The 1897 Battle of Kanjaga

In contrast to the battle of Sandema, we possess a detailed description of the battle of Kanjaga published by Anne-Marie Duperray from French and English sources (1984: 100-101), and there is no doubt about the date of March 14, 1897.
Babatu had attacked Kanjaga, defeated its inhabitants and captured their chief, Amnu (endnote 9), who was spared by the Zabarima after his promise to collaborate with them. This collaboration may have consisted of feeding Babatu’s soldiers after they had set up camp near the village.
At this time Babatu had to confront another enemy who emerged from his own ranks. His name was either Ameria or Hameria. As a young boy, he had been captured by Zabarima in his home village of Santejan, west of Kanjaga and in the Sisala area. Although the historians are not sure whether he was a Bulsa or a Sisala, it is certain that he had close contacts to his Sisala and Bulsa relatives even after he had become one of Babatu’s high officers.
There were probably many reasons for his and other Grunchi officers’ mutiny. One was that Zabarima leaders started selling Grunchi women in the Zabarima camp as slaves (Holden 1965: 78) and that one Zabarima officer took away the Gonja wife from a Grunchi officer (Tamakloe 1931: 54). Furthermore, Grunchi towns “which had enjoyed Zabarima protections and exemption from tax now began to lose this exemption” (Holden 1965: 78), thus provoking the anger of Grunchi officers in Babatu’s camp. Amaria and his new army were quite successful in battles against Babatu, and he even adopted the title “King of the Grunchi”. Before the battle of Kanjaga, Amaria set up his camp near Bachonsa, only about 3.8 km from Babatu’s camp near Kanjaga.
About this time, the British had already gained a foothold in the extreme north of modern day Ghana. Ferguson, who had a Fanti mother and a British father, was serving the British and had concluded several treaties of protection with chiefs of the northern tribes. Before the battle of Kanjaga, the British were in an intricate situation. The two local commanders of the British troops (Lieutenant Henderson and Captain Stewart) in the north could not act without instructions from the Governor in Accra, and these instructions were sometimes confused because the recommended tactics were constantly changing. As the British were interested in making the land north of the Gold Coast Colony a British protectorate, they could not remain neutral and inactive. They had to choose their adversaries and allies among the following powers:
(1) The renegade Ameria and his troops. This was certainly their most desirable ally, but Ameria had already established a firm alliance with the French and rejected any concurrence with the British.
(2) Samori’s officers and their troops in the west of modern Ghana could not be considered as a viable choice of allies. They probably planned the conquest of the Dagomba kingdom, which would have meant that the British expansion north of their colony was blocked.
(3) The French had quite good relations with the British in Europe, which should not be given up. Although in 1904 they concluded a treaty (the Entente Cordiale), and in the First Word War they fought side by side against the Germans they were fierce rivals in the African colonies. The British knew that the battles in the Grunchi area would define the later boundary between the two European powers.
(4) Finally the British considered establishing an alliance with Babatu. They had always preferred to have treaties with powerful leaders who could keep the many small native chiefdoms under control.
In a meeting with Babatu in 1897, the British Lieutenant Henderson tried to test the possibilities of an alliance. In Duperray’s book (p. 98), part of the dialogue between these two persons has been published, and, if we may trust the testimonials, the following short dialogue was part of their discussion (translated from the French by F. Kröger):
Babatu: I want to go to Léo. Where are my captives?
Henderson: But which captives?
Babatu: Hamaria and the Grunchi [mutineers].
Henderson: Hamaria is not your captive, for he is dependent on the French. By the way, you are a bad man, because you destroy everything that you meet on your way.
Even if this talk is not authentic in all details, we can see the main interests of the two interlocutors. Babatu was chiefly concerned with getting rid of Ameria, while Henderson feared an increase of French influence in this region. A further obstacle to the politically reasonable alliance was Henderson’s moral aversion to the slave raider.
Without any results in their meeting, the British group continued their expedition back to Wa where Henderson was taken prisoner and his unarmed friend Ferguson was shot by some of Samori’s men.
Only one month after Henderson’s contacts with Ameria and Babatu, the French commander Chanoine, coming from Ouagadougou, met Ameria in Bachonsa and gave a French flag to the neighbouring village of Doninga. The village’s acceptance of the flag can be regarded as symbolic recognition of French protection. But Babatu, still residing in Kanjaga, raided Doninga and burnt the flag. On March 14, 1897, both Chanoine and Ameria attacked Babatu. According to the late Sandemnaab Azantilow, the battle was fought near a spot called Ayiba. Despite some stories told by present-day Bulsa, the British were not involved in this battle.
A.M. Duperray, in her book on the Gurunsi (Grunchi), gives a vivid description of this decisive battle (p. 101; translated from the French by F. Kröger):
[Babatu] is surrounded by his best lieutenants, Issaka and Aliou Gadiari, at the head of 400 men armed with rifles and more than 200 horsemen. Babatu is severely beaten. He leaves 300 prisoners and a great part of his troops in Hamaria’s hands.
After the battle, Babatu and the rest of his army fled to Yagaba. Here they met the British Captain Stewart who granted Babatu and his men protection. In Bulsa accounts I sometimes heard that Babatu raided Yagaba and was then beaten by the British. This does not agree with the written sources.
A few days after Babatu’s arrival, Stewart received instructions from Accra saying that Babatu was the best ally for Britain for two reasons. First, Babatu was hostile to Ameria who had concluded a treaty with the French. More significantly, however, Babatu was hostile to Samori, who was the real menace (Holden 1965: 83). A formal agreement was drawn up in March 1897, by which Babatu claimed Dagarti and part of the Grunchi tribes, among them the Bulsa. He promised to “live under the law”, which meant he would give up his raids and serve only the British king, fight Samori’s troops and offer 500 of his men for the Gold Coast Constabulary. Nonetheless, when Babatu was beyond the reach of the British, he and his men, “being desperately short of provisions” (Holden 1965: 84), raided the villages of Bulienga and Ducie (between Yagaba and Wa) on June 6th, 1897. After this the British planned to send Babatu to Kumasi to stand trial for brigandage and murder (ibid.). Therefore Babatu left the British and, after another defeat in the battle at Gambaga, went to Yendi, which at that time belonged to a neutral zone between the German and British spheres of interest (see map). Most of his soldiers entered the Gold Coast Constabulary. According to Tamakloe (1931: 55) Babatu built his own house and even practised agriculture in Yendi. Here the valiant commander, the winner of numerous battles, the terror of many villages, died from the bite of a poisonous spider, a few years after 1900. According to Holden (1965: 85) he died probably within two years after the convention of 1899. Ahmed Bako Alhassan (1991: 19) mentions 1909 as the year of his death.

See also  Bulsa (Builsa) People: The Warrior And Slave-Raiding Resistance People Of Northern Ghana


Related posts

The History Of Navrongo

Daniel Wundengba

Bulsa (Builsa) People: The Warrior And Slave-Raiding Resistance People Of Northern Ghana

Charles Wundengba

The Life Story Of Abdul-Rauf Tanko Ibrahim

Daniel Wundengba

The History of Navrongo

Charles Wundengba

Stevo Atambire – Ho San Kule (Frafra Music)

Daniel Wundengba


Dr. Franz Kroeger August 19, 2021 at 9:58 am

Similar to your article about the “Battle(s) of Sandema” you have illegally adopted my texts under your authorship.

Daniel Wundengba August 19, 2021 at 6:35 pm

That was so unfortunate, Sir. We’re very sorry.
Notwithstanding, the article was never adopted illegally under our authorship. The source of the article was credited below the story. Thank you.

Akanbey curzon November 27, 2021 at 12:39 pm

Have no little idea about the people of Builsa land. Would like to have enough authentic source of information to read and know more about my people–Builisas.
Thanks for the information!!😊


Leave a Comment

15 + 20 =