Kitab Ghunja version of Gonja History compiled In about 1751


Kitab Ghunja version of Gonja History compiled In about 1751 (Wilks, 1966).

This work has been known for some time in an English translation made forty years ago and published later by Goody (1954:). Several manuscripts have been located over the last five years, and a definitive edition is in preparation. It can be shown by reference to this work that the Jakpa epic In its current form is a relatively recent development, summarizing something like a century and a half of early Gonja history. For the sixteenth and seventeenth century the Kitab itself based on oral tradition; but it is earlier than any other recorded version by well over a hundred years, and very much more coherent and convincing.

The arrival in Gonja of the Ngbonyo, the immigrant rulers, is described in a section of the Kitab which has become detached from the main body of the work but survives independently (Wilks, 1966). Naba, who was to be the first king of Gonja, had come south originally on a punitive expedition dispatched by the ‘Chief  of Mande-Kabba against the trading-town of Begho. He then turned north to attack Buna, and across the Black Volta Into western Gonja. Here he built a fortified camp or stronghold called Yogbum. The Kitab Ghunja gives no dates as such for the early kings, only the lengths of their reigns; dead-reckon Ing would put the beginning of Naba`s reign at 1549-50. Wilks (1966) believes that this date may be too early, by as much as fifty years, pointing out that the reigns ascribed to these early kings are on average much longer than those of the eighteenth century rulers.

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On the early history of the kingdom the Kitab has little to offer. Its author’s main interest, not surprisingly, was with the conversion of the ruling dynasty to Islam early In the reign of Mawura (1580-1599?). By that time the capital of the Gbanya kingdom was at Buipe in central Gonja, on one of the trade-routes leading northwards from the margins of the forest. It may be possible to distinguish a phase of consolidation in the Buipe area followed by a phase of rapid expansion to the east and north. By around 1600 Gonja had probably reached more or less its full extent. The next phase, which the difficulties of communication must have made almost inevitable, was one of progressive decentralization. In the Kitab this trend is reflected in the passage dealing with the long reign of al-Lara (1623-1667), of whom it is said that ‘he divided the country of Gonja and gave it to his brothers’. It seems that the divisional chiefdoms, originally perhaps appointive, had by now become vested in certain families which were, or which chose to think of themselves as, cadet branches of the Gbanya dynasty. In formally recognizing the divisional chiefs as his ‘brothers’, al-Lata was at least by implication admitting himself as king to be only first among equals.

Dr Forster Abu Sakara is a Gonja

This tendency at work within the kingdom for the divisions to increase In power at the expense of the centre, compounded as it was with attacks from outside, led into a phase of rapid disintegration at the end of the seventeenth century. The reign of al-Lata’s son Sulayman was remembered as a time of continual war. He was deposed In 1689; and a few years later, the Gbanya kingdom finally fell apart with the outbreak of civil war In 1692.

The Kitab, though it is clear on the disastrous side-effects of the war, says nothing of the aims for which it was fought, or of the results it achieved. It seems apparent none the less that one of its results, and probably one of its objectives, was to overthrow the power of the Buipe dynasty. By 1709 Gonja was on its way to recovery, organized now on a confederate system which, with modifications in detail, survives today (Goody, 1967). The capital was transferred to Nyanga in western Gonja, where Naba has built his war-camp, and a paramount chief was installed there whose title now is Yagbumwura, but who seems originally to have been called Gbinipewura. Seven of the divisions, Tuluwe, Kpembe and Kong among them, but for reasons which can only be guessed at not Daboya, were made ‘gates’ to Yagbum; that is, their chiefs were eligible for promotion to the paramountcy when it fell vacant. The number of ‘gates’ has varied with the course of time, but the chief of Buipe has always been rigorously excluded. Though his position even today is one of considerable prestige, his political power is negligible.

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