What You Must Know About the Mamprusi People, Eldest of the Mole-Dagbani Ethnic Group

Mamprusi also known as Mamprugu are Mole-Dagbani speaking ethnic group of people found mostly in the northern and upper east regions of Ghana and northern part of Togo. The Mole-Dagbani ethnic group comprises the Moshi (Mossi), Mamprusi, Nanumba and Dagomba.There are some 450,000 Mamprusi living in Ghana, and approximately 11,000 in Togo. In Ghana, the Mamprusis live mainly in Nalerigu and Gambaga in the northwest of the Northern Region but also inhabit parts of the Upper East Region.

Mamprusi boy wearing Batakari dancing to traditional Mamprusi drum beats at a public function
Mamprusi woman


The people now known as the “Mamprusi” occupy the East and West Mamprusi districts of northern Ghana. Their name is linked to “Mamprugu,” the name of the kingdom with which they are associated. Until recently, “Mamprusi” was a term mainly used by outsiders. They called themselves “Dagbamba,” a term also used by their southern neighbors, known in English as “Dagomba.” Mamprusi called these people “Yooba” (people of the forest) or “Weiya,” in reference to the marshy areas also occupied by these neighbors.

Mamprusi man with his traditional dondoo drum

Similarly, their northern neighbors, the Mossi, were named for the grassy bush ( moo ) that characterizes the ecological zone to the north. Mamprusi usage of the term “Dagbamba” as an autonym, combined with their reference to their neighbors in terms of a characteristic habitat, reflects their view of themselves as inhabiting a central and civilized place in the universe of peripheral peoples. Since their southern neighbors have appropriated the name “Dagbamba” and its English equivalent “Dagomba,” the former Dagbamba have become Mamprusi.


The East and West Mamprusi districts (formerly the South Mamprusi District) extend west some 320 kilometers from the international border dividing Ghana and Togo. Some 80 kilometers separate the Nasia River, in the south, from the White Volta River, which marks the northern boundary of this area. In the northeast of the region, the Gambaga escarpment rises 450 meters above sea level at the southward bend of the White Volta River, and continues eastward into Togo. It is likely that in the precolonial period, the Mamprusi zone of influence followed this escarpment.

Mamprusi household. By haunsinafrica

The region falls within the climatic zone of the Guinea Savanna. The rainy season falls between April and September, and there are no second rains. January and February are characterized by a harmattan season, during which a cold, dry wind sweeps through the country. South of the Gambaga scarp, wooded slopes contract with the arid land and lathyritic soils, lying immediately to the north, or the deforested continuation of the scarp to the northwest.

Mamprusi performing Damba dance at a public function at Nalerigu,Ghana
Mamprusi people at a public function at Nalerigu,Ghana

In the south, southeast, and western margins of the districts, land is periodically flooded by tributaries of the Nasia, Oti, and Volta rivers. In the 1960s the Mamprusi districts marked the northern margin of the yam-growing region of Ghana. Deforestation, periodic drought, and increased population pressure have caused some damage to the environment since then, and yams are now said to be much more difficult to grow. Land-fallowing periods are generally shorter than they were in the 1960s, and there is less uncultivated land.

Demography and Settlement Patterns

The Mamprusi, although still less than a majority of the population, continue to constitute the largest single ethnic group. Mamprusi settlements, in contrast with those of neighboring peoples, are nucleated rather than dispersed; often they are clustered near a chief’s compound. Larger settlements are divided into sections ( foanna; sing. foango ).

Mamprusi house at Nalerigu
Mamprusi man with his facial Mamprusi tribal mark

In the neighborhood of Nalerigu, the present capital of the Mamprusi ex-kingdom, there are the remains of an ancient wall that appears to have partially surrounded the king’s village, leaving it open to the north and northeast, where the land rises rapidly, but protecting the lower-lying parts of the village. The wall enclosed streams and farmland as well as a residential area.


The Mamprusi with their kingdom Mamprugu  is one of the earliest known states in the north of what is now Ghana. Their kingdom flourished in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The Mamprusi Kingdom was founded by the Great Naa Gbanwah/Gbewah at Pusiga, a village 14 kilometres from Bawku. The Kingdom spans most of the Northern and the Upper East Regions of Ghana, and into the west African nation of Burkina Faso. Thus, establishing this kingdom as the pre-eminent of its kind, and the only kingdom in present day Ghana whose relevance and authority cuts across national boundaries on the weight of its humble supremacy.

Nayiiri and his subjects. By Retlaw Snellac
They are believed to have descended from Na Gbewa also known as Na Nedega. Of the four people/groups descended from the loins of Na Gbewa, the Mamprusi are the leaders. The Dagomba, Nanumba, and even the Mossi recognize them as the final authority among themselves. As a result, the King of Mossi to this day is enskinned by the Nayiri – the king of Mamprugu. Mamprusis revere the hallowed grounds of Bawku as their ancestral home, their origin. That is why Naa Gbewah’s tomb in Pusiga, is a shrine of repute to this day. It is believed that his disappearance was subteraneal, one of the marvels of Northern Ghana, and many ethnicities hold to agree with this uncommon historical account. It was after his death that his children moved farther afield and founded other kingdoms, namely: Dagbon and Nanum.
Na Gbewa’s progenitor was the legendaryToha-Zie or Red-Hunter believed to have migrated from Tunga (supposedly east of Lake Chad) to Zamfara in northern Nigeria, through Mali and then to Gurma in modern day Burkina Faso.
Mamprusi chiefs. By chakaorleans.
Toha-Zie as his name suggests is reputed to have been a great warrior who fought in war with the Malian king. Pleased with his war prowess, the Malian king is said to have given one of her daughters called Paga Wabga in marriage to Toha-Zie. This marriage begot Kpogonumbo, who remained in Malian service for sometime, but later migrated southwards to the country of Gurma in present day Burkina Faso. The ruler of Gurma at that time was Daramani who also gave one of his daughters called Suhuyini to Kpogunumbo and they begot Na Gbewa from whom all the Mole-Dagbani ethnic groups claim descent.

“Little Mamprusi boys, Boyeni.”Circa 1910, [photographer] Fisch, Rudolf (Mr)
According to legend Na Gbewa settled in Pusiga the first place he settled and founded,for a very long time.  The legend continued that when he was very old, the succession was contested and his favorite son slain by a rival prince and the eldest son Zirili. On hearing the news of his son’s death, Na Gbewa disappeared—he was swallowed into the earth at the site of his palace, a place in the bush where sacrifices are still made to his spirit. In the course of the conflict that followed his death, his kingdom was divided; elder and younger brothers became kings of the Mamprusi and Dagomba peoples, respectively. The configuration of relationships among Mamprusi, Dagomba, and Mossi kingdoms that arises from this history is expressed in the Mamprusi view of Dagomba kings as their junior brothers and Mossi kings as grandsons of their own king. This amounts to an assertion of Mamprusi seniority. In the past, this presumed seniority was translated into particular forms of conventional behavior held to be appropriate among kin when Mossi, Dagomba, and Mamprusi met one another, particularly in market situations but also in political/ritual contexts.

“The Chief of Nasia and his youngest son.” Circa 1910.  [photographer] Fisch, Rudolf (Mr)
Naa Gbewaa’s sons and daughter married from all the linguistic groups around Pusiga, Bawku, Fadangruma, Bongo, Zebilla etc, and his only daughter created Mossi Kingdom. Gbewaa’s senior son Tohagu is the father of all Mamprusi people and after the creation of Gambaga/ Nalerigu as capital, he moved from Pusiga to head it. He married from indigenous tribes and the other sons also did throughout their history.
In the eighteenth century, the Mamprusi people organized forces to protect the trade in slaves and goods with mercenaries from the Ivory Coast (now Côte d’Ivoire). The Frafra, Nabdem, Talensi, and Kusai are subject to them but things have changed nowadays with regards to subjugation as there is a protracted conflicts especially between the Kusasis and the Mamprusi people. The Mamprusi have five chiefs under their king.

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Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana,ByAlfred Weidinger

Mamprusi dancing Damba at Nalerigu,Ghana.

The Mamprusi king’s title, nayiiri, ( na = “king” or “chief”; yiiri = “house”) is unique, and, unlike that of the provincial paramounts or those of the Mossi and Dagomba kings, it is not linked to the name of any particular territory. It implies his position at the very center of the polity, where he is the source of naam, the mystical aspect of chiefly power.
Linguistic Affiliation
Mampruli is one of a number of Mole Dagbani languages spoken in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Many languages of this group are spoken by contiguous populations; neighboring peoples are likely to speak mutually intelligible variants of a common tongue. Given frequent intermarriage of Mamprusi with their non-Mamprusi neighbors, many Mamprusi speak several Mole-Dagbani languages. Those who have traveled south, in Ghana, often speak Twi. Many traders speak Hausa, and all schoolchildren learn some English. Familiarity with French is increasing. Muslims are learning to speak as well as to read Arabic.

Mamprusi old man dancing at a funeral


Agriculture and animal husbandry provide subsistence for most of the population. Sheep, goats, pigeons, fowl, and guinea foul are kept by most households, and wealthier families have cattle. Chiefs may have horses for ceremonial use, but horses and donkeys (formerly important beasts for transport) are bred farther north, in Mossi territory. Increased population density has led to greater pressure on land.

Grazing land, formerly used by transhumant Fulani herders, is now scarce. Fallowing periods are shorter, and, in some areas, drought has led to the destruction of ground cover. Traditionally, millet, guinea corn, and sorghum were the major cereal crops, but maize is now increasingly cultivated despite widespread recognition that it is of less nutritive value than traditional crops that require longer growing seasons. Rice, which has a long history of cultivation as a minor crop, has been introduced in new varieties as a cash crop.

Portrait of Mamprusi farmer. By whaun

Division of Labor
Mamprusi used to claim that their women did not farm, by which they meant that their wives did not hoe, as do women of neighboring peoples, but helped in the sowing and harvesting of crops; however, famine conditions during the early 1980s resulted in the use of all available labor in agriculture.

Mamprusi woman at Namkpanduri Market
Men and women now both participate in all phases of the farming cycle other than firing the bush and clearing land for cultivation, which is the work of men. Dawadawa pods and shea nuts, collected by women, are still an important source of food, and their elaborate processing is a task for women. Building houses is men’s work. Women finish the floors and walls. Baskets, pots, and locally woven cloth are made by neighboring peoples, and certain foodstuffs (e.g., smoked fish) are also bought from neighbors rather than produced by Mamprusi. Literate adults who have been through the Ghanaian school system are employed by local government offices or work for foreign missionaries and nongovernmental organizations. Local salaries are usually insufficient, however, and farming is a necessary adjunct to most other occupations.

Mamprusi women at the Market in Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

Women are expected to trade as an extension of their domestic duties. Traditionally, they received cereal from their husbands to make the staple porridge but were expected to collect or trade for ingredients to make soup to accompany the porridge. Shea butter and dawadawa flour, firewood, and millet beer were prepared by women, both for domestic use and trade. Some women are engaged in large-scale trade of grain and yams, cooked food, beets, kola nuts, smoked fish, and imported manufactured goods.
Mamprusi men may engage in trade as a full-time alternative to agriculture. Specialists trade in salt, kola, cattle, yams, and, now, manufactured goods. Although women own livestock, they never buy live animals themselves; even hens and guinea fowl are bought and sold by men. Local markets are held either on every third or every sixth day, and specialist traders follow particular sets of markets, which constitute local market cycles. Major market towns have a permanent market site, daily markets, a few small stores, and beer bars. Smaller villages have only periodic markets.

Mamprusi women coming back from Market,Nalerigu,Ghana.By Curly-Q

Land Tenure
Traditionally, Mamprusi have regarded land as belonging to the ancestors and to future generations; hence, the sale of land is considered an offense against the ancestors. In urban areas, houses are sold, but this is considered sale of the construction alone. Use rights to cultivate land belong to the person who has cleared it. Usufructuary claims to land may be inherited within a family, but unused land reverts to the community, to be allocated by village chiefs and elders. Until the late twentieth century, there had been relatively little pressure on land, and the only major conflicts over land use occurred between neighboring village communities. Formerly, these conflicts might be resolved by the movement of farmers to unused land and the relocation of village communities. This has become more difficult with increased population density and capital investment in unmovable village infrastructure (e.g., school, clinic, government office, market, church/mosque, water pipes).

Mamprusi woman at Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

Mamprusi Belief
Eighty-two percent of Mamprusis practice traditional religion. Naa-wuni is the supreme god, whose name is used by Mamprusi Muslims  and traditional worshipers. In the traditional religion he is not worshiped or referred to except in exclamations. Ancestors are believed to help in a crisis through various diviners who live in each village. The Mamprusi communicate with their ancestors through sacrifices and offerings. Fourteen percent of Mamprusis are Muslims, and four percent are Christians. Great social pressure is put on any who want to change.

Mamprusi men removing the skin of a slaughtered sheep. By haunsinafrica
Kingship. Mamprusi kingship is both a religious and a political institution. The king and royal ancestors are held responsible for the fertility of land and people. Respect for a village chief is a manifestation both of political allegiance and reverence for the kingship. The king embodies the royal ancestors and owns all the land and everything on it; royal chiefs replicate his powers on a more limited scale. The living king and royal chiefs delegate responsibility to members of other king groups, which have other divinities, and those, too, are regarded as having a part to play in providing for the general welfare.
Islam. The historical connections between the Mamprusi and Islam are unclear. In major market towns and the capital village, a few Muslim families are clearly distinguished from other Mamprusi. Muslim men marry non-Muslim women, and their wives tend to adopt Islam. They trace their origins to royals who did not achieve office or to immigrant traders. The oldest Muslim community is located in Gambaga, a major market in the precolonial period.
Muslims there provided services for the caravan trade and were, until the late twentieth century, dyers. The king’s liman resides in Gambaga. Liman Baba, who acted as a go-between for Na Barga, the reigning king when the British arrived, is also mentioned in reports from Kumasi. He clearly was an important and literate figure of the period. At present, Muslims participate at court and in domestic rituals performed at death and naming. It is traditionally forbidden for the king to be a Muslim, but, during the late twentieth century, kings have been converted to Islam. Since the 1960s, evangelical Muslims have been active and the number of mosques and the diversity of Muslim communities has increased in the Mamprusi area.
Christianity. The first Christian mission in the Mamprusi region was probably the Assemblies of God, established around 1925.
After independence, the Baptist Mission Hospital was built in Nalerigu, the king’s village, with funds from the United States; since then, both British and U.S.-based missions have established themselves. Ghanaian churches have also founded congregations.

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Mamprusi kids
Mamprusi man dancing traditional Damba dance by swirling his fugu. By –

Kin Groups and Descent.
The calculation of patrilineal descent is significant at both the domestic and political levels. The royal patrician descended from the first king, Na Gbewa, is constituted at present by the five patrilineages that articulate the territorial framework of Mamprusi political organization (see “History and Cultural Relations”). Each royal lineage provides a chief for the capital village in its respective province; the centrally localized lineage provides the king. Chiefs of the capital villages in each province are selected and installed by the king and his court, but they, with their courts, in turn select and install village chiefs within their provinces. Although each lineage is localized in a corresponding province, its constituent segments are dispersed throughout the many small settlements of that territory. Villages may contain a variety of commoner kin groups and one or more segments of a royal lineage, or they may be made up of a single extended kin group consisting solely of either royals or commoners.

Mamprusi boy in his batakari dress

The patrilineages that form the royal clan are subdivided into “gates” ( zanoaya; sing. zanoari ); many commoner lineages are similarly organized. A gate consists of agnates who trace connection through three generations of deceased patrikin. Within a gate, office is inherited, and gate numbers cooperate in the performance of funerals. Members of the same gate sacrifice together to their common ancestors. The distinction between royals ( nabiisi ) and commoners ( tarima ) depends on patrilineal filiation, and Mamprusi claim that all patrilineal descendants of kings, however distantly related, are royal. Large numbers of commoner gates probably have royal origins.
Although it is said that royals should not intermarry, neither at clan nor at lineage levels are Mamprusi royals an exogamous group. The exogamous unit is the gate. Beyond this range of patrikin, marriages occur, although one or both partners may relinquish royal status in establishing the union. Where intermarriage occurs between members of different royal lineages or different gates of a single lineage, one segment will be regarded as royal, while the other will be classified as commoner. If royal descent is not reaffirmed by tenure of royal office, royal status is eventually lost. Thus, the commoner population consists of descendants of royals who have lost claim to royal office as well as immigrants from a variety of different ethnic groups, most notably Tampollensi, Tchokossi, Kantonshi, and other neighboring peoples. Some commoners claim autochthonous origins. Commoners hold office as elders in the chiefly courts and may also hold chiefly office, although their chiefships, unlike those of royals, are not ranked; they are regarded as nonresident elders of a royal chief’s court.
Kinship Terminology.
Elderly Mamprusi woman
The Mamprusi classificatory terminology distinguishes three generations, and great-grandparent/great-grandchild relationships can be described. In Ego’s generation, men distinguish senior brother ( bere ) from junior brother, who is classed together with sisters as junior sibling ( tizoa’ ) . Female ( tizo-pwa’a ) and male ( tizo-doo ) junior siblings can be identified. Women class their senior sisters and brothers together (bere) and their junior brothers and sisters together (tizoa’). In the first ascending generation, Ego categorizes siblings of the same sex as a parent, depending on their age relative to the parent. The categories senior father ( bakpema ) and junior father ( bapura ), or senior mother ( makpema ) and junior mother ( mapura ) include all persons for whom Ego’s parents use sibling terms. Special terms distinguish a mother’s brother ( nyahaba ) and a sister’s child ( nyahanga ). A father’s sister ( piriba ) refers to her brother’s child as child ( bia ). Ego refers to his own children and to those of persons he calls by a sibling term, as child (bia); male child ( bi-dibiga ) and female child ( bipunga ) may be distinguished. The child of any person called child will be called grandchild ( ya’anga ), for which the reciprocal is female grandparent ( yapwa’a ) or male grandparent ( yadoo ). The term for grandparent ( yaaba ) is also used for ancestor.

Elderly Mamprusi man. by haunsinafrica
Affines distinguished in Ego’s generation include husband ( sira ), wife (pwa’a), sister’s husband ( datyia; pl. datyisi ), and brother’s wife ( pwaatia; pl. pwaatyisi ). A woman calls her husband’s brother “husband” (sira) but usually specifies his relative age with respect to her husband ( sira-kpema = senior husband; sira-pira = junior husband). A man calls his brother’s wife, wife (pwa’a). All the above terms are used both in address and reference and replace personal names in most contexts.

Elderly Mamprusi woman with a tribal mark

Nayiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai, paramount chief of the Mamprusi people, at his palace in Nalerigu, Ghana.

Sociopolitical Organization
The king (nayiiri) sits with his court in his palace (nayiini ) at the village of Nalerigu, roughly in the territorial center of the former kingdom. Although aspects of the kingship are replicated in the paramount chiefship of each province, only the king’s palace contains the regalia used to install the king and to invest the heads of the other royal provinces.
Each king is regarded as embodying all preceding kings, and his court is, directly or indirectly, the source of kingship/chiefship (naam) throughout the kingdom. It is the most elaborate and largest court containing offices represented in smaller numbers in all other royal courts. Of these, the Master of Horses (wudaana ) and the Master of Spears (kpanaraana ) are most common. Courts also include gun bearers, drummers, and local earth-priests, as well as Muslims. Also numbered among the king’s elders are all the household heads of a settlement, special drummers and officeholders responsible for his clothing and regalia, successors to the titles of former executioners, and eunuchs.

Old man sitting under a hut in Nalerigu,Ghana. By Curly-Q

Courts allocate land and deal with disputes arising from land claims and litigation arising from marriage, as well as other domestic and civil disputes. Most disputes are dealt with first in a chief’s court rather than in government courts. Chiefly courts deal with funerals and succession to office, organize annual cylindrical celebrations, perform sacrifices on behalf of the community to earth and ancestor divinities, and mediate between the local communities and national government. Special commoner-chiefs deal with witchcraft accusations and have custody of convicted witches.
Commoner elders in the king’s court play a crucial role in the selection of each new king and are involved in the selection and installation of royal chiefs. Succession to royal office is competitive; numerous candidates present themselves, and, through gifts and persuasion, attempt to influence the court in their favor. Office should circulate through the various gates of a royal lineage, and a son should not succeed his father in office. The participation of commoners—as king/chief makers and as followers of rival princes in competitions for royal office—balances the hegemony of royals and acts as a check on the abuse of power by one segment of the royal lineages. All offices are held for life; therefore much of the court endures beyond the reign of a particular king or chief.

Mamprusi chiefs of Walewale
Since 1957, numerous local institutions have been set up in the Mamprusi districts by the Ghanaian government to extend the processes of technological and social transformation begun during the colonial period. Police and army units represent the central government, as do schools and local government offices. Roads, a postal system, telephone communication, and bus transport connect the Mamprusi districts with the rest of the world. Increased trade with southern Ghana has resulted in the expansion of markets and increased distribution for commodities made elsewhere.
The north of Ghana has been the scene of numerous small-scale conflicts since the late 1960s, most of which have not involved Mamprusi. One of the longest-standing conflicts involves people resident immediately to the north who claim Mamprui identity and are descended from royal Mamprusi who emigrated to that area prior to the British conquest. They speak Hausa or Kusal rather than Mampruli, and, although they consider themselves Mamprusi, they should be considered separately from the ethnic group residing in the Mamprusi districts.

Mamprusi kids outside near corn mill.

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Mamprusi man performing traditional Damba dance of the North

Two-thirds of marriages are polygamous. Children are given both Mamprusi and Muslim names, and are circumcised. When a person dies, Mamprusis dig a temporary grave near the compound. At the next dry season they hold a special funeral, with food, dancing, and the determination of the cause of death, to honor the person. At this time the dead person’s spirit is finally released.
Marriage and Family
Marriage. In theory Mamprusi royals must marry commoners. In effect, they seek to spread their matrimonial alliances as widely as possible. Among royals and commoners members of the same gate are forbidden to marry, and marriage to patrikin with whom precise genealogical connection can be traced is frowned upon. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriage—that is, marriage to a cross cousin who is not the child of a parent’s own sibling—is regarded as a good marriage, particularly by Mamprusi Muslims.

Mamprusi man from Nalerigu
Men aspire to polygynous marriages. Chiefs and important commoners have many wives. Mamprusi frown upon sororal polygyny, saying that marriage with two women from the same house leads to quarrels among the wives and difficulties in management for the household head. Marriage is established by gifts of kola. Two prestations of kola are sent by the head of the husband’s gate to the head of the wife’s gate. Both are sent via the chief or chiefs of the villages in which the partners reside. The first, message kola, establishes that the woman has spent the night with her future husband. If this kola is accepted, the pardon kola follows. The marriage kola is distributed to members of the woman’s gate, and a portion of both prestations is taken by the chief or chiefs and distributed to elders.

Mamprusi man and his wife

Memuna Sandow
Mamprusi woman,Memuna Sandow is an assemblywoman in West Mamprusi District, Northern Ghana. She has a Mamprusi facial beautification marks

Chiefs thus involved will subsequently mediate in disputes arising within or from the marriage. The exchange makes children legitimate members of the father’s gate. A son-in-law acquires important ongoing responsibilities with regard to his wife’s kin. He must attend the funeral of senior members of her gate and give her grain, a sheep, and cash to contribute. He must raise a group of dancers and gun bearers to celebrate the deceased. A husband’s failure to provide the requisite funeral contribution is grounds for divorce. When, as frequently happens, Mamprusi men marry women of neighboring ethnic groups, they follow the woman’s group’s customs for establishing the marriage.

A determined woman can now leave a marriage she dislikes. This is said to be the result of modern government intervention, but it seems likely that even formerly, it was not impossible for a woman to leave one husband for another. It is more difficult however, for her to return to her kin. Men also cannot easily dismiss a wife of long standing. Although marriage is unstable in the first years, it becomes more stable after the birth of children. After a husband s death, his widow may choose to marry one of his brothers, but cannot be forced to do so against her will. Young widows may return home and accept gifts from suitors, which they will use to trade. They are then supposed to choose a husband and return the gifts to the rejected suitors. An elderly widow is household head if she has a married son with whom she lives in her deceased husband’s house. A widow without sons will reluctantly return to her own kin.

Mamprusi girl outside of a corn mill in Nalerigu, Ghana.
Domestic Unit. The core of the household is the patrilineal family. Royal households normally include a polygynous household head, perhaps with his younger married sons and unrelated dependents. Commoner households more often include older married brothers with children, and often three generations of agnates reside together. Older men are often polygynous; important chiefs and wealthy commoners have many more than the maximum of four wives permitted Muslims. Marriage is invariably patri-virilocal. A woman retains membership in her natal lineage. Although she normally will be buried in her husband’s house, a final funeral is performed for her in her natal home.

Mamprusi women from Nalerigu showing her tattoo palms that she is married
Although women observe an etiquette of respect when dealing directly with their husbands, and the male
household head is treated with deference by resident family members, women control the domestic domain. Significantly, a male household head is said to be subordinate to his father’s sister if such a relative is in residence. The internal hierarchy of the household is based on the ranking of women in polygynous marriages. A senior wife has authority over junior wives, and their children sleep in her room. She supervises their collective performance of the major domestic tasks and may also organize trading enterprises. Mothers-in-law have authority over their husband’s wives.

Beautiful Mamprusi girl from Nalerigu,Ghana
Mamprusi Drums/Dance
In the Mamprusi kingdom, drummers are custodians of history. Children in drumming families are schooled in the histories by their elders. The histories are sung to the accompaniment of the “talking” drums on formal state occasions.

Mamprusi drummer

Mamprusi drummer

A “talking” drum allows communication in drum language. The player squeezes the hour-glass shaped drum under the arm to change the pitch. According the Mamprusi drummers  “the histories tell of creation and of the reigns of previous kings which span more than 500 years. They state the norms and values of society through the use of proverbs and metaphors.”
The kings are always praised and their stories are presented in a positive light in histories, which encourages their descendants to give money to the drummers- the economic side of the occasion.

Mamprusi drummer boy
Damba Festival
The Damba festival is celebrated by the Mamprusis. The main venue of the celebration is Bawku and its environs. It is held between the months of July and August.

Mamprusi people doing their Damba dance

Originally linked with Islam to mark the birth of Mohammed, the festival has gradually taken on a traditional rather than Islamic tone. The 2-day festival is full of pageantry and showmanship and is celebrated in the towns of Dagbon, Gonjaland, Mamprusiland and Nanumbaland.
Encyclopedia of World Cultures | 1996 Drucker-Brown, 

Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana,By Alfred Weidinger
Mamprusi (Dagbamba)
c.1450 Mamprusi or Dagbamba state founded.

Rulers (title Nayiiri, also styled Mampurugu Naa)
1688 – 1742 Atabia Zontuua
1742 – 17.. Yamusa Jeringa
17.. – 17.. Mahaman Kurugu
17.. – 17.. Sulimani Apisi
17.. – 17.. Haruna Bono
17.. – 17.. Andani Yahaya
17.. – 1790 Mahama Kuluguba
1790 – 1830 Salifu Saatankugri
1830 – 1833 Abdurahamani Dambono (Dahmani Gyambongo)
1833 – 1850 Dawura Nyongo
1850 – 1864 Azabu Pagri
1864 – 1901 Yamusa Barga
1902 – 1905 Sulimanu Sigri
1906 – 1909 Ziniya Zore Abduru
1909 – 1915 Mahama Wubuga
1915 – 1933 Mahama Waafu
1934 – 1943 Badimsuguru Zulim
1943 Salifu Salemu
1943 – 1947 Abudu Soro Kobulga
1947 – 1966 Abdulai Sheriga
1967 – 1985 Adam Badimsuguru Bongu
1986 – 1987 Sulemana Salifu Saa
1987 – 2003 Gamni Mohamadu Abdulai
4. Jan 2004 Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga
               Damba dancer
                                Mamprusi people at a funeral. By haunsinafrica

Beautiful Mamprusi girl.  By haunsinafrica

Mamprusi elders

Mamprusi woman carrying load at Nalerigu. By  haunsinafrica

Mamprusi people of Gambaga in group transport

Mamprusi man, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia

Mamprusi man performing damba dance

Mamprusi woman and child. By haunsinafrica

Damba dancer


Boy with Damber armpit drum

Nayiiri Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, King of Mamprusi, Nalerigu, Ghana

Women at Gambaga witches camp with their kids

Mamprus woman

Portrait of a Mamprusi boy

Mamprusi people

Mamprusi people
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CLEMENT BONSU SR October 18, 2018 at 11:03 am

Nice read and informative. Well written. Learning a lot in addition to prior knowledge.

Thanks for the education.



YINGDOO October 20, 2018 at 8:58 am

Mole Dagombas tribes are located in the northern region of Ghana and in the central and southern parts of Burkina Faso. The mole Dagombas are made up of four major groups these are the Mamprusis, Dagombas, Nanumbas and Mossi who traced their lineage to one ancestor Naa Gbewa but there are other sub mole Dagombas states founded by other sons of Kpognambo; Nyeligili founded the chieftainship of Nangodi and Namzisheli founded the chieftainship of Tongo
According to Tamakloe who is one of the earliest writers of Dagbon said in his book (a brief history of the Dagbamba people) that before Naa Nyaɣsi and his father Naa Sitobu came to Dagbon there were already aborigines settling in this area. These aborigines called Dagbamba according to Tamakloe book originated from the time of Prophet Noah’s race the people of Ad in the Arabian lands. The son of Uz, the son of Aram, son of Shem, son of Noah settled at a place called Hadramaut in Arabia, but in time these people fell of the path of righteousness to the path of idolatry, so God sent a prophet to them in the of Heber to bring them onto the right path but these people rejected him. God then sent a hot choking wind to punish these people. Those who believed in Heber were save and these people were so big and tall (giants) these people wandered towards the east and west settling in inhabited countries till they arrived in the country we call Dagbon and their offspring were called Dagbambas.
The name Dagbon was coined out from the cow skins the Ad priest sat on. Dagbambas called skin Gbon. This cow skins were referred to as the “Ada Gbon” which have been corrupted to Dagbon this theory is according to Tamakloe he added that when these Dagbambas (Dagban sabla) arrived in Dagbon they first settled in Gunayili and Yogo. After some years some of them move to Nanumba and Adele in the northern part of the Volta region of Ghana. Further studies have shown that the aboriginal Dagombas first settled at Baɣli at community near karaga. These migrants came and met man called Namogu who was integrated into the aboriginal Dagbamba society by marriage. The inter-marriage brought about the different group of aboriginal Dagbamba such as Gbandari, Nanmoglinsi, Langori, and Kpariba. After some year they started to spread to areas like Nambrugu and to other parts of old Dagbon such as Salaa, Gunayili, Yogo and Adele. From these reason that the Baɣli Tindana is the head of Tindamba in the three sister states. For this reason the Baɣli chieftaincy titled is also the most senior title over Yaa Naa, Mamprugu Nayiri and Bimbilla Naa’s kingship titles that is why they appellate him as Namazaa Kpema, Namazaa Biya meaning Baɣli chieftaincy title is senior and the junior of all the three sister states of Naa Gbewa. The junior aspect of Baɣli chieftaincies is to indicates the limited land and sub chieftaincies titles he command as compare to the Yaa Naa, Mamprugu Nayiri and Bimbilla Naa who have many titles and large area of land to command.
The history of greater Dagbon (Mamprugu, New Dagbon and Nanung) according to Lungsi begins with a man name Tohazie who was a hunter and the only son of Tiyawumya. His father came from ancient Egypt from King Shabarko family. Tiyawumya was born in Massari and move to Thungi and from Thungi to morocco. After sometime he move to chad and finally to Gomba (Zamfara) where he gave birth to Tohazie. When his son grew up and became a hunter by profession he moved to Mali and in Mali he rescued a town whose source of water has been seized by a wild bull. Tohazie skillfully killed this bull thereby saving the people of dying out of thirst, he also led the people to defeat their enemies in this region this made him very popular the king of Mali rewired Tohazie for his services and bravery. He was giving the chance to pick any other kings daughter for marriage and he choose Paɣ’ wobga among the princesses of Mali who was a lame (cripple) girl. Tohazie gave birth to a wonderful being name Kpognambo (Kpaɣanimbu). When he grew up he also help the Malians in war until he move to Biun in Guruma land where he defeated the tindana and rule Biun till his death.
Naa Gbewaa who was a grandson of Kpognambo (Kpaɣanimbu) took over throne when he died he then migrated from Biun with a large following to Pusiga in upper east region of Ghana. On his arrival to Pusiga he waged war on all wicked Tindamba from Pusiga to Yani Dabari by way expanding his kingdom and to promote good governance and democracy. The wicked Tindamba were killed and replaced but the good one were integrated into his governance. Naa Gbewa did not killed or drive away the Aboriginal Dagombas they were all integrated in his kingdom to form one society.
Naa Gbewa gave birth to a lot of children some oral tradition say he gave birth to fifteen sons and four daughters. Others say he gave birth to nine. Among all his children seven were more popular. The first child was a female called Katchiogu (Pakpong Katchiogu; Ofa Nam Cheri) this is the reason every princess id praised Katchiogu. Next was Zirili, Kufogu, Sitobu (siɣri-Ntobu, Duri Ni Nam), Tohagu (Galinkuna Tohagu), ŋmantambo and others Shibeei who became the first kuɣa naa. Buhuyeligu who also became the first chief of Sunsoŋ, Beimoni the last born of Naa Gbewa became the chief of karaga. Zantandana the chief of Yirigipeilli and The chief of Yemo Karaga Karateili.
Zirili killed his younger brother Kufogu who was the most loved son of Naa Gbewaa since he was heir to the throne because the first child being a female made him the next heir. Zirili was afraid that his father will hand over the chieftaincy to Kufogu after his death so he killed him Naa Gbewaa hearing the tragic news mysteriously entered the ground somewhere around Pusiga. A room was built around that spot to mark his grave and can be still be located to this day that’s is why all the mole Dagbon states burial the rspectives kings in round rooms. Zirili also died shortly afterwards. Sitobu ascend the throne since he was the next in line. He got married and gave birth to Nyaɣsi. When Nyaɣsi grew up his father told him secretly to go to his uncle Tohagu and ŋmantambo to go and ask for war fortification and permission from him Naa Sitobu so they can go and wage war. His uncle agreed and went to Naa Sitobu ask for permission and naa he declined the proposal. Some days later he asked him to go to his uncle and tell to ask the permission again. They came for the second time and he refused them again. And on the third time he agreed and expressed concern on how Nyaɣsi was going to fight without support. Tohagu agreed to accompany him on his war fare and ŋmantambo stayed behind with the rest of the ammunitions to protect his brother and kingdom. Tohagu and Nyaɣsi started their wage and when they reach Gambaga the tindana was short Albino woman who was very rich. He welcome the two warmly and Nyaɣsi told her to pay him 100 each of all his animals and cash to an extended he depleted the woman wealth. One day when Nyaɣsi demanded the woman was not having enough to pay and Nyaɣsi beheaded the woman but milk came out instead of blood the villagers rubbed the milk from the woman on their body thinking he was a blessed child of the gods Nyaɣsi also use the milk to touch is head and he became mad. Tohagu sent him to several herbalist but couldn’t find any treatment for him so he decide to send him back to Sitobu on their way back they met a herbalist at Savelugu where he got treated when he was to be discharged his head was shave and that’s where the Savelugu chieftaincies started and also that’s why any time a chief dies the heads of his people are shave known as Kuzabri. . Naa Sitobu had left Yani Dabari to Baɣli. After wars he came to meet his father at Baɣli where his father Naa Sitobu secretly in the night made his Nyaɣsi to ascend the throne and also vanished into the ground as his father Naa Gbewa. Naa Sitobu cursed the sons of Naa Gbewaa not to ever set foot in Baɣli again. The next morning Tohagu and ŋmantambo saw Nyaɣsi their nephew wearing the Nam Insignia. They got angry and went to prepare a war to fight Nyaɣsi. Nyaɣsi told some wise elders to call them back when they came, they pass through the back door. That’s is why sub chiefs or elders pass through the back door when they visit grave of their three mains kings (Yaa Naa, Nayiri and Bimbilla Naa) when any of them dies.
His uncle went back to prepare and fight him because by tradition they were supposed to inherit their brother. The Baɣli tindana intervene and tell them to proceed to a nearby town at this town at this town the Baɣli tindana told Nyaɣsi to share the properties of his father to his uncle equally and for the insignia since it doesn’t come out during the day to night they will it to and Nyaɣsi agreed. When they divided the properties (cattle’s, horses, donkeys, slaves, cowries etc) in three equal parts the Baɣli tindana told Tohagu to picked first, since he was the eldest and Nyaɣsi picked second for representing his father and ŋmantambo picked the remainder. In the night Nyaɣsi brought out the insignia where they share it too. Hence the Nayiri, Yaa Naa and Bimbilla Naa all possess some parts of Naa Gbewaa insignia the town where they divided the properties of Naa Gbewa is called Nambrugu (meaning dividing the chieftaincy) located at the Baɣli area. Baɣli naa was assisted by the Salaa Tindana, Nambrugu Tindana and other sub chiefs in the area. After they shared the Insignia his uncles decided to leave and formed their own kingdoms. Ever since the sharing of the properties of Naa Gbewaa Insignia no prince from the three sister state has ever visited Baɣli. Tong Lana Yamusa was a grandchild of Naa Sitobu who wanted to try and visit Baɣli died at baobab tree near Baɣli.
Tohagu move to Mamprugu and formed Mamprugu chieftaincy and ŋmantambo move southwards to Atebubu in Brong Ahafo region passing through Yeji and Salaga. The Gonjas in this area where refuges from west Gonjas .Ŋmantambo gave them the land when they came to begged for the land. The Hausa settlers at Salaga and Nanumbas in the area inter married giving rise to the Kpanbi skin.

Reinaldo Ascencio August 6, 2021 at 3:42 pm

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