Bawku was the third town to be founded by Naa Atabea after Sinnebaga and Binduri. This became necessary because Sinnebaga and Binduri alone were not able to completely dominate the land of Zotinga to allow the safe passage of traders along the trade route traversing the area. The frequent change of location of Binduri to meet the demands of the time and more importantly the increase Bissa banditry organized from their base in Bittou and other smaller cells in Yaragungu and its environs made the establishment of Bawku, which is closer to the Moshie-Mamprusi border, a tactical necessity. The activities of these bandits had reduced the volume of traffic along the trade route with a corresponding reduction in revenue. The modus operandi of the Bissas was so secretive and well coordinated that the escort duties became more demanding and dangerous. This called for more aggressive patrols by heavily armed personnel to secure the route at all times.
Bawku was founded on uninhabited land by Naa Atabea who was the Nayiri between 1690-1741/12. The Bissas were so determined to protect their interest in the area to the extent that they vowed to prevent the deployment of a mamprusi Garrison in what is now Bawku. It required a deterrent advanced party of Gumbo,Binduri, Sinnebaga and Naramba ( Dagbondurisi ) forces to pave the way for Naa Ali, the first of Bawku Naa and son of Naa Atabea, to insert the main body in Bawku. This large force ensured that the Garrison became fully functional and ultimately independent of the advance party. As the advance party thinned out to their respective towns the Dagbandurisi, who came all the way from Zozugu to augment the forces in Zotinga, decided to settle at Kadi near Bawku and have lived there to date. The Dagbandurisi were erroneously counted as Kusasis by the British and that has since become their official label.
The new town was named “Boku” by the Mamprusi founders.” Boku” in Mampruli means valley or depression and this is what the area looks like when viewed from the Gambaga scarp. The name “Boku” was later anglicized to Bawku by the British. If one considers that Sinnebaga, Binduri and Bawku were created early in Naa Atabea’s reign and before he embarked on his expedition to expand Mamprugu and control the western trade routes, then Bawku was founded about 1700.
The significance of the time of founding of Bawku can best be appreciated if it is related to historical events in other parts of Ghana and west Africa. Bawku was founded during the reign of Osei Tutu of Asante ( 1670’s – 1717 ), Ntim Gyakari of Denkyira (1690 – 1701 ), Naa Zangina of Dagbon, Ndewura Jakpa Lanta of Gonna ( late 16th early 17th century ), Agaja of Dahomey kingdom (1708 – 1732) and many more. It was founded before the both of Usuman Dan Fodio ( December 1754 ) and before the arrival of the Brongs who later became the Chokosi ethnic group. This was the time Bawku was founded by Mamprusis!
When Naa Atabea founded the Garrison of Sinnebaga, Binduri and Bawku, the land of Zotinga to the east of the White Volta River was divided into three territories and alloyed to them to patrol. Various ethnic groups came to settle within these territories for want of security and fertile land. Land was in abundance and not sold at the time and all the land given to these settler groups were held in trust by their leaders for use. Each of the Mamprusi garrisons owned land that was far smaller than the territory it controlled and settlers outside the lands of these garrison required the direct permission of the Nayiri to do so. Jurisdiction over the territories was therefore not synonymous to land ownership in Zotinga. Indeed, as of 1931, the land of Zotinga was divided according to cantons into 19 parts and the Bawku Naa and Mamprusis in Bawku owned ONLY ONE out of the 19.
The Bawku Naa owned the land whose boundary included Bawkuzua, Tinsungu, Baribari, Bulugu, Zuo, Missiga, Ninkogo, Deese, Zabugu and Kpalwia and the migrants were settled on these lands owned by the Bawku Naa.