The Origin of the Dagaaba-Frafra joking Relationship

The origin of the Gurune-Dagaaba relationship is as yet undetermined. Little is known as to its origin. People accept joking as a common practice between the two tribes, their general concern is but to enjoy the jokes and live in harmony. However, fascinating stories and legends are told in connection with its origin. Many ethnic groups or sub-groups in northern Ghana have legendary history telling how their ancestors came from Mamprusi or Dagomba lands, but it is not clear whether these narratives reflect migration of whole peoples or the arrival of chiefly families to rule over previously chiefless peoples (Kropp-Dakubu 1988).
According to a legend narrated by Anthony Atarebore, the Frafra and the Dagaaba were both linked with the Dagomba. This Dagomba connection re-echoes Hébert’s legend about the first Dagara, an orphan who was accused of witchcraft and expelled by the Dagomba chief. The orphan accordingly fled towards the Black Volta and stayed near Babile, across the river. However, both legends do not account for the relationship with other ethnic groups7, which are shown to belong to a common Mabia ancestry (Bodomo 1994).
Bodomo (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Tuurey (1982) and Hébert (1976) that the Dagaaba are a splinter group from either the Mossi or the Dagomba (or both), who moved into the present area and assimilated (or got assimilated by) earlier settlers and/or new arrivals. As stated above, the work instead suggests all these belong to an earlier and larger parent ethnolinguistic group – the Mabia that broke up into many separate tribes probably due to hardships encountered during migration. Even though there is not any known legend connected to this hypothesis, Kropp-Dakubu (1988) seems to suggest how this might have happened.
If migration separates different groups or speakers of a language, for instance, by a big river or mountain frontier, then the speech of the group will change independently of the changes in the other. Thus we find different varieties of a single language – what we call dialects. If the dialects continue to be separated and to differ more and more from each other then eventually the speakers of each will no longer understand the speakers of the other, and we will have two distinct languages derived from one original tongue. Such languages would be said to be ‘related’ and the analogy of human kinship is used to describe them as ‘descended’ from the same ‘parent’ or ‘ancestor’ language. If the two descendant languages themselves split into dialects and then into further descendant languages then we can talk of ‘sub-families’ and of closer or more remote relationships. In this way we consider that all the languages which we call Gur which includes the Dagaaba and the Frafra may be the result of many, many centuries of change and migration and splitting up of what was originally one ancestor language.
We will elaborate further Atarebore’s legend that a long time ago, Dagomba, Gurune and Dagao were brothers, or rather cousins. They lived somewhere in Southern Africa among the Bantus. From Southern Africa, they began to migrate northwards through Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Then, turning westward, they moved to Sierra Leone, Northern Nigeria, and finally to Ghana. Historians differ in their opinion as regards to the nature and scale of these movements. For instance, Lentz (1994) rejects the hypothesis put forward by Eyre-Smith’s that the history of northern Ghana, indeed of the whole West African savannah, seemed to consist of ‘constant’ movements of people as a result of slave-raiding, internecine warfare, etc., whole sections of a tribe or family breaking away and migrating to a new territory. Instead, Carola Lentz suggests that migration took place in small-scale distances and in small groups.
In general, there are some cultural similarities between the Dagaaba, the Dagomba and the Gurune, and some peoples living in the countries mentioned. These include wedding customs, bringing up children, respect for the elderly, etc. Similar food and clothing are also fair indicators of common origin, in addition to other social and cultural similarities, which also seem to indicate the validity of the legend. This is purely the writer’s own assumption.
Phonetic similarities in some person names in these countries also suggest the plausibility of the legend. For instance, the name ‘Abongo’ is common both among the Gurune in Ghana and among some of the peoples in Kenya. Another name, ‘Bayuo’ or ‘Beyuo’ is also common among the Dagaaba in Ghana as well as among some of the peoples in Sierra Leone. Staniland (1975) suggests that the Dagomba were pagans of Hausa origin, possibly from Zamfara, one of the old Hausa ‘Banza Bokwo’ states located in northern Nigeria. Atarebore’s legend suggests that from here, the family began to move westward and finally reached Ghana.
To be continued…


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