
ATUGA [to his wife AKPALING]. My dear wife, before long I would say that there should be a great feast whereby our sons could be named.
AKPALING: That should be the case. Back in Nalerigu we would be going against custom if we do this but here we can change the custom to suit us.
The distribution of the parts of the animal does, however, not fit well into Bulsa customs of distributing the meat of a slaughtered animal, be it for a sacrifice or a secular meal.
Today the eldest son often has a claim to one hind leg. The bladder of an animal is not regarded as something very valuable. Before the inundation of Bulsa households with plastic and rubber commodities from Asia, the bladder was often given to small children, who, after blowing it up, used it as a ball. My Bulsa friends and I do not know a Buli word wioh with the meaning ‘thigh’. Perhaps it should be wiok/yuok, meaning ‘hip’.
Also the linguistic derivations of the names from the parts of the animal’s body seem to be doubtful in some cases. The alteration of u – a (sunsum > Sandema) is, to my knowledge, quite uncommon in Buli phonology. Naming children is usually done a few months or years after birth in the segrika ritual. In our story the four sons seem to be of an advanced age.
2.7 Settlements of Atuga’s family
The first place where Atuga settled in the Bulsa area is controversial.
Versions 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 mention such a settlement, namely in Kadema (v1, v2, v7) or “at a place between Wiaga and Sandema” (v4, v6). Although Azantinlow, the former Sandemnaab, does not mention a place name in Schott’s published account, he is a fervent adherent of the thesis that the first settlement was at Atuga-pusik (personal information), which is today an abandoned settlement near the Sandema Boarding School, i.e. between Wiaga and Sandema.
Cardinall mentions Kassidema as the place of Awurume’s first settlement. “There is no such place to-day, but the site of the former compounds is pointed out” (p. 19). If the abandoned settlement was situated near Kadema, Kassidema might just be another name for Kadema, although Cardinall also uses the name “Kadima”. On the other hand, I never heard Atuga Pusik referred to as “Kassidema”.
At first glance the Kadema hypothesis seems to be more probable, for even today Atuga’s wen-bogluk (shrine), a huge mud-construction near the Wiaga-Kadema road which still receives sacrifices, seems to prove it. But Azantinlow told me that Atuga lived at Atuga-pusik until his death, which was before all four of his sons founded their own compounds at different places. Akadem, as the eldest son, took his father’s wen-stone and built his ancestor shrine in front of his new compound in Kadema.
The existence of Atuga’s grave seems to be a more convincing argument for finding at least the place where Atuga died. But R. Schott (1977: 162) relates:
This [Atuga’s grave], however, was shown to me at two different spots, viz. one near Atuga-pusik, and another one near Kaadema…
That Atuga’s sons settled in Siniensi, Wiaga, Sandema and Kadema is proven by local traditions and the genealogical charts of these villages. Nowadays, when kinship groups leave a compound, they usually settle in the vicinity of their old residence if serious conflicts do not precede their exodus. In versions 1-5 and 7, we do not hear anything about conflicts among Atuga’s sons, but the distances between their first place of settlement and their new ones makes us surmise that they were looking for a distinct spatial separation. My hypothesis of conflicts between Atuga’s sons is confirmed in version 6, when the author writes about “frequent misunderstandings between the [Atuga’s] children.”
Lack of land in the neighbourhood is no convincing explanation because, at that time, land was not scarce. It is, however, possible, that each of the sons was striving for a kind of chieftaincy or at least a kind of leadership over the indigenous population without too much contact with their brothers.
2.8 The indigenous population
It is a matter of fact that Atuga did not come into an uninhabited country, but that there were settlements of an indigenous population all over the area of the present district. When Parsons mentions only the villages of Gbedema, Yiwasi, Bachonsa and Wiesi, this list is certainly not complete. In each of the four villages of the Atugabisa there are lineages which claim to have been in this region before Atuga.
In most of the myths quoted above, the reader gets the impression that these four villages were founded by Atuga’s children. In version 6 it is, however, explicitly mentioned that in Sandema, Kadema and Siniensi, the Atugabisa met “Builsa settlers” when arriving at these villages.
In Asekabta’s drama the indigenous people are called “Southern Builsa,” which is not quite correct because parts of this population are living in nearly all Bulsa villages.
2.9 The chronological integration of Atuga into Mamprusi history
Seen from a chronological point of view, Na Atabia, who, according to Perrault (1954:47), reigned from approximately 1760 to 1775, might well be Atuga’s father or grandfather and, as such, would be the link between the Atugabisa and the royal Mamprusi dynasty. Atabia, the son of the fifth Mamprusi king Nawaali, was the king who left the old residence of Gambaga to settle at Nalerigu, which became the new capital.
If Perrault’s statement of Atuga being the grandson of Na Atabia is perhaps doubted, another chronological clue is provided by the fact that all versions indicate that Atuga and/or his father came from Nalerigu not Gambaga. Thus the founding of the new Mamprusi capital (around 1760?) provides another terminus post quem of Atuga’s emigration.
During Atabia’s reign other royal family members left their father to found new chiefdoms and settlements. According to Perrault (1954: 63), Ali, the founder of Bawku, was Atabia’s son, which means that he was Atuga’s brother or uncle (father’s brother).
The attempt to set Atuga’s migration into the period of early colonialism, when the first whites tried to gain influence in present Northern Ghana, has been refuted in 2.2.
3. ATUGA AND MOSUOR: A CLEAVAGE IN THE SOCIETY?
The most precise and detailed description and analysis of a migration story are provided by M. Fortes in several of his publications on the Tallensi. Even at first glance these texts show a striking similarity with the Atuga myth. Also Mosuor, a member of the royal Mamprusi family, had to flee from his home country after a conflict and he settled in Tongo (Tallensiland). After his death three of his sons founded new villages or joined the inhabitants of older settlements (Yamelog, Sie and Biuk).
Nevertheless, compared with Atuga’s migration, there is an essential difference with regard to the consequences of this migration, especially within the socio-political structure of the present Tallensi society. Fortes describes the relations between the Namoos, the descendants of Mosuor, and the Talis, the original population, as follows:
(1949: 2) …the Tallensi are internally divided by a major cleavage into two clusters of clans, the Namoo clans on the one hand, and the Talis clans and their congeners on the other. These two groups are distinguished by differences in their myths of origin, their totemic and quasi-totemic usages and beliefs, the politico-ritual privileges and duties connected with the earth cult and the ancestor cult, and to some extent by the their local distribution.
(ibd.: 3) These two groups, we learnt, never combined for defence against or attack on neighbouring ‘tribes’. Indeed, they were the traditional enemies of one another and war sometimes broke out between Namoos and Talis in the Tongo area… The office of chiefship (na’am) is considered to be characteristic of the Namoos, the tendaana-ship of the Talis and their congeners, but neither office is the exclusive prerogative of either group.
The Bulsa are certainly not “internally divided by a major cleavage” into the clans of the Atugabisa and the Non-Atugabisa. Although “the two groups are distinguished by differences in their myths of origin,” the religious beliefs and rituals are approximately the same in the whole Bulsa society if we make allowances for smaller differences as they may exist between different villages and clans and even between two families of the same lineage. But there are probably no essential beliefs and rituals that distinguish the Atugabisa as a whole from the other groups.
It is true that in Sandema, Wiaga, Kadema and Siniensi the chiefs claim a direct descent from Atuga, but, to my knowledge, an Atugabiik (Sing.) does not reign over the population of any completely indigenous village.
There are teng-nyam (earth-priests) from the indigenous layer of population with the ritual area of their earth-shrine being inhabited by Atugabisa and Non-Atugabisa, but I know at least one case with the reverse distribution of roles, i.e. the teng-nyono (Sing.) is an Atugabiik and some of the people are indigenous (cf. also 4.2).
In pre-colonial times it happened relatively often that inter-clan conflicts arose which developed into a feud with fierce battles. One of the conflicting parties might belong to the Atugabisa and the other to the autochthonous population, but it was probably just as often that both belonged to only one of the two groups.
After the arrival of the Atugabisa, the number of conflicts between these and small groups of the autochthonous population might have been higher than in later periods when numerous marriage alliances and new kinship ties prevented severe conflicts. R. Schott (1977:160) was told that “the original Bulsa were partly driven out of their homeland by the onslaught of various incoming groups.” Wars of the Atugabisa as a whole against other Bulsa groups did not take place.
Although Fortes writes that the two Tallensi clusters (Namoos and Talis) “never combined for defence or attack on neighbouring ‘tribes’,” warriors of many Bulsa villages belonging to different clusters fought against the Zabarima and their leader Babatu in the battle of Sandema.
Negating a “major cleavage” within the Bulsa society does not mean that the consciousness of genealogical and historical descent has completely vanished among the living people, but it has not determined their in-group feeling as much as that of the family, lineage/clan, village and tribe.
This consciousness may, however, come to the surface when there are interactions and competitions among Bulsa of different villages. Before the Bulsa District consisted of two constituencies, there were discussions in the political parties about whether their top candidate should be Northern or Southern Bulsa. When, after the election of 1979, a man from Siniensi became MP of the Bulsa constituency, a young Southern Bulsa told me that it would be just for the next MP to be a Southern Bulsa.
Bulsa men and women living and working in bigger towns outside the Bulsa District are generally organized into associations. In Bolgatanga there existed two of these Bulsa groups in the 1970s: one recruited by Southern and the other by Northern Bulsa. Both had their own meetings and festivals, and there was even a certain rivalry between the two. If, however, the interests of all Bulsa in Bolgatanga had to be defended against Non-Bulsa, they co-operated harmoniously.
The division of the Bulsa District into the Bulsa North and Bulsa South constituencies was not a result of pressure or lobbying through the Atugabisa or the others. Rather, the cause of this division was just the political idea that all constituencies should have approximately the same number of voters. When in 2012 the Bulsa District, the then-largest district of the U.E.R., was divided into a Bulsa North and Bulsa South District, this was the decision of the central government in Accra, and I did not hear anything about strong pressure from the Atugabisa or the Southern Bulsa. After the creation of the two districts, there was no exultation among the intellectual Bulsa; some feared that the political unity of the Bulsa was endangered while others were quite sceptical about whether this division would really bring more technical and economic development to the whole Bulsa area.
4. ORIGINAL MYTHS AND HISTORY OF NON-ATUGABISA
It would be too simple to classify all of the Bulsa into two groups consisting of Atuga’s descendants and the indigenous population. The histories of the Bulsa villages which are not direct descendants of Atuga can be classified into three groups: In the stories of informants from Sandema especially, the founders of several of these villages are somehow associated with Atuga; they are either relatives or just companions who came together with Atuga from Nalerigu. Other versions stress an independent emigration from other places, e.g. from the Kasena, Frafra or Tallensi. Lastly, some other groups claim to be indigenous, which is often expressed through the image that their forefather came from heaven.
An exact description of the history of other Bulsa villages surpasses the purpose of this essay and can be studied in R. Schott’s paper “Sources of a History of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana” (1977).
According to Azantinlow (Schott 1977:157) and also to the author of “Sandema Skin”, Bachonsa’s founder, ABACHONG, was ASINIE’s son, while other authors (e.g. Parsons in version 1) regard the people of Bachonsa as Non-Atugabisa.
Olivier (NAG, Diaries 19/7/1932) was not very successful in collecting data about Bachonsa’s history: “I was unable to get much news from these people [Bachonsa] but they originally came from Wiaga.”
4.2 Biuk (Biu, Biung)
The original history of Biuk has been described by Fr. Isaac Akapata (2009: 34-35). There seems to be no doubt that the first inhabitants of this place did not come from Mamprusiland. Avobika, the founding ancestor (see 4.7), is said to have lived in a cave north of the present village. The thick forest around his original settlement is still the “realm of the dead” to the Biuk people, i.e. after death their souls wander to this forest called Akugimoniga (west of the Abelnaba river). Avobika’s name, given to him by a man from the neighbouring village of Gani, means “popped up like a mushroom” (Akapata 2009: 34).
While in the original myths of other villages the autochthonous character of the first settlers is expressed by their imaginary descent from heaven, in Biuk their origin is associated with the earth (living in a cave; “popped out of the ground”).
Furthermore, according to Cardinall (1920:13) the ancestors of other places called Biung (e.g. in Tallensiland) lived in caverns:
But it is interesting to note that the sections named Biung (a word of forgotten meaning) nearly always lay claim to the fact that they themselves were from the earth and that their ancestors dwelt in holes in the ground.
Schott (1977: 161) and Olivier agree that the people of Chuchuliga originate from Kasena places, but while Schott mentions Chebele (Tiebele) as “the original place from where a man called ACHULOA came and settled in Chuchuliga,” Olivier (NAG, Diaries 1932) states that some people of Chuchuliga originated from Chiana and some from Tongo.
In “Sandema Skin” we read about two immigration events:
(1) Abendaa of Bilinsa in Sandema crossed Aninzim [River] into Chuchuliga. There he had several outstanding sons, among them Atie, who founded Tiedema.
(2) …some immigrants… from Melle in the Upper Volta, among them Achuloa. Achuloa intermarried with them and with time became the ruler of Chuchuliga…
Although the author mentions the immigrants from Sandema first, it is strange that the village received its name from the second group coming from the north.
In 1911 Ataa Akankoba, Chief of Biuk, told me that Achuloa was Avobika’s sister’s son, which means that this sister was one of the Achuloa’s father’s wives. Avobika is still venerated in a big shrine in front of the Biuk chief’s compound.
Also the genealogical ties of Doninga’s founder with Atuga are regarded controversially.
When R. Schott (1977:151-52) visited this village, he was told the following story about its origin by Mr. Anaru from the Dorinsa section:
ADONING was a hunter. He probably came through the land of the Frafra (to the Northeast of Bulsa country). At first he settled in Kandiga, c. 10 miles east of Navrongo). The Kandiga people speak Nankani, but originally they were Bulsa. He left that place on a hunting trip, riding on a wild bush cow. When ADONING reached the present site of Doninga, he met some people there who were Sisala, and these Sisala were performing sacrifices to a boghluk (a shrine, in this case a tang-gbain). ADONING stood by and heard them say a word which is “sila” which in the language of the Sisala means “get up and get it”. Then ADONING shot the one who performed the sacrifice and killed him. As soon as the Sisala had realized this they ran away. Then ADONING returned to Kandiga and told his children whom he had begotten there, that they should pack up their things and follow him to a beautiful land (teng nalung) he had discovered. – In other versions of this story I [R.S.] gathered in Doninga, the founder was said to have come from Wiaga or from Kaadema. The motif of the roaming hunter, finding good farm land, is, of course, widespread in West Africa (cf. Cardinall 1931: 97, 232).
In Azantinlow’s account (Schott 1977: 155) as quoted above (4.2), Adognina (Adoning) is Akaasa’s (Akam’s), Awiag’s, Asam’s, and Asinie’s full brother. Like these he left his family and “built [his house] at Doninga” (ibd.).
This version is partly in agreement with a passage of Olivier’s account on the early history of Gbedema (see below, 4.6), according to which the original people of Gbedem “first settled at Doninga where they found the Mamprussi family from Kadema.”
According to version 6, Adognina was the second son of Awiag and, as such, a brother of Ayuerik, the founder of Wiesi.
As quoted below (Gbedema 4.5, Schott, p. 161), at a later period descendants of Tallensi moved from Gbedema to Doninga.
In the NAG (Accra) I (F.K.) found only a short note on the origin of Doninga.
25/10/1932: The Doninga people originate from Nalerigu and Wiaga … They have had no dealings with Mamprusi and had no chiefs before the Whiteman came.
If they really originated from Nalerigu, the capital of the Mamprusi, the assertion that they had no dealings with Mamprusi sounds a little confusing.
According to most versions R. Schott collected about the origin of Fumbisi, the founder’s name was Afim/Afin, Afimbiik or Afindem, his father’s name was Akanyanga. I (F.K.) prefer the name Afim because Afimbiik sounds like a singular derivation from Fimbisa. If the person was called Afimbiik, his descendants should be called Afimbiikbisa, which is not very convincing. Afindem sounds like a plural, ‘the people of Afim’ (Sing. of dema is denoa).
In at least three versions, Afim with some followers left Gambaga because of quarrels. The cause of these quarrels might give us some clue about Afim’s original status.
In one version when disputes arose over guinea fowl eggs, this may mean that Afim came from an ordinary farmer’s compound, for royal princes would not quarrel about eggs. This story would go together with a tradition that Afim was a hunter. “As he was hunting, he came and saw this land [here] and it was good, he settled here” (Schott, no date, p. 3). A nobleman or son of a king would not leave his residence only because of a patch of good farmland.
Another cause for leaving Gambaga adopts the common motif of the pregnant woman, whose belly is cut open, in this case to see the sex of the unborn child (cf. also a similar motif in Atuga’s story, p. 2 -1.2. and in R. Schott’s publication of 1990). The ensuing quarrel forces Afim to leave Gambaga.
Other informants claim that Afim and his relatives “quarrelled because of chieftainship” (Schott, n.d.: 3). This cause seems to be the most convincing one to me. The fact that Afim brought sampana-talking-drums from Gambaga to Fumbisi speaks in favour of this version, since only chiefs, and usually important chiefs or kings, are allowed to possess this type of drums. If the Gambaga chief was the Nayire (Mamprusi King), this would mean that Afim left Mamprusiland before Atuga, who emigrated after Nalerigu had been founded and had become the royal residence.
There are again different versions about Afim’s travelling routes from Gambaga (ibd. p. 2), e.g. by way of Bolin, Nyandem (near Kanjaga) and Kanyanga. Schott (ibd. p. 3) writes about the last place:
According to one informant, Afimbiik and his followers “first settled in Kaadema at a place called Kanyanga. They settled near a pond. When they saw that the water was not good for drinking, they left that place.
It is surprising that Afim’s father’s name was Akanyanga (ibd., p.1). If Afim’s father came from Gambaga together with his son, he should have been named there as a child and not, as an adult, after a place which the family, according to the above quotation, had to leave (soon) because of the bad quality of its water.
Akanko, the chief of Fumbisi, told Schott that their forefathers settled at a river called Kanyangsa (Plural of Kanyanga?), which was situated near Wiaga-Kom. (Another informant said that it was between Wiaga/Kadema and Kologu). Today the descendants of the first settlers of Kanyanga believe that after death their souls go from Fumbisi to that place (ibd., p. 9). This phenomenon, like Afim’s father’s name, makes us surmise that Kanyanga settlement was not only a short temporary stay but a real place of origin or at least that the family had stayed there for a longer time. In all likelihood the Kanyanga version had been combined with the Gambaga migration in later times.
Schott’s informants unanimously declared Awuuba “to be the most senior of Afimbiik’s sons” (ibd., p. 4). Awuuba’s shrine is venerated by several of Fumbisi’s sections and he is regarded as the founding ancestor of Fumbisi Yerinsa, a section from which chiefs are still elected today.
In contrast to the versions discussed above, in the account “Sandema Skin and Divisional Skins” Afim came, like the founder of Kanjaga, from Yisiak in Sisalaland, and Baasa and Kasiesa “who migrated from Akag-yer[i] in Sandema” assisted him.
4.6 Gbedema (Gwedema, Bedema, Godema)
The population of Gbedema seems to be descended from different waves of immigrants, but there is no connection to Atuga’s family.
Olivier, DC of Navrongo, gives us an unusually detailed description about Gbedema’s origin.
NAG: 19/8/1932. Gwedema is a place whose ancestors had nothing to do with Mamprussi. They came from Chakani in Kassena country north of Nakon in the Haute Volta. The Chakani people, in their turn, are said to have come from a place called SIA [F.K.: Tallensi area?], whence also came the people who are now at Chiana, Kayoro and Nakon, pure Kassena all.
These original people to go to Gwedema first settled at Doninga where they found the Mamprussi family from Kadema. They did not get on well with these people and after a few years moved to Gwedema. They had married the women there who spoke Buli, the language now universally spoken in the Builsa division, and have kept the language… since.
Also R. Schott was told that the first ancestors came from the Kasena area in the north, but the names he mentions differ from those of the DC’s account.
The people of Gbedema claim that their ancestor came from a place called Wasiga (or Wusiga) in the North. He passed through Chana, where the section called Gwenia is directly related to AGBERO or AGBEDO, the founder of Gbedema (1977:161).
This version resembles very much that of “Sandema Skin”:
The founder of Gbedema migrated from Wasa in what is now called Upper Volta [Burkina Faso]. There were two brothers. While Agbiiro continued to Builsa, Agbiidem stopped at Chana in Akassena territory.
Some Gbedema sections, e.g. the “old Chief’s” lineage, believe that they are derived from the Tallensi (ibd.):
…an ancestor named ATONG (meaning ‘a man from Tong’ in Tale-Land) founded an off-sho[o]t of the great sanctuary of the Tallensi at the “external bogar” near Tengzugu… Some of the Tallensi descendants went from Gbedem to Doninga; others, from Wiaga, formed part of the population of Wiasi (Yuesa) in the South.
In Olivier’s account (see above) a descent from the Tallensi is only indicated indirectly when he says that the people of Chakani (where ancestors of Gbedema originated from) came from Sia, which is possibly the Tallensi village Sii, Siik, Siek, Siega or Shiega.
4.7 Gbedembilisi (Godemblissi, Godembisa)
There seems to be no doubt that the small village of Gbedembilisi (“Small Gbedema”) is an offshoot of Gbedema. When my informants of the Gbedembilisa chief’s family asserted that their village had not had chiefs in pre-colonial times, it is possible that for some time after their emigration they still recognized the chief of Gbedema as their political leader. Schott (1977: 161) was informed that
a branch of these people [ancestors of Gbedema] split off and founded Gbedembilisi and Jaadem, another one called Wasik from Gbedem-Kunkoak founded Yiwasa and Wasik-Kunkoak (today called simply Kunkoak or Kunkwa) in the south.
According to “Sandema Skin,” “Agbedembiik, son of Agbiiro [the founder of Gbedema] and his kinsman Anyu settled at Gbedembilisa.”
Quite extraordinary is Cardinall’s version about the origin of Gbedembilisi (1920: 17-18):
In the south-eastern corner of the Navarro District is an area of fairly thick bush… A forgotten number of years ago a hunter passed that way and decided to settle. Without propitiating the spirit of land he could not do so. He therefore went to the nearest tindana, who was living at Buguyinga, some twelve miles away, and by him was appointed tindana of the proposed settlement. Returning to the chosen spot, he built his compound and called the place Gunua. In course of time a family came from the north, and, liking the country, asked the Gunua tindana for land. He pointed out the land called Iassi, but did not appoint a tindana… In course of time more people came, and to-day, forming the community of Godemblissi, recognise a Chief of Builsa blood and a tindana of unknown origin (Kontosi).
This text, interesting as it is, appears to be very enigmatic. The place names Buguyinga, Gunua and Iassi could not be identified and explained definitively. If we assume that these names are Buli, -yinga in Buguyinga may be a variant of yienga, the definite plural of yeri (house, compound), Buguyinga would mean “the houses of Bugu”. Bugu, however, could not be found on a map. The location and the name of Gunua are enigmatic, too. The second syllable of this name might be explained as Buli noa (mouths) or noai (mouth). If the first syllable can be referred to Gbedema (also spelled Godema, dema = people), Cardinall’s story might more easily be associated with the other versions about the origin of Gbedembilisi.
Iassi, mentioned by Cardinall, might well be the Bulsa village of Uassi.
It seems very improbable to me that the tindana (correctly teng-nyono) was a Kontosi (Kantussi). These ethnic groups, most of them being Muslim traders from the present Burkina Faso or the North West of present Ghana, appeared in the Bulsa area at the beginning of the 20th century.
While there are usually only a few scattered notes to be discovered about the origins of the villages whose inhabitants do not descend from Atuga, I could find four different accounts on the early history of Kanjaga: R. Schott (1977: 145f), R.S. Rattray (1932: 400-401), S.J. Olivier (NAG, diaries, 23/10/1932) and information collected by Schott in Fumbisi.
Although all four sources maintain that Kanjaga was founded by a man called Akanjag or Akana, there are otherwise very great discrepancies in the presented stories.
In 1975 Schott interviewed 13 elders and studied the manuscripts of Mallam Fuseini, A.S.P. Anab and S.C.A. Seidu in Kanjaga. His collected versions on the early history “differ radically” from Rattray’s story. While all of Schott’s informants said that “Akanjag or his father Akunjong came from ‘Mampuruk,’ i.e. the country of the Mamprusi in the east” and only one said that he came from the sky, Rattray relates that Akana (Akanjag) was a Kasena blacksmith whose grandfather left Kurugu near Dakai (Burkina Faso), moved to Chakani (near Po) and then to the present place of Kanjaga, where he “built a compound on the side of the hill now known as Kanjag Pen (Kanjag’ rock)” (Rattray 1932:400). After some time another group from Konyon, a now abandoned settlement between Wiaga and Kologo, settled at Kanjaga. Many conflicts between the two groups arose, over the course of which Apiu of Konyon, “helped by Finbisi, Gwedema, and Doninga, drove Akana’s descendants away to Genisa (ibd.).” After that incident the leaders of the Konyon group became the chiefs of Kanjaga.
The third source about the early history of Kanjaga, an account by DC Olivier (NAG, Diaries, 23/10/1932, p. 247), is in agreement with Schott’s statement that Akanjag’s father, Akwunjon, came from Mamprusiland, namely from Passankwia (Kpasinkpe). From there he moved to Yuwassi and his son, Akanjag, became the founder of Kanjaga. Like Rattray, Olivier mentions a second group among the early inhabitants of Kanjaga. Their first leader, Akasa, was a Kassena and came from Kurugu (today Burkina Faso). “He came through Isalla [Sisala] country down to Santejan and crossed over to Kanjaga. He is said… to have reached Kanjaga before Akanjag”.
If we compare this version with that of Rattray, we might suspect that Rattray’s (or Olivier’s?) informants confused the names of the leaders of the two groups. While the first settlers in both versions come from Kasenaland and the second group from the west (Konyon, Kpasinkpe), Akanjag was the leader of the Kasena group, according to Rattray, and he and his father arrived at Kanjaga from the west according to Olivier and Schott.
Schott collected some notes about the origin of Kanjaga in Fumbisi. The following anecdote (Schott, n.d.) does not only give an explanation of Akanjaga’s name but indicates a certain seniority or superiority of Afim, who helped Akanjag in an extraordinary situation.
It is said that one day Afindem was hunting in the bush on some personal errands when he discovered a man in the hollow baobab tree. This man was asked by Afindem to come out of the hollow tree, but he said that he would not because he did not want his body to be wrinkled. Afindem persuaded him hard and he took him to a place where he, Akanjag, as he was called according to his expression that he did not want his body to wrinkle (Buli: kan = not, jagi = to wrinkle)…[from being exposed to the sunlight], would not wrinkle (Schott, n.d.: 2).
Schott was also told that Akanjag was “said to be one of Afindem’s [Afim’s] sons he left at Gambaga” (ibd.). This last statement does not agree with the story about the hollow tree and is not supported by other sources.
In “Sandema Skin” (p. 1) we find the following passages about Kanjaga:
The origin of Kanjarga is linked up with Sissala (Yisiok). Asam’s sister’s rival’s [co-wife’s] son, Akalasiak, left Yisiok with his parental [paternal?] brother[s] Akanwarik and Atolik for Builsa. Leaving his brothers to join Sandema, Akalasiak went and settled at Kanjarga.
This last version, tracing Kanjarga’s origin to the Sisala people, does not agree with most of the others. Only Olivier (NAG, Diaries 23/10/1932, p. 247) recounts that Akasa’s [= Akalasiak’s?] group, on their way from Kurugu, “came down through Isalla [Sisala] country down to Santejan and crossed over to Kanjaga.”
According to Schott (1977:161) “Afim… founded Fumbisi whence at a later date the people of Kategra branched off.”
In the early 1920s many people of Kategra moved to Jadema. On April 20th, 1925, Anilig, with the approval of the Ag. Commissioner of the Northern Province, was elected and appointed chief of the Kategra people in Jadema, where he also took up his residence. The village of Kategra [with the remaining population?] became one of Jadema’s sections. In September of 1933 “the Katigri [Kategra] people moved back to Katigri with the exception of Jankansa who said there is not land at Katigri” (NAG.).
Mr. Richard, the present regent of Kunkwa, told me in January of 2011 that Asavie was the leader of the first Kunkwa immigrants from Nalerigu and that he did not come together with Atuga. Asavie had no chiefly title. He came in the company of a Mamprusi from Wulugu, who settled in the present Kpasinkpe and became chief of this village. When he was called back by the Mamprusi king, he drove a peg (kpasiri > Kpasinkpe) into the ground and said that he would always stay here. It is not quite clear whether this myth of origin should indicate a certain dependence of Kunkwa on Kpasinkpe.
Many sources, like Olivier (NAG, Diaries, 18/10/32), stress the close connections between Kunkwa and Kpasinkpe.
…I had already got Kunkwa’s history and as I knew they were of Mamprusi origin and made land sacrifices to the fetish at Passankwa, I asked them whether they now would like to follow Passankwia and so the Na of Mamprussi or whether they would like (being now Bulsa) to come into the future Builsa Tribal Council. They pleaded (?) for Passankwia to a man!
According to Ollivant (typescript 1933:3),
Atado [the founder of Kunkwa], had two sons, Asavie, whose descendants are the Tindanas [earth priests], and Kamalo. The latter decided to go to Nalerigu to be proclaimed Chief of Kunkwa. He was stopped by Na Kopuse at Passankwia who told him not to go to Nalerigu, that he would proclaim him Chief on payment of cattle. This Kamalo agreed to and the system [that Kpasinkwe installed chiefs?] was carried on in Kunkwa…
Ollivant’s and Richard’s versions, at first glance quite different, are not wholly incompatible. Asavie, “who was not a real chief” (Richard), might have used his power and influence as an earth priest (Buli teng-nyono) to become a leader or “big man” before his brother Kamalo was made chief of Kunkwa.
Ollivant (ibd.), who also tries to reconcile different versions, offers his own interpretation:
I think the true story is that Atuga, Atado, Uaraga, three brothers, sons of some unknown Mamprussi, possibly Wurungwe, settled at the places already mentioned. Atado then moved from Kunkwa to Passankwia and his sons carried on both places…
Tandem, consisting of the four sections (or villages) of Kpalinsa, Tankansa, Zamsa and Zuedema, is situated between Kadema and Wiaga. It had belonged to the former and is now part of the latter. In political elections it was part of the Bulsa South constituency.
In Azantinlow’s account (Schott 1977: 155) a connection of the founders of Tandem and Doninga and Atuga is established:
ATUGA’s children are: AKAASA; AWIAGH, ASAM, ASINIE, and he also begot ATAM and ADOGNINA. All of them were from one mother… ATAM also went and built [his house] in the middle between Kaadema and Wiaga; that [place] is called Tandem.
Schott’s informant Awunchansa from Wiaga-Kom states that the people of Tandem lived in the Bulsa area before Atuga’s arrival and that they were indigenous (“came from heaven”):
(Schott 1977: 157) …The people ATUGA met were the Kom at Komdem [kom dem, people of Kom]. They were Bulsa. Chamdem [cham, shea tree, and dema people] (=Tandem) settled near a shea-tree and that is why they are named after that tree… Chandem and Kom came from heaven. If they come from anywhere else, I don’t know it. They came down from heaven with their wives and children and after they had some children, there was some intermarriage between them. AKOMA and ACHANDEM are the founders (ngaasa) of the Bulsa. AKOMA (or AKOMAO) was the leader (kpagi, elder)…
It is questionable whether Tandem, as concerns the descent of its population, can be treated as a unit. In 1981 I tried to research the early history of Tandem-Zamsa. Agbandem, my Zamsa-informant, told me that Anaanateng, their founding ancestor, had lived here before Atuga came and that he is not only the forefather of Zamsa, but also of several other lineages in other Bulsa villages, e.g. in Wiaga, Sandema, Gbedema and Kanjaga. To my knowledge this is the only web of kinship relations for people whose first ancestors lived before Atuga came to Bulsaland.
Nevertheless, my Zamsa informants tried to establish kinship ties between Anaanateng and Atuga. The latter was allegedly the grandson of Anaanateng’s father Ataduok. My informants could not tell me whether Ataduok immigrated from the Mamprusiland or whether Atuga was – in their genealogical system – the son of indigenous people, which means that all migratory myths about Atuga have to be discarded completely. For my part I believe that the fictive genealogical ties to Atuga were added at a later point of time, for there are too many elements of ancestor veneration that seem to be very ancient and differ from those of the other Bulsa.
The ancestral shrines at the abandoned settlement of Anaanateng’s family do not have their equals.
…they consist of big, irregular stones, most of which reminded me of European border stones… Of the oldest male ancestor-bogluta only Atengdaara’s [Anaanateng’s son] stone is visible, the lower half of which is buried in the ground. Immediately under this stone his father’s (Anaanateng’s) wen-stone is said to lie, and under this Ataduok’s stone, the oldest known male ancestor of this lineage and perhaps of the whole Bulsa area.
(Kröger 1982: 17-18)
Besides, Anaanateng and his wife are also venerated in the form of two terracotta heads, as they are found in the Koma area. It is, however, probable that these heads had been found in recent times and had been ascribed to the first ancestors.
4.12 Vare / Vari
Regarding the origin of Vare, I found a short note in Schott’s paper (1977: 160):
The original Bulsa were partly driven out of their homeland by the onslaught of various incoming groups. In the traditions it is said that some fled to Kologu, some went to Naga, others to Vaari…
Moreover, Olivier could not collect solid data in Vare when he passed this village (NAG, Diaries, 15/7/1932):
…I asked the people of Vare whether it was a fact that the Mamprussi had first settled there when they came here [?], but they said they had never heard so.
According to “Sandema Skin,” (p. 1), “one of Asam’s children Avare left and resettled at Vare.”
Like people of other villages the inhabitants of Wiesi (Yuesi) are indirectly made relatives of Atuga. Ayuerik, the founder of Wiesi, was, according to Azantinlow (Schott 1977: 157), a son of AWIAGH. Olivier, DC of Navrongo District, was given a piece of similar information in Wiaga, whereas people in Wiesi told him “that their ancestors came from Nalerigu, that Atong was their first father and Wiassi was the name of his son and he formed the present village” (NAG Diaries, 22/10/1932).
4.14 YIWASI / UWASI
About the founder of this Bulsa village, I could find only two short notes which, however, coincide to a large degree. According to Schott (1977:161) “Wasik from Gbedem-Kunkoak founded Yiwasa” while the author of “Sandema Skin” mentions only that Ayiwaarik departed [from Gbedema] and settled at Yiwaasa. The name given to this village seems to be associated with Waasa, Agbiiro’s original living place, in present Burkina Faso.
Our examination of the early history of Bulsa villages has been difficult and time consuming. The many different versions of one historical event make it especially hard to decide what really happened centuries ago.
There is not doubt that Atuga, together with a small group of Mamprusi, came to a land that was inhabited by indigenous and Buli-speaking Bulsa and that further immigrations from neighbouring tribes completed the structure of the present Bulsa society. It is surprising that a considerable number of the people who are generally regarded as autochthonous are (later?) associated with the Mamprusi immigrants through (fictional?) genealogical ties. In most cases it is the Atugabisa who construct these alleged ties. However, in a few cases the indigenous people (e.g. in Zamsa) also find consanguineous or affinal relationships with Atuga’s family.
Although among the present Bulsa there is a consciousness of belonging either to the Atugabisa or the Non-Atugabisa or “Southern Bulsa,” this has not lead to a cleavage within the Bulsa society.
Among all the other ethnic groups of Northern Ghana, the Bulsa are in the extraordinarily favourable condition of having no larger groups of foreigners among their population. The Kantusi (Yarisa) have been assimilated to a great degree and the nomadic Fulani, living outside the Bulsa villages, form a very small minority. Associated with this ethnic unity under a paramount chief who is respected by all Bulsa, a community life developed not with greater intra- or inter-ethnic conflicts but rather with a common history throughout the last 150 years and a self-confidence acquired in the successful wars against Babatu.
Akapata, Isaac, Fr. (2009): Biuk, a Village with Bulsa Traditions. Buluk. Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society 5: 34-41.
Cardinall, A.W. (1920, reprint 1969): The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. Their Customs, Religion and Folklore. New York: Negro Universities Press.
Fortes, Meyer (1945): The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi. London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Fortes, Meyer (1949): The Web of Kinship among the Tallensi. London: Oxford University Press.
Kröger, Franz (1982): Ancestor Worship among the Bulsa of Northern Ghana. Religious, Social and Economic Aspects. Hohenschäftlarn bei München: Klaus Renner Verlag.
Kröger, Franz and Ben Baluri Saibu (2010): First Notes on Koma Culture. Life in a Remote Area of Northern Ghana. Münster: Lit Verlag.
Lentz, Carola (1998): Die Konstruktion von Ethnizität. Eine politische Geschichte Nord-West Ghanas 1870-1990. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
Lentz, Carola (2003): Stateless Societies or Chiefdoms: A Debate among Dagara Intellectuals. In: Franz Kröger/ Barbara Meier (eds.): Ghana’s North. Research on Culture, Religion, and Politics of Societies in Transition. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang.
Ollivant, District Commissioner (1933): A Short History of Buli, Nankani and Kassena speaking People in the Navrongo area of the Mamprusi District (typescript).
Parsons, D. St. John (1958): Legends of Northern Ghana. London: Longmans.
Perrault, P. (1954): History of the Tribes of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. Navrongo: St. John Bosco’s Press,.
Rattray, R.S. (1932, reprinted 1969): The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland. 2 vol., London: Oxford University Press.
Schott, Rüdiger (1977): Sources for a History of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana, Paideuma 23, 141-168.
Schott, Rüdiger (n.d.): Oral History and the Regulation of Social Life in a West African Village: The Example of Fumbisi in Northern Ghana. Provisional Draft. 10 pages (typescript).
Schott, Rüdiger (1990), “La femme enceinte éventrée” – Variabilité et contexte socio-culturel d’un type de conte ouest-africain. D’un conte… à l’autre, La variabilité dans la litterature orale. Paris: Editions du CNRS, 327-338.
The First Europeans in the Bulsa Area
When in the second half of the 19th century European adventurers, explorers, scientists, missionaries, political and military agents found interest in the hinterland of the Gold Coast, they followed traditional trade routes or the tracks between the bigger settlements. Although many of these early travellers have rendered impressive and informative reports on the scenery, towns and villages, the people and their culture, none of them was probably free from the idea that their experiences and written sources might be useful for the colonial plans of their European home country. Apparently there were two main South-North-routes, the eastern one by way of Salaga, Tamale (or Yendi) to Walewale and from there to Gambaga or even farther to the north into the present Burkina Faso. The western route ran via Kumasi and Bole to Wa and even further on to Léo in Burkina. The Bulsa area is lying between these two routes, and even if somebody wanted to cross the northern outskirts of the hinterland form East to West, he preferred the routes Zuarungu, Navrongo, Tumu, Lawra/Wa or Gambaga, Walewale, Yagba, Funsi (or Belele), Wa.
The first Europeans who put foot on Bulsa ground did so for purely military reasons. To my knowledge the first European to come to Buluk was Major Henderson of the British colonial army, accompanied by George Ekem Ferguson (who had a British father and a Fanti mother). Henderson left Accra on November 21, 1896 on behalf of the British interests in present Northern Ghana against the French who came from the North, and against Babatu and Samory, two notorious slave raiders. Some years before (1894?) a part of Babatu’s Gurunsi captains and soldiers had rebelled against him and his Zabarima officers in their Seti camp (Burkina Faso). The leader of the mutineers was Ameria (Hameria, Amarea), probably a Bulsa1, who adopted the title of “King of the Gurunsi (Grunshi)”. This Ameria, who resided at Battionsi (Bachonsa) when, in February 1897, Henderson came to the north, seemed to be a natural ally for the British. So Henderson entered the Bulsa area from its Northwestern corner, and the Bulsa settlement that the first Europeans saw was not Sandema but the small village of Bachonsa, which, however, was then much more important than it is today.
Henderson’s negotiations with Amaria were not successful. Amaria had sent two messengers to the French headquarters of Ouagadougou on March 3, 1897 who returned with the promise that the French would help him against Babatu and so Amaria probably did not want to risk this alliance. Being refused by Amaria, Henderson and his soldiers went to Babatu, who for several months had resided at Kanjaga to raid the nearby Bulsa villages for foodstuff and slaves.
Babatu received Henderson and if we may trust the testimonials2, the following conversation took place (translation from French by F. Kröger):
Babatu: I want to go to Léo, where are my captives?
“Le Anglais” [Henderson]: But which captives?
Babatu: Hamaria and the Grunchi [i.e. the mutineers]
“Le Anglais”: Hamaria is not your captive, for he is dependent on the French. By the way, you are a bad man, because you destroy everything that you meet on your way.
Even if this talk is not authentic in all details, we can see the main interests of the two interlocutors. After Ameria’s refusal to ally with the British, Babatu had become a prospective ally of the colonial force. Babatu, however, seemed to be chiefly concerned with getting rid of Ameria, while Henderson feared an increase of French influence in the contested region. A further obstacle to the politically perhaps reasonable alliance was Henderson’s moral aversion to the slave-raider.
Without any results the British group continued their expedition back to Wa, where Henderson was taken prisoner and his unarmed friend Ferguson was shot by some of Samory’s men.
Only one month after Henderson’s encounter with Ameria and Babatu the French officer Chanoine, coming from Ouagadougou, met Ameria in Bachonsa. and gave a French flag to the neighbouring village of Doninga, which – having been accepted – can be regarded as a symbol of recognizing French protection. But Babatu, still residing in Kanjaga, raided Doninga and burnt the flag. On March 14, 1897 Chanoine and Ameria attacked Babatu. A.M. Duperray in her book on the Gurunsi, gives a vivid description of this decisive battle (p. 101; translated from the French by Franz Kröger):
[Babatu] is surrounded by his best lieutenants Issaka and Aliou Gadiari at the head of 400 men armed with rifles and more than 200 horsemen. Babatu is severely beaten. He leaves 300 prisoners and a great part of his troups in Hamaria’s hands. Gadiari’s son has been killed as well as five other leaders. Babatu who was left by his newly enlisted recruits from Chiana and Nangurma flees to the South in direction of the Mamprussi. Chanoine has fired 4000 cartridges (shots). Hamaria had 10 men wounded (hors de combat).
The battle of Kanjaga decided Babatu’s destiny. He fled to Yagaba, which he devastated completely, and then, driven by the British, to Dagbon. In 1907 he died in Yendi from the bite of a poisonous spider.
Only two weeks after Babatu’s defeat, Captain Scal, another Frenchman, met Ameria at Kanjaga (April 3, 1897), but to my knowledge it took more than 4 years before the first European entered Sandema.
This time the felisa did not come to help the Bulsa against slave-raiders, but the inhabitants of Sandema were the aim of their attack. We know about the campaign of Lieutenant-Colonel A. Morris, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories, through his own report to Major Nathan, Governor of the Gold Coast. He spoke about some hostile tribes “who have made a practice of raiding and ill-treating their more loyal and peaceful neighbours…”. Some quotations from his report speak for themselves:
…On my arrival at Paha [Paga] I learnt that the kingdom of Sinlieh3 [Sandema] lying about six miles to the south of Tiana [Chana], was most hostile and a scourge to the whole neighbourhood: I therefore determined to visit this country…
The three kingdoms of Nafrongo, Tiana and Sinlieh are by far the most important of any that I have seen in these territories…
I was much struck with the excellent way in which the compounds in Sinlieh are built; they are circular in shape, and are made of very thick swish, smoothed and polished…
The full fighting dress worn by the people of Sinlieh is both imposing and picturesque. It consists of a headdress made of thickly plaited straw… and into it are fixed the horns of a Hartebeeste or some other large antelope. Their bodies are protected by an enormous arrow-proof shield of oxhide, which covers them from head to foot. Their weapons are bows and arrows, also a kind of “battle axe”… with an iron pick-shaped head… These axes are poisoned, being used to inflict the “coup de grâce” to their enemies…
The prestige hitherto enjoyed by these people is broken, and in a very few months I have every hope of enlisting excellent recruits from the people of Sinlieh, who are Kanjargas, one of the most warlike tribes in this Hinterland.
The military events of the expedition are described in the Chief Commissionary’s diary:
March 20 [1902; in Chana] …In the evening I held a large reception of all the chiefs of Tiana; they informed me that the people of Sinlieh were most hostile, and owing to their having defeated Barbatu on two occasions had a vast idea of their own power and importance.
March 21 …At 7.45 a.m. the outskirts of Sinlieh were reached (6 miles), and the compounds were found abandoned. At 8.45 a.m. …small bodies of armed men were seen in all directions, gradually massing together. A large body had taken up a position on some small rocks. … but the fire of the Maxim and the steady volleys of the firing line drove them out…
I went on to the King’s house, which we destroyed4. We returned to the camp at Tiana in the afternoon. The enemy had thirty men killed during the day’s fighting… It is impossible to estimate the number of the enemy wounded, as they are always taken off by their friends.
March 24 …Left Tiana at 5.55 a.m. to-day…; met the King of Chulchuliga…, who came to escort us through his country to Dober. We passed the King of Chulchuliga’s compound at 8 a.m, and reached a very fine stream…
After the military expedition of March 1902 “the Kings of Nafrongo and Sinlieh… arrived in Gambaga to make submission and to be given the English flag” (Morris 1902).
In our written sources we do not hear anything more about military clashes between the Bulsa and the British colonialists.
In the years following 1902 Sandema was frequently visited by civil and military officers. Also in the enthronement of Chief Ayieta (1905) a British Officer (Major Twine) took part.
More than 20 years passed before the first Christian mission station in the Bulsa area was established. In 1926 catholic missionaries of the order of the White Fathers come from Navrongo to start their work in Wiaga5.
The first European anthropologists, who interviewed Bulsa people (often soldiers in the British army) were mostly civil and/or military officers. A.W. Cardinall was a District Commissioner, Captain Armitage Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories, R.S. Rattray a Captain and the Frenchman Louis Tauxier an “administrateur du cercle de Léo“.
The first professional European anthropologist who spent a whole year (1967-68) in Buluk doing only fundamental anthropological work was Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Schott6 of the University of Münster, Germany. In the following years he continued his work together with his (former) students Ingrid Heermann, Franz Kröger, Doris Blank, Barbara Meier, and Ulrike Blanc. Anthropologists from other universities worked in good co-operation with the Münster-group, e.g. Piet Konings (Leiden, Netherlands), Ulrike Wanitzek (Bayreuth), Jürgen Feldmann and Anne Schwarz, a linguist of the Humboldt University of Berlin.
They all are grateful to the Bulsa people for their hospitality and their eager and efficient help in their fieldwork.
Ahmed Bako Alhassan (1991): Babatu. Tamale (unpublished mimeo, 20 pages)
Der, Benedict G. (1998): The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana. Accra
Duperray, Anne-Marie (1984): Les Gourounsi de Haute-Volta. Conquête et colonisation 1896-1933. Stuttgart.
Holden, J.J. (1965): The Zabarima Conquest of North-West Ghana. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol VII, p. 60-86.
Morris, A., Lieutenant-Colonel (1902): Report on his expedition to Sinlieh. Public Record Office, London Co 879, 78, o5939, No. 25352
Ollivant (1933): The Kassena und Builsa Tribes. Navrongo (unpublished, mimeo, 7 pages)
1Ollivant (1933, p. 6) was informed by Babatu’s horse boy, Mamadi Kantosi: ‘Marea… came from Kanjaga’. Holden (1965, p. 78) writes that ‘Amaria was born at Santijan near Kanjaga, on the Sisala/Bulsa boundary… He maintained close links with… northern Builsa and Sisala towns where he had many relatives…’
2Duperray (1984, p. 98) quotes this dialogue from Chanoine’s letter of March 13, 1897.
3The name used for the present district capital is unfamiliar. The exchange of Sin- for San- in the compound noun San-dema (people of San) is not extraordinary (cf. variation of a-i in sanyaara – sinyaara, rattle). We can, however, only speculate, why the early informants of the British exchanged dema (people) for lieh (daughter?). Fr. Alfred Agyenta surmises that there was perhaps some influence of Saniah, a term that the Kasena use for Sandema.
4In 1979 the Sandemnaab, Sir Azantinlow Ayieta, showed me a cartridge that the British had shot at the chief’s compound. He even mentioned the year 1902.
5We hope to publish an article on the early Christian missionary work in one of the next issues of BULUK.
6Cf. his article about his first impressions and early visits of the Sandemnaab, p.27
Anyaampo: first chief in the time of Babatu
Agigsa: reigned after 1901
Akankoba: contemporary of Kwame Nkrumah
Ataa Akankoba: incumbent chief, informant
Ataa Akankoba, incumbent chief of Biuk and informant
Gonab Apirigab (= Senigah?)
Atuchiga Amaachana (= Altecheg?): installed on December 30th, 1907; dismissed by the British
Akaboba Apirigab (dismissed by the British)
Allan Asangalisa (appointed Jan. 10th, 1926; enskinned in February (March?) 1927)
Apirime: rival chief of Asangalisa
Joseph Adakula (1995-July 2006): rival chief of Francis, abdicated in July 2006
Francis Asangalisa (rival chief since August 1995; sole chief since July 2006)
|Leaders and Chiefs of Fumbisi
Afim: legendary leader and founder of F.
Awuuba: Afim’s son and founder of Yerinsa
Anyiamjutee: deposed by the British
Ayaajik: installed April 13th, 1915
Ampusiba: around 1912
Aburin Akambonnaab (Akambong)
Akanko: died 1978 or 1979
Clement Anyatiuk: since February 20th, 1979
|Chiefs of Gbedema
Amboru (around 1912)
Ayaric (Gbinaansa) mid 1920s – 1970
Apagrimchang Ayaric: July 10th, 1971- September 6th, 2001
Nkrumah: since 2001 or 2002
Apagrimchang Ayaric (d. 2001)
Akomwob (deposed by the British)
Adaangabe (Atigbiiro’s son): April 28th,1974
Edward Felix Ayuekanbe Adaangabe:
September 16th, 1974 – September 21st, 1995
Akisikanbe Ayuekanbe: elected February 2nd, 2001
Akiskanbe, the incumbent chief
|Kanjaga Chiefs according to other sources
Akanchoruk: contemporary of Babatu
Adachoruk: around 1912
Atibil: deposed by the British
Akinkangnaab: installed by the British
Akansianaab Akanfela: November 18th, 1975 – 2000?
Akanjievari Akanfela: since February 14th, 2001
Anchar: around 1912
Aninlik: in the 1950s
Amoaning (Azue Yeri):
in the time of Nkrumah
Awienboa (Nakpak Yeri)
Abukari (Nakpak Yeri)
Atumani Alimba (Azue Yeri): informant 2011
|Kunkwa Chiefs and Leaders
Asavie: (no real chief) immigrated from Nalerigu
Akpabil (Abili?, ): in the time of Babatu
Asaponing: elected on May 26th, 1906
Akwabil: elected on November 25th, 1920
Akumboti: first “real” chief of Kunkwa, conflict with Afoko
Apanga: (= Akparanga?) deposed by the British
Akurukpabil: after 7 years deposed and reinstalled
Anabil: Azantilow’s lawsuit 1951-52 during his reign
Awienkoa: not recognized as a chief by some people
Ayuekanbe Yakubu Hamza: high-ranking police officer in Accra
Regent: Richard Yidaana Yakubu (informant)
|Richard Yidaana (Regent)|
Abaagyi (Yikpenyeri): deposed by the British
Abadin Akpiok (Akpiokyeri)
Afulang: July 4th, 1963- 1994?
Gilbert A. Afulang: since February 2nd, 1995
|Leaders and Chiefs of Uwasi
Jugon: before 1850
Awudiok: only a leader in the time of Babatu
Ambowen: installed by the British
Abiako Apasukpe: swearing-in 1973
Akuku: present chief
|Wiaga Chiefs and Contestants:
Akadiri: first chief according to L. Amoak
Ayega: son of Afichoa, whose bogluk is in Nakpak Yeri, was the first chief according to Angmeenbil.
Awuumi (last chief of the dynasty)
Ateng (Yisobsa, d. 1909), contestant: Abasing (Yimonsa)
Azenaab (1909- September 17th, 1947); contestants: Abasing, (Afichoa’s son, Yimonsa) et. al.
Asiuk ( April 4th, 1948 – 1988), contestants: Akanpaginaab (Awumi’s son, Yimonsa) et. al.
Assibi Aloys Asiuk (March 13th, 1989); contestants: Angmeenbil et.al.
|Angmeenbil in 2002|
|Azenaab||Asiuk||Assibi Aloys Asiuk|
Wiesinaab in 1973
Religion The main Bulsa religious concepts are related to gods of earth (teng) and sky (wen or Naawen), also sacrifice of animals. Everyone believes in a Supreme Being, the creator of life and the moulder of destiny. Since Weni`s power is beyond limitation, he stands alone, and is usually not to be approached by mere mortals. No one seems to have imagined an appearance for him, but he apparently lives in the sky or sometimes is the sky itself or the sun. With no priests to inculcate doctrine there is, of course, much individuality of thought.