The Bimoba people also known historically as as the Bimawba, B`Moba, Moba, Moare, and Moab, are Gur-speaking (Gurma) cluster of peoples living in upper west and northern regions Ghana; and in the west of Sansanne-Mongo and in the mountainous zone of the Dapango (Dapaong) region in northern Togo. They see themselves as truly, “The People of Yennu (Creator/Supreme God).” They are less developed and less organised than mainstream Ghanaian ethnic groups and the surrounding tribes such as Mamprusi, Kusasi, or Dagomba’s. The Bimoba are noted for staying on hilly lands and high ground, sometimes with huge rock outcrops.
The Bimoba are mystical people and wields one of the potent spiritual charms amongst the tribes in the Northern territories of Ghana and Togo. It is believed that their reliance on their traditional African spiritual secret charms has been the basis of their survival as a small tribe sandwiched between powerful and larger ethnic groups. You underestimate a Bimoba at your own peril, for a Bimoba (boy or girl) is spiritually bathed from infancy and initiated into various secret cults of their culture before adulthood.
From Nakpanduri to Bunkpurugu, Bimoba have sought to settle in elevated lands, perhaps to spot enemies advancing from a distance, or for some other reason. This preference for elevated land appears to have become part of their social fibre, and to translate as self-esteem or self-respect.
Part in Upper East and part in Northern Region. The border with Togo dates from the Anglo-French Convention of 1898 which divided Bimoba in two; on the west side is a strip about 20 km wide from Warinyanga in the north to Tambiing in the south. This now covers parts of Tempane-Garu, Gambaga, and Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo Districts. The rest of the Mɔab people live in Togo, east of the border, Dapaong i.e Sansanne mango region.
Demography and settlement
There is no exact figure of the size of the Bimoba Tribe. Most of the written sources estimate the total population of the Bimoba around 300.000. The Bimoba clans are spread throughout the upper west of Togo, the Upper East Region and the north-eastern tip of the Northern Region of Ghana. Below is population distribution table of the Bimoba:
POPULATION Table 1 BIMOBA – COMPARED BY YEAR
|1960 Census||PLR 1984 estimate||2000 Census||Ethnologue ’04 estimate||Josh P 2006 estimate|
|3 N Regions|
|7 S Regions|
Table 2 BIMOBA – COMPARED BY REGION (2000 CENSUS) Table 7 (pp 18-23)
|3 Northern regions|
|Upper East||Upper West||Northern||NORTH TOTAL|
|7 Southern regions|
|Eastern||Ashanti||Brong Ahafo||SOUTH TOTAL|
35% of Bimoba live outside Northern and Upper East RegionsThe Bimoba people are living in family compounds. Although extended family and clan are the main basis for social setting, most of the Bimoba are living in a semi-nuclear family compound under guidance of an adult man (the landlord). On average a compound is inhabited by 15 persons, but the largest compound had 214 inhabitants, the smallest only one.
The compound is located in the middle of the property (farmland). All huts are made of clay and the roofs are made of reed and straw. The huts have no windows. Due to its vulnerable structure the average life span of a normal hut is up to four years. Over the past decade rectangular shaped huts with corrugated iron roofing were introduced. Many farmers combine one or two of these modern huts with a series of traditional huts.
There is one hut for every adult (starting at the age of thirteen). There are separate huts for the children who sleep together until they reach puberty. There is a hut for storing food and a patra (ritual hut). All huts are linked by a wall. The wall and huts seal off the compound from the outside world. In front of the compound, some huts are placed for the animals and birds. Kitchens are placed in the centre of the compound, one for each women living on the compound and some times a common kitchen for brewing bear. Some corners between the huts are separated by a small wall and used as a shower.
LanguageThe Bimoba tribe has its own language: Moar. The classification of the language is: Niger-Congo, Atlantic–Congo, Volta–Congo, Central, Northern, Oti-Volta, Guma, Moba. The language is related to the Moba, Togo, but not inherently intelligible with it. The language consists of 23 characters and is spoken by the Bimoba only. The Summer Language Institute’s catalogue of languages of the world (14th edition, 2004) estimates the number of Moar speakers at 76.000, but this is an under-estimation since all Bimoba in Ghana speak Moar. Most of the Bimoba speak different varieties of Moar.
The language has been described in the mid-sixties. Some missionaries wrote a language course, but Moar is still mainly an oral language. Recently some schoolbooks have been written to teach the language. There are two books in Moar: one private publication by the Canadian missionary society containing some clan stories (not dated, but most likely around 1990) and The Bimoba Bible (new testament only) published in 1986.
Bimoba ancient shrines/dwellings in Dapaong,Togo. By maremagna
The origin of the Bimoba people is not clear. According to oral history the Bimoba originate from the east and the west of Africa. The Moba, closely related to the Bimoba, migrated from western Sudan to the west of Africa through the Benue River basin and it is clear that some clans of the Bimoba (the Naniik, Kpikpira and Nabakib clans) were sub-groups of the Moba. There is no clear indication when the Moba or Bimoba actually came to the west, but oral history claims that they did so in the aftermath of fights at the end of the Shilluk reign, 1500 AD. They all settled along the route from Sudan to Ghana. The Bimoba settled at the end of the line and claim that they have migrated from the Sudan separately. They seem to originate from nomad traders.
Some other clans (Tambiouk, Maab, Bakpang and Tont) came, according to oral history, from the area that is presently known as south Togo and the Southern regions of Ghana (Ashanti en Dagomba land).
According to Fuzzy (1979), the Mobas migrated south from Feda Ngourma in Burkina Faso towards the end of the 17th century, then they were driven north by the Mamprusis and Dagombas using Chokosi mercenaries, to the part of the country that they now inhabit. They mingled with Bems and groups of Mamprusis and Konkombas to form the Bimoba people.
Assimeng (1990) states that the Bimoba comprising three different clan groups, all deriving from the same stock – Bem, Mɔba, and Dagbaan – migrated southward from Nung in what is now Burkina Faso, but he also describes other possibilities. At the time they were effectively occupying their present homeland, and the British and Germans were extending their spheres of influence. The Bimoba were in the “neutral zone” established by the colonial powers in 1888; the Anglo-German convention of 1899 finally drew the international border to the west of their territory, placing the Mɔab under German rule. However after World War I Britain and France divided former German Togo between them, and established the present border which divides Mɔakuni between Ghana and Togo.
All written sources are clear about the fact that the Bimoba tribe is a combination of different smaller groups, although the combination of clans is different in each and every source (Bims, Moba and Daggams or Moba, Basaalis, Gurmas, and Kokombas).
Kpeebi suggests another theory: that when the Mɔab were split into French and British territories those in the British territory were called British Mɔba or “B” Mɔba, hence the form of the word Bimoba in Ghana. This version seems to have some plausibility because in Togo where Bem are in the majority they are still known as Mɔba whereas only in Ghana are they called Bimoba. The colonial occupation brought to an end the fighting between the Bimoba and the Chokosi or Anufo.
Although the Moba have some form of tribe structure, there is no such structure in the Bimoba group. They belong to the acephalous tribes. In contrast with the surrounding tribes (Mamprusi (south), Kusasi (west), and Moshi (north) and Chekosi (east)), there are no kings, chiefs or big men among the Bimoba. History varies from clan to clan. The only common history they share is the history of their first chief, Turiŋme. Although Turiŋme is connected to only four clans, all clans accept the story of his migration as the first fact of Bimoba history.
When they settled in East Ghana and West Togo, they occupied the least fertile and most remote parts of this region, mainly in the area they still live in. This indicates that they were not able or did not want to rival the existing kingdoms at large. As a result of this the Bimoba are a group with limited power. Up till now only a few Bimoba men from the more developed area of Nakpanduri (Northern Region) have entered the government at a senior level.
As in many cases, it is arguable whether the Bimoba tribe truly exists. Many times people form a group (with its own history and habits) out of political reasons. The same could be the case with the Bimoba. We regard the Bimoba as an ethnic group with significant tribe elements, because the group is a well known, although not well documented, group of people, genealogic analysis shows clear evidence for endogamic relations within the group, the structure of the clans form an important and leading element in the social organisation of the group, and the people regard themselves as Bimoba and refer to the Bimoba as their tribe.
The Bimoba in the Upper East region are almost all subsistence agriculturists. Only a small percentage of the population is involved in petty commodity or informal trade activities. Every family farms predominantly for its own use and survival. The estimated average income is below the international standard of 1 dollar per day (poverty scale United Nations).
Investments in tools or machines are rare. The average farmland that is used by one family is about 10 acres, but the actual size of the possessed land varies considerably. Most of the families own land around the compound and acres further away. Many times the land is hired out to other Bimoba (as part of the Nnoboa).
There is one sowing season with two harvesting periods. During the sowing season, May – June, millet (early and normal millet), round beans, maize, corn, and groundnuts are sowed. Apart from these grain varieties, tomatoes, green pepper, and cotton are produced on a smaller scale. Harvesting of early millet is as early as July; the other products are harvested in late September and October.
The total farming is done by hand. In the whole Bimoba region, no tractor was found during our visits, but according to local informers, one tractor is available, owned by a Mamprusi big man. Some 40% of the farmers make use of bull oxes for the ploughing of the land. The others plough by hand. The ploughing with bull oxes is done by men, the hand ploughing is equally divided between men and women. Sowing is almost exclusively done by women.
Bimoba farming village
Fertilizers are used, but not by all farmers. Many farmers lack the money to invest in fertilizers and insecticides. Bad harvests are common and famine occurs in some parts of our research area too. In years of famine, many farmers lack the money for clothing, schooling and healthcare. They are just surviving.
The actual situation does not differ a lot from the situation some fifty years ago. In her study “Tribes of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast” Manoukian describes the farming north of the escarpment and closely mimics the present situation.
Illiteracy is still very high among the Bimoba in the Upper-East. Many children do not attend school regularly because farming is more important and that most children prefer working on the land instead of going to school.
Apart from this, most family often lack the money to pay for the school uniform and the school fee.
Education at senior secondary level or higher is available in Tempane or Bawku. Garu, the nearest central market village, has some small schools for vocational training, but only a few Bimoba go there. Most schools are established and run by the government. There is no monthly school fee for primary schools, but there is a monthly fee for secondary schools.
The Bimoba are proud people with self-esteem. This self-esteem is vividly implied in a popular Bimoba adage: Samɔ ki bant diboori sab, which translates “A stranger cannot recognize seed millet or TZ (tuo zaafi)”, meaning that a host would use the last bit of seed-grain in the barn to prepare a meal for a stranger, rather than allow him to go hungry. The stranger would not know that the meal is using up the last of his host’s seed grain. This kind of obligation is still very much alive even amongst the poorest families today.
There is a kayayee (portering) phenomenon among some ethnic groups in northern Ghana where young girls migrate from the villages to the cities to work as porters. However you would you never see a Bimoba girl being involved in kayayee. In the same way, Bimoba boys formerly preferred work in cocoa plantations to portering. They would never consider a job of pounding fufu in a restaurant, for example. Neither would they opt to be a paid conservancy labourer even in the most extreme circumstances.
Bimoba girl holding a baby. By arnaud-p
As stated before, the Bimoba do not have an integrated tribe structure. There is no paramount chief or Bimoba king. The total group consists of more than 20 different clans. Each clan has its own geographical focal point throughout the Bimoba region.
Table 1 gives the total clan and clan group structure of the Bimoba.
Map 1. Bimoba area. (black square) and actual research area (white circle)
Table 1. CLANS OF THE BIMOBA
|CLAN GROUP OF BAAKPANG|
|CLAN GROUP OF TURINWE|
|CLAN GROUP OF KANYAKIB|
Bimoba can only marry outside their clan. Marrying outside the tribe is permitted, but rarely seen. By marrying, the wife is accepted to the clan of the man. She than regards herself and her kin as member of her husbands clan. If the husband dies, the widow can re-marry, but by doing so she might loose all her rights of possession and custody. Only when she remarries within the clan or clan group of her late husband, she will remain in her right.
Bimoba people. By Hawa Kombian
Polygamy is wide-spread. Bimoba men can take up to four women, depending on their financial means. Bimoba nuclear families are still large. The average number of deliveries in post-menopausal women is eigh.
Bimoba are patrifocal and therefore, children always remain under custody of the father. Many women do have their first delivery before their official marriage and many of them with another man than their future husband. Casual sex before marriage is common and the children born out of these contacts are not frowned upon. The children are usually raised by the mother although at any time the father can demand that his child returns to his custody.
The work on the compound and at the farm is divided between men and women equally. The women on the compound divide their work between each other. If some of the women are farming or gone to the market, the other women of the compound take care of the children, including (breast) feeding. All members of the family, including the children, are part of the compound labour force, especially during ploughing, seeding, and harvesting time.
Inheritance is patrilineal. A man’s children inherit most of his property, though his brother takes some things including his bow. If the children are young, the brother is responsible for them; if they inherit livestock from their father, the brother will care for the animals until the children are old enough.
A woman’s brothers and patrilineal family inherit all her possessions. If her husband owes her anything he must settle the debt on the day she dies. Widows traditionally marry a brother of the deceased, or a relative of her husband living in another compound and go to live with that person after the funeral. In recent times, a widow with more than two children may continue to live in her late husband’s house for the children’s sake, while still being free to marry the relative.
Political situation and power
The Bimoba Tribe is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Ghana. Being only 0.6 % of the nations population and having no chief or kingdom, they lack any formal power. However, the Bimoba has some minor tribal chief. The Bimoba paramount chief has his skin at Bunkpurugu. However he is appointed by the paramount chief of the Mamprusi who is based at Nalerigu Up to the 1960s each village had to send labourers to work on the Mamprusi paramount chief’s farm at Nalerigu once a year, but this is no longer done.
There is a chief, usually a man, in every village, appointed by the divisional chief or paramount chief as the case may be. When the skin becomes vacant it is contested by interested royals, but the divisional or paramount chief has the prerogative of choosing and appointing from among the contestants.
The levels of chiefs, in ascending order, are: village headman (kabonnab), village chief, divisional chief, paramount chief. Each lower chief is subject to his superior, but the superior does not have absolute control over the land of the other; suzerainty is not practical in Mɔabting. Chiefs have to be consulted if one wants to make a farm, but they are merely custodians, and do not own the land – ownership is vested in family heads. There are good inter-tribal relationships. Tribute was formerly seen as a bond for good relationships and loyalty, but has become a thing of the past. The chief is assisted by a council of elders, who sit on judicial cases. The chiefs are highly respected mediators between the people and the government, but lack official power. Bimoba chiefs belong to the Northern Regional house of chiefs.
Bimoba Chief of Nakpanduri,Ghana, David Kansok. He is under Nayiiri.
The regional chieftainship of the Northern Region caused recurring tribal wars in the last century. Several wars were fought between the Konkombas and the Bimoba. These wars have costed thousands of lives. The original sporadic fighting has become more frequent, more intense and wider in scope since the 1980s and the destruction of life and property more widespread. By official counts, the Konkomba-Bimoba wars of 1984, 1986, and 1989 left 60 people dead, with several hundreds displaced. This tribal fight was part of a larger series of tribal fights. Most of these wars were fought in the Northern Region (the Gonja-Nawuri War of 1992; the Konkomba and allies against the Gonjas in 1992; the Konkombas and Mossis in 1993. Finally, the 1994/95 Guinea Fowl war in which modern weapons were widely used, resulted in at least 2,000 people killed, 200,000 internally displaced and 441 villages completely destroyed. These fights were mainly induced by the introduction of a district council and the changing political structure (the power of the traditional leaders weakened). Clashes are rare now but the Bimoba – Konkomba relationship is still a matter of concern.
Bimoba people. By arnaud-p
The Bimoba of the Upper East region escaped most of these atrocities but seem to be more and more aware of their situation nowadays. Some are interested in the chieftainship, but did not reclaim it yet. At present the Bimoba are living in relative peace with the surrounding ethnic groups and do not pay a lot of attention to the relative powerless chiefs of the region.
Yennu is the God of all Bimoba. Yennu is a complex referring to all different elements of the power of God.
Yennu, isthe name forthe supreme God and creator, and the Mɔab believe that whatever Yennu does, no one can undo it, but no sacrifices are made to him*.It is believed that if you do wrong he will judge and punish you after death. The same word yennu is used in two other ways: Many people hold that “Yennu” is also a minor deity, the god of birth, to whom women make intercession for a child. A formula believed to be infallible is to lay a calabash of water, or a decoction of herbs, on his shrine. The woman returns and drinks it next day, after which she must remain at home and speak to no one but her husband for six days.
Moba people, Dapaong,Togo. By arnaud-p
During any sacrifice where lesser gods are named, the priest or elder first mentions Yennu = God, through whom the lesser gods derive their powers. (In this chapter we use Yennu with a capital letter to indicate both God and the name of the minor deity, though they have no connection.) Thirdly, yennu means sun, day, and personal god.Sacrifices of goats, fowls, and sheep are made to him. The god Bogri has power to cure disease, and many sacrifices are made to him. He protects and avenges all his people. It is believed that disease is caused by the anger of the gods, or by witchcraft, and an epidemic is attributed to the gods. Therefore, when an epidemic breaks out, fires are burnt and ceremonial dances performed on the paths to unaffected villages, that the evil may be halted. Patients are isolated, and all drumming, drinking, and fighting are forbidden. The same applies to a threatened attack in war. (KF) Ancestors Each village has its own grove, which consists of a ring of shady trees, which may be surrounded by a dry-built wall of stone encircling an upright stone in the centre. The heads of enemies are deposited here, and all village ceremonies are held here. The ancestors are believed to avert harm from the community, and people bring pots of beer to the shrines. All Bimoba clans have their earth-shrines, tingbaan, for instance Jabiir and Baajar, both located in Togo; such shrines may be a pile of stones or a tree, situated anywhere. Annual ceremonies are characterised by sacrifice of animals and fowls, feasts, and merry-making. Clan members in the diaspora may come home during these ceremonies to reinforce their unity as a clan.
A child in Moba shrine,Togo. By maremagna
There are also shrines of family gods, patir, mud effigies usually in human form, kept in the naakuuk. The patir shrine is served by the family’s jamatoo., that is, the oldest person in terms of generation. Most families have their own jamatoo, though the Look people have only one for the whole clan. When jamatoo dies he is succeeded by the next oldest in his generation.
Jamatoo sacrifices at his patir shrine to purify those who have committed any offence, for instance adultery. He also performs a rite when any bush animal is killed, to protect the hunter; if this is not done the spirit of the dead animal may catch him and he may die. If a sacrificed fowl falls with head and trunk facing the sun, that shows that it has been accepted. The jamatoo then puts some of the blood on the head of the patir and places the liver on top. Personal gods are made of mud. An unmarried man’s yennu is placed on the ground or on the wall of the naakuuk, a woman’s in her bathing area. When the man marries his yennu is moved to the court yard as a result, when one is married and wants to tell people that he is married he says I have now entered the room or the court yard.If a woman runs away from her husband she takes her yennu with her; it is a sign that she wants to make a final break. Yennu, sometimes called paaba, may be images of people, stones (chicheri) or earthen pots, all of which are invoked in the name of their owner. People worship and make prayers for immediate wants to inanimate objects, such as trees, stones, or an axe tied to a tree. In almost all Bimoba communities there are tungbandam (diviners or fortune-tellers) who own tungbana, and profess to identify people, especially women, who practise witchcraft. The jaaba (soothsayer) tells people why they are sick, what sacrifice is required, and to which ancestor or fetish it should be offered. If the sacrifice is required by someone’s personal god or patir, he may offer the sacrifice himself. The ninyuan can find spirits and invisible things, and thus can find witches.
Bimoba(Moba) shrine female figure,wooden,19th-20th century,Togo and Ghana.
Courtesy:Gift of George and Julianna Feher, 1981
Sacrifices are offered to ancestors, for instance when offering them herbs to treat an ailment inherited from an earlier generation, or during the sacrifice to patir. Ancestors are invoked to stand behind an individual, family, or clan for success in some endeavour. In the process the ancestors’ names are always mentioned.
Bimoba/Moba headress for spiritual initiation/shrine worship,19th-20th century.Togo.
Courtesy:The Bryce Holcombe Collection of African Decorative Art, Gift of Bryce Holcombe, 1983
Christianity was first introduced into Mɔabting from 1949 onwards by Pastors Shirer, Lehmann, and McCorkle of AG. About 1952 the AG established a general and maternity clinic at Nakpanduri, staffed originally by missionaries, now by Ghanaians. The late paramount chief supported Christianity and professed to be a Christian; he regularly attended Bunkpurugu AoG Church. In the Catholic parish, in 1986, there was a “prayer leader” in every congregation; there were seven zones, and the parish priest [from Bunkpurugu?] visited every zone once in seven weeks, in addition to a monthly meeting which all [congregational leaders?] awee supposed to attend. They used a liturgy and New Testament portions (the four gospels and Acts) in a version translated by the Catholics in Togo, also a course book Dinne Kristoyab (The Christian today).
The Lutherans trained congregation leaders through regular classes in Bunkpurugus. Conversion case history One man became a Christian partly though the witness of schoolboy relatives who received Christian teaching in school, and partly through evangelistic meetings held by missionaries in his village. This man became a pastor – but he says most people who became Christians at school have now drifted away from the faith. Attitudes Christians and Muslims look on one another as pagans. Muslims regard Christianity as “the white man’s thing”; Christians feel it is useless to witness to a Muslim as it only leads to argument.Islam: There have been Muslims in Mɔakuni since the 1920s; their influence is small but some mosques were built during the 1990s. The mosques at Bunkpurugu and Nakpanduri were attended in the 1980s primarily by traders from outside the area. Most Mɔar Muslims are illiterates. Some object to Islam on the ground that Muslims make people mad by the use of medicine. Traditional believers object to Christianity because it means giving up traditional religion.
Traditions and rites of passage
Bimoba has a few tribal festivals and rites, most of them being rites of passage. The Festival of Danjuor, where the history of Turiŋme is told and the coming of Turiŋme to the region is celebrated. This used to be the biggest and most colourful festival of the Bimoba.
Bimoba traditional dancers from Dapaong,Togo at Danjuor festival. By arnaud-p
It had not been held for some decades, but in January 2004 the festival was reintroduced. The Danjuor festival includes music, dance, and one-day coming together of all Bimoba. The Danjuor festival of 2004 was visited by over 2500 people.
Bimoba traditional Dancers from Dapaong,Togo at Danjuor festival. By arnaud-p
In the Bimoba tribe four rites of passage are of great importance: the Koant, (a language course or name giving process), the Ba Wanu (a ritual to establish Jaba’s), the wedding, and the funeral.
Bimoba traditional dancers from Bunkprugu, By Hawa Kombian
In the Koant ritual a secret language is learned and a new name is given to a member of the tribe undergoing the ritual. Each member of the Bimoba has different names. Apart from the first and family name, many have a Christian or Muslim name, mostly used when going to school or going “Kumasi”(far away). Besides these names Bimoba can obtain a ritual Bimoba name.
Bimoba boy from Dapaong Togo
These names (Konjit, Konduuk, Dinwaak and Tanjon for women, Duut, Laar, Kombat, Lambon, Konlan and Bombom for man) are given to them during a lengthy initiation process. This ritual is regarded to be holy and secret. Unlike other tribes, any Bimoba, man or woman, can request a Koant. The ritual is not compulsory and nowadays hardly performed, but still many initiated (Koantjies) are living in the area. Before entering the Koant process, the Konatji (the one undergoing the Koant) requests permission of the most senior Koant-member. After consulting the parents of the Koantji, the date of entering is fixed. The whole Koant process takes three months for men and four months for women. It gives the Koantjie a highly regarded status and the possibility to speak with other Koantjies in their own, secret language.
Bimoba initiated Koant man, Hon Emmanuel Kwame Duut,Member of Parliament for:
Bunkprugu-Yunyoo constituency, Northern Region
The Ba Wanu initiation, which most Bimoba under go, establishes whether you are a Jaba (sub seer) or not. The initiation takes 12 hours or even more. The Ba Wanu initiation is requested by a person’s Miar (which literally means nose but actually means a man’s spirit).
Bimoba(Moba) headdress (Gourd, horn, string, cowrie shells) for initiation.19th-20th century,Togo.
Courtesy:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Usually this happens when uncommon things happen to life like death, drought, or heavy flooding. There is no fixed age for married males to undergo the Ba Wanu initiation and, although it is possible to do the Ba Wanu at any age if you are not married, the vast majority of the unmarried men do not undergo the Ba Wanu under the age of forty. Women do not undergo the initiation if they are not married and if married they only do the Ba Wanu at the age of forty-five. The actual initiation is usually done by a Jaba, selected by another Jaba. The complicating factor is, that if a wrong Jaba is chosen to perform the initiation, the person initiated can either die or go mad.
Bimoba (Moba) man
The owner of the Miar is made to faint for some time. In this period of unconsciousness the man can see whether he is a Jaba or not. If he is a Jaba, he will see two dwarfs (a man and a woman) on the rooftop of the nakouk. The attendees of the ritual will listen to his recollections after he comes back to his senses. If the attendees are satisfied with the answer (in fact the right description of the dwarfs on top of the nakouk) they can decide that the man is a Jaba. This implies that every Jaba has undergone the Ba Wanu initiation, but not every person who has undergone the Ba Wanu initiation is a Jaba. The person known to be a Jaba is then trained by an older Jaba. This training includes the interpretation of the message from the dwarfs to the people who come to him for consultation.
Moba women in Dapaong,Togo. By arnaud-p
Women do not undergo this fainting process but they can be a Jaba if their miar want them to be. There are only a few female Jabas in the bimoba community. Although female Jabas can not perform the ba wanu for another person, they can advise other people.
Moba woman from Togo village. By Kevin O’Hara
The Bimoba regard marriage to be an important ritual, but the actual wedding is of extremely low profile. The original ritual (Pochianu) has faded out almost completely. Nowadays the broom seeks the permission of the father of his wife to be. This permission is obtained by intermediaries. Up till now there is no fixed bride price, and only small gifts are send to the father after agreement (cola nuts, guinea fowl, some local gin). The wedding ritual itself is performed by a simple visit to the parents of the bride. After this visit the broom sends more cola nuts, tobacco, two bottles of gin, a jerry can of local beer, and two guinea fowls. Influenced by the Kusasi culture, an additional bride price of four cows is set in most of the cases. This part of the bride price can be delivered during the first years of the marriage. Although not original Bimoba, this additional pricing has become widespread.
Reciprocal wedding arrangements are known, but now fading out. There is no other ritual in the Bimoba
culture in celebrating a wedding, but due to the introduction of world religions, some seek the blessing of the church. This is – due to the low percentage of Christians and Muslims – still very rare.
Funerals are the most important social activity among the Bimoba. Each funeral is visited by hundreds of people and the funerals are a social event instead of a sad gathering of mourners.
Most of the funerals consist of two consecutive parts, the Kumian (Fresh Funeral) and the Kukoan (final funeral rite). Kumian and Kukoan are only performed for natural deaths. In cases of Kubir (bad death) a different ritual is performed.
Bimoba funeral. By Hawa Kombian
The funeral of a male Bimoba takes three days, for a female it takes four days. During the first day, the funeral is announced in the early morning by firing carbide grenades, three for a male, four for a female. As soon as possible the corps is placed in a round grave close to the compound, naked in a sitting (foetal) position. The grave is covered and the water bucket of the deceased is put on the grave, broken into pieces, to mark the end of his life. At sunset some clans perform specific funeral rituals. The following two or three days the family and close friends stay together to remember the deceased and are visited frequently by relatives and friends.
The Kukoan (final funeral rite) is performed some time later, during the (next) dry season. Again the social gathering of the clan and friends is the central part of the final rites. They are famous for the social side effects, i.e. sex, alcohol use, and dancing.
Bimoba family performing traditional dance during a funeral. By Hawa Kombian
As in most groups, rituals play a role in balancing society (as well as religion does). In the Bimoba tribe two rituals are important in keeping that balance: The Koant (name giving) and the Bawa Nu (appointing of Jabas). Through the Koant, the adults have learned a new and secret language in which they can communicate among each other at any time and place they want. This gives the group an elevated position over the rest of the tribe who cannot understand the language.
During the ritual of the Ba Wanu, the new Jaba’s are selected. Although it is said that the Ba Wanu has to see the dwarfs during his absences, the attendees of the ritual decide whether the candidate saw the right dwarfs or right things. So in fact the clan (or at least those attending the Ba Wanu) decides who is a new Jaba and consequently one of the new informal leaders: if they do not want a certain candidate, they can easily say that he just did not see the right things. This balancing power is seen more often and is quite influential. It maintains the balance in the community without harassment of those who were rejected as being a new leader. In Africa this pattern is seen for instance in the Mwari Cult in Zimbabwe.
Leadership and organization
In contrast to most of the surrounding tribes, the Bimoba don’t have their own chief or general leader. As stated before, they belong to the acephalous tribes, tribes without rulers. The clan is regarded to be the most important organizational structure. Apart from this clan leadership, Bimoba accept the ruling of non-Bimoba chiefs. In our research area, one of the regional chiefs (the chief of Zariboko) is a Mamprusi and he is in charge of the whole area, including the Bimoba living there. The Bawku naba (chief of the whole Bawku district) is a Kusasi.
Due to the strong clan structure and the close-knit clan network, the mutual assistance system is extremely strong. Due to this system, the Nnoboa, the Bimoba have a norm of assisting the clan with the building of huts, farming, and sharing wealth.
Bimoba man from Bunkprugu-yunyoo,Ghana
All the land in the FarFar area is owned by three clan-families. The boundaries are based on family history. The oldest man of the clan is the caretaker of the land and decides who can live or cultivate the different parts of the property.
Not all the land is cultivated yet, and not all the cultivated land is cultivated by the owner. Landowners share uncultivated land with clan members as part of the Nnoboa. This is done at no cost, but the land has to be returned to the owner when needed. Since the boundaries are only based on this oral agreement and only marked with small trees or crop, many conflicts occur.
tchitcheri sakwa shrine figure of the Bimoba people
In Moba communities of northeastern Ghana and northwestern Togo, diviners influence and direct the
commissioning, design, and ritual treatment of sculptural forms created for several different kinds of domestic
shrines. Both the scale and the relatively abstract form of this particular work suggest that it was probably ownedby an extended family or clan. It was associated with their origins and played a vital role in assuring their collective well-being.
Clan Shrine Figure (Tchitcheri Sakwa)
Wood; H. 135 cm (53 1/8 in.)
The Horstmann Collection, Zug, Switzerland
In Moba society, when ancestral offerings fail to provide an individual with desired relief, an earth oracle with an established reputation is consulted. In advising individuals, families, or clans, Moba diviners prescribe tchitcheri figures to fortify their clients and improve their lives. Such works increase the efficacy of the ritual actions performed at shrines by calling forth positive ancestral influences. They are protective and promote health and prosperity on a range of different levels. When a particular problem disrupted an individual’s life, diviners often recommended the addition of a figurative work to that person’s private altar. Similarly, problems of broader concern, such as diseased livestock, poor harvests, or infertility, often led diviners to prescribe that a larger work be commissioned for a family shrine.
Challenging an account by Leo Frobenius from the turn of the century, which suggested that the owner of such a work carved it him- or herself, Christine Mullen Kreamer determined that it was invariably made by a specialist. Although in Moba society, wood carving is a skill that all may acquire, tchitcheri may be fashioned only by individuals whose fathers are diviners. Carving tchitcheri is considered a delicate and highly dangerous operation, and diviners give their sons special protection needed for the creation of such ritually charged objects. Those who transgress this sanction are thought to risk blindness or insanity.
Three different genres of tchitcheri may be distinguished by their patronage, contextual placement, scale, and
degree of abstraction. The smallest of these, yendu tchitcheri, are placed in personal shrines, which all adults
possess. They do not represent any particular person or ancestor but are considered an individual’s direct link with God. Middle-size bawoong tchitcheri (between 25 and 90 centimeters high) are designed for household shrines situated prominently in the vestibule of a family compound. These figures represent recent ancestors, such as the parents or grandparents of current compound leaders (no more than three or four generations removed), whom the diviner advises the family to petition. Because the figures correspond to known ancestors, they are more detailed in representing bodily and facial features.The work shown here falls into the category of tchitcheri sakwa, which evoke and are named after a clan’s founding member. The Moba are subsistence agriculturalists, and rituals are conducted before planting and harvest by the family’s eldest male member, who applies libations to its sakwa commemorating the founding ancestor. Stylistically, sakwa fall between the extremely abbreviated, faceless, anonymous yendu and the more specifically identifiable bawoong portraits. These monumental works are prominently placed outside, in the household yard.
Although the features of a family’s sakwa become abraded by the elements, it stands from one generation to the next as an indelible marker of its spiritual life. No contemporary works of this kind have been commissioned, andoral history and the condition of some surviving works suggest that they may be several centuries old.
The highly standardized design of tchitcheri reduces the human figure to an elemental form. Attenuated arms may either form a single unit with the torso or be detached at chest level. Minimal attention is given to facial features, details such as hands and feet are generally omitted, and only occasionally is gender suggested. This extremely reductive polelike figure is crowned by a rounded knoblike head with a blank expression. The upper body forms a unified, continuous surface, with its arms held at its sides along the length of the torso. The trunk is represented as a recessed rectangle with raised nipples and umbilicus; at its base, it narrows and then flares outward slightly tosuggest hips. Below, clothespinlike legs are carved as two separate prongs that taper off into narrowed stems.
Despite an emphasis on bilateral symmetry, the figure leans very gently to one side. Throughout the weathered surface, abrasion and splits reveal the effects wrought upon the work over time.